THE BLOG
05/02/2013 09:26 pm ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016

Owning Your Authentic Voice

Hi, gang. I've been thinking a lot lately about the importance of living and expressing our authentic voice. In my life, just as many of you, I've experienced homophobia in various forms. I lived as a closeted lesbian in the U.S. Army in the pre-DADT days, when just the whisper of innuendo was enough to get you hauled into an interrogation room and run out of the military -- no matter how competent or capable you were. Being lesbian automatically made you unfit. After a couple of near misses under investigation, I came to realize that I couldn't live dishonestly and left the military with a heavy heart. But I made myself a promise to live my truth and never again let anyone else bully or define me, or make me feel that my authentic self was less than worthy.

I read the most recent coming out news this week about NBA center Jason Collins. Collins is receiving the distinction of being the first pro athlete to come out, although he follows U.S. soccer star Megan Rapinoe last summer, and Baylor women's basketball star Brittany Griner, who will be member of the Phoenix Mercury in the WNBA this season. In his interview with Sports Illustrated, Collins talked about the same need to live authentically. It's a common thread virtually all of us share.

But to live and express ourselves authentically, while universal, is a bit different for each of us as individuals. LGBT people are still marginalized by the world. Although acceptance is increasing exponentially, there is still a large segment of our society that feels that we really ought to shut up about it, already. Why do we have to keep telling them? They wonder. Because it's still legal to discriminate against LGBT people. Because DOMA is still on the books, denying same-sex couples the same benefits as straight couples. This means LGBT members of the military, law enforcement, and fire fighters can continue to risk their very lives for you, but their families will not receive the same survivor benefits as their peers.

So, back to the question: Why do I write lesbian fiction? I write lesbian fiction because I want to tell my story -- our stories -- authentically. I don't want to ignore the totality of our experiences as lesbians. I don't mean to disparage, but let's remember that as women, we do have a different experience even from that of gay men. Yes, the human condition is universal in many ways, but to deeply grasp the emotion and experience of any human, one cannot edit out sexuality. Humans are the only species whose sexuality is inextricably tied to emotion, and this is especially true for women. I want to write stories with lesbian heroines who are strong, capable, sensitive, and yes, sexual.

I've seen a lot of discussion recently surrounding the debate of sex in lesbian fiction. It seems that Amazon.com and other sites automatically lump all lesbian and gay fiction together with erotica or pornography in their search engines. This angers LGBT writers, and rightly so. The problem is that the conversation quickly slides into whether or not the depiction of sex within LGBT stories cheapens them. For me, it depends upon the context. Both sides have valid points. Every writer has her own style, and decides how best to tell her story. That's as it should be.

However, I don't believe including the depictions of the sexuality in my characters automatically demeans my story. I get the irritation that the label "lesbian fiction" is sometimes equated with pornography. That is demeaning on its face. It says what the straight world has always said to me: "I can accept that you're a lesbian, I just don't want to hear about it." Why do I have to edit out the sexuality of my characters in order to be taken seriously? Wait. I only have to edit out the sexuality of the lesbians. That's really the truth. A lesbian author who has had success in the mainstream market says that her publisher doesn't care about her sexuality, as long as she writes a good story. I'm sure that's true. They also say she writes badass women characters. She does, and I'm a fan.

But. Why can't the leading ladies be badass and lesbian? And if they are, why can't we see them as authentic, whole beings -- sex and all? That's the character I want to read and write about, and if the sex works within the context of the story, I'll include it. I read a wide variety of books -- fiction, nonfiction, mainstream and lesfic. I think every author should write the story they want to write. When this debate comes up periodically, I fear that what we're actually doing is applying the mainstream, straight world's biases in the reverse. The straight stereotype accepts kick-ass women, so long as they still need a man between the sheets. The straight male execs at Amazon are the ones who lump us into one category based on the "lesbian" label. Let's agree that's wrong, rather than fighting amongst ourselves over how much or little sex determines whether we'll be taken seriously. When we throw stones at each other for including sex, we're telling ourselves that depicting our sexuality automatically shames us. I disagree.

Right now, I can't find those positive representations of myself, or lesbians in general, out in the mainstream, straight, fiction world. Therefore, I choose to write those stories. My writing is my way of taking back my own power to live and express my authentic self. So, for me, I'm not writing lesfic as some lead-up to hitting it big in the mainstream world. Unless the mainstream world is ready to accept unabashed, fully developed lesbian characters. I pray that day arrives. Until then, I am proud to wear the label "lesbian author."