Contemplating the Meaning of Life and Lesbian Fiction

 

The first subject is relatively easy, in my opinion. Live your life, laugh and love as much as possible during it.

See? Problem solved.

Of course, I know some would disagree, but I’m willing to bet a lot of people are with me on this despite this being a subjective concept. Really, it comes down to what makes you happy or what makes you feel fulfilled. Hell, some would say making money, and I would disagree. That’s a recipe for emptiness. Others would say children.

Demons in cute skin suits remember?

Stop! I’m joking even though in some cases it’s true. See my blog, Laughter and Other Medicine if you don’t believe me.

What about you, dear readers? In your opinion, what’s the meaning of life?

Go on, I’ll wait while you think.

Okay, that’s long enough because I wanna move on to an even more precarious discussion. What the hell is lesbian fiction?

Whoa! Don’t everybody answer at once.

Let’s put things on rewind for a minute. I want to start with lesbian pulp fiction. Good ole’ Wikipedia defines lesbian pulp fiction as “a genre of lesbian literature that refers to any mid-20th century paperback novel or pulp magazine with overtly lesbian themes and content. Lesbian pulp fiction was published in the 1950s and 60s by many of the same paperback publishing houses that other genres of fiction including westernsromances, and detective fiction.”

Yeah? Sounds good right? And the books were published by major publishing houses! Here’s the kicker though. A majority of these books were written by men. They used female pseudonyms but they were written by men for the male gaze. But a handful of them were written by women, I’m sure we’ve all heard of authors such as Ann Bannon. Valerie Taylor, etc. Most of them were extremely sexual in nature and depicted the women either going back to men, living in misery or straight up dying because it benefited everyone else in the story.

Let’s fast forward a bit to nowadays. A Wikipedia article defines lesbian fiction as works of fiction portraying sexual relationships between women whether they are lesbian, bi or straight women who have sex with women.

Yeah, that’s Wikipedia for you. Honestly though, that doesn’t read any different from what was in the pulp novels. To me it just sounds like porn. Nothing wrong with porn mind you.

In her blog, “Lesbian Fiction Doesn’t Mean What You Might Think,” Ellen Simpson wrote that the lesbian in lesbian fiction mean unicorns, rainbows which included romance, happy endings for lesbians in stories exclusively about lesbians excluding others in the LGBTQIA community.

Now, smash all of that together and you get what seems to be what most readers think lesbian fiction should be. A romance is essential no matter what which includes sex and it has to be only lesbians involved. Anything else can earn lesfic authors lower ratings and snarky reviews. I know this by experience.

Seems to me that the definition is a little short sighted and out dated. Why can’t it be a novel written by a lesbian, bi sexual or trans woman that features the same solving a mystery? Going on an adventure like Indiana Jones? Where a romance could detract from the overall story.

The short answer is romance sells. Readers want the happily ever after like in Harlequin Romance. But a reader expects such things because it’s labeled a romance. However, in lesbian fiction a mystery is labeled a mystery. A comedy is labeled a comedy and so on but that author will still get reviews that ask where was the romance? Or even that it wasn’t enough of a romance present.

Writers work hard. Stories just don’t fall out our asses all perfect and shiny. It can be an exhaustive process to put one’s vision on the page. Being a lesbian doesn’t just mean sex. Being a lesbian doesn’t just mean romance. We solve mysteries, we discover tombs, we are funny, and we are dramatic in every day life too independent of romance.

We marginalize ourselves often with the division that’s in our community and now we have the tendency to police and pigeonhole what we write as well. Writers, readers and publishers let’s spread our wings a little bit and be more welcoming to those kick ass writers who don’t do romance, who don’t write sex but write the most mesmerizing mysteries, drama, scifi or adventures that leave our hearts pounding and get us completely submerged in the narrative. Let’s not complain that there’s no sex, no romance and celebrate the fact that the writer built a whole new world.

Let’s have all this in addition to our romance novels.

Don’t be afraid to sound off in the comments. I realize this is a hotbed subject. I’m not shy.

 

KD’s work is available on Amazon or at Ylva. This includes her lesfic drama, Pink.  Her next book in the Cops and Docs Series, Drawing the Line will be released November 21st. For more information on KD visit her website

 

 

 

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22 comments

  1. Thank you, KD, for this post. Some of us who are non-romance writers have been shouting about this for years. It’s wonderful to have the issue addressed. The two primary general LGBT and Lesbian literary award granting organizations, Lambda Literary and the Golden Crown Literary Society, honor all genres of Lesbian fiction, which certainly helps bring awareness of stories other than romance to the Lesbian reader community. But more needs to be done, and blog posts like yours help a lot. After all, sometimes it’s great to just curl up with a nice juicy mystery, yes? 😉

    Liked by 2 people

  2. There is a place and time for everything. I guess authors can write and should write what they feel like, but as reader, all we ask is that it he classified correctly, to avoid comment like not enough romance e.t.c, and overall it is not a crime to what a romance novel to include sex scene and people should be made to feel bad/odd for wanting that in a romance novel. I don’t want to buy a biology textbook and find all maths equation in it. After all, we have read other genre before now and want to buy, what we will enjoy reading and giving us the escape from reality we are seeking in the novel. I have never read some popular books because, it not my cup of tea but am sure the writers of those genre have their audience. Live and let live.

