I refuse to stay in the closet. Not the gay one. I came out of that closet years ago.
I’m talking about the lesbian fiction closet. I’m talking about romance. I’m talking about books that some people curl their lip and call “pulp fiction” like it’s a dirty word because they are afraid of passion. They are afraid to admit their baser need for pure pleasure.
I openly confess that I love sweet wines. It isn’t because they’re cheap. It’s because I don’t like the taste of expensive, dry, bitter wines.
Go ahead. I can see you connoisseurs shaking your heads.
Likewise, I love lesbian romance stories. It can be fantasy, scifi, adventure, intrigue, cops and robbers, mystery, or a simple girl-meets-girl. I want a story that makes me feel something. I want to laugh, and maybe cry and, in the end, heave a satisfied sigh. If there’s a romance and a happy ending in it, I’ll read it. That’s why I also write it.
I find that confessing gets easier as I grow older, because I care less and less how other people judge my palate for wines or reading.
I was reflecting on this after a recent Sunday in which I attended two local lesbian book clubs in the same day. I had tried a one of the clubs more than a year ago and thought the experience had cured me.
I went, expecting to meet enthusiastic readers like the ones who come to P-Town for Women’s Week or attend events like Bold Strokes Books’ Lesfic Festival in Palm Springs, the Golden Crown Literary Society Annual Conference and the LoneStar Lesfic Festival in Austin—just to name a few.
I love those events because writers and readers can talk excitedly for hours about lesbian fiction. It’s like living in the closet and then going to P-Town or Key West and finally being able to hold hands in public.
But back to the book club. There was a bare handful of women, half of whom hadn’t read their selection of the month because they really weren’t interested rehashing the subject of religion and the gay community. We struggled for discussion for about thirty minutes before we began to make polite excuses to escape.
So who selected that book? Nobody would admit to it. I offered to suggest a list of titles people may actually enjoy reading and discussing. The one person who had read the book all the way through, gave me a challenging stare and informed me that I could email the moderator of the group who hadn’t bothered to attend herself for the past several months. I did email her. She never replied. I didn’t go back.
That was until recently, when I decided to give it one more try at a different book club.
The subject was again nonfiction, a book that the group decided was likely an academic paper on the history of heterosexuality (not sure why that subject was relevant to a lesbian book club) which the author had attempted to rewrite for general consumption. It was a struggle to get through the first chapters and subsequent chapters were tediously repetitive, several women said.
I wasn’t the only one who either didn’t read it or didn’t finish it, but because the moderator was well prepared, we did manage an interesting discussion on trends in human sexuality. I found that useful because my next project will be set in the future, and I realized that when I begin building my setting, I’ll need to consider how sexuality may have evolved. I was slightly encouraged by this one positive thing I gained, so when the moderator said she was planning to attend the other book club—the one from my bad experience—later that same day, I decided to give them a second chance.
The afternoon club was reading Jane Lynch’s “Happy Accidents.” Since I had to drive back to Raleigh (where I live and the second club met) and put in some time at the gym, I downloaded the audio version into my phone and listened for the next two hours.
The group had a new moderator, who came prepared with questions to stimulate discussion, and at least a dozen women showed up. Still, like the first group, the large majority admitted they didn’t like the book well enough to recommend it to friends and despite the moderator’s valiant efforts, none of the questions sparked lively discussion.
In fact, a spark was exactly what was missing. We were readers. We took time from our day to come to this meeting and talk with others about books. But there was little real enthusiasm. Where was the passion?
When the moderator asked for suggestions of what to read for the next month, the group was silent. I can be silent. But those times are when I have nothing to say. I always have something to say about books. So, after a long pregnant pause, I offered a suggestion. It was met with more silence. I said, okay, tell me what you like to read and I can make a suggestion in that genre. They stared at each other, at their hands, and the table we sat around.
“I read scifi,” one brave soul finally blurted out.
“Can you be more specific?” I asked. “Some purists mean only outer space stories, but others include fantasy when they say scifi.”
Her eyes lit up. Finally, the spark I’d been looking for.
“Paranormal, I’ll read anything about vampires and werewolves that has a romance in it,” she said with enthusiasm.
The admission was a magnificent step out of the literary closet. She wasn’t the only one. Three others stayed after the meeting so they could quiz me on lesbian fiction. And, I’ve been fuming since that they had been cowed into silence by the people who tell us that only books published by mainstream or academic presses are worthy.
Reading—like music and film and theater—should be a passion. It should bring you pleasure.
So for all of you who feel pushed into the closet by haughty book clubs and best seller lists, do what I do when asked that key question: “What do you write?”
I straighten my shoulders and lift my chin to give them a stare that dares them to smirk and I say, “I’m D. Jackson Leigh, and I write lesbian romances in equestrian settings.”
Often enough, I get the snobby reply: “I don’t read romances.”
If they only knew. They could be a character in one of my books—the one who needs to let go and find passion.
Every Second Counts
Success for Marc Ryder means riding out eight seconds on the back of an angry rodeo bull. She’s exactly the type of wild and reckless person artist Bridgette LeRoy has avoided since the senseless death of her brother. But circumstances throw them together, and Bridgette is drawn into a tumultuous ride of attraction, passion, and denial. When she realizes it’s the only way to protect her battered heart, Bridgette’s desperate mission to stop Marc’s suicidal return to the rodeo becomes a race in which every second counts.