I’m reading books only by lesbians this month, in observance of Pride. I tried this for the first time last June and decided to make it an annual personal tradition. Why? It’s become a month for surrounding ourselves with gay family and soaking up an abundance of Pride-themed events. As an introvert, I couldn’t imagine a better way to enjoy the spirit of the season than by spending all of my reading time for the month exclusively with books by (and often about) lesbians.
This experiment has become a personal celebration of lesbians, a challenge to explore more lesbian work, a refusal of the limited choices made most easily accessible to us, and a Pride gift to myself as well — a mental gaycation of sorts. So that even when I am on a packed commuter train, feeling, most literally, surrounded by straight people, with men’s voices and bodies in particular bearing down on my space, and on my way to an office filled with straight people — when I turn away and bury my nose in a book that reflects pieces of my life in a normal and beautiful way, then at least with that book, I grant myself a reprieve from that loneliness, that crowded unseen-ness.
Here are some of the things that have happened:
I’ve found more and more lesbian authors, and in more places than I expected. My default had been to venture into lesbian literature primarily for dense non-fiction, sometimes poetry. I knew I would not last happily for a whole month on just lesbian feminist theory books, however, and finding a varied literary diet required a little more work than just walking into a bookstore and looking for interesting covers and titles, given my restrictions.
Friends and other connections on social media have helped me out with this part with their recommendations, loans, and gifts. I also explored Goodreads (you can friend me here), the catalogs of nearby libraries, lists of Lambda Literary Award winners, and titles mentioned in Rain & Thunder.
I was rewarded — with historical fiction, plays, beautiful memoirs, mysteries, fairy tale retellings, beloved children’s books, New York Times bestselling contemporary fiction, young adult novels set in high schools, and yes, even more poetry and feminist theory. (The lesson, or should I say reminder? Dykes can do EVERYTHING.) The reading itself has been, needless to say, an absolute treat for the most part.
The challenge got a bit complicated when I ended up playing a strange library version of “dyke-spotting.”
Trying to suss out whether an author you’ve never met is a kindred sapphic spirit involves not just gaydar, but also detective work. Sometimes it’s as easy as a Google search that leads you directly to the answer in an interview, and sometimes the path is strewn with missing, false, or contradictory information.
The Library of Congress indexes one book under the subject heading “African American lesbians — Poetry,” but a Google search on the author turns up a proliferation of online sources calling her “openly bisexual.” What to make of this? I was somewhat comforted to know that even the Library of Congress is having a hard time simplifying what has become a rather complicated category of personal identifiers.
Not surprisingly, some writers with an active online presence shy away from naming their own orientation publicly, despite writing primarily about lesbian or bi characters, or they prefer to use the more amorphous “queer.” In one case, I delved into the author’s blog archives in order to find, via pronouns, that she had a female partner.
In cases like that, questions such as: “How do you know she even calls herself lesbian, and is not bisexual?” arose in my mind. I didn’t, and don’t, know for sure. There were a number of times when I wondered to myself, when is it okay to assume lesbianism? The question is so involved that it could occupy an entire post.
More simple to deal with, but somewhat more exasperating, is the selection of works about lesbians that turn out to have been written by straight authors, including men. I’m not sure who told a middle-aged straight man that he should write a middle-aged lesbian’s coming-out story; it was probably a lot of people — it takes a village to raise a man that oblivious — also apparently a lot more then bought the book, and I have to say I’m disappointed in all of them.
Finally, this all got me thinking about more ways to support lesbian works so that others can discover them more easily, and so that lesbian makers can keep on making. Some ideas: When you find a great piece of lesbian-made art/culture/media, make your recommendation more public to help others discover it — on social media, through reviews on merchants’ websites, through Goodreads reviews. Swap books with other lesbians to increase the reach of the work and help our community stay connected to what the writers and other artists among us are up to. Request that radio stations, bookstores, libraries, and the like feature specific works by lesbians – this is even better if you coordinate with others to make your request together. When you love something you’ve read or heard or seen, email the dyke responsible for it to let her know and thank her. Check out lesbian works from the library, especially older ones, to prevent them from going out of circulation, since books that go multiple years without being checked out are at risk of being “weeded” out of the collection, or buy lesbian works from brick-and-mortar stores, used or new, to let the bookseller know they’re worth stocking.
And if you, like me, need a little bit of a kick in the pants to find more women or lesbian creators, setting some temporary self-imposed limits for yourself against the media we’re fed by default is a great way to dive in.