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    • Thanks for your response. I agree some publishers and self publishing authors can be deceptive with how they categorize books, but I’d argue that this doesn’t happen in ALL of them. Books labeled lesbian fiction/Mystery, General, Science Fiction and so on can get that response. I know this from my own experience and speaking to other authors. I’m not making it up. Saying its all just labeled wrong seems to be an over simplification. Also, I agree that no reader should be ashamed for wanting sex in a romance. I didn’t say that. Didn’t even hint at it. Hell, I write romance with hot sex in them. I myself feel that a romance with any kind of sexual build up should treat us all like adults and culminate depending on the writers ability to write a sex scene. That’s not the issue. The issue is thinking that all lesbian fiction should have aspects of romance.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. As a reader, I appreciate the wide range of genres in LGBTQ+ adult and young adult fiction. I only know all of you through the internet, and greatly appreciate that I get a glimpse of the writing, editing, and publishing processes. I am not sure what you mean by marginalizing within our community. I have a few close friends of all genders and preferences, but I do not define that as a community myself. There seems to be appreciation and acceptance here, but then I see authors moving from one publisher to another and have wondered what that is about. I was so pleased to see Yiva receive some awards because it has seemed to me that the more established publishers have dominated the national awards. Please keep on doing what you do. It helps to keep me sane.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love that you’re so open minded. What do I mean about marginalization in our community? Biphobia, transphobia things of that nature. As far as writers moving all over the place. I don’t know what that’s about either lol. Maybe personal choice? Better contracts? Sense of comfort or general treatment? Who knows. Anyway, I too am glad to see the love being spread around. We need that to happen. We need publishers willing to be just a bit different.

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  4. An art form, any art form doesn’t grow if the artists only keep doing the same things, creating the same works of art. In lesbian literature, the popularity of romance fiction serves a purpose and there is a wide audience that craves it, demands it in fact, but we are a lot more than that. As a reader, frankly I would prefer to read historical fiction and mysteries since I have already had my fill of formulaic romances. Fiction after all is an expression of the human experience and that encompasses a lot of themes does it not?

    Liked by 3 people

  5. I think this is changing as people write more quality books in other genres. It might take time to train the readers to enjoy a book that has lesbians in it without much or any romance, but it can happen. Most of us came to lesfic for romance, but I think most are willing to read other things as well. Though, I came to romance to escape the world we live in now. I need happy endings or the world is too depressing. I don’t mind if it’s in any other genre as long as I’m not surprised by killing off a main character or kid or something.

    Short answer, it’s complicated. But I truly believe the more people can learn to love other genres, once they know what to expect.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Thanks for blogging about this topic, KD. I suppose that some writers are very comfortable sticking with the same genre. They’ve found a reliable readership/fanbase and that pleases their publishers. Other writers prefer to explore different genres. Perhaps it’s not a preference to explore as much as it is a naturally occurring process. I’ve written only five novels, but with each one I felt compelled to shift my genre gears. I considered each shift to be a developmental step. Fortunately, for writers and readers the world of books is one huge library.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. As someone who has written thrillers and dystopian and urban fantasy, I can so relate to the points you’re making. It’s not always easy to be visible in a sea of romance, and maybe that doesn’t help with the perception of lesfic in general – though I do think there is often a double standard as to how lesfic vs. mainstream is viewed. As a reader, I more often go for books where romance is a sub-, not the main plot. I do like to learn a bit about the relationships (or lack thereof) of the protagonists – it’s up to the author how graphic the depiction is. And a mainstream writer can easily get away with a few sexy scenes in a genre that’s not romance. No one will say, oh, but it’s all about straight sex! But in lesbian fiction, we deal with that preconceived idea.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I enjoy many genres of lesfic and mainstream fiction. As an avid mystery reader,I have noticed that most series
    written by and about women sleuths these days have romantic elements, often developing over the course of the series and often involving marriage or a committed relationship sooner or later. Maybe women are perceived as always wanting romance whatever else is going on?
    There also seems to be a sort of sex inflation; sex scenes are de rigueur more and more. Hopefully we’ll get over it and become more able to appreciate a fascinating mystery or a thrilling adventure without obligatory sex.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. I like a romance as well as the next person and (don’t want to negate what I just said with a “but”) I also love lesbian fiction with no romance. What I get hacked off about is classifying lesfic incorrectly. There doesn’t have to be a romance…it could be mystery, dystopian, drama, comedy, sci-fi etc. with 0 romance and I will love it only if it is a great story and the main characters are women loving women – hence the lesbian category that I look for. That is my definition of lesfic…otherwise the book should be in a broader category. There is nothing wrong with being in that broader category, either. I will occassionally pick up those books. I want to know what to expect, though and if only one side character in a limited role in the book happens to be a lesbian…that is not lesfic in my humble opinion.

