An author I admire recently put a status on FB about finally losing the ‘lesbian author’ label…but only because it had been replaced with a different label now that she was writing a different marginalised group.
And it got me thinking about the lesbian author label, and how I feel about it.
Now, I know a lot of people really hate labels of any kind. “I’m just me,” they say. “Don’t put me in a box.”
I’m not one of those people. I’m a pessimist right down to my cracked heels, and I think humans will always find a way to categorise other humans. Over the centuries terminology has often been derogatory and sometimes that same terminology has been reclaimed.
Yes, I’m fully aware that labelling contributes to marginalisation. Yes, I know that allowing myself to be labelled as anything other than just a plain old writer contributes to me being placed in a potentially second-class category. Yes, I’m aware labels can be hurtful and harmful. And I completely understand people’s desire to be rid of them.
And here’s the thing.
I am a lesbian. I’m a lesbian living in a world where my rights, right down to my right to live, is always on the table somewhere. I’m a lesbian writing books about lesbians (where they can be happy and not have to die). I’m a lesbian writer who wants to reach readers of every shape and size, but especially those who want to know they aren’t alone in the world and that a lesbian is out there writing, openly and honestly. I want to provide, if at all possible, some ray of hope.
Stephen Fry is an actor. A writer. A person who deals with mental health issues. Know what? He’s also gay. And that gives me hope; his being out, even if people don’t think of him as the ‘gay actor’ means that it’s possible to be out, to have mental health problems, and to keep going. It also means that there’s the possibility of doing big creative work without the label… one day.
For me, that’s not this day. I don’t feel like being a lesbian writer makes me less; I feel like it gives me strength and shouts, “I am.”
Incidentally, I’m also disabled, mixed-race, female, born to a single (lesbian) parent, and a femme. And I gladly own every one of those labels, because they create an identity I’ve developed throughout my life, and one that I’m proud of. Calling me/my writing by any one of those things is just choosing a part of my identity to focus on; it doesn’t change my writing, and it doesn’t change me. I remain the person I am and I do the work I do.
Is it reductive? Sure. But if someone wants to focus on that part because that’s the one they identify with, or because that’s how they read my work… well, okay.
People will label as they will. I choose to embrace the lesbian author label because it’s an integral and undeniable part of who I am as a writer. And I’m good with that.