Hope Over Fear
I love my dead gay forebears — and the living ones too
BY SUZI STEFFEN
We were listening to Terry Gross’ “Fresh Air” on NPR the other night when she said, “Coming up, we listen to an interview with Jane Rule, the author of a classic work of lesbian fiction. She recently died at age 76.”
I’ve never read Rule’s groundbreaking 1964 novel Desert of the Heart (Bella Books, $12.95), but I did have two of her other books on my shelves. One was This Is Not For You (out of print), a 1970 book that epitomizes an unreliable narrator — in this case, Kate George, who spends the entire book in love with a possibly straight friend, never able to figure out how to bring love and sex together. That was depressing. So were some of the short stories I read in Rule’s Inland Passage (out of print), but near the end of the book, things started looking up a bit. Whew.
In her interview with Gross (available on the Dec. 11 podcast at freshair.npr.org), Rule talks about how in the 1960s, she and her partner, both professors at the University of British Columbia, would be invited to dinner parties with two gay men “so that it would all look all right. … You simply dealt in those terms in those days.” And, as she notes in an online interview, “We were still, at that time in 1964, illegal. We could have been jailed for five years for living together.” She came out anyway and became a lesbian icon in Canada. Rule died Nov. 27 of liver cancer. I plan on reading Desert of the Heart and some other Rule books over my winter break.
And then I saw a New York Times headline: “Allan Bérubé Is Dead at 61; Historian of Gays in Military.” Bérubé’s Coming Out Under Fire: The History of Gay Men and Lesbians in World War II (Free Press, $19.95) should be required reading, really, for anyone who wonders about the history of people in love — or the unexpected ways WWII brought about a variety of civil rights movements. The story of how Bérubé came to write the book is fascinating: A friend brought him a box of letters rescued from a Dumpster. They were letters written among a group of gay soldiers during WWII; the men met at an Army base and kept in touch through the war years. Bérubé died on Dec. 11 of complications from stomach ulcers. Coming Out would be an excellent holiday gift for the historians on your list.
On the alive side, there’s a new crop of young adult LGBT books — like grl2grl by Julie Anne Peters (Little, Brown, $11.99), a book of short stories about lesbian and trans teens. The teens in the stories have tough lives and sometimes make choices that don’t help them, but the opening story and the closing story contain a bit more hope. Author Ellen Wittlinger once told me that she thought it would be pretty tough to get a book of young adult LGBT-themed short stories published, so I’m glad Peters was able to blaze the trail.
Speaking of Wittlinger, her new book is Parrotfish (Simon & Schuster, $16.99), the tale of Grady’s first few months living as a boy after growing up as Angela. Parrotfish is a perfect book for the winter holidays, for it revolves around Grady’s Christmas-obsessed family and the ways family traditions can change. Not just family traditions but also religion can adapt and grow: Alex Sanchez’s new The God Box (Simon & Schuster, $16.99) deals head-on with the various passages in the Bible that some believe condemn same-sex relationships. I found the book a bit didactic at first, but by the end I read through tears of recognition as the main character learns to choose love over fear. As we mourn and honor Rule and Bérubé this season, may our holidays with our families (birth and chosen) be filled with that hope, love and joy.