Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Invisibility and Lesbian Experience

The Invisible Lesbian
I read an interesting article in the NYTimes Magazine a couple of weeks ago. It concerned the ways that women are actively discouraged from pursuing careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, what they called the STEM subject group. Unfortunately, a large portion of the article focused on how majoring in STEM  fields frightened off potential male suitors. But one sentence in the article indicated that there was a different point of view expressed by a minority of the interview subjects. The sentence is framed in parentheses and reads as follows: "The lesbian scientists with whom I spoke, at the tea and elsewhere, reported differing reactions to the gender dynamic of the classroom and the lab, but voiced many of the same concerns as the straight women."

Huh? What does this mean? How many lesbian scientists were questioned? How does their experience differ? I was left with these unanswered questions as this sentence contained the only reference to lesbians in the entire piece. Clearly the writers and editors were only concerned with the experiences of genuine women, i.e.: the heterosexual variety.

Recently a poem of mine was included in an anthology about women's experience in the sixties and seventies. My entry was openly queer and dealt with unrequited lesbian love. Reading through the numerous poetry and stories included in the book, I have found only one other out lesbian. 

This is what it means to be part of a minority culture. Your experience is tokenized or erased, your pespective deleted. In capitalist publishing this is just mainstream vs niche market politics. But genuinely good writing should transcend these categories. It seems obvious that inclusion of ethnic and gender minority voices would only improve both the sales and credibility of an article, journal, film or anthology.
But now, at least, they are giving us a little nod. That means we have successfully been a thorn in their side long enough to make them aware of our existence. There is a small hole in the fence that has segregated our experience from that of real women. To make that opening larger, we must all pour through it en masse. Lesbian history is women's history and we are the only ones who can write it. Our experience is an indespensible and necessary component of the liberation of all women, and yes, all people.