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The Silence of the Vaginas
My apologies to Layce Gardner for the title of this blog. You can find her blog, “The V-Word,” that prompted this response, here:
I know Layce was using her finely tuned sense of comic writing and I do try not to take myself too seriously, but alas, I am one of her "brouhaha" makers. The titles were funny and I did get a laugh. By the way, "The Devil Eats Vagina," that I spoke of in my post and that I believe Layce is referring to in her blog, was not on the best sellers page, but showed up in the kindle book search results for my name only, implying that the search engine had been tweaked to batch anything with the word lesbian together, or the tags had not been removed. (Tags were supposed to be removed by Amazon, because of misuse by authors tagging their books with best sellers’ names to draw readers. If you search for my name now, those books will not show up. Amazon addressed my complaint quickly and asked that I capture any further misplaced search results and report them.) This occurrence is a symptom of the problem. I was disappointed that with all the great Lesbian Fiction titles that could have fallen at the end of my list of publications, Amazon’s search engine inserted three titles that in no way resemble anything I write or would suggest to others. These titles don’t show up in my “people who bought these books also bought…” selections either. Most, not all, but most people who read my books are not reading “The Devil Eats Vagina.”
Here is my issue—and it is not the existence of Lesbian Erotica or crotch shots on the covers—but being crammed into a one-size-fits-all genre. It’s the assumption that because it says lesbian in the book then it must be about salacious, gratuitous sex. I don't know about you, but "Teen Lesbians Love Cock" is not something I want showing up in search results for my name. I suppose I'd feel the same if it said, "Teen Lesbians love Vagina." That's not the type of literature I read or write. It’s not the type of Erotica women I deeply respect write either. Yes, I said respect. It takes skill to write erotica well, a skill I do not possess. Again, my complaint is not with Erotica. I don't want my name associated with the “Love Cock, Eat Pussy” books. Is it true you can tell the difference between porn and erotica by the type of music playing in the background, or was that the lighting? I can never remember. If it's porn, it's porn—just because it is lesbian porn doesn't mean I have to like it; just like being a lesbian doesn't automatically make someone a good athlete. A non-athletic lesbian should not be thought of as less than a true lesbian, any more than my not liking Lesbian Erotica or porn makes me unworthy of true lesbian status. I swear I hear seventies “Chicka Bow Bow” music in the background.
The word Vagina doesn't bother me a bit. In fact, I’m rather fond of the word and the noun it names, one in particular. I am not the sex police. Read and write what you please. All I ask is that a dialogue open concerning Erotica being categorized as Erotica, and that porn trash find a home somewhere other than the lesbian fiction search results. Having a divided system of classification in mainstream publishing has not hurt Erotica sales. Look at 50 Shades—it was listed as the #1 Best Seller on the NY times list, but still clearly labeled Erotic. It was not, however, popping up when one searched for John Grisham novels. Lesbian Erotica doesn’t pop up when you search for Patricia Cornwell novels, and she is a lesbian and has lesbian characters in her books. It doesn’t show up when you search for Fannie Flagg, Rita Mae Brown, Dorothy Allison, and Sarah Waters. Something is amiss here. It’s worth pondering if these authors purposely distance themselves from the Lesbian Fiction genre, and if so, why?
Let’s just take the word lesbian out of the equation. Now we’re just talking Romance, Mystery, Thriller, Paranormal, Erotica, etc—categories that tell the reader exactly what to expect. It would be just as wrong for me to label my books as erotic. Someone seeking erotic material would be very disappointed in my writing style. That would be dishonest of me. And the few that have expected more gratuitous sex from my books have complained loudly in reviews that there wasn’t enough sex to be called a lesbian book. It seems there is a question as to what a lesbian book should contain. I think clear labels could take care of misunderstandings. I clearly label my Thriller series, so as not to confuse readers of my other styles of writing. Still, some people ignore the blurbs and press on to find themselves in a bloody murder. They are not happy. I go out of my way to let people know what to expect because of this. I don’t want people to be unhappy. I want that erotica reader to be able to find that clearly labeled erotic novel. I want the romance reader, who does not like erotic sex scenes in her books, not to be turned off by a mislabeled erotic novel and dismiss all lesbian fiction as such.
