Journalist/historian writes a novel about gay history, but she’s straightHistorians in the News
“It’s the trifecta,” a disappointed editor sighed as she waved for the check. “You wrote a book about lesbians, you went to Sarah Lawrence and you live in San Francisco.”
When Alice+Freda Forever was published four months ago, I was somewhat amused by people’s determination to find the personal connection that motivated me to write my first novel on a same-sex love and murder. Even the so-called progressives in my life – the ones who made a point of telling me that their own wedding vows included a line about supporting same-sex marriage – persevered. If I wasn’t gay, surely my father or childhood friend or beloved teacher had to be.
The real answer – that I was a young historian who found a relatively unknown, heartbreaking turn-of-the-century Southern tragedy –rarely sufficed. Did these same people think that an Elizabethan scholar must have direct ties to the 16th century, or that I, as the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor, should only write about World War II? I’ve always thought events that proved significant in the past are about something much more fluid than dates and historical actors, conditions and consequences. History is about our values as a society. That’s an ever evolving story, and it needs new storytellers from every generation.
Alice and Freda’s story is one of collective importance. Issues of American injustice have implications beyond any one community, and yet books like Alice+Freda Forever are most often found on the Gay & Lesbian shelf, with no regard for the Library of Congress’ history, true crime, and gender categorization. (I’m looking at you, Barnes & Noble.) Automatically assigning Alice and Freda to an identity category is probably well-intentioned, but in practice, we should consider how this reinforces discrimination. By setting some stories apart and calling them “LGBT History”, we risk carelessly implying that their history is not a part of our shared American history. We are saying that “their stories” are not “our stories”, and then we shelve those books in the farthest corner of the bookstores. ...
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