Its LGBT History Month. Whether you know this may depend on whether you or any of your friends is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender. It certainly doesn’t get the kind of coverage Black History month gets. With my Arachne Press hat on, I’m doing a reading tonight at Ealing and on Monday at Deptford, with others, and will be reading one of the first stories I ever wrote – Leaving, which is about leaving a job, not a lover, in case you are wondering. I wrote it around 1986 so it’s practically an historical document itself.
There has been some concern voiced by the Judges of the Polari prize about the dearth of new UK Lesbian writers. I do wonder – is it that lesbians are no longer identifying themselves? No longer writing about Lesbian experience? And do we have to write about lesbian experience to bring that experience to bear? I don’t think so – I remember a long conversation with Rosemary Manning (a dear friend and a magnificent Lesbian) about how one of her (straight, male) characters were written as if he were a lesbian, not from the perspective of sexuality, but from the perspective of outsider-ness.
An aside, will being able to get married – if it gets all the way through the legislative process – intrinsically change that outsider status? Time will tell, and frankly there are still places it’s illegal and/ or dangerous to be a Lesbian, so unless we all sit smugly feeling we’re all right where we are, – I bet Weimar Republic Lesbians thought that, briefly – it’s kind of hard to shake.
I use this perspective when I rewrite myths. I’ve never been a fan of Freud’s use of myth to explain his own neuroses but he did keep the (Greek) myths in the forefront of the western mind.
If we lose the assumption that love between the hero and heroine is automatic, inevitable, ordained, there is room to take a look at what other motivation there is for their (re)actions.
So for example, if Helen does not love her husband (a dynastic match, so why should she?), and if she doesn’t love Paris (and how could she?) we can remember that Homeric women are parcelled out like a loaf of bread (or an apple) between hungry feasters, and ask:
What did she think, who, if anyone, did she love? What might it be like to be the catalyst of a ten-year war and the destruction of a dynasty? And why didn’t Priam chuck her off the walls of Troy at first sight of the black ships?
Once you remove the most basic presumption of sexuality and stop being snared and beguiled by the obvious story of girl meets boy etc, etc, you are free to turn your head away from the glitzy main text and explore the why behind many other ‘obvious’ becauses and champion the minor character, the underdog, or perhaps the slave in the corner: seeing, thinking, feeling, but unseen.