Reblogged from Women and Words.
Ashley Bartlett: The broad idea for our topic is that we have something in common aside from sex. But what is that commonality?
Heather Blackmore: One commonality is the absence of lesbians in the stories we see and hear.
Ashley: Yeah, that pervasive invisibility.
Heather: That’s changing bit by bit, but if I go to my local library and look for works where there are lesbian protagonists, I have about 3 choices, all great choices (Dorothy Allison, Jeanette Winterson, Sarah Waters), but 3 choices nonetheless. I’d love to find out how lesbians (and those who write about them in a positive way) can get the word out that there are actually stories by and about them, and that there are a growing number of those stories.
Ashley: But how do we tap into markets that are invisible? We have readership, but outside of that, how do we recruit new readers? Same with movies or music. I tried really hard to see Blue is the Warmest Color, but couldn’t find a showing anywhere.
Heather: Totally agree. Those are part of the stories we’re absent from. Tiny showings at tiny theaters. Same with plays. I don’t know the answer. It seems it’s a very slow growing thing.
Ashley: So aside from invisibility, what links us? What is that thing that makes us want to drink a beer surrounded by lesbians? Why do we adopt little baby dykes and feed them? Why do we want to see ourselves reflected by society when we have nothing in common besides a love of boobs? What else do we have in common?
Heather: We’re linked by our shared histories of being different by an accepted norm, having to maneuver through those differences with our families, friends and colleagues, and searching for ways to love ourselves and find peace with it. That sounded more down than I meant.
Ashley: What about with newer generations who don’t know our history and who don’t struggle with their families or friends? But who still very much want to tap into our culture because their mothers (despite loving them) don’t understand them?
Heather: I think it’s a matter of degrees. It may be easier now, but it’s not yet completely acceptable. Hell, look at the mess with these Sochi Winter Games.
Ashley: Yes, and explaining to kids that they shouldn’t watch the Games seems a difficult task because they say “oh no, that’s wrong, but my watching doesn’t endorse it.”
Heather: Ah, interesting. I don’t know that we shouldn’t watch the games. Athletes have worked all their lives to be good enough to attend. But I think you’re on to something about the education piece of it. Explaining to kids why there’s an issue, and why it’s wrong to be judged by your sexual orientation — that’s what we need to do. Teach. Learn. So in terms of who to have a beer with? We want to have a beer with someone who we relate to. We’re not just linked by sex, we’re linked by those commonalities of what it means to be a minority.
Ashley: So what is that thing? That moment when you walk into a room or make eye contact with someone and it’s like your gut is pulled forward. It’s not sexual or romantic. It’s like coming home.
Heather: Totally! Some “ah-ha” moment where you know you’re not alone.
Ashley: And within that minority, we have so many shades of color and age and gender, but it can reach across those boundaries (usually).
Heather: Yep, that’s why it’s so important for lesbians to think of the larger LGBTQ world when we talk about this stuff.
Ashley: It’s also that moment where you don’t have to explain why you dress like a boy. I don’t know if you do, obvi, but I do. Gender is rapidly becoming a part of that conversation. But the gender conversation has shifted a lot recently.
Heather: We need to be inclusive because so much of the world is still trying to exclude what is “other” or “different.”
Ashley: While we are celebrating being other or different.
Heather: I live in my baseball cap, but if I want to wear a dress at a wedding, I will.
Ashley: hahaha and did you?
Heather: Without the baseball cap on.
Ashley: My girlfriend has informed me that the baseball cap is coming to the wedding.
Heather: I agree on the celebrating part. It’s a bit like writing in that way. You have your little ego saying “you’re not good enough” for all these reasons, so you have to stop it and celebrate who you are and why you are good enough.
Ashley: It’s also realizing that being queer makes you happy. Not just that you enjoy it or have a community, but that you have something that sets you apart from other, more normative people.
Heather: I think getting to that part — the journey of getting to the realization that being queer makes you happy — can be a difficult journey. A friend just had a gay friend kill himself and she was concerned that was one of the things he just could never come to terms with. So while some of us realize being queer makes us happy, for others it’s a struggle to get to that understanding.
