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BY LEE LYNCH
Special to Lesbian.com

It’s nice that some non-gay writers include us in their stories. I’m thinking of Lawrence Block’s Matt Scudder detective novels in which he has an amusing lesbian friend who is a dog groomer. Very respectful and matter-of-fact that she’s a dyke. But that doesn’t make the novels lesbian any more than the presence of Robert B. Parker’s gay male bartender and strongman in his Spenser series makes the books gay male.

How about Sylvia Plath’s much revered novel The Bell Jar? The writer implies that a secondary character, who typically for that era commits suicide, is gay. Or Mary McCarthy’s The Group, in which one of eight old college friends has a woman lover. Should we consider these lesbian books?

And Mary Oliver, a lesbian, but the reader must hunt for allusions to her affectional orientation, and then be uncertain. Her beloved books are probably included every lesbian library and the poems express the experience of one lesbian. Can they be claimed as our literature? Hardly.

Leonardo Padura Fuentes, novelist, critic and essayist, wrote, “I bury myself in Cuba deeply so that I can express what Cuba is, and have not left Cuba because I am a Cuban writer and I can’t be anything else.”

Padura Fuentes creates Cuban literature. Substitute the word “lesbian” for “Cuba” and his sentence describes an author of lesbian literature. Genre doesn’t matter, nor era, fiction or non-fiction. Truly lesbian writing delves deep into the lesbian psyche, not to the exclusion of the rest of human experience, but through the unique perspective of gay women.

Jeannette Foster’s renowned and lengthy history and analysis of writings which hint of, refer to, or portray lesbians, is titled Sex Variant Women in Literature. Itself decidedly a prime example of what I call lesbian literature, the book does not pretend to examine that subject, but only to identify dykes in writings since the Bible. That is lesbians in literature, not lesbian literature.

Again, when Barbara Grier published her bibliography, she included hundreds of works that may only have brushed against the rare gay female individual. The title she chose was The Lesbian In Literature, not lesbian literature.

Neither author claimed to address actual lesbian literature. There was little of it to examine in any case.

And now the label is being slapped on all sorts of books, and categorized that way by LGBTQ people themselves. This trend is not encouraging queer women to tenaciously explore and document our lesbian experiences. It only encourages the assimilation that manifests in crossover books, books written to appeal to all readers. It only discourages most publishers from accepting submissions whose focus is fully and earnestly lesbian. It only denies lesbian readers works that reflect the reality of our lives.

While it’s true that we can only write that which inspires us, when teachers, editors, agents and awards administrators, among others, hold mainstream writing as the standard, and all but ignore books with an exclusively lesbian focus, they lead us away from serious, in depth examination of our lesbian selves. No matter how popular or literary, including a gay female character or a dalliance between women or a minor character who is questioning—none of those are legitimately part of lesbian literature.

This may smack of separatism and early gay liberation, but we have a right to our own cultures, whatever kind of queer we are. As we focus our words on ourselves, we build a legacy for the future-dykes of two or two hundred years, whether next door to us or in a place where queericide is the norm.

When I see today’s writers of unabashed lesbian stories who show the same spirit as Jane Rule, Isabel Miller, and Radclyffe Hall not getting their due, I wonder how far have we really come? These are the women who are struggling to communicate the essence of who we are by writing from their very lesbian hearts.

Copyright Lee Lynch 2019

March 2019

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Carine De Mesmaeker is the founder and producer of Velvet Ibiza, Europe’s most epic queer women party.

Velvet Ibiza is celebrating its fifth anniversary this year and taking the festivities to the next level — one for the books!

Happening May 7 – 12, 2019 in idyllic Ibiza, Spain, Velvet Ibiza, the all-inclusive 5-day/5-night party, has, in only a few years’ time, become a holy ground for queer women who continue to descend on the pine-covered isle to enjoy one the most life changing and bonding experience.

The all-inclusive nature of the event (tickets include 5 nights in bungalow, all 3 meals, day and night activities & parties, transportation from airport to resort, and all drinks t’il 11pm) creates a safe and unique environment that imparts a palpable sense of belonging – a real “family” event.

