Queer Integration and Writing

At a recent panel discussion I led, the topic was LGBTQ integration and writing. puzzle-pieces

A vague topic, certainly.

For the purposes of the panel, the question was: should queer fiction be integrated into mainstream fiction? Should it be separate, or should we always have an identifier that makes it separate? Does having a separate shelf in the book store ghettoize queer writing? Hell, what is queer writing? Is it queer content, or queer author? Must one have the other?

That’s where the conversation started. Other questions that came up: Do you consider yourself a queer writer, or a writer who happens to be queer? If we are fighting for equality, why should we need a separate category? Would it be better if fiction with queer content was integrated on the bookshelves among all other works, so that everyone just picked up a book and read whatever, regardless of sexuality/identification?

Does the author of the work matter? Can a non-queer writer write queer fiction (believably)? One audience member’s response was that it made him uncomfortable only when a non-marginalized person felt they were perfectly qualified to write a non-marginalized experience, because he felt they couldn’t fully understand what it is to live that experience. Another writer said it’s our job to write experiences other than our own, as creators of other worlds. That we shouldn’t allow the worry about ‘getting it wrong’ keep us from attempting to write characters from experiences other than our own.

Some readers said they don’t consider the author at all, some said the author was important because they bring an element of themselves to the story.

The panel was only 40 minutes, and it was a massive question with tons of offshoot questions. It was fast paced, vocal, and intelligent, with plenty of laughter too. So excellent.

Today’s question:

What do you think about some of the questions raised? Does the author of a book matter to you (particularly with regard to sexuality or gender)? Or is the story paramount? Should we keep a category of LGBTQ on the shelves, or would it be better to simply be among all the other books?

Book: Helen of Troy by Margaret George

Song: Even if We Try by Night Beds

The Big 500.

I knew it was coming. feature-74-inc500_38

I kept preparing. I kept running through possible topics that was worthy of the 500 mark. Big topics, lively, funny, poignant.

Nothing. Zilch. I got so bogged down in saying something worthy, I found I had nothing to say. Add to that the bronchitis I came down with on boxing day and have yet to get rid of, and well, the word blockage became something like a bowel obstructed by a bowling ball.

So, as always happens when I get stuck, I’ll do a list:

1. 500 blogs may not seem like a lot for people who blog every day, or who even blog consistently. For me, it feels significant.

2. On this blog I’ve discussed gender, labels, writing, growth, ideas, illness, travel, other people’s blogs, paying attention, and the nature of publishing. Among other things.

3. Perhaps that’s why only a few of you brave souls have hung on–the ponderous and often illogical nature of this blog does not appeal to those who need structure from their cybersphere.

4. I am so grateful for those of you who continue to read. Who comment, share your thoughts, write your own blogs, and just make writing in general a process that is enlightening, fun, and interactive. And to those who lurk in the background, thank you, as well, for stopping by my playground.

5. I have begun a process of buckling down to work smarter, because I can not continue on in the way I’ve been working. We’ll see how it works out. I have given up caffeine, wheat, dairy, meat and sugar. And my migraines are definitively, inescapably, less because of it.

6. The growth I’ve had in the time I’ve been doing this blog is exceptional. I have been devastatingly ill, I have hit rock bottom and clawed my way back. I have broken both elbows, I have spent years in therapy. I have learned what love is. And what unconditional means.

7. I have been to States several times, Cyprus, Venice, Tenerife, Greece, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Spain and in two weeks, Belgium. I have travelled through the Netherlands, Iceland, Sweden and France. I learned enough Italian and Greek to get by while we were there.

8. I have started my own business. I teach writing, I teach editing, I learn, learn, learn. I’ve led conferences, book festivals, panels. I am becoming…something. I have yet to figure out what.

9. I have started my PhD. I have published several short stories. I am still learning to write. And the more I learn, the less I know. It’s a good place to be, most times. But not always. Some days trying to write is like trying to scratch out hieroglyphics in tar.

10. And I continue on. Editing, teaching, writing, learning, laughing, loving, growing. Balance remains elusive. Love remains solid. Life is good. Really, really good.

  • My most popular page, by far, is that on Story and Character Arcs. These are useful for plotting your novels. I think the other writing pages might have something to offer too…
  • The most popular search term is still lesbian armpit hair, followed closely by story arc, lesbian fiction, and my name.

Thank you, readers. A writer needs readers, and without readers, a blog can be a woeful place indeed. I hope that you’ll continue to read, to share your thoughts, to invite me and other readers into your writing worlds, and help grow the beautiful blogosphere we all play in.

Happy 500. Here’s to another 500.

Song: Te Busque by Nelly Furtado

Book: The Golden Fleece by Robert Graves

Birds of a lesbian feather

There’s this thing that happens, and I’m working through my issues around it. feather-h-C51-15

You see it everywhere. Over spaghetti in a restaurant, wait for the exterminator, at the local chicken joint:


But not twins, not really.

