Wednesday, 12 June 2019

My First One(s)

No, don't get your hopes up, this is not "that kind" of post! It's about books. BOOKS.


Recently, fellow bloggers Sixpence Notthewiser of (LO) IMPRESCINDIBLE and Old Lurker of Old Lurker each did excellent posts about their favourite LGBTQ+ books which they have read over the years. They have inspired me to do something similar. I'm going to tell you about the very first books I ever read about (1) lesbians and (2) gay men.

Now, you have to understand the setting in which I found and read these books. Picture it -- the early-to-mid 1970s in a small, conservative prairie town in rural Manitoba. I was in high school and had no inkling that I was a lesbian. But I did know perfectly well that I was very different from everyone else for some mysterious reason. "Gay liberation," as it used to be called then, was just starting to filter into mainstream consciousness. Everyone I knew condemned it. The only two attitudes I ever heard expressed about gay people were disgust and/or relentless mockery. But as a left-leaning teenager, I was interested in supporting gay rights. A small voice inside me said "it's important that you understand this issue."

(1) My First Lesbian Book


This lesbian classic, published in 1973, is the autobiographical coming out story of Rita Mae Brown, who at that time was a radical lesbian-feminist and emerging author and poet. I found this paperback on a metal rotating rack of miscellaneous paperbacks in (of all places) Woolworth's. I bought it, read it and then threw it away so no one would find it in my possession. The book did not help me recognize anything about myself. My unconscious, self-protective denial was deep, very deep. I don't actually remember much about the book now, except for thinking that "rubyfruit jungle" was a silly metaphor for a vulva. I still think that, actually.

(2) My First Gay Male Book


This is a gay classic too -- a romantic bodice-ripper of a novel featuring young, handsome, virile, closeted men who ultimately realize that honesty and self-acceptance are the only way to live a fulfilled life. Published in 1970, it promoted a positive, still very new at that time, good message about being gay. And it had explicit sex scenes, one of which I still remember nearly 50 years later. Yowza!

I came across this book quite by accident while browsing in the public library of the nearby "big (little) city." There was nothing on the dust cover's illustration or blurb to particularly indicate the book's controversial contents. Yet there it was. The only gay book in the entire library. I wonder if a sympathetic librarian ordered it specially as a little outreach to isolated gay people. Or perhaps a naive librarian ordered it under the mistaken impression that its title indicated a religiously-themed book. In that time and place, either theory is entirely plausible.

46 comments:

JP said...

Maurice by E M Forster - written in 1913 but not published until 1971. It’s about a love lost but it’s not a tragedy.
JP

Infidel753 said...

Books can be so liberating for a person trapped in a limited, monocultural environment. A book is a way for one mind to speak to another, at length, without interruption, and without being overheard. It's almost innately subversive.

Rosemary said...

Have you read the book by Marguerite Radclyffe Hall - The Well of Loneliness published in 1928. It became the subject of an obscenity trail in the UK which resulted in all copies of the novel being destroyed. The USA allowed its publication only after a long court battle.

Debra She Who Seeks said...

@ JP -- I love the book "Maurice" and also the Merchant-Ivory movie made of it in 1987. In addition to the homosexuality, they say one of the most shocking things about this book (well, shocking to the British anyway) is the transgression of class lines by the lovers -- sort of like "Lady Chatterley's Lover."

Debra She Who Seeks said...

@ Rosemary -- Yes, I've read the lesbian classic "The Well of Loneliness." It's a depressing and outdated view of "sexual inversion" but it reflects its times. And of course it broke important ground in its obscenity trial. Modern bios of Radclyffe "John" Hall speculate that she was trans and not simply a lesbian.

Miss Val's Creations said...

I will have to download Rubyfruit Jungle. Autobiographies are so eyeopening to understanding. It is awesome that these books were available in the 1970s, particularly at the library.

Moving with Mitchell said...

Oh my god, I love Rita Mae Brown. And "The Lord Won't Mind" was my first peak into gay sexuality. For some reason, my sister bought the book and I "snuck read" it. I was 15 and didn't come out or ever experience my true sexual self for another 12 years. I could probably recite some of those sex scenes verbatim! (They DO those things?!? I remember thinking.)

mistress maddie said...

I have never heard of either, but will look for them at Giovanni's Room in philly. You would love that place.

Kirk said...

I read Rubyfruit Jungle. I feel a little like Howard Stern writing this sentence, but I have to admit the only thing I really recall about the book was the affair with the cheerleader. Had it been the star quarterback and a cheerleader I would have been bored senseless. I never heard of The Lord Won't Mind. I'll have to seek that out.