No need to venture anywhere, the party is literally on your doorsteps as De Mesmaeker rents out the entire resort. Having everything in one place is key for the event producer who strives to create a great community vibe allowing people to organically connect.

From the pool parties, sports tournaments, club nights and now the infamous duck race to the top female DJs from Europe and America dropping the sickest beats, and live music from Sarah Bettens, the openly gay artists artist best known as the smoky voice of Belgian nineties rock band K’s Choice, Velvet Ibiza has it all!
www.velvetibiza.es

1. Do you have any phobias? (please enumerate with embarrassing details)
As a child I had a phobia of ducks. I was chased by several and was scared by the quacking noise they made! Over time I got better and turned fear into fun with our now legendary duck race! Velvet IBIZA has become known for it’s cute ducks we throw in the pool and the lucky girls who jump in and grab a duck can keep the duck or find themselves with a “golden duck” where they’ll win a free trip to Velvet Ibiza next year! It’s one of the funniest moments of the weekend with 1 giant duck in the pool and hundreds of little ducks up for grabs.

2. What song can you not get enough of right now?
A song that’s on my mind for a while now: Calvin Harris, Promises – not a recent song, but so damn good.

3. Which celebrity would render you totally star struck if you were to meet him/her?
That has to be Angelina Jolie. A cliche but I would be very shy and probably speechless. Timeless beauty.

4. What would be your best piece of relationship advice?
The best relationship advice and the most difficult: Stay yourself and don’t expect your partner to change for you.

5. If you could wake up tomorrow with one talent or skill you don’t presently have, what would you want that to be?
I am absolutely a zero when it comes to drawning or painting. … In my next life I would love to be a famous painter!

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“Still on my Mind” was written and recorded in England, a result of the fruitful and incredibly natural production/songwriting partnership with her long term collaborator and brother (Faithless founder) Rollo.

Dido describes the making of this album as “an absolutely magical experience”. She says: “I wanted to capture the feeling I still get from listening to music, just that rush like you don’t need anything more than this”.

Called “stunning” by Forbes, “a strong return to form” by Consequence of Sound, and a showcase for Dido “crafting her own vision of pop, untouched by the outside world” by Newsday, ’Still On My Mind’ finds Dido’s trademark vulnerable songwriting and soothing vocal essence fully evolved for the 2019 musical landscape, inspired by her love of hip hop to her folk roots, but ultimately carrying a dance and electronic music sensibility, even on the tracks with no beats.

Watch the gorgeous video for the cutting break-up anthem and current single “Give You Up.”

Dido - Give You Up (Official Video) - YouTube

The multi-million selling singer goes on a world tour throughout 2019 which includes several dates in the US.

June 13 – Chicago, IL – Vic Theatre

June 17 – Boston, MA – House of Blues

June 19 – New York, NY – Terminal 5

June 21 – Washington DC – Lincoln Theatre

June 22 – Philadelphia, PA – Union Transfer

June 25 – Los Angeles, CA – The Wiltern

June 26 – San Francisco, CA – The Masonic

June 28 – Portland, OR – Roseland Theater

June 30 – Seattle, WA – Showbox SODO

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Julia Pels is an LA based stand up comedian, queer activist, model, actor, social justice warrior and humanist. She was recently named by WhoHaha as one of their favorite 35 LGBTQ creators in the nation. A few months later, she was written up in the UK (@unite_uk1) about her coming out experience and how that helped shape who she has become.

Julia also produces her own comedy show, KILLER UNICORNS that is a nationally recognized show. It was JUST written up in VULTURE and has been running for three consecutive years now.

1. Do you have any phobias? (please enumerate with embarrassing details)
Fear of heights (i was dropped on my head by the cheerleaders on my squad).

2. What song can you not get enough of right now?
Not Ready to Make Nice: by The Dixie Chicks

3. Which celebrity would render you totally star struck if you were to meet him/her?
Bill Hader & Kristen Wiig

4. What would be your best piece of relationship advice?
SLOW down! it doesn’t work until you’re ready.

5. If you could wake up tomorrow with one talent or skill you don’t presently have, what would you want that to be?
A skill I want would be able to read better. I have a reading comprehension disorder and I get sad that reading can be so challenging at times.

