Lesbian Legacies

Lesbian Legacies

Originally written for the former Woman-Stirred blog on 8 September 2005

I understand Mary’s delight in discovering Lillian Faderman’s commentaries and encyclopaedic knowledge of lesbian literature; plus Faderman’s understanding of writing which, if not always historically appropriate to claim as ‘lesbian’, certainly has resonances for a lesbian audience and inspires today’s reader with its Woman-Stirred background.

Faderman’s social history of women-loving-women through literature – Surpassing the Love of Men – must be one of the earliest books of lesbian literary criticism I bought as an English Literature undergraduate in the late 1980s, if not the very first. Without this book and Scotch Verdict (another of Faderman’s early texts), my attempts to focus on lesbian themes whenever the opportunity for a self-chosen dissertation topic arose would have been much harder. Faderman provided a sourcebook for relevant texts as well as proof of the value and legitimacy of my chosen topic. She was a pioneer and I wanted to do justice to all of that unspoken, ignored history.

Marie CorelliThere are other powerful memories linked with Faderman. She includes Marie Corelli in Surpassing the Love of Men, a writer I had already heard about thanks to my mother. When I walked through the cemetery in Stratford-upon-Avon as a child (many of my relatives are buried there as Stratford was my parents’ home town until their early twenties), Mum would also take me past Marie Corelli’s grave and take pride in the fact that Stratford was linked with another famous writer. For Corelli was a phenomenal literary success in her day. She also shared her life and love with another woman – Bertha Vyver – of whom Faderman writes, “She created ‘Marie Corelli’ just as Alice B. Toklas can be said to have created Gertrude Stein”.

I’m sure Mum knew about Corelli’s life with Vyver. Possibly she already had an inkling, then, of how significant lesbian love and literature would become in my life. I was given the impression in those childhood walks that Corelli was a woman who did things differently and cared a huge amount about Stratford-upon-Avon and Shakespeare. That has always impressed Mum, and made a big impression on me, too. Finding Marie Corelli in Lillian Faderman’s book was like being shown confirmation of something very special in my own life.

I realise I’m at risk of presenting myself as a literary lesbian graveside groupie, especially if one of Mary’s earlier posts (scroll down to 19 August 2005) is also to be taken into consideration. But I guess that’s what’s involved sometimes in paying homage to a literary legacy.

After Corelli moved to Stratford-upon-Avon in 1899, she tirelessly crusaded to preserve Shakespeare’s memory. In public she may not have been a supporter of women’s or gay rights; but Corelli believed fervently in the spiritual and romantic superiority of women.

What does this mean to Woman-Stirred?

Through my story, Lillian Faderman assists in uncovering more connections to a ‘lesbian world of Shakespeare’. I know Mary will be happy about that.


More on Marie Corelli at The Victorian Web
More on Marie Corelli at glbtq.com

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What does your love look like?

We stand with Orlando ribbonSo here I am – driven to leave my quiet-ish hiding place (of late) and send some comments out into the world. It’s hard to have anything new or powerful enough to say about the atrocity in Orlando, FL, USA this weekend, but I must register my voice of grief, outrage, solidarity and connection with LGBT+ communities and allies everywhere. My thoughts are with all those who have been affected directly through the loss and injury of loved ones, and through the weight of being witness.

Some facts are clear. A heavily-armed man murdered 49 people and wounded 53 others at the LGBT+ Pulse nightclub. This was an act of hatred and homophobia (also biphobia and transphobia), and the majority of those targeted were people of colour during a Latina/Latino/Latinx night. All believed themselves to be in a safe place of celebration during a month of worldwide Pride events.

Here are some other commentaries which say far more than I can:

Latinx LGBTQ community response from Isa Noyola interviewed on Democracy Now (warning – this video contains a shameful clip of Donald Trump taking advantage of the massacre to spread anti-Muslim hate speech).

Orlando is just the tip of the iceberg – a powerful article by Jane Czyzselska, editor of UK Diva Magazine for lesbian and bi women.

Statement from the British Psychological Society recognising that members of LGBT+ communities experience high levels of abuse, discrimination and psychological distress.

I’m sad and angry and confused. It seems to have been a default position of mine recently. But at least these emotions make sense in these circumstances, even if I will never be able to understand how someone can plan and carry out such an attack. I am unable to understand any crimes of hate, whoever is being abused and killed. I have empathy beyond the communities I specifically identify with. It’s important I say this because some despicable individuals are already using the Orlando shooting to encourage different marginalised communities to turn against each other. We must not let that happen.

News sites are reporting (surmising) today that Omar Mateen was most likely gay himself and therefore chose to kill people in a LGBTQ venue due to intense self-loathing. As if this somehow stops the attack being an act of homophobia! As if it’s suddenly explained and means all others in wider society need take no further responsibility and can file it in a tidy box which requires minimal scrutiny: Oh, that’s alright, then – it was just one queer of a certain faith we can’t be bothered to understand killing a load of other queers we can’t be bothered to understand. They only have themselves to blame!

Don’t you see? No person starts out hating themselves or others. It comes from years of indoctrination and prejudice, where instead of  being embraced and celebrated, difference and diversity are viewed as the enemy. When you think of love, what do you see? Who do you include?

On Sunday 12 June, I posted this on Facebook:

Fuck! Why do some of us care? And the rest are intent on destroying the whole world. You don’t have to understand me to not want to kill me. I’ve spent my whole life trying to hurt no-one but myself. I shouldn’t even want to hurt myself. If there was more empathy for diversity, far more of us may survive.

All of my Facebook friends are trying to comfort each other right now.

I understand something about self-hatred. I really do. The agonising attempt to explain to yourself why recognising you’re different from a so-called ‘norm’, and regularly being misunderstood, can make you feel as if there is something fundamentally wrong with your whole being. That your very self is the problem. It’s sad enough when that personal inner struggle only destroys the individual experiencing it. But where does the destruction end when fear and hate is routinely justified? No-one decides to hate. It is taught and it is validated by legislation. The Orlando massacre comes after lawmakers in the US filed more than 200 anti-LGBT Bills.

This fear of difference goes way beyond sexuality. I have experienced this feeling of self-doubt, self-sabotage and insecurity around my mental health. Some of my close friends will know of a new journey of self-exploration I’m just embarking on. It’s not the time to talk about that but, ultimately, this will be positive for me, and I will write about it when I’m ready.

Actually, I’m not sure I have ever *hated* myself for being a lesbian. I just feel as if I’ve been bruised and punished a lot, and that is why the poem below refers to “being a lesbian / would be one / prompt apology.” I am who I am. I’m proud of that. I have not, do not, and I never will apologise. But I have always had to be ready to defend myself which can sometimes amount to the same thing.

It’s another blackout poem, taking words from an interview with author Emma Donoghue which appeared in the Observer Magazine on 8 May 2016. It makes a lot of sense to me, but I wish it didn’t mean so much. I wish I didn’t have to write about being sad, confused and fearful.

It was two weeks ago when I chose to highlight these words and create a new personal commentary. It doesn’t help much with understanding the atrocity in Orlando. But in light of the terribly sad events, perhaps I can ask you to read between the lines to find another space which invites connection, remembers to begin with love, and doesn’t have to end on hate.

Newspaper blackout poem from interview with Emma Donoghue

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