The Rise and Rise of Lesbian Fiction
I had been a lesbian for around 10 years before I read my first lesbian fiction novel. Back then, I wasn’t aware of the term ‘lesbian fiction’, if it existed
All I knew was that if I ever encountered a lesbian character in a book, she was not a main character, or she was a villain. Either way, I did not see myself in her.
Generally, the situation was no better on television either. Yet, it was on TV that I got my first hint that the reading world had changed a little while my head had been stuck in a textbook. Sometime around 1990 in Australia, I saw the BBC adaptation of Jeanette Winterson’sOranges Are Not The Only Fruit.
In awe, I watched, and then promptly found Winterson’s collection at a specialist bookshop. Within weeks, when I should have been revising the anfractuous nature of the structure of DNA, I was rather more pleasantly engaged in devouring my first taste of lesbian fiction.
For me, encountering lesbian fiction was not a revelation. I knew what I was; I didn’t need it to pull the scales from my eyes. But that doesn’t diminish its power. I needed it, to prove to me that my sexuality had a valid place in the world, and maybe a little, to convince me the fight could be won. Lesbian fiction was a testament to how far we had already come.
It was to be another 10 years before my palate was again distracted by lesfic. This time, I stumbled, quite accidentally, upon the newly published Tipping the Velvet, by Sarah Waters. Temptation got the better of me (it usually does where books are concerned), and again I could not be sated until I had read everything Waters had written.
Happily, there is now more choice, but it surprised me to find when I began to research for this article, that the choice is not nearly as large as I imagined. I was surprised to find out how limited a selection of lesbian fiction still exists.
I deduced this by looking at a well-known online book retailer and searching in literature and fiction, then the sub-category ‘lesbian fiction’. I was startled to discover that there are only just over 7300 books published in this category. If you compare this number to some other niches, you can see that Lesfic still has a lot of room for growth. (Gay (male) fiction comes in at over 17,000 titles. Science-Fiction at well over 100,000). If you want to read something other than lesbian romance (~5200 titles), the choice becomes even more limited, because the romance section makes up a substantiate chunk of thelesfic titles available.
I don’t know the figures for 4 years ago, when I started writing, but I’d be willing to guess that lesbian fiction that wasn’t romance was less than a thousand offerings.
It’s why I started writing lesbian fiction novels in the first place. I love sci-fi, speculative fiction and futurist-dystopian scenarios. But 5 years ago I could not find anything in those genres that had anyone I could identify with as closely as I can in today’s lesfic stories. So I decided to write them.
Why am I telling you all this?Because this is a call to action – to readers, to authors, and to anyone aspiring to write lesfic.
There still isn’t many of us reading and writing lesbian fiction. We are still small enough in number to be a cooperative, collaborative community.
And like any other community, we can help each other. Communities give us a sense of identity, they enrich our lives, they prove to us that we are not alone. The affirmation and validation we can get from being in this lesfic community is powerful. It can change lives.
So, to readers and authors, I say reach out. Talk to each other. Post reviews. Tell us what you like and what you want. Tell us where the gaps are, too. If there’s a niche missing, something you want to read about in lesbian fiction and still can’t find – tell us. Leave a comment here, on a blog, on a facebook page.
And if you’re an aspiring writer of lesbian fiction, I urge you to write, write, write – right? Hone your skills, seek advice from those who have gone before, and listen to what readers have to say.
Because there’s plenty of room in the lesfic pie for another finger!
Author (Speculative Fiction, Science Fiction, Lesbian Fiction and Steampunk.
J-L lives in the Blue Mountains near Sydney, Australia, and writes commentary, blogs, short stories and novels. She also helps manage lesfic down under, with fellow speculative fiction author Kate Genet.