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Which celebrity would render you totally star struck if you were to meet him/her?
Anyone who knows me knows I have been obsessed with Doris Day since I was a little girl. I used to write her fan letters every week during childhood. When I turned 18, I traveled to her hometown of Carmel California and spent an entire day waiting outside her grocery store in hopes of getting a glimpse of her. My lifelong dream of meeting her finally came true a few years ago when she made a surprise appearance at a benefit held in honor of her 90th birthday. When she walked in the room unexpectedly, the crowd (comprised of lifelong fans like me) erupted. I stood on my chair, screamed, hyperventilated, and tried not to pass out. You would think the cast of the L-Word had shown up, not a tiny, grey haired, elderly woman in need of a walker.

What would be your best piece of relationship advice?
My two favorite sentiments expressed about love are, “Love is the condition when someone else’s happiness is more important than your own.” And “In a good relationship, both people should feel like they got the better deal.” Those are my litmus tests for whether I’m with the right person. Luckily, I feel both are true for me and my partner.

If you could wake up tomorrow with one talent or skill you don’t presently have, what would you want that to be?
I’ve always wanted to finish my studies in French which I, regrettably, abandoned in college. This way, if comedy doesn’t work out in the states, I could move to France and become the lesbian Jerry Lewis.

Do you have any phobias? (please enumerate with embarrassing details)
The woman I’m dating was straight up until she met me. So, I’m a bit phobic about our strap-on. I want her to like it, but I don’t want her to like it TOO much. One time we were using it and she was getting really into it; Her dirty talk got so graphic that it actually made me paranoid. I stopped abruptly and was like, “You DO realize this isn’t a real penis right?!” After that, I couldn’t continue because I totally lost my erection.

Name five people, living or dead, who you would love to have at a dinner party.
That would have to be an eclectic group of my all-time favorite powerhouse female performers: Doris Day, Judy Garland, Sandra Bernhard, Emma Thompson, and my longtime teacher and mentor, Broadway legend Betty Buckley. The most important question is, what would I wear?!? I would need to find the right look that said, “I’m obsessed with you, but not a stalker.”

Jessica Inserra is an LA-based stand-up comedian whose irreverent humor explores, among other things, themes from her life as a gay woman growing up in a colorful New York Italian family. Jessica recently commemorated 25 years of being out, having burst through the closet doors at the tender age of 14. Now she can be seen performing her unique brand of brash, edgy comedy at The Comedy Store, as well as other venues in and around Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Seattle. Originally from New York City, Jessica is a classically trained actress and singer who began her creative education as a child in Manhattan’s Neighborhood Playhouse School of Theatre. She went on to attended Laguardia High School for Performing Arts, and continued her training at prestigious arts institutions such as Stella Adler, T. Schreiber Studio, and The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. She is currently working on her own one hour stand-up special entitled, Jessica Inserra, Pretty Gay.

Jessica will be appearing live at The World Famous Comedy Store this coming Friday, March 8th at 7PM. For more information on Jessica’s future performances, follow her on Instagram @jessinserra

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Girl playing videogames in a funny face



It’s been a tumultuous two years in the world of technology and entertainment when it comes to gender. We’ve heard the outcry of the #MeToo movement, which has hopefully put an end to some of Hollywood’s more unsavory habits when recruiting women for roles. We’ve seen more female led movies being released to market in genres where men usually dominate; what with ‘Wonder Woman’ being a box office sensation, and the ‘Ghostbusters’ reboot proving that women can be every bit as funny as men in similar parts. We even, after fifty five years, have the first ever female ‘Doctor Who’.



Despite the constant complaining from some quarters of society that this is ‘political correctness gone mad’, women in positions of power are becoming a more common sight on our screens. They’re also slowly becoming better represented in business and politics as well. The Prime Minister of the Great Britain is a woman. The Chancellor of Germany is a woman. The COO of Facebook is a woman. It feels like we’re finally getting somewhere with gender equality in every field other than one. Gaming.



