Part 5 of a conversation between Margie Adam and Jewelle Gomez:
MA: At some point in your career, there had to have been a moment where someone said: “Look, if you could just tone it down a little, if you could just roll the edge off your “angry lesbian feminist tirade,” you could have a real career as a writer. Now I’m not saying you ever let loose with a tirade, but for some people, just the fact of listening to someone giving voice to unfamiliar expressions of self-determination feels like as tirade. Did you ever have a moment where someone said, in all kindness, “You’re a really good writer, Jewelle. Why would you want to limit yourself by calling yourself a “feminist” writer?
JG: Yes, I have had that said. “Just don’t frame yourself with ‘lesbian feminist’ and your work will be totally accessible.”
MA: So, my question is: why did you choose to label yourself, Jewelle?
JG: As soon as I open my mouth, the labels are present. What am I going to do?
MA: You could do what a lot of artists do: run away from your identities… dismiss or disappear them.
JG: Other people make their choices, for whatever reasons. Not everyone has to go to the mattresses at every turn. I wish they would, but…
MA: Do you think you have to go to the mattress?
JG: I feel like I have to stand strong. I can’t back up. There are certain things I just can’t do – it’s not even in my DNA at this point in my life.
MA: Was there a point where you said to yourself: “If I do this… I’m stepping over the line, I’m out there?” And maybe there were certain opportunities that were in the offing if you would only soft-pedal your identity as a lesbian feminist…
JG: It was the publication of the Gilda Stories. I did get a comment from an editor in the early 1990s: “We’ve already published our ‘colored woman’ this year.” From another editor I heard: ‘Well, it’s vampire, it’s black and its lesbian. That’s too confusing.’ And others said: ‘If the character wasn’t a lesbian, this could work.’ I felt, ‘Nah. This is who she is. That’s the story. That’s the unique character she is. I see no valid reason to change it.’ I knew once the book was published by an independent publisher (Firebrand Press), it would set me in people’s minds as the lesbian feminist writer and…. that’s fine. The only fallout from publication of the Gilda Stories has been in improving my reputation. It’s been in print for 20 years! Clearly there was a readership that got the value of the complexity of the character and didn’t dismiss the complexity.
It did mean a lot of the places that would have usually reviewed it, didn’t. Places that reviewed speculative fiction didn’t bother. It didn’t affect the fans. People who were interested in vampires found the book.
Teachers use it in classes of feminist theory as well as in speculative fiction classes. It doesn’t get used that often in African-American literature classes.
I do think the labels that have been attached to my work are having an effect on my agent’s efforts to sell my second novel. She’s been trying to sell my novel for three years.
I do think people in the publishing world hear my name and think: Lesbian feminist…Oh, this is going to be boring. Even when they read the description of what the novel is about, they are often not interested in giving it a chance. And because it’s not a vampire novel, they really don’t know what to do with it.
MA: You seem at peace with the decision you made when you were a lot younger which has had reverberations, no doubt.
JG: There were moments… but you know, I really have a career because of lesbian feminism. When I think back on the first time I was asked to publish a Gilda Story, (before it was a novel, it was a series of stories) Ellie Balkin called me. She was publishing an anthology called Lesbian Fiction and asked if I wanted to put something in there and I was thrilled. I sent her the story and she was the first person to really edit me. She sent the manuscript back with all her editing marks and she said: “One of the things I would say is that the prose is a little too purple sometimes.” I had no idea what she meant. “What is she saying? It’s too ‘lesbian’?” I’d never been edited before. That was the beginning of the Gilda Stories so I’ll always be indebted to lesbian fiction.
Editor’s note: I am thrilled to have feminist icons Margie Adam and Jewelle Gomez on Epochalips. These two have influenced our generation by paving the way as feminists and out lesbians in the early days to continuing to share their gifts with the world today. Click here for Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.
Margie Adam is currently fully engaged in her “third act.” Having completed a PhD Program in Psychology, she has entered private practice as an integrative counselor. She is also a singer-songwriter-pianist and one of the early organizers of Women’s Music, a Second Wave feminist cultural initiative fueled by lesbian passion. Her song, “We Shall Go Forth!” resides in the Smithsonian’s Political History Division. She is associate producer of two films, Radical Harmonies: A History of Women’s Music and No Secret Anymore! The Times of Del Martin & Phyllis Lyon. Margie’s counseling practice is based in the San Francisco-Bay Area, and extends world-wide with telephone technology. Her focus is on creating a safe, empowering, and joyful environment for women in transition to explore esp. sexuality, recovery, aging, and/or completion of projects. firstname.lastname@example.org
©2012 Jewelle Gomez & Margie Adam. All rights reserved.