As several of you may have gathered, I’m gay. So gay that I am, in fact, marrying a lady. So pretty gay overall. How vocal I am about this fact tends to depend on where I am. People I’m close to at work know, and any have met my fiancée. My friends and family are actively supportive of and delighted by my engagement and I make a point to promptly show anybody who isn’t the door. My loving and mutually supportive relationship disgusts you? That’s nice, please never speak to me again.
I did not, however, openly address my sexuality until I was eighteen years old, had left for university and was given the opportunity to sort through my personal feelings in my own time, in my own space, surrounded by people who hadn’t known me since birth and couldn’t remember how I used to refuse to speak to people unless addressed by the name of my chosen Disney Princess.
I was a weird kid.
In hindsight I know this is partially due to my growing up in a small town where people seemed by and large to be heterosexual and in a time where sexuality wasn’t discussed much, but it was also partially due to representation.
Or lack of it.
My first encounter with the concept of lesbians was probably Ross’s ex-wife in Friends, and I can’t remember much of that except that she was a character on the periphery whose relationship was treated as more of a running gag than anything else. I went through the usual phases as a kid, girly and fluffy, to Avril-Lavigne 90s grunge, to the side-fringe-and-emotional-rock-music phase, and my avoidance of dating was attributed more to my social shyness and preference of books over people than anything else. Then we reached A-Level, and we read Fingersmith and The Color Purple in English. I am a terrible lesbian in that I actively dislike The Color Purple, it just wasn’t for me and I’m not sure I actually read the whole thing cover to cover. Fingersmith, however, I thoroughly enjoyed. I have since studied Tipping the Velvet at university, and even went to see the stage show which was incredible and hilarious and everything I could have wanted it to be. Anyway, amongst classmates who had a tendency to giggle when we got to the rude parts and the word ‘lesbian’ was said aloud, I discovered something that made sense. I came across The Dark Wife by Sarah Diemer (who now writes under a different name, Bridget Essex, and who has also published under Elora Bishop. I know, that’s a lot of names, but do check them out) not long afterwards, and begun to actively seek out these tiny fragments of a whole I was forming in my own mind.
These stories thrilled me. What if Hades and Persephone were both women? What of the classic fairy tales that could so easily be tweaked, retold anew for people like me desperately grasping at these moments of peace? My love affair with these retellings has extended so far into my adult life that I’m now writing one, and they offered me comfort in my uncertainty and fear. I didn’t want to be different, but I was, and these books helped me accept and even love that difference. Now as an adult woman, living with a woman I love so very much and looking back, I wish there had been more. I spent years of my life not understanding myself, denying my own difference and preventing my own happiness because in a world where books with people like me in them were in the special section of the library, or needed a letter home for a parent to approve my reading of them in class, how could I have been anything else but unsuitable for my own classroom?
I was told at University that if I wanted to write books with lesbian protagonists they would likely be niche, hard to publish and would not make much money. By a lecturer no less. This pissed me off. I have a passion for storytelling, I love it, games, books, podcasts, movies, word of mouth – stories are what I thrive on and the ability to create them is one of my proudest achievements. One day, I want to share them with the world. So why, if I have this passion and drive and the stories I write are good (as I hope they are and will be) would people not want to read them?
So I turned to my best friend who is both heterosexual and the least judgemental human being you will ever encounter unless you don’t like coffee, and I asked her to read the books I was reading. Fingersmith, the Dark Wife, she even watched The L Word with me at her uni house because I was too self conscious in my shared bedroom to watch it at my own. She has read every word I have ever written more or less, even the rubbish ones and there have been many of those, so she’s probably the world’s leading heterosexual expert on lesbian fiction.
And guess what?
She loved them too.
If these stories were so niche and unsellable, why would a heterosexual book lover enjoy them? Because they’re damn good stories and SHOCK HORROR people who like good stories will like them. Of course, many LGBT+ forms of media are aimed at adults. Look at the shows, The L Word, Orange is the New Black, Lip Service – most contain fairly graphic sex scenes which you probably wouldn’t show to kids, right? The books often contain much of the same, if you’ve read my review of Hunger For You you’ll know that the sheer amount of smut was off-putting even to a seasoned gay such as myself. We need more stories that portray lady-loving ladies as more than the sexual encounters we have. It’s hard for a fifteen or sixteen year old to go out there and obtain things marked 18+, and if those things are the only ones in which that that teenager will see that little piece of themselves that I saw in these books, they too will be adults before they can start to make sense of themselves. Give me fantasy, sci-fi, mysteries and suspense and all those wonderful, incredible stories. We are people, and we deserve stories told for and about us. Not TV shows where we die constantly for emotional impact, or books where we feature as a tropey side-character there to tick a box on the inclusion sheet of life.
So, let’s remove it from the ‘niche’, from the special shelves and letters home and desperate online streaming because you can’t buy the DVD and your parents control the netflix account. Representation for all ages is important, and that’s why I write. Because somewhere out there is another version of me, still on the other side of that realisation, still fitting those pieces together and hoping things get better than they are. The least I can do, from the other side of that closet door, is try to help.