Couples who have been together for a while, who suddenly start to morph into one another.

They started out as individuals, sure. Totally unique, sexy folks who looked at one another and thought, ‘yeah, I like what you’ve got’.

And then, years down the road, they’re wearing the same clothes. They have similar, if not the same, haircuts. They like all the same foods, shows, and activities. Bingo, cargo shorts, low-salt snacks, topped off with snappy little fishing hats and matching sweatshirts that say ‘We love Florida.’

Now, I see this happen quite a lot in elderly couples, which is very cute and adorable and inspiring of lots of ‘aww’ type noises, even when one is sliding a bedpan under the other.

But I see it a hell of a lot in lesbian couples, regardless of age. One minute someone’s a stylish sex pot and the other a cute book nerd, and then:


Fusion occurs. They’re attached at the hip (wearing the same cargo shorts) and using the same hair products on the same hair style while discussing how they could never imagine doing anything separate ever again.

Birds of a lesbian feather, I suppose…But I want to ask, “Where did you go? What did you used to like, that you gave up to become a single, soppy entity?”

What causes this strange morphology? What causes this abandonment of ‘I’ for ‘Us’ and let there be no vowels between?

Book: The Argonaut Voyage by Tim Severin

Song: You Can Be the Boss by Lana Del Rey




ID follow up–the next generation

In the previous post, I discussed the Butch dodo bird: the possibility that self ID’d b-fbutches are disappearing.  I wondered if that term was being replaced by something else, or if there’s something I’m not seeing. Or that maybe it’s a cultural thing.

Based on the wonderful responses I got, as well as a conversation I had with a twenty-something Uni student, here is what seems to be the case:

The butch ID among the next generation is alive and well. However, there does seem to be a regional element. Big cities make a difference, as do bohemian cities. Working class cities have fewer butch young people (perhaps for safety reasons?) Butch is also more inclusive than it has been in the past: the young woman I spoke to said she’s considered butch among her Uni community. She was wearing make-up and had on lace leggings under her torn jeans.

The butch experience is still considered the more ‘valid’ experience: the femme label remains ostracised (from the young Uni student– “People think if you’re femme that you’re just straight and playing around, or pretending, or something. That you’re not a real lesbian.”) I admit I find this stunning. That’s exactly what happened to me when I came out twenty years ago. I thought we’d certainly moved on…evidently not.

So. There are still butches out there, and femmes, and every ID under the sun in between and outside. And through this blog and my conversation with the Uni student, I began to wonder: is anyone mentoring the next generation? Do they have role models to talk to, people that look/act the way they want to? Do you, reader, reach out to the younger lgbt folks?

I’ve made a decision: I’m going to reach out. They may not need me. But how good is it to be there when another young femme feels less than because other folks are telling her what a ‘real’ lesbian looks like?

Book: Stigmata by Helene Cixous

Song: Alejandro by Lady Gaga



The Butch Dodo Bird?

As many of you readers know, I’m interested in the gender spectrum. 

Gender: performing our notion of masculine/feminine roles (how we dress, how we move through society, how we take up space, how we cross our legs, etc, etc, etc).

Sex: the chromosomes we’re born with.

Those are my ultra-simplistic definitions. Which leads me to why I’m talking about them.

I self identify as femme, and S self identifies as butch (to some extent. More metrosexual masculine than butch, per se. S’s feeling is that butch as it was used when I was growing up in the lesbian community is reserved for the ‘serious’ butches I grew up with-the motorcycle riding, intensely masculine, ‘old school’ butches. She’s trendy, hates motorcycles, and is more likely to break something than fix it, thanks to her patience levels.)

We were discussing the nature of age gap and butch representation yesterday.

We’ve lived in the UK for nearly six years now, and I feel like I can safely say that in this culture, we see very little ‘traditional’ butch representation among young people. I see a fair amount within my own age group and older (35 and up), but when I look around in various settings, whether that be club, bar, pub, or book event, I see lots and lots of fantastically gendered spectrum, but no one I would look at and think, “I bet they ID butch.” (Yes, I’m basing this almost entirely on stereotype: short hair, men’s clothes, swagger. This comes from my own experience of the butch ID, and is in no way all there is to being butch, or even a way that butch ‘has to be’. Allow me my generalizations for a moment, if you will.)

S and I came to the conclusion that perhaps the definition/performance of butch is less stringent than it was when we were coming out.  Maybe butch no longer means wearing men’s clothes, but rather simply wearing whatever suits you at the moment and the way you feel inside. Maybe butch itself is an outdated classification? Is the butch ID going the way of the Dodo bird?

Or, is it cultural? While we may not be seeing young butches in England, perhaps you’re seeing them in your culture? Or perhaps we, as butch-femme folks, are, as we’ve often been, at the ends of the spectrum and therefore are simply less visible, because not a lot of us ID that way?

