Friday, April 3, 2009

BIG ISSUE POST [BIP] Why reading lesbian lit is important

BIG ISSUE POST [BIP] NOTE: This blog is not about BIG ISSUE POSTS. It's about books and it's about writers. But now and then, there is a bigger picture to look at, and as the editor, I get to share my opinion. If it gets annoying, please let me know.

I have a Clea DuVall haircut circa But I'm a Cheerleader. This is important (stay with me here).

Occasionally I grow my hair out, but I always come back to this haircut.

I grew up in a small, conservative community. As far as I knew, I had never met another lesbian until I got to college. Will and Grace wasn't big yet. Ellen came out, but we didn't watch it in my household. The L-Word was certainly NOT available. And despite the fact that I was that weird kid who preferred to spend an inordinate amount of time alone devouring books, I never read a single book that featured a lesbian protagonist.

The lens through which we all view the world is, to some extent, based on the stories we've been told, read, or seen, the archetypes present in those stories, and the stories we then tell ourselves.

At different stages in life, my opinions, philosophies, and take on what love and relationships were supposed to look like were influenced by books like Love Story, The Fountainhead (yeah, seriously), White Noise, and an unhealthy amount of Bret Easton Ellis. (And yes, I've gotten over myself since then.)

There were no lesbians to be found. Of course, in most ways, life, love, and relationships are the same for everyone - gay or straight. But in some ways they're not. And without exposure to those stories, you're flying blind, which can be a very scary, overwhelming feeling.

So one day I rented But I'm a Cheerleader. The cover looked cute. And in that ridiculous but incredibly funny movie, I experienced for the first time the joy of seeing something like me. Within a week I was sneaking around the "Special Interests" section at my local B&N to read issues of Curve. I read Oranges are Not the Only Fruit.

And I cut my hair. Clea was a lesbian. So was I. The end.

Still, finding lesbian books wasn't easy, and because I didn't want to be THAT lesbian - the one whose entire identity is defined by her sexual orientation, who wants nothing to do with the straight world - I kept my lesbian books to myself as an occasional guilty pleasure. Eventually, I gave up on them altogether. Books are books, and stories are stories, right?

Earlier this year a friend sent me one of her LESBIAN BOOKS (I won't say which one). It was a murder mystery, and not really about being a lesbian at all - it just happened to have a lesbian main character. I read it in one sitting.

I had completely forgotten the joy of reading about someone whose relationships and attractions looked and felt like mine. There IS something to be said for that - for experiencing that extra layer of connection to the characters in a book. Which isn't to say I can't relate to male or straight characters - but to some extent, the textures of their stories, their relationships, their desires, and their needs are different from what I've experienced and what I hope to experience in the future.

The purpose of this blog is to bring those stories to you, the reader. Some books will be about the big issues the LGBT community faces - discrimination, coming out, etc. - and because there is a great deal of lesbian pulp fiction out there, I expect a number of the books will feature more than a few "mature love scenes." But for the most part, the books reviewed on this site will be stories about life that just happen to feature a woman who loves women. Because when you get right down to it - that's us.

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