I am never asked if I would mind being identified as a blue-eyed writer, or asked if it is okay if the periodical in question refers to me as a female writer. Why not call us all ovarian writers, then? But we are more modern than that, aren’t we? Definitely never been asked if I mind being called a white writer, since the idea of it in 2014 would be preposterous and offensive, wouldn’t it? And to be honest, I have only been asked twice in my career if I minded being referred to as a lesbian writer. The first time, when it involved a caption under a photo of me holding a tray of stuffed peppers, I said that in fact I did mind being referred to as a lesbian writer. I was, in that context, the maker of some stuffed peppers whose photo was being included in the newspaper because of my writing and cooking passions. Looking back, I wish I had insisted on being called a lesbian writer. Why? For the same reason I recently agreed to being identified as a lesbian writer: it helps other people. How? In unseeable ways that I trust with all my heart. Nothing superheroic about it, just…it’s important.
I personally despise the terms gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, and all the fun reclaim-the-night labels that go with. I don’t like to include them in my “Hello my name is” self-introductions. But it all comes down to the news of a youth committing suicide, or someone I have never met living a life that harms their soul. Being out in this way does help, even as well-meaning people will warn you it “damages” your so-called “career.” Being yourself never damaged anything. The opposite choice has killed thousands, directly and indirectly. Being yourself sends a positive message to everyone around you. Everyone can relax: no one here is lying.
It is nothing new to say “I am out so that other people can/will come out.” But strangely, it is still a fork in many personal roads: to come out or not. So if I am asked if it is okay to label me just one more time, I am agreeable. Because there might be a 14 year old girl like I was, convinced in her small town world that she is the only lesbian alive, or worse, that she must not live because of it. Even in this age of social media and open talk, so different from my teens, there exists that girl, or boy. Times a thousand. If that girl or boy also dreams of being a writer, it is all the more important that gay and lesbian and bisexual writers be findable. Slap a label on me if you like: it has never “scared off” the people who were meant to find my creative work.
My writing life has not been any more difficult because I am a lesbian. Long hours at the keyboard and bouts of serious self-doubt have been much more painful and testing. Revisions and the cutting of hundreds of pages after 7 years of trying to make them work: that is what makes writing life difficult, not who I fall in love with. My success on the page is up to me, not some unseen hand that, according to many, is secretly homophobic and will oppress. That is definitely garbage thinking. I used to be more adamant about not being placed in a category, but as with many other things in life, I am letting go of all the fixed ideas I had at 25. Place me where you will: I will only ever just be me, over here at my desk, far away from the label machine…but willing to step up to it as needed.
I try to think of how I would feel if a friend introduced me at a party, as “This is my friend Marnie, she’s a lesbian writer.” I would probably laugh. It would be weird. No one would ever introduce another friend as “This is Patty, she’s a heterosexual cellist.” Maybe we should start doing so? I think it would be hilarious, and socially healing, to label ourselves and everyone we love with the most obvious statements possible until the ridiculousness of it caused a kind of revolution. “My name’s Doug, heterosexual, OCD, survivor.” It has happened to some extent, but then the pendulum swings scary-retro and more young people die at their own hands. Women and men force themselves into lives that smother the spark of their sexuality, because of religion, isolation or sheer confusion. NOT funny. Or perhaps we could move backward in time and sticker everything: “Only lesbians can read this book.” “Only black males between 25 and 30 can read this book.” “Do not love this person, you don’t want a label, do you?” Cordon everything off so that it all looks more appealing. Interesting from a marketing standpoint but a little too close to historical realities. Hell, I’m just grateful that Canadian novelists no longer share shelf space with books on eccentric outhouses and maple syrup and the Queen. But if I was to be placed in a shelf-bound ghetto of Canadian gay and lesbian writers, I’d be in incredible company, with some of the most gifted plotters, stylists and observers of life in the country. I’d list them, but not all of them have chosen to embrace a label. But where you put me on the eventual shelf doesn’t matter at all when I am working on something new, putting in those hours and years. I write my books for you.