The first time I ever read of lesbian sex in a book was a sequel to Xaveria Hollender's The Happy Hooker. The first time I read of gay male sex was in a sequel to Dr. David Reuban's Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex But Was Afraid to Ask. Funny how I can't remember the names of these books, just the authors. How did I come across them? I was 14 and me and a neighborhood kid broke into an abandoned house that was slated to be torn down by a utility company to make way for some high-tension wires. Inside a closet was a trove of sex books.

The first time I read a fictional account of gay male sex was, believe it or not, in a Jackie Collins novel that someone left lying around the house when I was in high school. Or maybe it was Janet Dailey. It certainly wasn't Armistead Maupin. That came much later.

^.^ said...

O, chucks … grin … cuz your title DID get my hopes up, friend D. … o well then … let's settle for books then … grin … smiles … Anyway, thanx for this post, D. as lots of information. Much love, cat.

Leanna said...

As part of an English Lit class I was taking in college, I was introduced to Rubyfruit Jungle. It was quite a boring read.

DEZMOND said...

It has explicit sex scenes? I'm all ears!

Debra She Who Seeks said...

@ Kirk -- I read "Everything You Ever Wanted to Know . . ." too. AND those trashy Xaviera Hollander books! I don't remember the lesbian sex scenes. Just that one with the German Shepherd. Holy moly.

Deedles said...

It's been so many years for me that I may be remembering wrong. I never read the "classics". I was into Ed McBain and Jonathan Kellerman stuff so I stumbled onto Joseph Hansen's David Brandstetter books. Loved them, so I took to the internet to find more authors. The rest is history.

Debra She Who Seeks said...

@ Deedles -- I'm not familiar with Joseph Hansen's gay detective Dave Brandstetter but after your comment I looked them up on Wikipedia. Thanks for the reading tip!

Sixpence Notthewiser said...

Love!
Thnx for the shout-out dear 👨‍❤️‍💋‍👨
And I read Rubyfruiit Jungle for a class and loved it!
I am googling The Lird Don’t Mond as I type cause I’m a sucker for M/ M bodice rippers! Yes!

XoXo

Lady M said...

I've read the gay fantasies in Nancy Friday's "Men in Love" - does that count?

Debra She Who Seeks said...

@ Lady M -- It does count, in my opinion! I think some of the best gay male stories with hot sex scenes are written by women -- for example, in M/M slash fanfics! Ooooo, Steve 'n Bucky, what ARE you up to now?

Marie Smith said...

I will look for both books.

Rawknrobyn.blogspot.com said...

Thanks for the reminder to read Rita Mae Brown. You're not the first to recommend her, and won't be the last. Top of my list now.

Guillaume said...

My first "gay" book was probably The Picture of Dorian Gray, although I never considered it a gay book, only a novel with some homosexual characters.

Martha said...

Thank goodness times are changing and there are a variety of books available now!

Bea said...

As a one-time Women's Studies major, I am ashamed to admit that I have never read Rubyfruit Jungle.

I remember when Sarah Waters' Tipping the Velvet came out in the late 90s. That novel was amazing.

Debra She Who Seeks said...

@ Bea -- I've never read "Tipping the Velvet" but I did watch and enjoy the BBC mini-series.

NanaDiana said...

It is amazing how far we have come. It was 1974 when my 'boyfriend' at that time came out to me. I thought he wa kidding and had no idea what that even met. I was really naive. He was in love with a fellow serviceman who was married and, of course, once out of Vietnam the man dumped my friend. His parents wrote him off as a "fruitcake" (that's what they called him) and my heart just ached for him. Although I didn't understand his feelings for another man, I knew they were as real as any feelings I had ever had for someone of the opposite sex.

Thank you for being so open and honest. I can't imagine how hard those school years were for you. xo Diana

Janie Junebug said...

I can't think of any LGBTQ books! Not one! I guess in The Color Purple, Celie and Shug become lovers. Their relationship is the beginning of Celie's liberation.

Love,
Janie

Old Lurker said...

Willym will be so pleased that you mentioned "The Lord Won't Mind".

Ur-spo said...

I too have not read the rubyfruit jungle. I am always looking for TGR - thumping good reads.

Ol'Buzzard said...


People talk about politicians, and people in general, as if we are static. Over the decades I have gone through many changes in attitude and beliefs. We are all confined by the culture of the era, but cultures change because educated people move past prejudices, it is unfortunate that the unread and under educated have to be dragged along kicking and screaming before change becomes the new culture.