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  10. There is an old guard of lesfic readers who believe that lesbian fiction is all about romance and sex between two women is what makes it lesfic and nothing any of us say is going to change their opinion. That’s fine; they’re entitled to it. They aren’t my target audience but there are plenty of authors out there to satisfy their cravings.

    There’s a new vanguard of queer, WLW fiction writers who are lesbian women and bi-women and trans women who write stories across a wide variety of genres that include WLW strong female characters. They’re the voices of modern and future ‘lesfic’, or queerfic/WLW fiction as it’s becoming better known. They’re bringing along a couple of generations of younger readers who are growing up in a vastly different time than the old guard readers did. They see more acceptance. Some read lesfic romance and all of the sex that it entails, yes, but they don’t have to seek out those sorts of books to see themselves reflected back as the generations of WLW before them did. They’re together changing the face of lesfic and library shelves and it’s a good thing.

    We can have it all, indeed! There’s room for sweet romance and romance with sex and sci-fi and fantasy, mystery, thriller and adventure; all with kick-ass, take charge women who identify as queer that we can all support.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Great post! Personally, I don’t like romance or chicklit, but I do like platonic relationships. I have 3 stories that I am working on and all three’s mc are women. They are strong, stubborn, and independent. One is solving a missing person (mystery), one is spelunking to find solve a legend (scifi/fantasy), and the third (a dystopia) is on a mission to save her sister’s life. I like a change of scenery! There are a few others I am working on but they’re mere ideas yet to become a fantastic story! (I hope).

    Liked by 1 person

  12. This is a good topic. I write paranormal stories that are peppered with romance. I would say they are lesfic with the romance, but another genre with the rest. I touch on subjects such as recovery, spiritual awakening, and emotional growth. So my books are all of these. I’m writing a fantasy story that has paranormal and romance in it, as well as some other things. The other one I has a mystery in it as well as romance and paranormal. I will keep you posted on my progress. I’d like to hear more about this subject from you all.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. THANK YOU, KD, for bringing this up.

    There are so many ways to look at this. On the one hand, books with F/F sex have been valuable as representation of women’s sexuality and demonstrating that sex doesn’t have to be heteronormative or require a cisgender man. I mean, I remember reading lesbian romance when I was in college and thinking that YES women can be sexual with each other! After all, this culture is inundated with androcentric and heteronormative messaging in terms of sex and relationships. We’re bombarded with it, and those of us who don’t fit those labels have had to get comfortable with our sexuality (whatever form it takes, from Ace to Allo) with whatever representation or otherwise we could find. And often, F/F romance helped with that, though Ace representation has been woefully lacking.

    The flipside of the plus of sexual representation is that anti-LGBTQ people define those of us who are LGBTQ through sex and sexuality ONLY. To them, we are merely “behaving” in a certain way, and that being LGBTQ is about nothing more than the sex act, which is so terribly untrue. To them, everyone is basically straight and cisgender, and we’re sinning or psychologically disturbed or whatever it is because we don’t have heteronormative sex and we don’t want it. Basically, to them, we’re “broken” because of the sex act. In fact, that was one of the arguments that came out of the anti-LGBTQ right before marriage equality passed, was that LGBTQ people didn’t actually WANT marriage because they’re promiscuous and can’t commit and because all they define themselves as is through sex. Seriously.

    My sexuality is part of my identity, but so too is it sexuality part of heterosexuality. It does not, however, define who I am in totality. Unfortunately, because our anti-LGBTQ culture has attached the idea that we’re only LGBTQ because of the sex act and not because of an intrinsic part of our very essence, we are thus subject to marginalization and, ironically, sexualization and fetishization by the culture at large.

    And that, I think, might be part of what you were getting at here…? Correct me if I’m wrong. If we only define lesbian fiction as sex and romance, does that not play into the stereotype that anti-LGBTQ society has assigned us? That we’re only LGBTQ because of who we have sex with and how? That the only thing that defines us as LGBTQ is our sexuality? And does that not marginalize us in some ways?

    Heterosexual romance genres don’t have to deal with this–nobody reads heterosexual romances and thinks: “Oh, this must be what heterosexuality is all about: sex.” Though an argument damn well could be made in that respect.

    Anyway. Some rambles. Thanks for the blog.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes! That’s what I’m trying to say! We are constantly marginalizing ourselves in so many ways and some don’t even realize it or care. I don’t know which

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