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Lesbian on Lesbian Romance

15 Dec Posted by in Jewelle Gomez | 2 comments
Lesbian on Lesbian Romance

Romance has gotten a bad rap over the years from a lot of sides.  Men and literature snobs laugh out loud about “romance” novels which are considered lower than so-called ‘chick lit;’ the idea being that at least in ‘chick lit’ the heroine usually has a job before she has her bodice ripped.

Romance has always given (many) men hives.  And women feel they have to pull teeth or employ blackmail after the marriage ceremony is over to get their man to continue to see them as objects of affection not just housekeepers.

People like to blame feminism for the decline of romance.  Somehow conservative thinkers have linked women’s insistence on being treated as equal humans with a lack of emotion or desire for attention.  Feminism sometimes did seem to cast romantic behaviour—holding a door open or paying for a woman’s dinner—as one step toward the slippery slope of male domination.

There is the history of those acts—door opening and paying for meals—as a reflection of the culture keeping women in a state of ‘less than.’  Women ‘need’ caretaking because we’re not fully adult or human.  Doors and dinner are a prime symbol of how we are diminished in so many subtle ways in this culture.

But what happens if you’re not just a feminist but a lesbian feminist?  My interactions are with another woman so clearly she’s not trying to fulfill the prime directive to keep women small and useless.  She may be following a form but is the content the same?

With lesbians it doesn’t have to be all form, they don’t usually have a ‘masculinity’ to protect.  Lesbians more often think about a relationship as sharing.  Not in a crunchy granola way anymore but in practical ways because both women in a lesbian relationship have been raised with varying degrees of anti-woman messages as well as a sense of independence from men that lesbians enjoy. That usually leads women to make a new way—doors and dinners may be alternated without either partner loosing her stature.

In “A Bronx Tale,” a semi-autobiographical play and film by Chazz Palminteri (a guy) he captured the essence of romance and in some ways feminist romance.  The story takes place in a working class Italian neighborhood in the Bronx in the 1960s—Goodfellasville.

A young guy comes to Chazz, the neighborhood Godfather, to ask advice because he’s started dating a ‘colored’ girl.  (I got really nervous at this point in the movie!)

The kid wants to figure out how to know if it’s real, an especially important question given how dangerous a situation he’s putting them both in.  Chazz answers essentially that color is not the point; that the kid will know because he’ll open the car door for her and when he gets to his side to get in the car she will have reached over and opened the door for him.

The feminist core of that ‘door’ moment acknowledges romance and how it can grow out of equal caring for each other rather than a subtle domination.

Part of the issue with romance is that Hallmark and the Hallmark Channel have high-jacked it defining ROMANCE in caps within very narrow parameters.  In the Hallmark version women are the demanders of the sugary treat called ROMANCE, desperate for a sign of affection from their non-demonstrative spouses.  Or it’s all a joke.  But what is romantic should be defined by each individual and couple not corporate headquarters and advertising executives.  Nor can a card on V Day make up for a year of dismissal and lack of appreciation.

One year I gave my girlfriend (now spouse) one of those ‘clap on/clap off’ remote lamp control devices whose late night TV ads we laughed at.  It was the perfect romantic gift because of the private joke between us.  It’s been in our hall closet for 15 years and we always feel warm when it appears from underneath the stack of guest towels as we clean house.

Lesbians are the most romantic people I know.  Who else has a minimum of four anniversaries?  There’s (1) the day you first met, (2) the day of your first date, (3) the first time you had sex together (sometimes 2 and 3 are not the same, and (4) when you moved in. There’s often an assortment of other anniversary dates too, like our official wedding and I know some lesbians who’ve had three official weddings and celebrate all of them.  It takes the pressure off of having to prove your love on one particular day…whichever is your favorite like birthday or V Day.  So what if you miss one you’ve got another anniversary coming up.  And you share doing the laundry so who can doubt the other’s love.

Sometimes lesbians make up romantic holidays…Xena Warrior Princess dinner date…your cat’s birthday.  Why not?  The point for me is: how do you make each other feel special?  I assume gay men approach romance in similar ways; everybody likes to be surprised by someone’s unconditional affection.

Of course, lesbians can be non-romantic I suppose, but there is not usually that stubborn resistance to expressing a sensitive sentiment which is reinforced and rewarded all over popular culture.  Women love expressing…usually.

An emailed heart in the middle of the day for no reason is good; flowers for no particular reason are good; picking up the new book by her favorite author is good; seduction on a Sunday afternoon is good; opening the car door is good.  Making the romance mutual is good.

Jewelle Gomez is the author of 7 books including the lesbian vampire classic novel, The Gilda Stories.  Her new play about James Baldwin will be produced in September 2011. Follow her on Twitter: VampyreVamp.  Or her website:

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  • Jacob Black says:

    Love reading about anything to do with this topic, interesting post going to link back to it on my blog.

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