Her most recent book, An American Queer, a collection of “The Amazon Trail” columns, was presented with the 2015 Golden Crown Literary Society Award in Anthology/Collection Creative Non Fiction. This, and her award-winning fiction, including The Raid, The Swashbuckler, and Beggar of Love, can be found at:
Hey, world, big news! Gay people are more than our sexuality.
I am really, really tired of the focus on the third syllable of the term homosexual. It’s annoyed me for fifty-four years that I am defined by one part of my humanity.
Please tell me why, for example, that the minute a perfectly intelligent, well-educated, otherwise apparently open-minded adult male realizes I write lesbian books, he will only speak of my work as erotica.
Or why one of the more free-thinking non-gay women in my town can’t talk to me without mentioning her friendship with a lesbian couple in another state with whom I have nothing in common except being lesbian. Or why Ms. So-and-So needs to talk about her evolution toward accepting me and my kind.
You know what? I don’t give a rip. Those are their problems, accepting me, rejecting me, struggling, poor things, to understand homosexuals. What the heck is the big deal that they have to exert themselves so hard to figure out? Struggle away and excuse me for changing the subject.
I may live in rural America, but I am not a walking, talking letter “Q” for queer. Not an advertisement for a lifestyle. Not a representation of what-dykes-look-like. Not an object of study or fascination. Not a target of foul words, flung mud, or physical violence.
I am a lover of women, but that encompasses a heck of a lot more than sexual expression. When I was younger even I didn’t know that was true. I didn’t know I could love a woman friend without intimate touch. I believed the homo-hating hype that coming out made me one-dimensional.
My life crusade has been the creation of fully realized gay fictional characters and their efforts to discover who they are. The reason I want to accomplish this? So our people have someone, even on paper, who has made the journey through an unpleasant obstacle course and emerged whole. We read at least in part to find ourselves and I want readers to have a chance to do exactly that.
Thousands of us have worked with the same goal in mind. As a consequence, the generations after us will be increasingly emotionally healthy because some of us have written, others established resources such as shelters and support groups and hotlines, and still others have fought to teach our history or create music and art for and about us.
Today, we can see photos of people like us who are unencumbered by stereotypes. We watch gay people become champion athletes, T.V. and film and theater stars, heads of corporations, politicians. I like to think all our efforts have helped to provide solid groundwork for gay lives to be fulfilling.
It is time to look at how language continues to be one of our stumbling blocks. Change is already happening. Little by little a majority of Americans are becoming respectful of gay people, are realizing they need not focus conversation on gay matters. They are finding out that we are not threats and that we have more in common with them than not.
Both gays and non-gays need new language for the concept that we are the family next door, the gal who pumps gas, the transgender head of the corporation. We need to move beyond words that mark us in a solely sexual way.
I’ve been using the phrase affectional preference. While I enjoy the company of some men, mostly gay men, my closest friends and family are women. If I’m going out somewhere, I go with women. If I join an organization, it’s more likely to be woman-centered than co-ed. If I exercise or swim, I like to do so in the company of women. I do business with women, preferably gay.
There is no sexual component in any of those activities. Why am I the only one with a sexual label in a room full of non-gay women who’ve gathered for lunch? I have affection for these women, not attraction to them.
In my marriage, of course there is the kind of intimacy that scares straight boys. Their biological imperative wants to defend potential mates. But really, there are enough children in the world. Resources are becoming scarcer: water, food, housing. Give it a rest, all you presumably straight guys riding the subway or voting on bills in state capitols. We’ll lower the blinds and turn off the lights now if you don’t mind.
As a matter of fact, we’re probably sitting in our living room discussing our day and reading. Or cooking dinner and doing the dishes. We might even be doing the laundry, cleaning the toilets, filling the bird feeders. So call us bird lovers, cooks, readers. Our passion for birds and books have nothing to do with sexual preferences. We simply like to share everyday life together as two loving women.
We had houseguests this week. We worked long hours. I went to the cobbler. Saturday we’ll visit the Farmer’s Market. Sunday I’ll change the kitty litter while my sweetheart vacuums. It’s exasperating to know there are people out there who see us behind our shopping cart and think sex.
Let’s stop sexualizing ourselves and come up with words that reflect the greater percentage of our days and ourselves—if we have to be labeled at all. Please note, it’s not the sex itself I want to eliminate, it’s the restrictive branding.
My affectional preference is for female companionship. Let’s see the churches, the social conservatives, the spawn of Scalia, make that illegal.