This is another column I've just written for Women and Words. It's a bit on the political side, but I do eventually get into connections with writing LGBT erotica. As a reward for making your way through this (or even if you don't,) tonight I'll post a considerable excerpt of an erotic story that involves writing about lesbians in an historical context, one of the points I discuss below. (The story just happens to be the lead-off piece in my new collection, A Ride to Remember.)
Onward to the column:
The Pride Match was this past Saturday in Northampton, MA. It was the 30th anniversary of the first such event, with billows of rainbow balloons, marching bands, Dykes on Bikes, little kids on tricycles or in strollers, puppies, politicians, groups from just about every school and civic organization and church in the region, and floats with fine and fancy drag queens. I was really happy to see the drag queens, because in recent years the whole thing had been tending too far toward the sedately wholesome (with the exception, of course of the Raging Grannies, who always liven things up.)
Don’t worry, I’m definitely going to tie all this in with writing. But before I get there, let me indulge in a few ruminations on where we are and where we’re going.
In the first few years of this Pride March (and others all over the country,) many marchers wore paper bags over their heads. Anonymity was a matter of personal safety, or at least of keeping one’s job. There were vicious hecklers, too, and misguided religious objectors. No hecklers show up these days (there’s plenty of security, and those Dykes on Bikes, and local police who are often “family” themselves, as is the Mayor.) There were some wearers of paper bags, though, carrying signs reminding us of former days, and of how much is still to be accomplished to reach true equality. An article in the local paper featured activists who argued that the March has become just a parade, not a protest, and that the party atmosphere obscures the problems that still exist, especially for transgender people. One speaker at the rally afterward told the crowd that we have Amherst/Northampton in western MA, and Cambridge/Boston on the east coast (and I’ll add Provincetown to the list,) but even in mostly-liberal Massachusetts there’s no place transgender people can feel safe to stop in between.
I’m inclined to think that that was a slight exaggeration, for rhetorical effect, but it’s close enough to the truth to be food for thought. And I don’t think we have to wait until all possible problems are solved before we celebrate how far we’ve come, and party because we feel like it, and because we can. But we still have far to go, and anyone who pays attention to national news can see that in some ways and in too many places we’re actually losing ground.
Enough with the politics. Onward to our writing, and reading. How do we handle the all-too-real world around us in our fiction? There’s nothing wrong with ignoring the problems some of the time; we all want to read lesbian fiction that shows us participating fully in society, without barriers, and, in fact, many of us do that. Most of the time. We want the world in our fiction to be the world as it should be. But sometimes there are stories that do confront inequalities and injustice and prejudice, and we need those, too. Stories need conflict; often that’s supplied by fighting crime or solving mysteries or battling the elements or even just misunderstandings, but we do have a built-in source of conflict in our current culture, and even if that’s not the focus of our stories, it can add an edge and a sense of risk that intensifies the rest.
In historical fiction this is especially true. If you’re trying to be accurate about an historical period, as opposed to writing fantasy, you can’t pretend that everything is hunky dory and being lesbian or gay doesn’t matter (unless, of course, your story is set in, say, the artistic circles of Paris in the early twentieth century, or possibly Greenwich Village, and even then you had to be either rich or a protégée of the rich to be accepted.) That gives you a source of fictional conflict right there. Sometimes I feel a little guilty about using the misfortunes of those who went before us as grist for the writing mill; on the other hand, those stories need to be told, and not forgotten, along with the protest marchers with bags over their heads.
That was my original intended link between the Pride March and writing--but today I was handed a better one. You’ve probably heard about the Eppie Awards for e-published books; this year’s winners have just been announced, and I’ve been seeing mentions all over Facebook. My friend Catherine Lundoff recently volunteered to be a “category screener” for EPIC (the Eppie awarding organization,) which involves a complicated system of deciding which judges read which books, and sending the books to them. Judges get to have books screened for content that they’d rather not read; that is, they can ask not to be sent certain types of books that might distress or offend them. Catherine posted to the Outer Alliance mail list, “The number one screen for content to determine which judges get what books is the following: ‘Content issues: GLBT content, excessive violence, etc.’” There’s another side to this, which is that we’d probably rather not have our work being judged by anyone who finds GLBT content offensive, but still—grouping GLBT content with excessive violence?
I don’t want to rain on our parade, but…well, food for thought.