Monday, June 18, 2007

Dyke Books

By Lee Lynch

I set out in the late 1960s to write stories that would give lesbians pleasure and take our minds off our sometimes onerous existences. I wanted to help us survive and I wanted to model successful lesbian lives. That's exactly what Jane Rule did for me with Desert of the Heart, what Isabelle Miller did for me with A Place For Us (later retitled Patience and Sarah) and what Radclyffe Hall did for me with The Well of Loneliness. I gulped down Valerie Taylor, Claire Morgan and Ann Aldrich books like a runner at the end of a marathon. I swear, their stories kept me alive and functional in the days when I was the only out lesbian in my high school and college. It was a service I wanted to repay and the joy of literary escapism was a feeling I wanted to give other lesbians, although sometimes I think I just wanted a thousand girlfriends I could make love to with words. Or maybe, as a sixties kid, I just wanted to save the world – the lesbian world.

When I first started writing, the field was wide open. Very few of us were willing to make up stories and write them down for no one to publish, no one to read. And no one was writing genre fiction – mysteries, speculative fiction, formulaic romances -- within a specifically lesbian context until the 1980s.

Eventually Naiad Press started to publish mysteries. Daughters of a Coral Dawn , Katherine Forrest's science fiction book, followed. There was some controversy about publishing genre fiction – some felt it was time to move away from coming out stories, some were appalled that a lesbian publisher would bring out such – well, genre fiction smacked of mainstream publishing. The lesbian market proved to be large.

Little by little, genre fiction took over. The most literary of presses allowed itself one mystery and then another press would fall to the temptation. I remember being delighted with Barbara Wilson's Barcelona mysteries, which had some gender fluidity to keep them from being too too frivolous. Sarah Dreher and Ellen Hart followed with addictive mixes of mystery and humor.

By this time the lesbian and women's presses had become serious businesses. They were appreciated but not well supported financially. We used to say dykes spent their money in bars, not bookstores, and a dozen women would read one tattered copy of a Naiad book, often shop lifted. So more and more, the presses put out genre books. Those of us who hung in there and kept writing our non-genre stories became what were called mid-list authors of general fiction. Read: not as popular with lesbian readers. We didn't meet non-gay readers' tastes either, and we didn't earn big bucks for the presses.

To this day, I don't write with a market in mind. Which is a good thing, as I haven't a clue how to define – or market – my books. Someone asked if I thought my novels were romances. They do have happy endings and always contain a romance between at least one femme and one butch, or two butches. Or two femmes – no, wait, I haven't tried that yet, but it might be fun. In any case, it's not my intention to write romances. Someone else tried to define my work as butch/femme romance, but I don't think so. My editor calls it literary fiction and I think that's very cool, but the nearest I can come to a category is something that could be termed "a place for us" tales. The characters are looking for roots in a world which does not consider lesbians to be desirable inhabitants.

My characters seem to be driven by a combination of setting and events, not genre, not literary finesse; they are wandering lovers with a longing for a hearth of their own. They find love and claim their places in often hostile settings. Maybe this does make my stories literary fiction as this is one of those universal experiences that have traditionally been treated in novels: "man" vs. nature, for example, like the Joad family in Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath trying to escape the dustbowl.

I write about outsiders wanting in. As part of a recent Golden Crown Literary Society Convention (, I was on a panel that asked what my ideal novel would be. The answer I prepared was: The Hunchback of Notre Dame with a lesbian instead of a hunchback. I want a big fat complex story set in an exotic locale like gay Paree, with a hot femme like Esmeralda and an outsider heroine who rings church bells for a living.

If it were not for pervasive social bigotry all readers could see that a novel about a lesbian, genre fiction or not, can be as universal and relevant as one about a non-gay character. If we sometimes overemphasize our affectional preferences, it is because we need to tell our hitherto untold stores – millions of them – and to see our hitherto hidden lives in print. Maybe I, and other dyke non-genre writers, don't set the mainstream literary world ablaze, but heterosexist writers have hogged the bookshelves since book numero uno. I write for the people who are relevant to me.

Copyright Lee Lynch 2007


Lee Lynch is the writer of more than a dozen dyke books, among them "Sweet Creek", as well as book reviews, articles, feature stories and a syndicated column. You can read more about Lee here .

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

And Another Thing: Religion and Civil War

By Carole Taylor

Information, get me Jesus on the line.

