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The Sex That Dare Not Speak Its Name?

The Sex That Dare Not Speak Its Name?

Brave new world of e-publishing: We changed the title of our book. Not while we were writing it, not prior to publication, not before anyone had caught sight of the original title and cover. The book had been out in the world and circulating, physically and electronically; we’d read it from it at public events, and that is when we changed the title. It had been called: Lesbian Marriage: A Sex Survival Kit. It is now called: Lesbian Marriage: A Love and Sex Forever Kit. What’s up?

Our first sense that there was a problem with the title came just before our first public reading. We’re living in West Marin, a liberal, radical, open-minded place if ever there was one. Certainly a place where our sister-lesbians would be at ease coming forward and letting it be known who they were, right? Wrong. A friend sent out an invitation to some 30 lesbians in our local area. None sent back the R.S.V.P. Two showed up at the event. (There were other lesbians; they were our friends and had been directly invited by us and anyway, friendship demands attendance, doesn’t it?)

NEW.FrontOur friend who invited the lesbians joked that it was a book lesbians would have to buy secretly, a brown-paper-bag book, she said. What? Why? We thought the subtitle, Sex Survival Kit was funny, light-hearted, a recognition that all long-term relationships have to give some thought to the survival of sex.   Unfortunately, our readers and prospective readers weren’t taking it like this. It turned out that many of the lesbians in our community felt they would be exposed by coming to our book event; some of our friends confessed to a fear that they would be asked to talk publically about their sexuality. Everyone seemed to have liked the title when we discussed it prior to publication. Now, everyone agreed that we should change it. The book was about so much more than sex, they said. The title made it sound as if the people buying it were having sexual trouble in their relationship. To buy the book was a kind of confession that things weren’t going brilliantly in bed.  Lise Weil (past editor of Trivia Magazine), reviewing the book for Lesbian Connection, ended her very positive review with the following words: “This book’s audience could be wider and its message more subversive than its title suggests.”

We listened, we resisted, we defended the title, we gave in. Of course the book was about more than sex. It was a book celebrating the historic moment in which same-sex marriage had become legal; a book of stories, reflections and tools. We included light-hearted Do and DON’T DO lists in every chapter; we discussed fights, affairs, the erotic impact of truth-telling; we talked about challenges in our own 28-year relationship. The book is for pioneers and calls on our community to re-invent marriage as appropriate to women.

By now we have become friends with the new title: it’s romantic, less provocative, more inviting, it gets the word “sex” in there as a thought-bubble sprouting from the head of one of our two cartoon-lesbians on the cover, as if she were reminding us not to leave sex out of the story altogether as part of our revisionist zeal.

Renate Stendhal, Ph.D. Is an award-winning writer, writing coach and relationship expert with offices in the SF Bay Area. Her latest book is Lesbian Marriage: A Love & Sex Forever Kit, co-authored with her life companion of 28 years, Kim Chernin, Ph.D. Among her books are True Secrets of Lesbian Desire: Keeping Sex Alive in Long-Term Relationships and Gertrude Stein in Words and Pictures. Her cultural reviews are in Scene4Magazine and she blogs for the Huffington Post.

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