Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Evolution of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, & Queer Teen Novels

I've got a theory.

Stories, I’d argue, are the lifeblood of what makes us Human. From a child’s “read me a story” to popular songs; from news to gossip; from myth to self-image; from TV shows to comic books - stories teach, challenge, entertain, and inspire us.

Novels, where we read and internalize the characters, become the characters, and go on a uniquely inward-focused adventure pour directly into our deep well of self. We ask ourselves: What would we do in that situation? Could we be that brave? That loving?

When I was a gay Teen, there was NOT ONE Teen book that I could find with a positive portrayal of a gay character.

Today, this blog lists over 170 YA books with GLBTQ Characters and/or Themes!

And (here's the theory part) to my eyes these books have evolved:

Version 1.0 were The Problem Novels, generally where the gay character was ill or died at the end. “My Brother Has AIDS” by Deborah Davis. “Night Kites” by M.E. Kerr. Despite the tragic ending, these trail-blazing books often avoided a sense of total hopelessness by having the gay character be once-removed from the main protagonist.

Version 2.0 are The Coming Out Novels. Now with hopeful endings, stories like “Absolutely Positively Not,” by David La Rochelle, and “Freak Show” by James St. James took their characters’ queerness from tragedy through laughter to acceptance.

Of course, GLBTQ secondary characters in many books have raised our Queer profile. As author Ellen Wittlinger (who wrote “Parrotfish,” one of the few YA Transgender Novels) believes, seeing these secondary Queer characters in books that aren’t aimed at the GLBTQ experience helps to “normalize” Queer Teens to themselves and their peers. (Acting as a sort of version 2.5)

Keeping track of books with secondary GLBTQ characters is outside the mission for "I'm Here. I'm Queer. What the Hell do I Read?" but the amazing KT Horning, on her "Worth The Trip" blog does a great job of finding the Queer quotient in books you might not expect. Check out her "gaywatch" entries.

Version 3.0 - and we’re just on the cusp of this – are The Genre stories where the character is gay but the story’s really about something else. “Vintage: A Ghost Story” by Steve Berman is about a Gay Teen’s romance with a ghost. “Hero” by Perry Moore is about a Gay Teen having to save a world of superheroes in trouble. And here, finally in these worlds of romance, sci fi, horror, and fantasy, we may even be due for some happy endings.

So, that's my theory. Feel free to weigh in...

And now I’d better get back to the re-write of my Version 3.0 Teen Fantasy!



Wednesday, January 30, 2008

My Side Of The Story

By Will Davis

16 year old Jaz (Jarold was his birth name) is British, Gay, and bitter - and he doesn't really care if you, the reader, like him.

His family's a mess (the family therapy sessions aren't helping), he's outed at his English school, and the guy he likes is too old (at 22) to be interested in a teenager.

"My Side Of The Story" won the 2007 Society of Authors' Betty Trask Prize for a first novel by a writer under 35. (the Prize was 10,000 British Pounds! Go, Will!)

And here's something really cool:

Jaz (the character) has his own MYSPACE page. Really. Check it out here. And so does his best gal-pal, Al (that's for "Alice.") Hmmm. I wonder if all 31 of their myspace "friends" know they're fictional...

Add your review of this book in "comments!"

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Fly On The Wall: How One Girl Saw Everything

By E. Lockhart

Gretchen is 16 and wishes she could be a fly on the wall of the boy's locker room to find out what they think of her (and what they look like without clothes!)

Her Kafka-esque wish comes true, and she discovers a lot about anatomy, relationships, and homophobia.

Add your review of this book in "comments!"

Monday, January 28, 2008

Proof of A Gay Marriage In Spain back in 1031 AD

Okay, there's no photos (or oil paintings) of the ceremony, but here's the text of a document from A.D. 1031, from the Cartulary of Celanova (Celanova is a county of Galacia, Spain)

We, Peter Didaz and Munio Vandilaz, make a pact and agreement mutually between ourselves for the house and church of St. Mary of Ordines, which we jointly own and in which we share the labor, taking care of visitors and in regulating the care of, decorating and governing the premises, planting and building. And we share equally in the work of the garden, and in feeding and clothing ourselves and supporting ourselves. And we agree that neither of us may give to anyone else without the other's consent anything, on account of our friendship, and that we will divide the work on the house evenly, and assign labor equally and support our workers equally and with dignity. And we will remain good friends to each other with faith and sincerity, and with other people {we will remain equally} friends and enemies all days and nights, forever. And if Peter dies before Munio he will leave Munio the property and the documents. And if Munio dies before Peter he will leave him the house and the documents.

