“At the heart of every finished novel is a passion, a fetish, a vendetta so strong the writer simply cannot let it die,” the presenter at the Fooling Around with Words conference said, gesticulating wildly. He lifted up his own book. “Do you know what single thought fueled this book? F_ _ _ you 8th grade girlfriend who broke my heart. That’s the single thought that kept me going. What’s yours? Write it down.”
Dutifully, I took out my pen and wrote lesbian sex.
In retrospect, I’d like to say that I meant “lesbian sexuality in all its complexity” but what really fueled my thriller The Admirer was “raw, kinky lesbian sex.”
That was the inspiration that kept me going from first draft to last, through rejection to publication. It carried me right up until my book launch, when I had to come to terms with what I had written and the fact that people I knew would actually read it.
“Are you going to invite Juanita and Margarita?” my wife asked.
“I don’t know,” I said. “They’re feminists.”
Margarita, the founder of Calyx Press, and Juanita, a life-long activist in Mexico and the States, had been my mentors and role models since I was a preteen. And they were feminists.
I imagined them pulling me aside, disapproval emanating from their natural fiber tunics.
“Is this how we raised you? To write this smut!”
True, my novel featured strong professional women and a happily-ever-after lesbian love story. Still in my mind it would never pass the feminist test. For one thing, its primary purpose was entertainment. The book was meant to be exciting. There was a serial killer. God help me, it was supposed to be…fun.
Feminist fiction had to be boring or at least depressing. It could not contain sex, unless it was wholesome egalitarian sex written entirely in ocean metaphors. Feminists don’t come “they feel the waves of connectivity wash over them.”
Of course, Margarita and Juanita did not chastise me for failing the feminist sisterhood. (I didn’t really think they would.) They hugged me and said they were proud of me and that the thriller was a page turner.
So where did my barely-conscious bias against feminism come from? I loved Margarita and Juanita. I often referred to myself as a feminist. Yet when it came to subjecting my work to a feminist critique, I balked.
I have a friend at work who reads a conspiracy into every email. That’s usually not my style, but my thoughts about feminism made me raise the question: Who benefits from the idea that feminists are dour, critical women who never touch themselves except with a mirror and speculum for the purpose of self-empowerment? What monument to the status quo remains standing because I think I’m too young, too edgy, and too hip to be a feminist?
Reading the VIDA report on the staggering gender inequality that still exists in publishing, I think I might have my answer.
Perhaps my slutty thriller is my feminist manifesto, not despite the sex but because it is full of the hot, lesbian sex that I can’t find in Harper-Collins-Random-House-Norton. Perhaps the book is feminist because it pushes the envelope. Certainly, it is time for me to remember how much of my young, hip life I owe to feminism. I have always had the courage to take risks, and it has usually paid off. I owe that, in part, to feminists like Juanita and Margarita who have worked tirelessly for women’s equality. If being “edgy” means moving beyond the safe, the traditional, and the easy then feminism is definitely edgy. You don’t even need a speculum and a mirror to see it.