I’m from the South. I know that might not matter to you, but it does to me. Whether you realize it or not, folks in the South are some of the very few people on earth who survived a civil war and then got on with business within just a couple of generations. Who got over living in an occupied country. My lover is a Yankee. I like Yankees. Only Yankees don’t call themselves Yankees. They won. Had they lost, they’d be as strange about the Civil War as we are.

I would not have been someone fighting for the South in any case. Not a big fan of slavery in any of my incarnations. But Southern identity has more to do with being brought up in a country that lost a war, not necessarily why the war was fought. That’s a whole nother discussion.

You may wonder what civil war has to do with gay and lesbian or even gender issues. Probably everything, given that if certain civil wars now raging continue to get out of hand, there may be nothing left anywhere to have rights about.

With every day filled with news of multitudinous international sibling rivalries/boarder disputes/jihads going on in various parts of the world, I kept asking myself why it was that in America we had a civil war and aren’t still having it. In the Middle East, somebody has been giving the rebel yell almost continuously for 5,000 years. In India and Pakistan, gone with the wind will mean gone with the nuclear fallout. In Ireland, it’s supposedly over, but it lasted over four centuries. And those are just the most glaring examples.

What do all of those other wars have in common? What did our own civil war lack that let us get over ourselves in relatively short order?

The answer to both questions is religion, that’s what. Our civil war was not about who believed in what god or how to spell his name. Or not spell it. It was over a lot of things, stupidity being one of them, but it wasn’t over religion. Religion was used by both sides in America to justify this or that, but religion itself wasn’t the issue.

It has never, ever made any sense to me to have even a verbal argument over religion, but apparently I am nearly alone in my lack of adrenaline. People the world over are absolutely CERTAIN that there is only one god and he’s on their personal speed dial and nobody else’s. That’s the same certainty that creates Virginia and Kansas “ministers” out of the dust of the earth and drives these holy men to hound gays and lesbians to distraction, and nearly always for the same reason. All these guys know who God is, doncha know. The one thing that nearly all of those religious types CAN agree on is that WE are the enemy. Once they stop fighting the congregation across the street or across the boarder for condemnation rights, that is.

And Godde help you if you suggest that the Deity is a female entity, that the Being isn’t the manufacturer of quantum amounts of Celestial Testosterone. Talk about civil war. Don’t take me there.

So if religion is the cause of the problem, or at least the reason given that all these warring factions can’t come to the peace table, then might it be that we should inspect that issue.

Other than that your mother told you it was a good idea, why believe in a god at all? And beyond that, why beat up your neighbor over it? What good does it do? Here’s a thought: If God is supposedly the embodiment of all that humans aspire to, then it matters how we describe who and what we worship. It matters how we describe heaven. It matters how we describe the diety. Because that is how we would describe who we wish we were, what the best possible Earth could be.

How we describe Godde, if you believe in one, has nothing to do with who Godde actually IS, in the existential sense. I can believe that Godde is a flaming Amazon beauty with a double headed axe and a dog kennel, but if Godde exists, my belief will have no effect whatever on who that being actually is. You can BELIEVE whatever you wish about someone. Your belief might be either flattering or simpering or insulting, but your belief alone will not change who that person is.

But your belief about who YOU are will have everything to do with who YOU become.

If you tell children from the time they can hear that heaven is reached by killing twenty Jews and blowing yourself up in the process, that the reward is 72 virgins (for boys only, damn it all), that women are cattle and only worth anything, however slight, as a virgin, I can pretty much tell you what your society will look like, what your home life will look like, what your wars will look like.

Personally, I believe that Godde is a beautiful menopausal Black lesbian. I used to believe that She was a beautiful 30-year-old Cherokee bravette. Before that I believed that He was a reeeeeeeeeeeally old, unmarried, confusing white guy who supported things like incest, castration and complicated restaurant menus. Who the futz knows. I certainly don’t. Maybe he’s a tiny little gay guy who sings show tunes and occasionally does drag.

And maybe we can’t bring peace to the world by abandoning the pulpit, but it just could be that if we were all a little less certain about that speed dial thing, heaven might look a little friendlier.

As one of my favorite prayers says, “God, please save me from your followers.”

Carole Taylor holds a masters degree and most of a doctorate, which she used as a university administrator for much too long by all accounts. She has been a commercial artist, a journalist, a grants writer, a house cleaner and a Renaissance woman. She also wrote a fantastic must-read novel, called
"A Third Story".
You can email her here.