Why it MATTERS
A few years ago when Alex and Cassidy’s Intersection was first released in paperback, I found myself in a conversation with a television writer and producer. The topic at hand was implicit models of lesbians versus explicit models in mainstream media. I vividly recall what he said. “It shouldn’t matter.” I happen to agree with him—it shouldn’t. It shouldn’t, but it does. I’ve had similar conversations with other people who work in that arts. They all share a point of view that sexuality is incidental in defining who a person is. In their minds, who someone loves or is attracted to is simply not anything to be concerned with. They all share one other important thing in common; they are all heterosexual (at least, they are all in heterosexual relationships).
There is a disconnect in our society about personhood, I think. And, there is a massive disconnect in the art world. Identity does matter. In some ways, art plays a greater role in determining how we perceive ourselves and others now than it ever has. We are inundated with a constant barrage of images sending us messages about who we are and who we are supposed to be. Those images are sadly lacking a diversity of models and representations that deliberately break stereotypes. We have come miles in the LGBT community regarding representation. But, we are still in the first few miles of a grueling marathon in our endeavor to find greater and more diverse representation in media.
Why does it matter? Let me count the ways. Sexuality is something that people can hide. And, many do—some for their entire lives. Most of us have grown up in the media age. Imagine looking out at television, movies, books, even music and not seeing anyone that resembles you. You learn that love is meant for beautiful people; beautiful women swept away by strong men. You look, you search, and there is just no one who looks or feels like you. The message is isolation. You must learn to love a different way. That is your only option if you ever hope to have a happy ending. It is an extraordinarily lonely place to live. The message breeds fear and insecurity whether intentionally or not.
It shouldn’t matter. It shouldn’t matter who we love. It does. If it didn’t still matter to so many people, there would be no reason to argue why explicit models should not be needed, at least, not in the mainstream. It does matter. It doesn’t only matter for those people searching to find themselves. It matters for everyone else. Art and life do not exist as separate entities. Art reflects the human experience. It also informs societal norms. Art in its many forms influences culture. If you doubt that, I would ask you to think about the word propaganda. Art has played a pivotal role in influencing human perception since the beginning of civilization.
I never thought of becoming a lesbian author or creator. Ironically, for me, my sexuality has always been incidental. I love who I love. I fall in love like everyone else. Sometimes in my life that love has blossomed; other times it has met the stone wall of rejection. Painfully, more than once the obstacle was not unrequited love, but rather the apprehension the person I loved had when it came to living her truth. That fear remains a tangible obstacle for too many people. It’s a mountain that many people still find too daunting to climb. They fear the rejection of their family, and of society, even of God. They look up at the mountain and wonder how anyone can climb it. Alone at the foot of a mountain with no clear pathway to the top. How easy it would be to become lost in that forest. That is how I would describe it to those of you who may not understand.
In the last three years, I have received hundreds of messages and emails from readers. I’ve met hundreds of people from coast to coast. Each time someone shares their personal struggle with me, every time a person approaches me to say that they found hope in one of my books, I am reminded that it does matter. One of the most poignant and moving messages I ever received was from a grandfather. His daughter had recently become involved with another woman. She had a six-year-old son; coincidentally, the same age as Cassidy’s son, Dylan in Intersection. He had found the book on Amazon under Political Thriller Best-Sellers. In his note, he expressed that he chose the book because he loved thrillers and was intrigued by the same-gender aspect. I’ve never forgotten his words: “Reading your book has helped me. I’ve been worried about my grandson. Alex and Cassidy are just like everyone else.” IT MATTERS.
The truth is, I hate saying that I write lesbian fiction. I don’t write books specifically for lesbians. I write stories that happen to have a lesbian couple at their center. I write stories about people as they traverse the world who happen to fall in love with someone of the same gender. Sometimes, their obstacles differ slightly from their heterosexual counterparts. More often than not, their challenges are the same. And, one thing I have come to understand is that straight people, men, women, young people, people of every walk in life need to read, see, hear, and interact with stories that explicitly depict same-gender couples. IT MATTERS. And, it matters that they see everyday models. Characters who live lives similar to theirs.
Without question, there are far more representations in mainstream media now than ever before. Still, the majority are found on action/adventure or fantasy/sci-fi shows. Make no mistake, they matter too. But, we have moved past the point that any representation is better than no representation. We have plenty of examples of lesbians in prison. We have lesbian witches, aliens, superheroes, and warriors in droves. In fact, I was approached about creating that type of content a few months ago when I was in Los Angeles. “What about a lesbian FBI agent?” I asked. The response was typical. “A superhero.” Why do you imagine that might be? I believe it is because lesbian models are more palatable when they are somehow less human. And, while the people creating them and seeking that content might not realize it; there is truth to that. It’s much easier to accept a lesbian as an alien reptile, a witch, a woman with superpowers, or someone who has broken society’s norms already and landed herself in prison. Why? Because on some level society still wrestles with the notion that being a lesbian is "normal."
Looking at the divisiveness in our world today, I believe it is imperative that we have these conversations openly. And, I passionately believe that we need to take a deliberate and active approach to keep knocking down walls. We have come many miles in recent years. We have seen lesbians characters make it to mainstream television and film. It is time now for more lesbians characters to find happy endings in everyday scenarios that are still entertaining. There is an audience that is willing to watch and there is an audience that is seeking that content. Beyond that, there is a moral obligation in art to depict the human experience as the tapestry it is. We create this world. If we want it to be inclusive, that must also be reflected in our art. Why? Because…. IT MATTERS.