Geez, WTF, Andi? It’s been, like, forever and a day and all kinds of THE THINGS happened and where the hell were you and just what are you doing?
I know. Straight up, I’ve been FB’ing incessantly about the Women’s World Cup (OMG YAY TEAM USA) and writing for deadlines and then there was the amazing historical BOOM when marriage equality was ruled the law of this great land and then there was a horrific tragedy and then all kinds of crazy over certain flags. I decided much wiser heads than I can address those two latter issues, and I still haven’t quite been able to wrap my head around the whole marriage equality thing.
At some point, I will blog that, because I’m coming from a perspective of believing that I probably wouldn’t see it in my lifetime or if I did, I’d be in my 60s or 70s. This perspective, I think, causes a fatalistic outlook on relationships. Marriage was something I thought I could never have, so I never planned for it. I educated myself about the issues, worked to advance them as I could, but I never thought it would be something that I myself could enjoy.
And that leaves its own kinds of scars. Which I will discuss later, as I ponder more.
In the meantime, I wanted to discuss something else. Specifically, what repercussions marriage equality may have on genre fiction.
I wonder this because yesterday at Women and Words, we posted a blog by New York Times bestselling romance author Melissa Foster, who just released a new book in her Harborside Nights series that features a lesbian main character and this character’s love for another woman.
Foster predominantly writes heterosexual romance, and this is her first F/F. As she notes in the blog she did at WaW, she got a little bit of blowback from her writer colleagues.
Simple, as far as I’m concerned. Lesbian cooties, masked as a “no market” argument. I’ve blogged about what I consider a myth regarding F/F romance. That is, “there’s no market for it.” Or its sister myth, “the market is really small, so we don’t need to address it.”
Some of that no doubt emanates from a (false) perspective that there’s no audience for F/F beyond lesbian-identified women moreso than an “eww lesbian cooties” argument. But there has traditionally been a fear of “other” in the reactions to lesfic — F/F romance and sexual intimacy still scare a lot of people, and have for decades. Centuries.
There are any number of reasons for that. The social and cultural restrictions placed on women’s bodies and expressions of their sexuality play a role. The traditional kneejerk reactions to LGBTQ people and their sexuality are mixed in, as well.
Which is why a separate industry specializing in genre F/F fiction most often by lesbian-identified writers historically developed.
Our predecessors got tired of seeing themselves represented as “other” (and often in a bad light) in books, whether fiction or not. They wanted people like themselves to tell their own stories. Simple as that.
It was a revolution. You can see the results of those efforts today, in the several independent publishing houses that specialize in lesbian fiction, and in the plethora of lesbian writers self-publishing as those platforms expanded. Even in the last 4-5 years, I’ve been astonished by the expansion and availability of F/F-themed romance titles. And some of them are not written by LGBTQ authors.
I’m not going to get into the demographics of romance readership here; many others have blogged that far more effectively than I. But I will say that lesbian genre fiction is predominantly written by women who identify as lesbian, bi, and/or queer. I’m sure there are trans women and men (and non-trans men and women) writing it, too, but the fact remains that we still haven’t been getting play outside the lesfic publishing and reading venue.
Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We’re a supportive bunch, and we do love our lesfic.
But I keep thinking that if we could get our stories out into the wider world, others who don’t identify as LGBTQ would finally be exposed to a range of who we are and what we do. Maybe that would encourage non-LGBTQ writers to incorporate more LGBTQ characters (complex!) into their work and maybe F/F romance will simply be “romance,” sold alongside M/F (and M/M). That will give LGBTQ writers and readers access to things like conference panels and awards committees that never considered F/F romance as a category equal to M/F. And maybe the big traditional houses will start imprints that include F/F romance (without the old, “no market for it” arguments).
Which brings up an uncomfortable issue for some. It came up in the comment thread at Women and Words today, and I figured it would.
It goes something like this: what about all the lesbian authors who have been writing F/F for years? Will they get the recognition they deserve or will F/F be co-opted by non-lesbian writers who will then be lauded for “breaking new ground”, thus further relegating lesbian writers of F/F into a back room? And will being a lesbian matter in writing lesbian fiction?
I don’t have an answer for that, but “co-opting” will probably happen in some instances. It always does when dealing with privilege. And if it does happen, then let’s work on de-co-opting.