So, readers, here is my question:

What are you seeing in your culture and area? Are there, in fact, fewer young butches about? If so, why do you think that is? Do you think butch is still, for the under 30 crowd, a desired and/or personal label? Young readers–how do you, and your friends, self ID?

*I’m aware many of my readers don’t like labels, etc. This is directed more at those of us who do ID within that particular niche, or those who may not label that way, but ‘get’ the desire to do so.*


Six Degrees of Outsider

My mother is a lesbian. She had me at 16 and was out of the closet and with a woman byhuddle 17.

This means that, unlike many lgbt folks, I grew up in the community. I went to enormous lesbian parties, I went to Pride, I went to women’s music festivals. I camped, I was watched by other lesbian couples when mom needed a babysitter, I went to rugby games and gay bars (when I was older, obviously). I grew up around strong, independent women. The majority were of the butch/femme variety. I don’t know if that was because of the times we lived in, or if it was because that’s what my mom and her partner(s) were, and therefore they hung out with the same dynamic of friends. I had a lesbian dad I’m still very attached to.

Regardless, I grew up there. In a way, I think that’s why it took me so long to figure out I was a lesbian. I was surrounded by people who felt the way I did, so that wasn’t strange or noticeable. It was only when my first girl-crush asked me out that it hit me in the forehead.

Fast forward a decade (or two), and I’m in a country other than the one I grew up in. I’ve developed an amazing network of friends and writers, both gay and straight. I’m in a profession I love. I have a great partner and wonderful family.

But. (You knew there would be one, didn’t you?)

Well, not really but. More like, and.

And I’ve attended various lesbian events here. Various parties, camping, dances, socials, nights at the pub.

After being in a community all my life, where I knew a vast amount of the players and they were all connected by six degrees of strap-on, I find myself on the outside looking in. There’s a community, yes. And they all know one another, and many have slept together (of course), and there are cheek kisses and laughs and sniggers behind hands.

Only now, I’m watching from a distance. I know only a handful of these people. People from another culture, few who are butch/femme (not terminology used in this country, really), where I’m still learning how to act and what to say and who’s who.

It’s not a bad place to be, not in any way. It’s just…different. Here, I’m a pushy, brash American who talks and laughs too loud and is far too blunt. I’m learning to temper it, as one must adapt to one’s culture. And slowly, as I get to know people, I’m making tiny steps into this community for which I’m sure I’m still missing some of the behavioral norms. I think, with age, it bothers me less and less to be on the outside looking in. Rather, I analyse it in relation to the ‘outsider’ experience as a whole and it makes it’s way into my writing. I’m finding, as I get older (and wiser?) that community, as such, is less important than friends in general, with a place to be safely ourselves. In this country, that’s damn near anywhere. We may even be able to be married soon…

So, my question for you: 

How important is a community to you? Do you have one? Do you need one? How important is it to you to be surrounded by like-minded people?

Book: The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

Song: Not in Love by Enrique 


Well, not really slow, per se.

Death in the Pub, 2012

But you know those weeks when everything just gets on top of you (and not in the good way)? And it’s not big stuff. It’s small, niggly, constant stuff. The plumbing going crazy, then the heating going crazy. Meetings involving travel, meetings involving time, meetings involving preparation. Sleepless nights thinking about meetings. Editing, reading, writing, planning.

And yet, nothing seems to get done. Except the meetings themselves. Which lead to further tasks, obviously.

In theory, the coming week has an aspect of calm, in which I can start to get things done. Because there are things hanging over my head that need dealing with before I feel like I can get the other stuff done.

If you have time, check this out: I’d love feedback. Proposals are floating about cyberspace, and I’m hoping more will filter through. So tell your writer-ly friends where to go when they ask for your opinion. (And this is the nice way of doing it, instead of the sod-off, you energy vampire you kind of way).

Anecdote time:

This weekend we drove to Manchester to attend a Halloween party at S’s mum’s house. Full on costume party with almost exclusively family. (Pics and video on FB). And it was fun, and chaos, and loud, and silly, and alcohol and food fuelled  I wore the mask in the pic above, and half way through the night our four-year old niece took the mask, threw it on the floor, and said, “That mask is BAD. You can not have it back.” And then stomped on it. Most other family members would glance at me and look away, made uncomfortable by the lack of features and expression. Perfect for Halloween, and it also make me ponder:

How much do we depend on facial expression to understand someone else’s mood/emotions/state of mind/reactions? And how uncomfortable does it make us when we can’t decipher them? We use the computer to interact with a host of people throughout the day, relying on words rather than expression. So why do we place such a premium on physical expression when we’re with someone?


Song: All Around Me by Flyleaf

Book: A Word Child by Iris Murdoch