So these two men owned a house and a church together. They saw their lives as a partnership, sharing the chores, the responsibilities, and the rewards.

I love their vow of remaining so committed to each other for

all days and nights, forever.

And the element of leaving all they had to the other upon their deaths - showing that no other love or relationship could come between them, ever.

It may be in the legal jargon of almost 800 years ago, but there's a magic to the love between Peter and Munio that I can feel in reading this.

I wonder what happened to them. I hope they lived long and happy lives together (though Spain's Medieval Empire, with the Kingdom split among 4 sons who each became King of a portion of the country and then tried to kill each other off to get the whole empire of Spain under their rule sounds like a bloody mess!)

But maybe, in those dark ages, Peter and Munio's church was a beacon of light and tolerance and peace.

Certainly their story remains today - right down through this post on this blog - a beacon bright with the power of love.



The text quoted above I found on pg. 79 of "In Your Eyes: Quotations on Gay Love" edited by Richard Derus.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Breathing Underwater

By Lu Vickers

Lili's growing up in the 1970s, in a small town in Florida that's known for its mental institution. She struggles with her attraction to her friend Rae, who when they kiss insists that one of them has to pretend to be a boy. When Lili's mother finds out about her daughter being a lesbian, the mother flips out like a mental patient herself.

According to Lu (and this sounded like she said it with a lot of humor), "Breathing Underwater" is

"...not really a gay novel. It's more of a mother-daughter horror story."

Add your review of this book in "comments!"

The quote above is from, Alumni in the News, "Lu Vickers: a writer surfaces" originally published January 28, 2007, written by Kathleen Laufenberg, Democrat staff writer.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Walt Whitman Uncensored! His early Gay experience and the Poem through which it sang through him: "Once I pass'd Through A Populous City"

In 1848, at age 29, Walt Whitman visited New Orleans. There he met a guy, and they hooked up big-time.

(This is a great picture of Walt at age 37, that will link you to the wikipedia entry for him.)

When Walt looked back on his New Orleans passion, he penned a poem that was branded "obscene" when it was published. But when it was published, it hid the truth.

In 1925 the original hand-written manuscript of "Once I Pass'd Through A Populous City" was discovered, showing the poet had changed the gender before the poem was published.

Here then, is the original version, singing of Gay love, from 160 years ago...


by Walt Whitman

Once I pass'd through a populous city imprinting my brain for future
use with its shows, architecture, customs, traditions,
Yet now of all that city I remember only a man I casually met
there who detain'd me for love of me,
Day by day and night by night we were together--all else has long
been forgotten by me,
I remember I say only that man who passionately clung to me,
Again we wander, we love, we separate again,
Again he holds me by the hand, I must not go,
I see him close beside me with silent lips sad and tremulous.

Oh, now (and how!) the poem speaks to me. How amazing, changing just those 8 letters makes the poem true. Here's the version that was originally published, with the changes in red:


by Walt Whitman

Once I pass'd through a populous city imprinting my brain for future
use with its shows, architecture, customs, traditions,
Yet now of all that city I remember only a
[wo]man I casually met
there who detain'd me for love of me,
Day by day and night by night we were together--all else has long
been forgotten by me,
I remember I say only that
[wo]man who passionately clung to me,
Again we wander, we love, we separate again,
[s]he holds me by the hand, I must not go,
I see
him [her] close beside me with silent lips sad and tremulous.

8 letters. How humble, and sad, that such self-censorship existed back then.
And in my very unscientific survey of the first 10 websites I found that had the text of the poem, every one had the "woman" version and not a single one of them mentioned how the poem was originally written! So it's a censorship that shadows this poem to today!

This censorship threatens the truth of queer love in so many realms - think of all those Hollywood films where the "gay" story has been sanitized for our "protection." Uh, I'd start a list of movies adapted from books where the book had queer content, but the movie version didn't... but it would take me all day...

And it's not just the movies - I know for me, some of my earlier writing attempts were definitely a dalliance with shifting gender, and looking back on it, I'm not proud of it, and really, it hampered my writing by not letting me connect with my truth...

