Why do you think the many, many lesbian writers out there aren’t recognized? Is it simply because they haven’t made it to the ‘mainstream’? Is it because they aren’t generally with the big corporate presses? Or is it a genre vs literary thing? Or is it something else altogether?
Ah, c’mon. It’s sexism. Men will read books written by men and almost never read a book by a woman (unless it’s about male domination as in 50 Shades). How do I know? I travel a lot and always look at the cover of books people are reading around me. Women will read women’s books and men’s books, but they look for women to provide soft, comforting romance stories and men to provide action/sci-fi/horror/paranormal/et.al ad nauseum. Oh sure, I’m generalizing and there are a lot of exceptions on both sides, but that’s it in a nutshell.
I’m a lesbian who writes YA literature about kids in rainbow families (with one or more members of the family LGBT). Right away, my audience is narrow, and then narrowed again. I want my books read by EVERYONE, because they touch on shared human themes. However, realistically speaking, only a handful of lesbian women raising kids buy them. Marginalized, much?
THEN, let’s talk about the all important number of reviews needed to be seen by potential buyers as worthy of their hard-earned money. I need reviews, but the people who buy my books (parents) don’t often read them but instead are purchasing for their kids. Kids don’t have Amazon and Goodreads accounts.
And as for sex, what’s up with straight women and their passion for reading/writing gay male erotica, but NOT crossing over to read lesbian erotica? They read cozy straight romances, but not lesbian cozy romances where the exact same emotions/frustrations/trust issues abound? Sexism, plain and simple. Starting in school with the literature used to teach, we’re taught that men authors are worthy and talented and their male characters significant changers of society. Women authors aren’t introduced until you take a special Women’s Lit course in college and those are almost always filled with women while the men are taking courses in Western Lit, or Classic Lit, or World Lit where the booklists are heavily slanted with men. When questioned, professors who make up these lists always say, “Well, there just aren’t that many significant women’s authors.” They never seem to realize they’re part of that very problem.
And lesbians have been sent to the back of the bus by both two significant social movements in recent history:
1) Right from the start, gay men tried to reject our participation in the whole movement (until AIDS devastated them and only their lesbian sisters stepped up, but that’s another story). For instance, did you know that the very first stone thrown at police during the Stonewall riots was hurled by a butch lesbian? A true, but obscure fact.
2) The women’s movement, during the 70’s, came right out and told us to step away from the whole cause because our participation somehow lessened their arguments for equality. We were visually distracting, our sexuality driving away male and Christian supporters. Huh, what, how?!?
Everyone seems to want us to be invisible, and since lesbians are the ultimate symbols of women resisting male domination I once again call SEXISM.
3 thoughts on “The Question Is:”
Sadly, for every wonderful Sarah Waters there are some really, really BAD lesbian authors, who really are not worthy of recognition other than the effort they put into writing (but not the caliber or quality). That said, there’s more to it than a dearth of quality. I would say if only 1/3 percent of the population is gay, the sheer numbers of lesbians writing is probably not sufficient to represent in the way say, an African American writer may. But there are still enough lesbian writers that we should see more pro active publicity of their work. Maybe for some like Patricia Cornwell they are mainstream and rarely ‘go there’ in terms of writing about their lesbianism, so do we count them or no? Others maybe go there too much and thus, write themselves out of ever appealing to mainstream, as I doubt few hetero/gay men or straight women really want to read a heavy themed lesbian book. That may change as we become more fluid. The few who break through cast a balance between being a lesbian and writing well. It is not an easy balance perhaps and there is a focus it seems on sex and detectives (!) among the lesbian genres that can be a little stale. I go back to the mainstay more often than not, of all the many lesbian novels I have read, few stand out, the exceptions being the classic Well of Loneliness, of course anything by Sarah Waters, although her very gay-themed novels are by far the best, The Price of Salt which is exquisite, Oranges are not the only Fruit, and what else? Not much and mostly the older stuff. That tells me there is something intoxicating about the value of the older works over the newcomers and that probably has a lot to do with the quality en mass of literature as a whole. For every book I finish I put down 2. I read voraciously but have long accepted that reading a book I do not like is a waste of my time, so unlike the past, I put them down when after 100 pages I find I do not care about them. Quality in general has gone down hill. Now as far as exposure, well any minority will suffer this, and especially if the minority is not ‘popular’ ‘trendy’ or ‘exciting’ which may explain the plethora of detective and sex novels in the lesbian genre! Quality doesn’t always cut it though it should. I am hopeful more and more, that good writers who ‘happen’ to be lesbian like Sarah Waters, who to me, constitutes the perfect balance for a lesbian writer, will show up and put out good work but we could easily say there are not enough good SciFi novels, not enough good detective novels, etc, because in general the MFA approach is churning out highly unoriginal and tedious attempts. Perhaps the other thing is – people still prefer stories of men and women than women and women, and this is both sexist and homophobic in some manner, but it’s societal preference. I cannot think of a single heterosexual friend who has relished say, The Price of Salt the way I did when I first read it. That’s just the chord is strikes in a gay woman versus anyone else. If we’re only 1/3 percent of the world I suppose it’s no wonder though I often fantasize about a Sheland 🙂
Thank you for your input. I don’t agree with almost everything you said, but I appreciate the thought and time it took to write your response to my post. There are many indications in your comment that you haven’t explored much below the surface of the lesbian culture. Since you seem to have no trouble claiming your lesbianism, I’m surprised you don’t know that the usually accepted percentage of LGBT folks is anywhere from 5-10%, a far lower number than your 33%. Actually, until I reached the end of your comment I rather assumed you were a straight women who doesn’t read lesfic telling me why you don’t bother to look farther into what’s available, simply dismissing the quality/caliber of any author other than the ones on college reading lists (an honor I hope to claim sometime soon). It’s possible, too, that you’re reading on a budget and may have picked up the occasionally free ebook with the literary quality of a dying snail. If you’d like to read a much better lesfic book by a living, contemporary author, that is totally, 100% free, follow this link: When Women Were Warriors by Catherine M. Wilson
I hope someday soon you join a lesbian book club in your area, get to meet and hang out with women who will introduce you to some of the finest storytelling you’ve been missing out on.
Thank you for your comment.
I must have accidentally put 33% because my common number for lesbian (not LGBTQ+ but purely lesbian) is around 1/2 percent. English is my second-language so excuse that mistake it must have been very misleading and not my intention. I have a PhD so this isn’t coming from my navel – and I have read a great deal of lesbian fiction, it’s just my opinion nothing more. I co-edited an award-winning anthology on lesbian poetry so I really do know what you’re saying – but we will just have to agree to disagree on some of the other points. No lesbian book clubs for me, I work 65+ hours a week I don’t have time for that but I will keep up with my reading. I will try Ms Wilson’s book – thank you for the recommendation.