For this issue of the San Francisco Bay Times, I asked novelist and screenwriter Lucy J. Madison to guest write a piece on women’s literature for Women’s History Month.
Lucy J. Madison: Picture this: You’re a fly on the wall at a very posh mixed (gay/straight) cocktail party. You watch as a woman introduces herself to me and asks what I do for a living.
“I’m a writer,” I respond.
“How interesting! What do you write?”
“Romance novels, poetry, and screenplays,” I casually answer.
“Who doesn’t love a good, steamy romance, right?” She laughs conspiratorially.
“Right. My first two books, Personal Foul and In the Direction of the Sun, are contemporary lesbian romance novels,” I explain.
“Oh, you write lesbian books?” She whispers the word “lesbian” like one whispers “cancer” or like a white person whispers “black”.
Commence eye roll. Really? My b.s. meter jumps into the red zone.
Does a rule exist in the hetero playbook that states only lesbians read lesbian novels? Or only straight people read straight novels? Because if so, I must’ve missed it. As a young lesbian, I grew up reading straight literature and crushing hard on incredible female characters like Brett Ashley in The Sun Also Rises and Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice. I had a few wild daydreams over ravishing and charming Anna Karenina and felt butterflies over Éowyn in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
It wasn’t until my twenties that I began actively reading lesbian pulp fiction and lesbian authors like Rita Mae Brown, Lee Lynch, Jewelle Gomez, Radclyffe Hall, and now a whole host of indie LGBTQ+ authors writing kick-ass unapologetic lesbian characters and stories in multiple genres that inspire me every day.
This is the part that drives me nuts. As a lesbian, I’m perfectly capable of reading a novel with straight characters doing straight people things without stuffing them onto the dreaded sub-genre bookshelf. Is that not a possibility for a straight person? According to this warped logic, heteros cannot read Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt or complain about Jenny from The L Word like the rest of us?
As a lesbian writer who writes lesbian stories and poetry, I constantly push the boundaries of literature just by being who I am and writing what I want. The strong lesbian characters I created in Personal Foul or In the Direction of the Sun find their happily-ever-afters without sexuality being the story’s central drama.
During Women’s Herstory Month, we exalt all female-written LGBTQ+ literature and accomplishments. If you’re straight, why not make a concerted effort to read a LGBTQ+ story? Why not go a step further and recommend one of those exceptional books to a straight friend? For all you LGBTQ+ folks, I encourage you to investigate stories within our own community, like Being Emily by Rachel Gold or Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg, to help break down the silos within literature that simply should not exist.
Literature is literature. Good stories bring us together and help us realize our commonalities. And in this era of political dysfunction and increasing homophobia, we need that now more than ever before.
Lucy J. Madison is a novelist, poet, and screenwriter. She is the author of two contemporary lesbian romance novels, “In the Direction of the Sun” and “Personal Foul,” as well as a collection of poetry entitled “I.V. Poems” (Sapphire Books). www.lucyjmadison.com