But to throw off those shackles, to toss off those 8 letters, to write truly from our hearts - ahhh, What freedom. What joy. What inspiration: to find the truth, and let it sing through us!

Let the truth sing through you.



The information on the discovery of the original version of "Once I pass'd Through A Populous City" was on page 135 of "My Dear Boy: Gay Love Letters through the Centuries"

And I found the poem (the censored "woman" version) on pg. 82 of "Complete Poetry and Selected Prose by Walt Whitman" edited by James E. Miller, Jr.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Night Kites

by M.E. Kerr

Erick's 17 when his life explodes with change - His best friend's girlfriend comes onto him, he goes for her, and loses his friend as a result. And his older brother Pete comes home sick, slowly being overcome by AIDS - and so Erick learns that his brother is gay.

Published in 1986, early in the AIDS epidemic, this was also one of the first YA novels to deal with AIDS.

Add your review of this book in "comments!"

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

My Brother Has AIDS

By Deborah Davis

13 year old Lacy is an avid swimmer, but her life is turned upside-down when her 25 year old brother Jack comes home sick... with AIDS.

Their parents want Lacy to keep Jack's illness (and gayness) a secret, and just live her life like nothing's wrong. But watching her brother get worse and worse makes everything feel wrong, and Lacy can't stay silent anymore.

One of the first YA novels to deal with AIDS, Deborah published this in 1984.

Check out this very moving "behind the story" post on Deborah's website, delving into her process and emotions around writing this book!

Add your review of this book in "comments!"

Monday, January 21, 2008

Cell Phone Novels - Japan's Next Big Export?

Okay, until yesterday's article in the New York Times, I'd never even considered the possibility of someone writing an ENTIRE NOVEL on the keypad of their cellphone.

That was right up there with the apocalyptic fantasy of getting stranded on a desert island and composing the great American Novel, line by line, in the sand and being forced to commit the new lines to memory before the next tide came in...

But some thumb-tapping pioneers are doing it - and it's seen as alternately: a brand-new genre (complete with :)s and OMGisms); or a way to get new readers excited about printed novels (the cell-phone novels are uploaded to websites and the most successful ones are published by 'traditional' publishers as actual books); or as the shrieking death-knell for literacy...

Um, that last one seems a little extreme, but it's definitely a fascinating development from text-messaging to novels.

It would certainly change my productivity (in a downwards way.) Here's my first attempt:

I think this whole cell-phone-novel movement also shows that the desire for a good story transcends medium and transcends generations - and that's good news for all of us writers, even if 5 of Japan's top 10 novels last year were written on cell-phones!

What do you think?


Friday, January 18, 2008

Not So Bad

By E. Hae

Ahhh, Boys-In-Love Manga!

In this Japanese-style graphic novel, Fabulous celebrity Eunhee takes down-on-his-luck Gain into his house... and into his bed... and eventually, into his heart.

Add your review of this book in "comments!"

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Calling all American Idol-Aholics! Here are 4 steps to Full Recovery

Hi, and Welcome to this meeting of the newly formed A.I.A. (American Idol Anonymous)

My name is Lee, and I admit it. I am an American Idol-aholic.

Season 7 started this week, and once again I'm horrified... and glued to the show.

To help me, to help you, to help us all, I offer you not 12, but 4 steps to understanding the phenomenon and full recovery.

Step 1: American Idol plays into our collective Cinderella Complex

A talent show where the winner is catapulted to stardom, seemingly overnight. You've got the tight video packages showing how hard their day-to-day lives are (Cinderella sweeping the ashes from the fireplace...), and how they dream of fame and fortune (going to the ball...) and how maybe, with their gifts and talent, they can fit their honkin' big toes into the glass slipper and BE the next "American Idol." And the harder their sob story, the more we want them to be wonderful, to blow us and the judges away when they open their mouths to sing. And when they ARE great, we breathe a sigh of relief, our moment of Cinderella Catharsis shimmering like a fairy godmother's wand before us.

But, uh... wait.

Some of these people can't sing. At all. And I'm not talking about your run of the mill tone-deafness...

Step 2: American Idol gives us the chance to feel SUPERIOR.

