When mega-store amazon.com revealed its true opinion of gay literature by stuffing all of us into the adult book category (read: erotica), I was not surprised. What did surprise me was the shock wave that went through our community. It wasn't news that what we write is viewed as only sexual in content any more than it's not news that lesbians and gay men are seen through the filter of our sexuality.|
I learned this lesson over and over when I tried to work with and learn from non-gay writers. At a seminar given by a respected editor and writer, I presented a feature article about an artist. When it came time to critique it, I was advised to emphasize the artist's bisexuality and the conflict between her prior marriage to a man with her current preference for women. That was the story to the teachers and students, not her art, not her accomplishments, just her sex life. In reality, she had no conflict; in their heterosexual eyes, there had to be one.
Then there were the writing classes I took at the local community college. The teacher was a mainstream writer with many works of fiction and movie scripts to his credit. He was not an unsophisticated man. I was one of two lesbians in the class, both of us published. This non-gay teacher could not refer to our work without calling it erotica and harking back to the days when he supported his family by writing pornographic stories. If I did write porn, maybe I could support my family too.
And always, the straight friends and acquaintances who've told me I could be doing so much more with my writing; who, with concerned kindness, suggest that I write about regular people.
How could anyone be surprised by what amazon.com did. Just reading the headlines should tip us off that fear of gays is alive and well.
"Hateful Bigotry" is the title of an editorial in the Alaska Daily News. It criticizes Governor Sarah Palin's choice for attorney general, Wayne Anthony Ross. It appears that Mr. Ross is willing to swallow his very conservative personal feelings about a number of issues, but not about us. He calls us "degenerates." This may just get him into the top legal job in the state.
Then there is the homo-cide happening in the name of government and religion. Posters around a slum in Baghdad threaten, "We will punish you, perverts." Anti-gay groups in Iraq are credited with murdering six gay men and leaving the word pervert on their chests. "On Top Magazine" reported that anti-gay feeling is fostered by clerics and possibly by the Iraqi government through newspapers and television.
Back in the states, "Death by Bullying" was the headline when 11-year-old Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover hanged himself in April. His mother said he was bullied at school by classmates who told him he acted like a girl and was gay. Despite his mother's complaints to the school, the child was not adequately protected or defended. Two years ago, in Ohio, Eric Mohat, 17, shot himself to end the taunts of "gay," "fag," "queer" and "homo." His parents are bringing suit against his school.
The good news is that we the gay people have demonstrated that we recognize the slurs. In the past, we accepted discrimination as a matter of course. We wrote ourselves off as all the negative words non-gays, and sometimes closeted gays, flung at us. This time, we didn't look the other way when an invisible hand at amazon.com tried to erase us. We tweeted, we Facebooked, we texted and made calls to one another, the offending company, our legislators, our newspapers. And those of us who dared, even confronted the bullies with our appropriate, constructive, healthy anger.
At last we are being listened to (as if amazon.com could ignore our outcry). There are no losers in all this. A lot of people have learned something. My hope is that non-gays are more aware of the brutality of prejudice and, whether that prejudice is trumpeted for fun or profit or votes, it will no longer be tolerated. For this queer person, it's important to remember that, despite the recent rash of marriage and civil union victories, there's a lot more work to be done. Maybe, as each of us, in her/his own way, stands up and protests, we have found the best method to both teach - and learn -- acceptance.
© Lee Lynch 2008
Lee Lynch, Author of Sweet Creek from Bold Strokes Books