I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel every book ever written is a metaphor for the phallus. A working cock. A flaccid dick. I suppose it makes sense that those possessing a dong tend to write about it, but even wonderful women authors seem compelled to write more about the D than the vagajay.
It wasn’t until after I stomped out of the closet in a pair of combat boots and rainbow suspenders that I discovered a reliable way to find books that pay homage to Mount Pleasant.
Lez be honest… you know where I’m going with this.
Lesbian authors, much to my delight, praise the pussy, champion the cunt, but have been rendered nearly invisible by history. This oversight is a DAMN SHAME if for no other reason than the euphemisms for vagina are sooooooo much better than the euphemisms for penis.
There are some lesbian authors whose names you’ll recognize (though you may not know that they munched carpet): Gertrude Stein, Virginia Woolf, Emily Dickinson, Willa Cather and P.L. Travers just to name a few. But there are tons more that you’ve probably never heard of, and that is just unac-fucking-ceptable. So settle down, kids, cuz class is in session. Here are 9 lesbian authors your education has previously neglected that you, quite simply, must read.
Nancy Garden – Garden’s most famous work is the YA classic Annie on My Mind. Published in 1982, Annie was the first book ever written with a lesbian couple in which the couple is given a happy ending. That’s right- the first. Up until then, if a girl-type character snacked on snatch she probably ended up dead. Or lived miserable and lonely for the rest of her life. I know right? Thank Nancy for fixing that, cuz for realz WTF. Garden has written tons, mostly for teens, but also non-fiction, essays, short stories, a picture book, and a novel for adults called Nora And Liz.
Malinda Lo – Before novelizing full time, Lo wrote for AfterEllen.com, where she got to interview celebrities and meet Joss Whedon. She’s the co-founder, with Cindy Pon, of Diversity in YA, a project that celebrates diversity in young adult books. Her first two novels, Ash and Huntress, are set in a fantasy world where western fairy tales get an Asian twist and no one cares that the protagonist muff dives. In the sea of “coming out” books, Lo’s works are a relief, providing a strong “I’m here, I’m queer, go fuck yourself” voice to the baby gayelles of today.
Jacqueline Woodson – Woodson always liked to tell stories, though as a young child she called it “lying”; it wasn’t until the fifth grade when a teacher told her her poem was “really good” that she started thinking she, a black kid from Brooklyn, could be a writer. Woodson writes mostly for teens and her books are full of real life. Not all of her girl characters dine at the Y, but many of them do and the ones who don’t… well, I guess every character needs her flaws. Woodson features many strong friendships between girls and tackles tough subjects like gender identity, incest, drug addiction, abuse and poverty. My favorites are Beneath a Meth Moon and The House You Pass On the Way.
Sarah Waters – So maybe you saw the movie version of Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters, but stopping there is like accepting movie Ginny Weasley is all that Rowling wrote–I’ll take “Crimes Against Literature” for $800, Alex. Born in Wales, Waters has a Ph.D, (no a real Ph.D.) a bunch of awards and really insightful things to say about being a “lesbian writer.” Waters writes amazing historical fiction, chock-full of gorgeous prose and beaver-eating sex scenes that are passionate and arousing without crossing the line into erotica–not that there’s anything wrong with erotica! I love that shit, but not everyone does and if so– Sarah Waters.
Jeanette Winterson – There’s nothing I can say about Jeanette Winterson that she didn’t say about herself in her memoir Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal (which is an actual thing her mother said to her once. inorite?) with words more amazing than I could ever come up with. Her first book Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit is basically life changing. (Hint: ‘Oranges’ are a metaphor.) Adopted into a Pentecostal family, she came out as a vagitarian and left home at age 16, then proceeded to write some of the most beautiful books you’ll ever read.
Leslie Feinberg – Feinberg self-identifies as a “Gender Outlaw” and uses the gender-neutral pronoun Ze. So, technically, Feinberg might not fit neatly into the “lesbian authors” box (hehe) but I’m including zir here because labels are dumb and I do what I want. When I was but a wee baby gay stretching my wings, my fairy-dykemother gave me a copy of Feinberg’s Stone Butch Blues, a semi-autobiographical novel about a butch lesbian in the pre-Stonewall days. It’s hard to read at times because of THE FEELS but worth it. Feinberg went on to write essays and non-fiction that will pretty much blow your… mind.
Alison Bechdel – Yes THAT Bechdel, as in the creator of the Bechdel Test. She spent most of her career creating the comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For” which was regularly published all over the US and UK. She was pretty much the only feminist (let alone LGBTQ) voice in the comic world for a long time and that alone makes her awesome, but then you read her stuff and let me tell you, that shit is HILARIOUS! She’s also written two graphic memoirs: Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic (recently made into a musical) and Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama. Both involve literal graphic representations of Alison lickinalotapus as well as stories that trigger self-realizations and philosophical ponders.
Adrienne Rich – Female, Lesbian and Jewish, Rich had three strikes against her oppression-wise, and yet became one of the most influential voices of Feminism’s Second Wave. Rich publicly came out in 1976 through her “Twenty-One Love Poems” that were all about how she loved digging for clams. She was generally a badass and the world misses her. She declined awards to make political statements. She wrote essays about the compulsiveness of heterosexuality in our society. She summed up her life goals in seven words: “the creation of a society without domination.”
Audre Lorde – Lorde named herself as “a black feminist lesbian mother poet” and talks a lot about the intersectionality of identities. An activist and a leader, she wrote about her mother’s “special and secret relationship with words” in her book Zami: A New Spelling Of My Name, which defies all attempts to fit it into a genre. Her poetry, on the other hand, describes her special and not-so-secret relationship with pussy. (Among other things—obvi.) My favorites (“For Each of You,” “Inheritance,” “A Woman Speaks” for starters) are scattered throughout her seven collections so just buy (or borrow from the library) her complete works okay?
Honorable Mentions go out to Andrea Gibson, Julie Anne Peters, Rita Mae Brown, Patricia Highsmith, Alice Walker, Emma Donoghue and emily danforth. Whom I love, but just don’t have room to adequately sing their praises.
I know I missed tons of noteworthy fagettes, so tell us about the lesbian authors you love and who write great shit.
Feature photo credit Elena Seibert.