They sing their almost frightening renditions of songs. Randy bursts into laughter behind his stack of papers. Paula spins in her seat and unsuccessfully tries to hide her giggles in Randy's shoulder. And Simon gnaws on his pen, eyes wide in horror, playing up his disbelief for the cameras.

And we at home turn to our partners/friends/parents and go "Huh? They suck! I can sing better than that!"

Which leads, unfortunately, to MORE people showing up to audition next year. (See step 1)

There's also the whole Schadenfreude thing, (Happiness at the Misfortune of Others) which plays into the emotions of watching the truly bad (especially if they're mean) fail. Sometimes seeing others put down makes us feel bigger (which is the lever behind most bullying, actually.) It's not pretty, but it's a real emotional current at work, and we should acknowledge it.

Step 2 is also why every season seems to have it's slim-on-singing-talent contender (Sanjaya last year, and the guy with the glasses who looked like a 12 year old the year before come to mind...)

Step 3: American Idol reminds us that we have lost the Art of Self-Perception

Here at the start of year 8 of President George W. Bush, have we, as a culture, LOST the ability to be honest? Even with ourselves?

The answer is YES.

Watching a President so insulated from dissent and surrounded by "yes" men and women has helped us forget the benefits of telling the truth. (To be honest, President Clinton wasn't so great with the truth, either...) In fact, I'm sure our current President thinks he's doing a GREAT job. (After all, 34% of the country agree with him on that. Never mind the rest of us.)

And okay, part of our journey is figuring out what we're good at. So I don't blame the 16 year olds who think they can sing when they are truly keep-it-in-the-shower singers.

I blame their families and friends.

If my friend, or kid, or partner, was tone deaf, I wouldn't be encouraging them to go embarrass themselves auditioning - it's such a set-up for pain.

Oh, the look on the auditioners' faces - crestfallen, the slipper shattered, the tears, the anger... Here's the HORRIFYING TRUTH: Most of these terrible singers thought they were good. Really good. In fact, they are shocked to be told they don't have any future singing. Where are their friends? Can't anyone be honest with them?

And Simon gets a bad rap because no one in these people's lives was brave enough to say "I love you but you need a different dream, one that builds from your strengths! You're not a good enough singer to be on American Idol and make it. But you'll always be a superstar to me." Or something like that. That, but not that.

So Simon tells it like it is, and he's the evil villain.

Then again, would that be all Edna Turnblatt from "Hairspray" telling her daughter Tracy she can't go audition for the Corny Collins show because Edna's so afraid they'll make fun of Tracy for being overweight? And Tracy DOES get on the show, because of her amazing dancing talent and her zest for life...

Hmmm, NO. Edna could see that Tracy was a great dancer. It was a dancing show. American Idol is a singing show. You should be able to judge if your kid has a real chance or not based on their voice alone, shouldn't you?

And come on, Paula, it's season 7. There must be one or two polite things you could prepare to say to someone who can't sing and still come off being kind. And really, at this stage in their attempt, the truth IS kind! Otherwise, you're going to give them false hope (like you gave the guy in Philadelphia who went to get his chest hair waxed!) They'll go home, sell their pickup and trailer that they need for their llama-walking job, and use up all the money for a vocal coach and a one-way ticket to audition for you NEXT year. Pull the band-aid off and let them move on to what they're actually good at - because everyone is good at something. They should spend their time figuring out what theirs is - mud wrestling, tiddlywinks, auto repair, swing dancing, whatever, but please... not singing.

4. Understand that American Idol is a "reality" show. And "reality" had better be in quotes.

Reality shows, with all their editing, the camera crews in everyone's faces, the show-offy knowledge while you're being filmed that if you act up enough and really stand out you might just end up on national TV gives us a very SLIM slice of "reality."

How else to explain the ones who show up in costumes?
Who agree to wax off their chest hair for the camera crews?
Who throw tantrums like a 3 year old?

It all makes for fun television, but let's be REAL when we call it "reality."

Now, little grasshoppers, once you have mastered these 4 steps, you are ready...

Now Sing...

Ahhha, Ahhhhha...

Honestly, can't you imagine Ursula from "The Little Mermaid" yelling out "Keep
Singing!" as Ariel does her vocal scales...

Ahhhhha, Ahhhhaaaa....

Keep singing (uh, in the shower I mean) and have fun watching...



Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Sugar Rush

By Julie Burchill

When her Mother runs off with a younger man, Kim has to leave her posh private academy and attend the rougher local school.

There she's befriended by Maria Sweet, the Top "bad girl." Kim tries to see how good it might be to be bad...

And realizes she's falling for Maria!

This book spun off into a TV series in England, following Teenage Kim's Life, Loves, and Lusts - which you have to admit sounds pretty cool!

Julie also wrote a sequel, "Sweet," which takes place 3 years after "Sugar Rush." It follows Maria, who's been married, had a daughter, spent time in jail, and is now re-making her life... I'm not sure "Sweet" is exactly YA, but everybody grows up, and it's fun to know that if you fall in love with the characters in "Sugar Rush," there's more about them out there to love...

Add your review of this book in "comments!"

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Alt Ed

by Catherine Atkins

Six High schoolers have a choice - get expelled, or do a kind of group therapy. So they let the fur fly and tell it like it is in "Alt Ed."

Among them are Susan, the self-described "fat girl" narrator (a Sophomore), her "evil" nemesis Kale, and her new friend Brendan, an openly gay student who is a fellow outcast.

Add your review of this book in "comments!"

Monday, January 14, 2008

Homosexual History in China: Emperor Ai and Dong Xian's Passion of the Cut Sleeve


The Passions of the Cut Sleeve

China, much in the news lately, has a rich and glorious history of gay love that isn't necessarily something you learn in school or that China's tourism industry is pushing.

Despite this, one of China's most wonderful gifts to the world is the beautiful story of "The Passions of the Cut Sleeve."

It is a story of the Han dynasty's Emperor Ai and his favorite, Dong Xian
Dong Xian had fallen asleep across the Emperor’s sleeve. When the Emperor wanted to get up, he cut off the sleeve rather than wake his friend.

And the Emperor and his lover come up in history again, in answer to the question:

What was the Greatest Gift to A Same-Sex Lover Ever?

The answer:
The Chinese empire. During his reign, Emperor Ai (r. 6 B.C. - A.D. 1), the last adult emperor of the Han dynasty, rewarded his beloved, Dong Xian, with a large fortune and a series of high offices. And on his deathbed, over his councillors' objections, Ai gave Dong Xian the imperial seals, intending for him to succeed him.
The story doesn't end so well, though
Lacking sufficient support, Dong Xian was soon forced to kill himself, and the Han dynasty was left to be overthown.
But, it's still an amazing tale that reverberates through time - in fact, the legend of the Emperor cutting off his sleeve so as not to wake his beloved became the source for one of the actual terms used in Chinese to express love between men: The Passions of the Cut Sleeve, which in Mandarin looks like this:


How cool is that?

The top quote is from a neat website called "Androphile Gay History." Check it out!
The bottom two quotes are from pg. 13 of Lynne Yamaguchi Fletcher's "The First Gay Pope and Other Records."

What about China today? For a fascinating take on the recent (2006) place China finds itself vis-a-vis Gay Rights and it's own Gay Population, check out this commentary from the Advocate!

"Why gay rights are good for China"By Andrew M. Potts


Check out this Time Magazine article for the January 2008 update on Gay Rights in China!
How timely!



Friday, January 11, 2008

What Night Brings

By Carla Trujillo

11 and then 12-year-old Marci Cruz has some major challenges: How to survive an abusive father, thinking she had to become a boy to get the attention of the beautiful teenage girl she likes, and trying to make sense of the world around her: a 1960s barrage of the Catholic Church, Chicano-American culture, and the Vietnam War.

"What Night Brings" won the 2003 Miguel Mármol Prize, the Paterson Fiction Prize and was a Lambda Literary Award finalist. (Carla won the Lambda Literary Award in 1991 for her work editing "Chicana Lesbians: The Girls Our Mothers Warned Us About.")

Add your review of this book in "comments!"

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Setting Up For Success in 2008

Okay, so it's a New Year, and we each get a chance to set goals for 2008. In conversation with my amazing and super-smart writing friends, Sara Wilson Etienne and Rita Crayon Huang, we came up with some good ideas. I've elaborated on them a bit, and share them here.


