Meditations for Queer Femmes — Sad, No, Make that BOUNTIFUL Queer Stories!

Still feeling literary and looking forward to discussing Gabby Rivera’s profound and profoundly sweet novel Juliet Takes a Breath tomorrow evening with our fabulous Queer Book Group, and I’ve been thinking about queer stories.

The other day, when a friend handed me back the copy of A Scarlet Pansy I had lent him, he said happily, “I just loved how Fay had tons of entirely ‘dissolute’ sex all his life, with little to no repercussions!” Indeed, Fay the hero/heroine of Robert Scully’s 1932 novel, has everyone drooling over him, straight or gay, and beds a lovely bevy of fellas with great abandon. He is neither punished nor shamed for this, but rather takes it as his queenly due. Did you catch the date? That was 1932.

So I am wondering about the heavy legacy of what is supposed to be our literary due. Is it really true that all queer lit until our enlightened ages was sad and miserable? That no queer character lived happily ever after until The Price of Salt or Rubyfruit Jungle? E.M. Forester kept Maurice from being published until the early 1970s, and he wrote it in 1912! If a well-known author was writing happy queer stories and keeping them in file drawers, there must be oodles of other books by less-well-known authors out there!

Denying ourselves a history of happy queer lives reflected in literature seems to me to be another way we are robbing ourselves and allowing ourselves to be bullied by the status quo. As soon as we buy into the idea that unless we’re “normal” we are destined for heartbreak, we lose ourselves, we lose connection to a more complicated, layered and happy history that surely is available. Perhaps hidden, perhaps written down in a corking code using Ancient Greek and algebra, like those fabulous secret diaries of the randy Miss Anne Lister, perhaps otherwise misplaced or overlooked, but waiting to be found again and with us nonetheless.

Sarah Waters brazenly and wonderfully makes up an intricate queer past where queers are real people, have full and rewarding lives, along with lots of sex and adventure. What a gift it is when artists queer the queer story! Speaking of which, we can also go back and do a little revisionist work on some of the lugubrious classics, like for example, what if Mary, the femme from The Well of Loneliness, cruelly betrayed by Stephen, gets to Canada with the odious Martin, ditches him and makes her way to an early version of wimmin’s land run by a motely crew of dykes with survival skills and no use for the fellas?*

All our queer voices must have a place, and all our queer stories are precious and important. I am just thinking that there is a reason that many of the extremely difficult stories are given more room than the ones starting with a healthy queer life and going from there.

Juliet Takes a Breath is one of those stories – and am I mistaken, or is the young protagonist more than just a smidge femme?? – and I am so fucking grateful! “I want my work to be centered in joy,” says Gabby Rivera, who is also the writer for Marvel’s America, featuring America Chavez, the first queer Latinx hard femme superheroine.

Centered in joy. Oh, purr!

*Could a femme please write that, please? And if you’ve already written it, could you please let me know??

Every Monday (or Tuesday!), I offer a Meditation for Queer Femmes in the spirit of my maternal grandmother, Mimi, who was fabulous, and from whom I inherited her Meditations for Women.

A Blog You Trust

Once again, I was in Harvard Square with maybe 15 minutes before I had to be at my appointment. Once again, I went into Harvard Books. This time, I marched right up to one of the cashiers and asked if they had an LGBT section. She led me to a shelf – one shelf – where queer studies, women’s studies, and gender studies were cozily nestled together. Well, that’s one way of doing it. There was almost no fiction except for a paperback copy of Rubyfruit Jungle (?). It wasn’t a bad selection of theory and nonfiction, and I ended up getting a couple of books there that I had planned to buy online, so that was good. The lack of fiction was so frustrating, though. As I was checking out, I asked the cashier about it. The cashier next to her joined the conversation, saying that of the 3 buyers, none is queer, so it’s not on their radar (!). She suggested I find a blog I trust and get recommendations for queer literature from there. I said I would rather come browse at a bookstore. We talked about the ghettoization aspect of having a section for queer literature. She said that Allison Bechdel is thrilled that her graphic novel is being marketed as a graphic novel and not a queer graphic novel. I had more to say, but I needed to get to my appointment. I lodged my complaint and my request, thanked them kindly and went along.

I’m glad Allison Bechdel is getting more exposure – she’s been working hard and steadily for decades and deserves to be acknowledged as an American great, but I’m thinking more about readers instead of writers. We readers still need to know where to find queer literature. Sure, I can look at the Lambda Literary and see who’s on their list, and so can you:

but nothing beats being able to hold the book in your hands and flip through it, reading snippets as you go. In fact, we could start with that: what if Harvard Books had a display of the Lambda nominees – how cool would that be? I don’t suppose it would take up all that much space, and it would say to queer bookstore patrons, “Hey! We know you’re here, you’re queer, and you might like to see some of the vast selection of queer books that we thought were worthy of note!” It would be a small but powerful gesture to queer patrons, some of whom, perhaps, don’t want to be ghettoized, but all of whom, surely, don’t want to be completely disregarded.

What about it, Harvard Books?

Published in: on March 26, 2012 at 1:40 PM  Leave a Comment  
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