Origins of Gamergate


Four years ago, in the aftermath of the 2014 E3 show, something called ‘Gamergate’ happened on the internet. It came hot onto the heels of tensions that had already been running high after it was revealed that the latest title in the ‘Assassin’s Creed’ franchise; one of the most anticipated releases of the year; would have four playable characters. All of them would be male. 



That was too much for some elements of gaming fandom, and especially women themselves. They felt that for far too many years, major games had been released for the enjoyment of men, with men in the leading roles, and with the role of women in the games being either to titillate the player, or require constant rescue by the heroic male lead. They were tokens, or trophies, and unrepresentative of the type of women who played the games. Simply put, a large proportion of video game fans felt that the way women were portrayed in games was sexist.



There was also a predictable backlash against this viewpoint. There were those who felt that video games have been the way they are for years, and have always been fine, and there was no valid reason to complain. Those who did complain were called ‘social justice warriors’, and castigated on websites like 4chan. Online debates turned ugly. ‘Gamergate’ was not a fun thing to watch. 



Not All Gamers


When we discuss under-representation of, or even under-service of women by the gaming industry and those who create games, we should point out that there are notable exceptions. The gaming industry is a wide one, containing many subcategories within it, and one of those subcategories has no such issue with catering for female players. That’s the gambling industry. 

Ever alert to changes in the way people engage with gambling, the industry recognized that more and more female players were coming online to gamble, and considered the aesthetic and appeal of their existing games. Realizing that more could be done to make female players comfortable, they took swift and decisive action.

One need only look at RoseSlots.com and the range of online slots available there to see how easily something can be customized to accommodate the female perspective without making dramatic changes to a format. Players browsing the homepage are invited to try their hand at woman-led titles like ‘Legend of Cleopatra’. Ten years ago, online slots were designed and released with male players in mind. The gambling industry realized they were leaving money on the table by ignoring women, and changed their ways. If a gambling website can offer a game with a female lead on the homepage of its website, why can’t ‘Assassin’s Creed’ make one out of its four playable characters female?

No Progress, Or Slow Progress?


The answer to the ‘Assassin’s Creed’ question is ‘they can’, and in fact, they have. The gambling industry may have beaten them to the punch, but there are some signs that the makers of video games may have started to hear the aggrieved voices of their female players. At E3 this year, the newest version of ‘Assassin’s Creed’ was revealed to have two playable main characters. One would be male, and one would be female. 

Other titles seemed ready to make changes, too. ‘The Last Of Us’, a PlayStation-only title which has a particularly devoted title, is really trying to make up for past wrongs. In the original game, the main character Joel leads a stereotypically terrified teenage girl named Ellie to survival. In the sequel, Ellie is now the lead. Ellie is also now all grown up, and has a girlfriend of her own. Switching the gender of the main character and also making her gay is a move that many major TV shows would steer well clear from. To see a video gaming company attempt it is commendable.

On the side of XBox exclusive titles is the ‘Gears of War’ franchise, which is now onto its fifth installment. All four previous games have featured a man in the lead role. This time around, they’ve gone with a woman. Have all the fans of the series liked the move? Absolutely not, but it’s not expected to dampen the game’s commercial prospects when its released in 2019.

On the surface, that might make it sound like a revolution is sweeping through the gaming world. Statistically, that’s not the case just yet. They’re good headlines, but they don’t change the rest of the news. A statistical analysis of the games which were displayed at E3 showed that only eight percent of them feature women in the lead role. By contrast, twenty four percent had a clear male lead. More or less exactly half of the games there allowed players to choose.

Perhaps just having the option to choose is progress; it’s certainly a better position than the one the industry was in as little as four years ago. But when the ratio of clear male leads is three times higher than the ratio of clear female leads, it seems the road of progress is going to be a long one.

