The four genres of lesbian fiction – No.4: The out-obiography

This category of fiction starts something like this:

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I don’t remember when it started. Maybe it was the day that I realised I didn’t like my Tiny Tears doll. Or, maybe it was the day that I refused to wear a dress to Sunday lunch. Or, maybe it was the day that I climbed the tree in our field higher than anyone else. Or, maybe it was the day that Joanne Bennett, dressed as a vamp for the school play, took my breath away. Or, maybe it was the day that I realised that there had been a slow accumulation of days for as far back as I could remember.

I looked in the mirror. I thought I looked pretty good: crisply pressed shirt, stretch jeans, white nylon belt, luminous socks, and white leather trainers. If I was honest, I wasn’t looking forward to the B.A.Y.S. disco. I wasn’t much of a dancer and that many people crushed into the sixth form centre scared me. But, the girls had all been talking about it for weeks and, wishing to stand a chance of participating in the gossip on Monday morning, I’d bought a ticket.

I wasn’t entirely sure what the connection was between dancing, getting drunk, behaving badly, and the British Association of Young Scientists, but the disco had earned a reputation throughout the school of being the place where “things” happened. The things in question were definitely biological in nature so maybe that was the relevance.

Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” was playing when I arrived. The sixth form centre, normally an oatmeal coloured, utilitarian space, had been transformed by the addition of some red and purple disco lights into a cheap, seedy club with plenty of shady corners. I made my way around the walls of the centre keeping clear of the energetic dancers bouncing in the middle of the room. The group of girls that I hung around with had bagged a booth and were already over-excitedly discussing what would happen that evening. Clearly, my invitation to the pre-disco get together had got lost.

“Hi.”

Nobody took much notice of my arrival so I sat down on the edge of the bench seat. Tracey turned as she felt me sit down.

“Oh, hi Nicky. Melissa’s got some vodka.”

They all giggled conspiratorially.

“Yeah, and it’s great!” said Melissa, acting far more drunk than she could possibly have been by that time.

“Where did you get it?” I asked, trying to enter the conversation.

“Her Dad.”

Tracey turned her back to me again. I smiled and tried to take an interest in their talk of who was going to snog who, but I didn’t know what Lee Dryden or Jason Palmer looked like. Apparently, Scott Wheeler was the catch of the night, but he was two years older than us and going out with Caroline Bailey. They had been going out for three months, but Sasha had heard that they’d broken up…

I looked around the booth. The girls were all wearing hot pink, sunshine yellow, lime green; polka dots, denim, sateen; plastic bangles, lace fingerless mittens, giant hoop earrings; slashed necklines, rara skirts, batwings; hair, blown and fluffed and sprayed until it was twice its usual size; and, cheekbones striped with blusher for that sucked in look, lips coloured dusty pink, eyelids shaded in contrasting tones, and eyes lined in electric blue. I had washed my face, brushed my teeth, and run a comb through my hair before coming out. I looked like me, but I didn’t look like them.

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This genre of lesbian fiction is the thinly disguised biography of the author. The names have been changed to protect the innocent and the plot is a little neater than in real life, but it stems from the author’s own experiences of coming out. Depending on the age of the author and the period in which it took place, the story could, for a while, go badly for the narrator. Fortunately, this genre usually ends happily. If it didn’t, the author would still be in the closet and the book would remain unwritten!

After much angst, Nicky gets to kiss Joanne Bennett. Joanne seems as pleased with their friendship as Nicky is. Everything goes well until Melissa discovers the relationship. At which point, Nicky and Joanne must decide whether they will deny it or come out to the school. There is little doubt in the reader’s mind that for Nicky to deny it would be to deny her true nature, but Joanne’s decision could go either way.

The feelings of being different and not fitting in are universal within the gay community. As well as disseminating the experience of being gay to a wider reading public, who may or may not be gay, these novels perform an important role in reassuring other lesbians that they are not alone.

Examples of this genre of novel include “The Well of Loneliness” by Radcliffe Hall, “Oranges are not the Only Fruit” by Jeanette Winterson, “Rubyfruit Jungle” by Rita Mae Brown.

Copyright © 2012 Liberation Publishing (www.liberationpublishing.co.uk)

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