Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Guest Post: The Benefits of Segregation

Today's guest post comes from author L.E. Harvey, who blogs at The Writings and Ramblings of a Philadelphian. Thanks for being with us!

As an LGBT author, and an LGBT person, I often find myself contemplating the separation of LGBT writing from the mainstream. Why is it that we have our own category? Our own book stores? Is my writing, or that of any other GLBT author, that different that it must be separated?

To be perfectly honest, I don’t like segregation. I don’t believe that I, or my work, need(s) to be separated from everyone else. Why is it that my colleague, Collin Kelley, an incredible poet, must be considered an incredible LGBT poet?

Yet, the American society tells us that we must wear this label, just like homosexuals had to wear the up-side-down triangle during the Holocaust.

If LGBT writers must be separated from their straight counterparts, we must look to see if there are any advantages to this segregation. Can it benefit any LGBT writer to be branded as such?

I’m normally not an advocate for labeling people or dividing literature into categories based on social labels. However, since I must be labeled as such, I will find a way that it may actually behoove me to label my work as LGBT fiction.

One positive factor in labeling my work as LGBT, is that it bears the same power as coming out of the closet held. I am boldly stating to readers everywhere that this is who I am, and this is what I write about. Separation of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, cinema, and the like tells the world that we are not going to shy away or run back into the closet with our writing. Instead, we are standing out, holding our work for all the world to see, and to truly know (and understand) the subject matter. It says, “this is who I am. I am not ashamed of it. Instead, I am putting my heart and my writing on the line for you to discover.” As a writer, I’m acting boldly to bear my soul to you in my writing. As an LGBT writer, I am acting even more boldly.

Labeling LGBT writing for what it is also helps to draw in an audience that not every writer is able to acquire: a sympathetic audience. The LGBT community and our straight allies will know that my work (or that of any other LGBT author) will reach them. It will be the kind of writing they can genuinely understand and appreciate. It will speak to them because it is written about them and it is written for them. I can market and sell my work to such readers and watch it spread like wildfire throughout the community. LGBT readers (and our straight allies) will specifically seek out LGBT writing of all genres. Knowing that their work is being selected because of what it is, rather than some great marketing ploy, is one of the greatest feelings a writer can experience. Because then, the sale is genuine. It’s not because the media tells them it’s a must read, it’s because the reader wants to read that particular book, article, poem, editorial, etc.

Genuine readership also creates a great word of mouth. If a person loves a book, they will recommend it to their friends. And each of those friends will recommend it to more friends and so the wild fire will spread. What writer doesn’t want to see their work spread like that? At that point, it doesn’t matter that it’s LGBT literature. It’s just good literature.

So, if the world I live in tells me that I must place LGBT Fiction on my books, I will. I will use that label as a bold statement of who I am as a person and a writer. And I will know that my work will be sought after by the type of readers I want. And those readers will place my books in more readers’ hands. Perhaps segregation of LGBT literature can actually behoove LGBT writers.


L. E. Harvey said...

Thank you so much for having me here today! I greatly appreciate it! You are wonderful hosts! :)

Sally Sapphire said...

Physical bookstores do have a tendency to 'hide' LGBT titles away, which is a shame. I remember well how awkward and uncomfortable it was, as a teenager struggling with my sexuality, to be seen perusing the LGBT shelves. It's as public a coming out as anything else we can forced upon us.

At the same time, I think this is one instance where the advent of online shopping has certainly done the LGBT community a wonderful service. Even if they don't want to 'hide' the titles, a physical bookseller can't afford to stock the same book on multiple shelves. An online bookstore can tag the same book in multiple ways, though, allowing them to be virtually shelved under multiple categories.

As a reader, I love the fact that I can easily (and discreetly) find books with characters that I most closely identify with, and which help to make me feel a little less alone. At the same time, as an (aspiring) author, I know that LGBT readers can easily find my work, but so can 'mainstream' readers who are looking for books tagged with the traditional genre categories.

It's a double-edged sword but I agree with L.E. - if we're to be segregated, then let's take ownership of that and make it work not to hide us, but to support us.