Aside: I read Rita Mae Brown's Sneaky Pie cat mysteries and her book on writing in the eighties.

the Ol'Buzzard

baili said...

you are incredibly brave to raise your voice for rights of the gays even during your high school dear Debra!


time has changed and people have accepted the difference of attitude which is great thing

Liz Hinds said...

I'm glad you were able to find some books to help you on your way - even if you weren't sure of the way at the time. Yay for librarians!

Elsie Amata said...

I'm so grateful there was something out there for you to read as you were understanding the issue. I'm also grateful that there are more books, articles, and blogs like yours for others who are trying to navigate their way through. Thank you for being there for others.

Elsie

bj said...

It's always nice to find books that address ones situation.
Not being gay or never even knowing what gay meant while in high school (way back in the dark ages) I didn't seek out information on the subject. I had 2 best friends in high school and altho I knew one was a little different...she didn't date nearly as much as my other friend and myself...if she did have a date, and I was free that same night, she would break her date to hang out with me....I still never thought she might be gay. Later in life, when I learned she was gay, I thought of all those times she must have been so lonely and scared during our high school years. She passed away a few years ago but I was able to spend a little time with her on a visit to the town I live in. We didn't discuss anything other than "I am so glad you called and we can have lunch today and I want you to know I love you dearly" type thing....but I am thankful we shared time together before she got sick.

This N That said...

Classics for sure!! :)

Adam said...

I can't think of any I've read, or even where a minor character is. Authors are typically cowards.

e said...

What!?! No Ann Bannon? No Beebo Brinker or Odd Girl Out? They were no literary masterpieces but, as pulp press, they were available on racks in places like Woolworths. I can remember my pulse racing at the incredible possibilities hinted at in these stories.

Debra She Who Seeks said...

@ e -- No, these 50s and 60s lesbian pulp classics were nowhere to be seen when I was an adolescent in the 70s! I read them later though!

Harry Hamid said...

I am sure I read plenty of books by gay authors as I was growing up, but the first one I can remember that was overtly gay was... well, William Burroughs. Maybe not the best introduction to the world of LGBTQ. Or maybe it is. Whichever.

Biographies. Now that I think about it, I'm certain biographies were where I first read about gay people. But which biography?

Bill Lisleman said...

There is always more progress to be made, but I think your selection from the past shows that progress has been made.

Magaly Guerrero said...

I read Rubyfruit Jungle in a Gay Literature class I took a few years ago. I really liked it. My first *couldn't help myself* was The Well of Loneliness, which I will add to reread list (because I'm weak and you forced my hand to reread it so it's your fault).

A friend just gave me Dreadnought, by April Daniels. It's a new series, about a superhero who wants to keep people from finding out she's transgender. I'm very curious about this one. I shall very likely blabber about how it goes.

Debra She Who Seeks said...

@ Magaly Guerrero -- I haven't heard of "Dreadnought" but it sounds good! Looking forward to anything more that you have to say about it once you've read it.

DVArtist said...

This is a wonderful post. Thank you for sharing.

Parnassus said...

Hello Debra, As a reader of old books, I have surprised how often LBG issues or characters come up, fiction or non-fiction. I am afraid that I don't have much experience with "bodice-rippers," but I did come across a Jane Bond lesbian parody by Mabel Maney, and any admirer of P.G. Wodehouse would love Joe Keenan's very funny books written in Wodehouse's style.
--Jim

RO said...

I've never read any of these particular books, but glad someone had the courage to write them back then. Fast forward to today, and it's thrilling to see all the LGBTQ autobiographies, erotic romance, love stories and motivational books that authors are writing about, some of which I've read and loved. It still saddens me though that people pass judgement, are homophobic or commit violent hate crimes based on who a person loves, and it's almost 2020. Totally ridiculous. Thanks for shining the light! Hugs and Happy weekend to you! RO

Guillaume said...

Oh and I really want to read Blue Is The Warmest Colour. Loved the film.

Rommy said...

I was raised in such a religious environment that it was only until I got to college that I even knew there was such a thing as gay literature. Hell, I missed a ton of subtext in books that weren't explicitly gay but had gay characters (wait...wut happened with Lancelot, Arthur, and Guinevere in Mists of Avalon??? 😂) While I did watch several TV shows and movies (Fushigi Yuugi and To Wong Fu, Thanks for Everything for instance) that had major LGBTQ+ characters) fairly early on, and some of the things I read had LGBTQ+ side characters, I think the first one I read with an LGBTQ+ main character might have been Kushiel's Dart (Phaedra is bi). Figures it'd be a fantasy story that would be my first.