Monday, July 7, 2008

separate but unequal

Sarah Schulman has a Soapbox piece in last week's issue of Publishers Weekly. It reads in part:

If you are a lesbian and you want to get married in California, you're in luck. But if you are a human being who would like to read novels with lesbian protagonists by openly lesbian authors, you'd better move to England....

...In the 1980s, the AIDS crisis forced America to admit that gay people exist, and for a brief period the vibrant but underground literature of authentic gay and lesbian experience was able to surface through corporate presses and hover on the margins of American letters. By the early 1990s the country's most powerful presses started presenting lesbian literature as an integrated part of U.S. intellectual life. But that's when cultural containment kicked in, in the form of niche marketing. Corporations began the process of transforming a political movement into a consumer group, by selecting particular products to be sold to queers alone. Chain bookstores literally took lesbian literature off of the Fiction shelves and tucked it away in newly formed Gay Book sections, which are usually found on the fourth floor in the back behind the potted plants. At the same time, lesbian writers who avoided protagonists as lesbian as they are were allowed to stay in Fiction. The industry created incentives for authors to avoid the specificity of their own experience, absurdly creating the only literature in the world in which the authors' actual lives are never recorded. The best known example of many would be Susan Sontag, who maintained her stature as a Major American Intellectual while never applying her prodigious intellectual gifts to a public analysis of her own condition. She even wrote a book analyzing AIDS stigma while staying in the closet.

In my opinion, lesbian fiction is shunned because not only does it have girl cooties, it has double girl cooties. (Gay fiction, on the other hand, gets a lot of mainstream respect in this country because gay boys are, y'know, boys.) But, hey, I've talked about this before in my LitBlog Co-op piece called, surprisingly, "Girl Cooties." (If you go read the article, be sure to read the discussion comments, too.)

Gender imbalance is also being discussed over at Mind Meld. I wonder if Clinton losing the Democratic nomination is dragging these concerns closer to the surface, closer to consciousness for many people. Or maybe, hey, the hot weather (we had amazing thunderstorms here last week) is just making everyone finally willing to Name That Crankiness. To which I say, Yay.

Here, too, is a new interview with Kelley talking about gender bias in f/sf.

But back to Sarah Schulman. We met in 1992, when I reviewed Empathy for Southern Voice. She did a reading at Charis Books and More, and looked a bit tired. (Touring for a book is brutal, exhausting, and confusing. In the bookshop you're a star and everyone loves you. But then everyone goes home and you go to your hotel room, cold and tired and lonely.) So Kelley and I took her out for dinner and then brought her back to our house for a bit of normalcy over a cup of tea. We had a wonderful conversation.

So, anyway, go read her piece in PW, then go buy one of her books. Go buy any lesbian's books, especially one with lesbian characters. Don't be afraid. Reading about it won't turn you queer. Unless, of course, you read Ammonite :)

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