Guest Blogger

Lit and Flicks Sustain the Newly Out

Filed By Guest Blogger | July 05, 2010 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Living
Tags: Gay & Lesbian Review, gay books, gay movies, lesbian books, lesbian movies, LGBT books, LGBT literature, Naiad Press

Editors' Note: Guest blogger Leslie Robinson hails from New England, lives in Seattle and is shacked up with a Southerner. Check out more of Leslie's humor columns at generalgayety.com

Leslie-congruent.pngAfter we finished working out and I had breath again to speak, I asked my friend Louisa about her weekend plans. She said she intended to cozy up with a lesbian romance.

It's not that Louisa doesn't have anyone real with whom to cozy up. She's a year into her first lesbian relationship, and that's the point. Because she's in love, because she's new at this Sapphic thing, she gets sustenance from LGBT books, publications and movies.

Even a trashy romance. Especially a trashy romance.

Whether you're in a relationship or not, when you're in the process of coming out, gay books and such affirm that process. They tell you, most basically, that you're not alone. They help you make sense of what you're feeling. It doesn't matter if you're 13 or 75. LGBT books offer clues for the clueless.

I asked Louisa if her romance was a Naiad book, referring to the defunct publisher of all kinds of lesbian novels. She said yes. Ah, I said, Naiad helped many newbies through their lesbian adolescence, including me. Good thing the fruits of that company's labor are still around, helping other, um, fruits.

Louisa's voice held only a tinge of embarrassment for reveling in a romance. For a professor, that's pretty good. As an academic who teaches literature, she's practically required to dismiss romance as being as unworthy as rude limericks. I'm just glad she has tenure.

Of course, she also subscribes to the journal The Gay & Lesbian Review, a fact she can remind herself of should she start feeling a bit too plebeian.

When my partner Anne served as the advisor for a new lesbian support group at Randolph-Macon Woman's College in Lynchburg, Va., in the late '80s, the first thing the organizers did was head to a gay bookstore in Washington, D.C. Before returning to Lynchburg, where Jerry Falwell ruled, they loaded up on books that would've made his hair ignite.

The topics of the fiction and nonfiction included relationships, sex, discrimination, coming out and other baby-dyke essentials. Anne says the students chose books that provided "a chance to see how others had survived. And thrived."

My experience tells me that sometimes the works we seize on in our early days are just lousy. Take the lesbian movie "Claire of the Moon." Hardly a soul in the film can act, lesser characters are achingly stereotypical, and did I mention hardly anyone can act?

But I watched that movie more often than film buffs watch "Citizen Kane." Because my lesbian celluloid options were limited. And because of one hot sex scene, if I'm honest. And absolutely because I could relate to the emotions and longings, despite their being so badly packaged.

That's how desperate we can be as gay people to see ourselves on the screen or on the page. We need to see our lives represented at any time, but when someone is newly out, the need is especially primal. Gimme a gay fix. Now.

I'm thinking Lesbian Starter Kits might be a good idea. Buy one for the rookie lesbian in your life. Choose from a variety of books, magazines and movies. Suitable for housewarmings, birthdays, bat mitzvahs or any occasion.

I can't remember the last time I watched "Claire of the Moon," and I haven't read a Naiad novel in a long while. I think for most gay folks the hankering for gay books and films doesn't evaporate, but it does become less acute. No longer do I yearn to acquire written or filmed lesbiana.

But I haven't forgotten what it's like to be newly out. I should write a book.


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My filmmaker friend Randy has a theory about gay film festivals -- in this case, gay male. Every festival has to have a film called "Wheat".

What is "Wheat", you ask? It's the heart-wrenching story of a (1) sixteen year old (2) seventeen year old (3) eighteen year old high school student hopelessly in love with (1) his classmate, (2) his teacher, (3) his coach while growing up in (1) the plains of Indiana (2) the cornfields of Iowa (3) the dusty hills of Oklahoma. At as many places as possible, our hero will appear (1) shirtless (2) in his tighty whiteys (3) completely naked, even as he stands (1) bravely (2) fearfully (3) erotically in the middle of a majestic wheat field, his soft even tan glinting in the summer (because it's always in the summer, you see) sunlight. In the end he (1) dies a horrible death (2) moves to Chicago (3) rides off into the sunset with his new-found love.

Myriad possibilites. Always the same film.

Well said, Leslie. You're right that literature and films are so important and they create a common culture. I remember sitting with my wife and our two lesbian friends when they mentioned Desert Hearts. I had no idea what it was, and they had to explain it to me. They were very nice about it, but I felt like a total outsider.

One thing that I find interesting is that the trans literature I've come across seems to consist mostly of non-fiction memoirs and stories about the difficulties of gender non-conformity. Trans films I can count on my fingers, and they're mostly about the tricky issues of gender non-conformity as well. I'm no pop culture professor, and I'm sure I'm missing a lot, but it makes me pine for the movies call "Wheat" mentioned by Sean in the comment above.

gregorybrown | July 6, 2010 11:00 AM

Your friend is so on target, Sean. "Wheat" is a commodity that sells. It can also nourish if it's not entirely white bread, and manages to get a bit beyond the limits of the type. I suppose it's good to have these films on hand. Unfortunately, a cupcake can too easily become just another twinkie. Peole may need help separating this from the chaff and learning to look for more challenging fare, which ought to be one of the purposes of a festival. Variety of diet in books and films is as important to mental and intellectual health as it is to bodily well-being.