Ashley: How do we translate all of that to fiction?
Heather: We write about those journeys.
Ashley: Do we, though?
Heather: I think we do, yes. At least we’re starting to.
Ashley: I mean, yes twenty years ago, coming out stories and coming to terms stories were huge, but today that is becoming less relevant.
Heather: Did you read Jane Hoppen’s book, In Between?
Ashley: It’s on my list.
Heather: She writes of Sophie’s journey: a child born with male and female genitalia. That’s the kind of story we’re starting to write about. It’s the kind of book you wish you could give to your senators to get them to stop being so judgmental.
Ashley: Exactly. That conversation, of where people who don’t fall on the gender binary should and can exist, is becoming far more relevant.
Heather: Yes, we cannot be stuffed into little boxes of male or female. We need to understand there is “other”. I had a great experience in a blood bank where the guy asked me my gender, and I looked at him like he was crazy, but then I realized he was letting me answer for myself. I totally needed to be reminded that it is MY choice! My identity. Not what someone thinks they see and the box they want to put me in.
Ashley: Yeah, I saw that on your blog (I stalked you). And I loved the way you approached it. My students discuss this a lot. Their first question to a newcomer is “what is your PGP?” (Preferred Gender Pronoun)
Heather: I’ve read about it.
Ashley: It has become a joke, but a very serious and sincere joke, to them. Because they live in a world where that is your first question, but they realize that they are surrounded by people who don’t ever consider the answer.
Heather: That is a great lesson! Knowing “they are surrounded by people who don’t ever consider the answer.” You must work at a very progressive HS.
Ashley: No. Not remotely progressive. Red pocket in a blue state. But that’s why the kids struggle so much. They demand to be seen as they are.
Heather: They must look to you to help them with that. I bet you’re very good for them in that regard. Sincerely.
Ashley: I think I’m the first lesbian most of them have met. And I’m the only out faculty member the school has ever had. It’s empowering to show them that a world exists outside of their own. Also, they have been taught that being queer is about sex. It isn’t. Especially for a teenager who doesn’t consider sex as part of everyday life the way that we do.
Heather: That’s great that the students are open to hearing about people who are different, and then figuring out how they do and don’t relate to it. Without judging.
Ashley: Being able to show them that they have history and community and terminology is exciting. Maybe that is the answer to our question.
Heather: You’re a superstar! We’re done!
Heather: I think seeing us as purely sexual is a problem. It’s exactly what happened during the AIDS crisis. So many people ignored what was happening because they felt gay men were too sexed up or something. Unbelievable.
Heather: But yeah, showing that being queer is about so much more than our sex lives. Getting that info out there is still not happening enough.
Ashley: Exactly! And a lot of that has faded, but it is still present. Part of the fade is due to social shifts, but we are also surrounded by people who essentially choose to not remember AIDS. As if it didn’t happen because it wasn’t about them or their community.
Heather: But you’re making a difference in the classroom, which is a start.
Ashley: Don’t give me too much credit. My sphere of influence is about 15 teenagers.
Heather: We’re making progress, but sometimes it feels like baby steps. That gets us back to the question of how we get our stories out there. Rather, how we increase the audience.
Ashley: I don’t know. I think we have to rely on some things we can’t control, like public opinion, to make us more visible. But we can change public opinion by coming out to everyone, everywhere, everyday. And by talking to our friends and family and informing them. That way we, as a larger community, become more mainstream in that entertainment and media are about us. And about celebrating our difference the way that we do, not in some stereotypical manifestation.
Heather: Yep, which is why we each need to be involved in sharing our stories. Because we’re all different, we have different histories and imaginations.
Ashley: Which (cue hippie music) is why we have such a rich culture.
Heather: We’re lucky in that respect that we live in America. It’s no longer assumed that because someone is gay, s/he is a sex offender — unlike the propaganda Putin is spewing ahead of the Sochi games. (I’m going to be eliminated after this post.) Rather, our high court aimed to do away with the inequality built into Federal law with DOMA. Hallelujah.
Ashley: Amen, brother.