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By Shelly
Special to Lesbian.com

Hi, I’m Shelly – a recently divorced, ex-Mormon mother of seven who only accepted her sexuality about a year and a half ago. I was raised in a cult, which resulted in my feeling traumatized, abused, damaged, depressed and angry, but also ready to heal and move on with my life. I met Mary on an online dating site. She had identified as a lesbian very early on (a career lesbian, as she puts it), no kids, happy, stable and seemingly settled in her life. Who knew the two of us would fall in love in the midst of all the craziness? Luckily for me, Mary agreed to take it all on. She was kind, patient and understanding, which was exactly what I needed during the most tumultuous time in my life. It wasn’t long into our relationship that we knew we should be together.

It turned out I needed love and connection and acceptance. That was something I had not felt in all of my 21-year marriage, or for that matter, throughout my upbringing. Being raised the only girl in a misogynistic Mormon household, I felt dismissed, marginalized and basically unloved my entire life. To me, love consisted of performing all of my duties as a Mormon daughter, wife and mother. I was going through the motions, fulfilling a role that I was told was my destiny. Truth was I felt miserable playing a part that never suited me. I finally reached a breaking point – a literal nervous breakdown that caused me to examine my life and admit that this charade I was living no longer worked for me. The Mormon ideals I had been taught no longer made sense, and possibly never had. And so, I left the church and came out of the closet soon afterwards. It wasn’t until I met Mary that I finally felt what love must actually feel like. I experienced the connection and acceptance that my soul had been craving, and I didn’t even know it.

Early on in our relationship, Mary realized I had a story to tell, and she agreed to help me tell it. She understood that talking about my experiences (in a really public way) would be a way of helping me heal from all of my trauma. She also said my mission (if I chose to accept it) would be to inspire others who had gone through similar experiences. We decided that a podcast was the answer, so we launched Latter-Day Lesbian: the podcast about an ex-Mormon gay girl (me) trying to figure out life. We wanted it to be raw and honest, funny and inspiring. And so, with the hope that a few people might listen, and that I would be able to heal by getting my story out there, we jumped into the podcasting world.

What actually happened was completely unexpected. After just a few episodes the floodgates opened, and we began to hear from listeners, who until then, thought they were completely alone in their struggles. It was no longer just a one-sided dialogue that consisted of us prattling on to an invisible audience. It became a conversation of like-minded souls sharing our stories with one another. This little pet project turned into thousands of connections all over the world, with new friends who no longer feel so alone. All of us now have the courage to work through our trauma together to find acceptance, happiness and love.

As for Mary and me, our lives are much, much different than they were when we first met. Our time and energies are now spent on our podcast because we know it’s helping us and others to heal. We will never be the same, and hopefully our listeners say the same thing.

Mary and I would like to invite you to be part of our crazy-amazing journey. Give us a listen! The Latter-Day Lesbian Podcast is available on your favorite podcast app.

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By Taylor Saracen
Special to Lesbian.com

When Viktor met—and subsequently fell in love with -— his client Abraham’s Georgia Peach of a boyfriend Calvin Connolly, the mobster didn’t imagine he would forge a relationship with Cal’s queer friend, Rosie. Rosie was unlike anyone Viktor had met before. Vik was used to drag queens who put on an act and removed their makeup after a show, but Rosie was much more committed to being a female than a performer, though, at his core, he was both.