People say Vagina in the title sells—Yep, they're right, sex sells, but other types of books sell too. I had 3 titles in the Amazon Lesbian Fiction top twenty the other day, which have very minimal sexual content, appropriate amounts, but not erotic by any means. In fact, only 2 titles in the top 20 at that moment were Erotic in nature, or at least the covers and titles did not suggest that there were more, demonstrating that many readers are buying the non-erotic covers, titles, and content, as well. I'd say my success in this genre, and that of other authors, clearly points to lesbian readers looking for a wide variety of books, including those that do not revolve around vivid descriptions of the sex lives of the characters.
No one has suggested that sex is a bad thing or should not be a part of lesbian fiction. Just like the books are divided under the main heading of Lesbian Fiction—Romance, Mystery, Sci-Fi., etc—there should be a clear distinct listing of Erotica. Who decides what is Erotica? If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it's a duck. It really isn't that difficult to tell the difference between Romance and Erotica. And I’m willing to concede that this genre likes its romances very steamy. Still, my not so steamy romances sell too. I’m pretty sure we all know the difference between Erotica and Romance, and if not, ask an Erotica writer. They should be able to tell you.
I'll take the friendly poking and the implied "prude" label in stride; because yes, some of us do want to be taken seriously, not only as writers, but also as lesbians and women. I am a sexual being. Sex is happily a healthy part of my relationship. It is not, however, all that I am and all that I stand for. I'd like the world to see lesbians as everyday people—not just sexual beings, but human beings. I have been doing a lot of research on the lesbian evolution through the years and one thing sticks out—lesbians love to pick sides and decide who is and who isn’t demonstrating appropriate lesbian behavior. I’m sure some folks think I’m not very lesbianese, because I don’t want to read erotic sex books or chat about my sexual fantasies in open forums full of grown women giggling like middle-school girls. Surely there must be something wrong with me, right? No, really, I’m fully lesbianized—I just have a different tolerance for what I deem private, or appealing. I don’t judge—so why am I judged for not wanting to be associated with “The Devil Eats Vagina,” a title I expect to see on a Westboro Baptist Church protest sign, right beside “God Hates Fags.” My momma always said, “If you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas.” It was her way of saying you only have one name and one reputation to protect, be careful where you make your bed.
Ann Bannon and others like her are celebrated for taking the soft-core porn that was lesbian pulp fiction (the majority of which was written by straight men for straight men,) and attempting to treat the characters with more humanity and truth in the tales, as much as the censors allowed them. Dorothy Allison said of Ann Bannon, “Her books come close to the kind of books that had made me feel fatalistic and damned in my youth, but somehow she just managed to sustain a sense of hope.” Salacious lesbian antics sold and happy endings were not allowed or were carefully slipped between the lines in order to subvert the censors. Ann Bannon threw a lifeline to so many, because it was all the lesbian in a small town could know of others like her. The lesbian pulp fiction industry faded away around 1969, when women took to the presses to tell their stories, wrestling control of the lesbian voice from men.
I get that it is important that we be allowed to represent ourselves as sexual beings, celebrating lesbian sex and vaginas in our art, music, written word, etc. I am not asking for censorship of any kind and I am not slinging arrows at Erotica writers. Again, read and write what you wish. I am simply asking for clear product labeling and the removal of the assumption in search engines that if it says lesbian then it should all be together in one category. We are more than what takes place in our bedrooms—or any other place we’ve decided to get busy, because after all, forbidden is fun—and we should be allowed to celebrate the parts of our lives that are not sexually motivated. We've graduated from hiding our real selves between the lines of lesbian pulp fiction pocket-books. Our literature should and does reflect that. It’s time we were willing to admit that there is a place for lesbian literature that does not revolve around our Vaginas.
I know sex sells. Watch how my contribution to Layce’s titles, "The Silence of the Vaginas," gets my blog re-tweeted.