Sunday, December 1, 1996

lesbians and science fiction, oh my


I just finished reading Slow River and Ammonite (recommended to me by a straight male friend, in fact), and would like to thank you for the quality and care of your writing. Both novels were gripping -- I found myself having trouble putting them down while simultaneously pacing myself, rationing your words so that I could save some for later. I can't wait for your next novel.

Reflecting on both Ammonite and Slow River, I guess what strikes me the most is not that they are lesbian science fiction (though since I read a lot of both lesbian fiction and science fiction, it's wonderful to have the combination), but that both Lore and Marghe are so matter-of- fact about their sexual orientation. Books have always been influential in helping me see and understand things about myself, and at first I identified strongly with the more typical fictional lesbian characters who always seem to be second-guessing, debating, and agonizing over their desires to be with other women. However, as I've moved into a more accepting stage myself, these fictional characters haven't.

I guess I didn't realize how much these fictional lesbian characters always second-guessing themselves bothered me until I read your novels, and realized that there was no reason for them to, that they didn't have to. And I'd like to thank you for that, for portraying a remarkably reasonable not-so-distant future world (in Slow River) where gender and sexual orientation are just not issues.

Reading Ammonite was also an enlightening experience. Initially, I found myself making assumptions that various captains, commanders, etc. were male, and having to change my mental view when I realized they were female. I hadn't realized how ingrained the authority figure = male assumption was in my subconscious until I was confronted with a situation where all the characters, major and minor, were female. I found this quite interesting -- why should my default gender be male? I guess I should start assuming everyone's a lesbian, and go from there. :)

I guess this is more of a thank-you fan letter than it is a question. :) I just stumbled across this page, and it seemed a convenient way to let you know how much I enjoyed your books. I'm recommending them to many of my friends, and eagerly await your next works!
Thanks for taking the time and trouble to send me your thoughts. I'm currently about a third of the way through my next book, and I'm a bit stuck. Since reading how much you're looking forward to it, though, I have been immensely cheered. In fact, I've been smiling all day.

I know what you mean about all those lesbian and gay characters who agonize about their sexuality. I subscribe to the Nike school of philosophy: Just Do It. If you sit around and fret about it, you're not getting on with your life. Which sounds rather simplistic, but I don't think it is. Plan, yes; think, yes; what-if to a certain extent; but then there is only one more thing to do, and that's to Just Do It. There's no other way. And who wants to *read* about that stuff, anyway?

Every now and again, someone will ask me the secret of being a writer, and I say: write. People look for the magic bullet (a no-diet, no-exercise way to lose weight; a no-study way to get a degree; a no-sweat way to become a black belt) but there isn't one. If you're a lesbian, go fall in love (or just have sex with, depending on your personality) a woman, and get on with enjoying your life. If you want to write a novel, start writing one. Today. If it's awful, write another. You can go to workshops, too, if you like, but if you don't write, you don't ever produce a novel.

It's interesting, what you said about default gender. I talked to a man at a party once who got really angry and told me he bought Ammonite and read it and felt that the publisher had ripped him off. "Why?" I asked. "Because they lied on the back cover! They deceived me. They didn't say there weren't any men in it!" So I pointed out that *he* was the one who had deceived himself. He had read the back cover blurb, which talked about 'the natives' and 'the Company' and 'them' and so on, and just *assumed* they were all men. He blinked at me, confused. So I asked, "Did you enjoy it?" and he said, "Well, yes. But that's not the point!" I, on the other hand, think it's the main point.

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Are you a lesbian?


Okay. I'd like to ask a rather blunt question. Are you a lesbian? If so, is that why you write lesbian-themes stories & novels? If not, do you talk to lesbians to get things right?

Yes. I'm a lesbian, a dyke, a tribadist; I rub tummies with other girls, kiss them in dark corners and bright glades... Well, let me amend that. These days I only kiss one girl: Kelley. But, hey, I wasn't always so well behaved.

When I was four years old I was playing doctor with the girls next door. When I was five I declared I would never get married. (But then when I was thirty-two I did marry. I married another woman, Kelley, so I hope my five year-old self will forgive me.) If you really want to know, I've had sex with two men. It was okay, but nothing to write home about.

Why do I write "lesbian-themed stories and novels"? Well, I don't think I do. The protagonists are dykes, yes, but the themes are not lesbian. The themes (and perhaps I'm flattering myself--feel free to disagree) are universal. I'm trying to talk about what makes a person who they are; what it means to be alone; what it means to change utterly; how it might feel to discover you aren't who you thought you were. And so on. Yes, dykes go throught this, but so does everyone else. I don't make being a dyke an issue in my work: Lore and Marghe are dykes--but it's about as important to them as their hair colour in terms of the story line.

As for "getting it right" there are so many different kinds of dykes (as many different kinds as there are straights) that I don't think it's possible to "get it right." Someone will always stand up and say: Well I don't do that, therefore you're wrong! Tuh.

My turn to ask a question (and this may sound facetious but it's genuine; I really want to know): Would you ask, say, Lois McMaster Bujold if she was straight and, if not, whether she talked to straights to "get it right?"

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