We all have different areas of our lives, and each area can get its own list.

personal goals - like exercise and time alone and, hey - Reading!

social goals - like making time to be with friends or with your spouse/partner

community goals - how we're involved with others and giving back

professional goals - school or job

Think about your goals, and SET YOURSELF UP FOR SUCCESS.

Think about short term (what am I going to accomplish this week) and long term (what am I going to accomplish this year)

If I said, "My personal goal is to reach my perfect state of fitness, so I'm going to not eat any desserts until I'm there." I'd give up on my goal as soon as I eat that next chocolate brownie that I know I'm going to have, err... tonight. So, set short term goals (maybe I'll aim to limit desserts to every other night this week) and long term goals (I'll aim to be working out 4 days a week by March!)

Another note about short term goals: Much of this is the alchemy of feeling good and motivated. Sometimes when I have a whole bunch of things to do, I'll make a gigantic list, and I'll always put something I've already done on the list, so there's at least something crossed off right away. It feels less daunting that way. So look, you've already checked out this blog, so you've got something for today's list you can check off already!

Also, realize that YOU CAN ONLY CONTROL YOURSELF. I'd suggest you don't set a goal like "2008 is the year I'm going to be discovered and published and become a best selling author!" because YOU don't control that. A set-yourself-up-for-success goal would be "I'm going to write and finish that draft. And then I'm going to submit it to my dream editor." That's a goal you can reach, because it's about your actions.

Do you have to share your goals with anyone else? No, only if you want to. But I'd suggest it's important for you to RITUALIZE the setting of goals in some way.

Last year, at the February Asilomar SCBWI (The Society of Children's Books Writers and Illustrators) conference, they had each participant write down on two 3x5 cards their goals for the upcoming year (the same goals on both cards.) Then we ritualistically took turns putting ONE of the cards into the fire (we were to keep the other card to remind us of our commitment to ourselves.) The idea being the Native American concept of transmuting the written words into smoke which then travels up to the realm of the Gods (or the universe.) Putting it out there.

Another idea that Sara shared is to seal it in an envelope and keep it in a special place, so you can unwrap it in a year.

The concept is to formalize this deal you're making with yourself.

For those for whom a whole list seems too overwhelming, check out this great idea on Christine Kane's blog that the amazing Lynda Sandoval told me about, which is to choose a single word as a sort of slogan for yourself for the year. To focus on the BEING rather than the doing, in terms of motivation. I thought it was really interesting, and maybe it'll be useful for you, too.

A completely different and fascinating approach is what Rita shared about breaking down your time in percentages - how much time (hours, minutes) do you ideally want to spend on the different aspects of your life each day? each week? For those of you mathematically and even Pie (or would it be "Pi"?) inclined, you can even make a chart!

So, grab piece of paper. Have fun with it! How do you want to spend your time? How do you want to BE? What do you want to DO? Think about 2008. We each get the gift of a whole new year to take chances, try new things, and succeed on OWN terms.

With Blessings for an amazing New Year, Namaste.


Wednesday, January 9, 2008

I'll Get There. It Better Be Worth The Trip.

By John Donovan

When the grandmother raising him dies, 13-year-old Davy is uprooted to Manhattan to live with his alcoholic mother.

In New York, he befriends another boy, Douglas, and the friendship grows into more.

Davy's mother freaks at the discovery, and the boys roam Manhattan - not so much figuring stuff out, but living and talking about "this queer business."

Published in 1969, this was groundbreaking stuff!

I have to admit this "classic" holds a special place for me, because it's the name-inspiration for one of my favorite blogs, super-librarian KT Horning's WORTH THE TRIP (Queer books for Kids and Teens!)

So check out the blog (and of course she has a great in-depth review there of "I'll Get There. It Better Be Worth The Trip.")

And, once you've read the book, add your review in "comments!"

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Boy Meets Boy

By David Levithan

It's an alternate gay universe, where the high school's star quarterback is also a drag queen named "Infinite Darlene!" Paul is a Sophomore, with a group of friends who are gay and straight - and being gay is no big deal.

Paul crushes on Noah, but then Paul's ex, Kyle, wants to get back together...

In David's words:

This is a happy-meaningful romantic comedy about finding love, losing love, and doing what it takes to get love back in a crazy-wonderful world.

If only MY high school experience had been like this!

Add your review of this book in "comments!"

Monday, January 7, 2008

SPINSTERS! China's Silk Weavers: Were they Lesbians, Feminists, or both?