JULY 1932

For the remainder of spring, I went to The Studio once a week to be with Cal, always during The Gallery on State’s busiest hours. I didn’t want to visit too frequently, or when I knew Abraham had down time. Though Cal had assured me there was nothing to worry about regarding Abe, I didn’t want to wreck my relationship with the bar owner. It was too lucrative to decimate, and times were too uncertain to test Cal’s confidence in the matter. While I wasn’t sure if Abraham knew what was going on between his Peach and me, if he did, I didn’t want to rub his face in whatever it was we had. What did we have? Sex, longer conversations than I’d ever had with anyone in my life, something comfortable that wasn’t supposed to be, something … we had something. I wasn’t certain what the hell it was, but I liked it, and that was significant, because I found it difficult to like a lot of things, but I liked a lot of him.
By the time summer came, we had started to carve out more opportunities to be together. While I still didn’t risk lying in his bed too often, I did meet him for mornings at Oak Street beach, where we tucked our toes in the sand, and afternoons of lounging in the grass at Bughouse Square, listening to soapbox orators spout their thoughts and watching people who liked to be watched. Sometimes, Rosie would join us. I had grown less suspect of the skittish sissy the more I’d gotten to know him. It wasn’t as though I craved his company, but it didn’t offend me to have him around. Though I had never asked Rosie his story, Cal had shared it and the boy chimed in with his soft, sad voice when he found it necessary. It hadn’t shocked me that it was a pathetic tale. Unfortunately, it made perfect sense that it would be.
Rosie was born Roberto to Italian parents who had long names I didn’t care to remember. He was the youngest of six and the only boy, a child his father had waited for, but Roberto hadn’t waited long enough. He was born three months early, scrawny and gray. His dad called him a failed miscarriage, which was nearly as shitty as what my dad had said about me. I’m sure if they had been Russian and not Italian, Rosie’s parents would have sung him death lullabies too. I guess Rosie always felt like he should’ve been born a girl or not born at all. He was mostly ignored, but his parents paid enough attention to catch him wearing his sisters’ clothes as a teen. When he couldn’t stop sneaking their garments, his folks had kicked him out on the street, and somehow the gamin had found his way to Chicago, to Abraham, to Cal, the latter of whom was incredibly protective of him.

It was endearing, the way Cal cared for Rosie. Maybe that’s why I didn’t make a big deal about the chorus moll spending time with us. I wouldn’t have had the capacity to be as tender toward Rosie as Cal was. After all, I liked Cal immensely, and I often found it difficult to be as expressive as I wished I could and was glad I could not be.

Available from Amazon.

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11/11/15 Esther Newton, Lecturer in Women’s Studies.

By Esther Newton
Special to Lesbian.com

My psychiatrist was a middle-aged Jewish man, and luckily for me, he was sympathetic, supportive, and caring. Haltingly, I told him that I hated Palo Alto High School; that I felt trapped between my rejecting mother, whom I loved, and my grandmother, whom I did not; that I missed my father and New York. How my wish to escape to boarding school after my sophomore year had been vetoed by my mother, who, despite our conflicts, did not want me to leave home. How during this, my junior year, we had fought incessantly.
All this took a couple of months of talking. Then one day, as semitropical gardens were blooming around the suburban Victorians and ranch houses, I blurted, “There’s something I have to tell you.” The doctor nodded, listening intently. Then I sat there. And twiddled my hair, looked at the floor. And sat there. Unable to open my mouth, unable to say the words that I had recently written in my journal, but never said aloud, even to myself, words that could never be taken back. This went on for three weeks.
Finally, I looked down at the floor and mumbled, “I think I might be a homosexual.” The doctor considered while he took this in. My heart beat frantically. It seemed I must be struck dead, that the stucco walls of his house would hate me, crush me. This was in the spring of 1957. The doctor said, “What’s so bad about that?”
If you are only as sick as your secrets, as they say in Alcoholics Anonymous, then telling that sweet doctor, and his acceptance, was a giant step toward health. I wish I could say that from then on I suffered no more than the usual ups and downs that young people endure. This is what one sees in gay youth fairly often today. But so many other voices, my own and those all around me, were telling me what ruin this would lead to, how I would be forever a weirdo, outcast, condemned to a life that would be even worse than my high school misery, and, above all, how I would never find anyone to love and love me back.
Like me, many Americans never recover fully from bullying and other torments of their adolescence. The damage is permanent, no matter how much success adulthood brings. Some years ago I dreamed I came upon a brown bear surrounded by a boisterous crowd of street people. I approached the bear obliquely from the back; it was sitting upright and motionless in a hole; only the back of its torso and head were visible. The people were shouting at it and throwing garbage. I realized that they meant in the end to kill it and were only tormenting it from the fun of destroying a robust, beautiful animal who was hopelessly outnumbered. I woke in terror and threw myself into my girlfriend’s arms. “It’s you, the bear,” she said. “But it’s only a dream.”