As for identity, that’s another question I can’t answer. I once had an email exchange with a lesbian-identified woman (non-trans) who told me she refused to read lesbian fiction by authors who aren’t lesbian. And by that, I’m pretty sure she meant authors who are non-trans. On some level, I understood where she’s coming from, because I understand the empowerment that lesbian space and writing can bring, and the sense of “she’ll get it.” But on another level, it seems limiting.
If only lesbians can write lesbian stories, then I guess I’d better stop including heterosexual characters and romances in my stories whose main characters are lesbian. Heterosexuals should stick to heterosexuality, by that logic. And I’d probably better stop writing my New Mexico mystery series, which includes characters who are not white (I’m white). And I probably shouldn’t have published my story “Sugar n’ Shine,” which includes a black woman as the romantic interest for a white woman. Or my short story “The Sum of Our Parts,” whose main character is Hispanic. And I should totally stop writing one of the novellas I’m currently working on because the love interest’s family of origin is Chinese.
Ultimately, I want my stories to have lots of different people in them. After all, my life and my world include all kinds of people, from all kinds of backgrounds. So I work very hard to give them complexity, and to have all kinds of different things that they deal with. I want them to be human, in all their flawed glory. And I want my stories to resonate with all kinds of people. I hope some of them do.
And as a reminder.
LGBTQ communities are not magically de-marginalized as a result of marriage equality in the US. We’re witnessing the backlash to that among forces who would keep us marginalized, and keep us largely silent. We’re seeing it every day in the brutalization of LGBTQ bodies and spirits around the world, in countries that still criminalize us (79), some of which punish us with the death penalty.
And even where we’re not criminalized, LGBTQ people deal with the risk of brutality in all its forms every single day, whether it’s from external or internal forces. Most of us who identify as LGBTQ implicitly understand that we will have to deal with some form of discrimination or brutality at some point in our lives because of who we are. Marginalization takes a toll on communities, and many of us internalize “other” and in some instances, we turn on ourselves and each other because there simply hasn’t been social or institutional support beyond our own doors. We’ve been islands, left to our own devices, left to survive or not without much help.
But survive many of us have, and even thrived. Genre lesbian fiction by lesbians (for the sake of argument) has been an oasis for many. It’s been a place where, for a while, we could feel as if our lives and loves mattered, that someone could understand us and give us some representation in a world that sure as hell hasn’t been all that supportive.
Things are shifting. Slowly. And many more of us will experience brutality and discrimination, but we will survive and we will keep writing and telling stories.
For my part, I’m looking forward to lesfic stories engaging people who aren’t LGBTQ. I’m looking forward to the day more people who aren’t LGBTQ tell me, “I read your book and I loved it. The characters were wonderful and the romance was amazing.” And I see in non-LGBTQ authors who write complex LGBTQ characters and romance a potential for alliance, who can work with LGBTQ authors to get our work into venues we normally haven’t been and vice-versa.
It’s difficult to be an ally. It requires listening a lot more than maybe you’re used to. It requires a recognition of not only your own privilege, but how institutions and society in general have created systems of privilege in terms of race, class, gender, sexuality, and religion, all of which play a role in LGBTQ communities.
Nonetheless, there are awesome allies out there, and I think that building collaborations with non-LGBTQ authors who are also writing romances that aren’t M/F is a a great thing because ultimately, the more great stories there are to read, the better for everyone and the more non-LGBTQ writers learn about their LGBTQ writing counterparts (and vice versa), the more things we can build together.
All that said, I hear those of you when you say you’re worried about “lesbian culture and writing” being assimilated, or losing the revolutionary spirit and edge it’s traditionally had. I’ve seen articles worried about “losing” lesbians, as more masculine women seem to transition to male and gender fluidity causes many of us who grew up with traditional binary gender roles to wonder who WE are within these shifting parameters.
For some, that’s scary. For others, it’s exciting. The only thing I can tell you is that change is constant, and the only control we have over it is how we choose to address it.
I’ve decided to grab on and see where the current takes us, building rafts where I can with others in my communities, allies, and potential allies. I want more great stories to flow across the world because sometimes, a story can change a life for the better. That’s what I hope. And I also hope that my non-LGBTQ writing colleagues will reach out to LGBTQ writers (and vice versa) so we can all work together to bring more stories to the world.
Maybe that’s a big dream. But I like it.
Happy weekend, all. May you surround yourselves with glorious stories.