Hi! I'm back; rested, better-read, and ALL FIRED UP!

2008 is going to be amazing, and here we go...

Today's Bitchin' Queer Quote shows just how hidden GLBTQ history can be. I traced this fragment back from a line in a footnote in a book about something completely different...

but it's great.

Get this, the word "SPINSTER" - think of our cultural definition. A woman who never married, older, definitely with a negative connotation.

The etymological definition of "Spinster" talks about a female spinner of thread, often an unmarried women. But let's get into that deeper.

Agnes Smedley was this amazing journalist and open-hearted revolutionary who roamed the globe connecting with the struggles of women, the poor and the down-trodden everywhere. Not much appreciated by the U.S. government, she was a champion of India's struggle for Independence and was huge in the western understanding of China's Communist revolution (she traveled to China in the 1930s and 1940s.) Her books were powerful, personal, and widely read.

Agnes Smedley

From "Portraits of Chinese Women in Revolution" Agnes writes of how the Spinsters of China, the women silk spinners in the south, were so different from the women in the rest of the country.

These were the only places in the whole country where the birth of a baby girl was an occasion for joy, for here girls were the main support of their families. Consciousness of their worth was reflected in their dignified independent bearing. I began to understand the charges that they were Lesbians. They could not but compare the dignity of their positions with the low position of married women. Their independence seemed a personal affront to officialdom.

She wrote of her young male escort to the southern silk industry region:

"His particular hatred seemed to be the thousands of women spinners, and only with difficulty could I learn why. He told me that the women were notorious throughout China as Lesbians. They refused to marry, and if their families forced them, they merely bribed their husbands with a part of their wages and induced them to take concubines. The most such a married girl would do was bear one son; then she would return to the factory, refusing to live with her husband any longer. The Government had just issued a decree forbidden women to escape marriage by bribery, but the women ignored it.

...They had even dared strike for shorter hours and higher wages. Now and then two or three girls would commit suicide together because their families were forcing them to marry."
Agnes describes the women:

Long lines of them, clad in glossy black jackets and trousers, sat before boiling vats of cocoons, their parboiled fingers twinkling among the spinning filaments. Sometimes a remark passed along their lines set a whole mill laughing.
One evening the two of us sat at the entrance of an old family temple in the empty stone halls of which we had pitched our netted camp cots. On the other side of the canal rose the high walls of a filature, which soon began pouring forth black-clad girl workers, each with her tin dinner pail. All wore wooden sandals which were fastened by a single leather strap across the toes and which clattered as they walked. Their glossy black hair was combed back and hung in a heavy braid to the waist. At the nape of the neck the braid was caught in red yarn, making a band two or three inches wide - a lovely splash of color.

As they streamed in long lines over the bridge arching the canal and past the temple entrance, I felt I had never seen more handsome women.

Is "Spinster" maybe a label needing to be re-claimed, like "Crone," into a proud GLBTQ word? One signifying financial and social independence, bucking the patriarchy, and womyn who claim the freedom to love other womyn?

Once again there is the whole issue of independent women who choose not to marry being perceived as lesbians (and some may well be lesbians, but not every woman who wants to be self-determined is a lesbian.) It's an extension of the whole marginalization of women of power - the attitude that they can't be REAL women (who would happily be powerless and subjugated?)

Anyway, for a new year, here's a new way to think about an old word. "Spinster."

Lesbians? (Yes! Some of them I'm sure were womyn-loving-womyn.)

Feminists? (Yes! A rarity in the China of that time!)

"Spinsters" Lesbians. Feminists. Both!

Now, if you're interested in just HOW you get silk from a silkworm, and what those SPINSTERS in China were doing, here's a link to a video of Michael Cook from Texas - a segment he did on HGTV about how he makes silk bookmarks from scratch - it includes how he boils the cocoons and gets the silk, and watching him, you can imagine what those Chinese women in the factory were doing... Interesting stuff.

The original footnote was from pg 311 of "The Spirit And The Flesh: Sexual Diversity in American Indian Culture." Footnote #40

The quotes are from the "Silk Workers" Chapter (pgs. 103-110) of "Portraits of Chinese Women in Revolution" by Agnes Smedley (Old Westbury, NY.: Feminist Press, 1976)