ESTHER NEWTON, one of the pioneers of gay and lesbian studies, is formerly Term Professor of Women’s Studies at the University of Michigan and Professor of Anthropology at Purchase College, State University of New York. She is the author of several books, including Margaret Mead Made Me Gay: Personal Essays, Public Ideas and Cherry Grove, Fire Island: Sixty Years in America’s First Gay and Lesbian Town, both also published by Duke University Press, as well as the groundbreaking Mother Camp: Female Impersonators in America.

Copyright © 2018 by Esther Newton. . This excerpt originally appeared in My Butch Career: A Memoir , published by Duke University Press. Reprinted here with permission.

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By Brynn Tannehill
Special to Lesbian.com

On November 21, Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Trans (But Were Afraid To Ask) by Brynn Tannehill — Trans activist, writer, and former Naval Aviator — was released by Jessica Kingsley Publishers. This groundbreaking book was written to shed light on biased research and bad science and to inform both those that identify as Trans and those that do not about issues that face the Trans community. Reviewers are calling this an “essential” read that is both “passionate “and “humorous.” Below is an excerpt from the book, introducing the chapter on how the Trans community is represented by the media and popular culture.

Transgender people in the US, and elsewhere, are being included in popular culture and in the media more than they ever have been in the past. We’re in the news with the attempt at banning us from the military. TV shows such as Orange Is the New Black, Transparent, and Sense8 have featured prominent transgender characters played by transgender actors. In general, these have been portrayals that were well received by critics. Transparent features two transgender actors as recurring characters. Actress Laverne Cox won an Emmy for her work as an executive producer on MTV’s Laverne Cox Presents: The T Word. Tangerine was centered on the lives of transgender women of color, featured transgender actors in the lead roles, and received critical acclaim.

The TransMilitary documentary, directed by Fiona Dawson and Gabriel Silverman, which was first screened at South-by-Southwest in 2018, received the audience choice award for best documentary, and was named one of “The best 8 films we saw at SXSW” by Rotten Tomatoes. Top critic John DeFore at The

Hollywood Reporter described the documentary as “affecting,” and described how, “TransMilitary introduces several outstanding trans service members whose peers and superiors are totally unfazed by their situation, knowing that being able to count on someone in the field is infinitely more important than what’s in his or her pants.”
These are just a few of the positive and well-received recent media representations of transgender people playing (or being) themselves. However, when it comes to big budget movies, most still fail to cast transgender people in transgender roles, and both film and TV still frequently repeat inaccurate, outdated tropes about transgender lives.

While P.T. Barnum once said, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity,” not everyone would agree. While most people know what “transgender” means, that doesn’t mean they encounter us on a routine basis. Eighty-seven percent of Americans know someone who is lesbian or gay, but only 16 percent know a transgender person.1116 Thus media portrayals of transgender people are likely to have a disproportionate effect on how cisgender people
perceive a transgender person when they meet them.

For example, if when a transgender person goes to a job interview, and the interviewer’s only exposure to transgender people is characters who are prostitutes, serial killers, or flaming human wreckage, this probably doesn’t work in the transgender applicant’s favor.

The characters “Brie” in Transamerica and “Rayon” in Dallas Buyers Club were both played by cisgender actors. While Brie was a lead character played by a cisgender woman, and Rayon was a side-kick character played by a cisgender man, they were similar in that neither was competent in their gender presentation, both were leading disastrous lives, and neither was the sort of person you would hire for more than an entry-level job, if at all. The characters themselves are essentially human wreckage, and played alternately for laughs and for pity. This chapter examines the most pernicious ways that transgender people are harmed by media representation. This includes an examination of “the pathetic tranny,” “the transsexual serial killer,” and “the trap” tropes about transgenderpeople. It also looks at how being played as a freaks and jokes who could never be loved by “real” people takes a devastating emotional toll. Finally, it discusses how to improve representation.

Brynn Tannehill is a leading trans activist and essayist, and has written for The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Bilerico, Slate, Salon, USA Today, The Advocate, LGBTQ Nation, The New Civil Rights Movement, as a blogger and featured columnist.

A leader in Gender Diversity books, Jessica Kingsley Publishers publishes informative guides for professionals, parents, children, teens, and the general reader. For more information on this title and others, visit www. jkp.com or call 215-622-1161. To preorder, visit Amazon.com.

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