Romance novels and Lesbian 101

Posted on 10 Jun 2010 at 4:26pm
By Leslie Robinson General Gayety

Defunct Naiad Press helped many newbies through their coming out process, and bad films like ‘Claire of the Moon’ were watched repeatedly

After 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 1980s, 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 books 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.

Leslie Robinson would’ve been thrilled to receive a Lesbian Starter Kit. E-mail her at lesarobinson@gmail.com, and read more columns at www.generalgayety.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 11, 2010.

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