Rita Mae Brown reminds us “It’s not over”

The GCLS con always leaves an afterglow. Face muscles tired from smiling, arms still warm from the hugs. Excitement from the awards, from dancing the night away. Utter exhaustion.

This year, though, something else is lingering. Frustration, outrage. Resolve.

Photo from AOL

Photo from AOL

I had the great pleasure and honor of spending several hours with Rita Mae Brown in NOLA, much of it talking about the state of the world. The woman is wicked smart. And, as you may have noticed, she isn’t shy about expressing her opinion. What else would you expect from someone who took on Betty Friedan as part of the Lavender Menace?

In case you somehow missed that history lesson, Rita Mae Brown almost single-handedly forced the inclusion of lesbian voices in the feminist movement of the 1970s. She has a message for today’s lesbians, those who came out to a world that was more accepting than it was 30-50 years ago: It’s not over.

  • Marriage equality isn’t the be-all/end-all — not when you still can be turned away from the honeymoon suite, or be fired from your job when you apply for spousal benefits.
  • Even if we win that battle for LGBTQ rights across the board, lesbians will continue to lag because we’re women. Still making $.76 on the dollar, still denied fundamental respect and equal footing in every level of society, culture and language.
  • Should we finally settle the question of gender equality, 98% of us will still be powerless peons, living at the mercy of our corporate masters. Our political voice silenced by their incredible wealth, our existence subject to their whims.
  • Sadly, we can add to these. Are you nonwhite, non-Christian? Disabled, overweight? Do you speak with an accent or cadence that makes others think you’re dim? As long as those differences affect your equality, it’s not over.
  • ***

    Rita Mae spoke to us, not only as a roomful of lesbians, but also as a roomful of writers. Fiction is a powerful tool for shaping behaviors, opinions and values — bold stories written well enough to stand the test of time. To Kill a Mockingbird. The Lorax. Rubyfruit Jungle. Beloved.

    Is a niche-market romance writer going to change the world? That’s a fair question. The very idea of giving lesbians happy endings was once a bold idea. Today, our books are both a lifeline and a roadmap for women who ache to see others like them living joyous, fulfilling lives.

    I don’t plan on switching my genre, but I know readers are hungry for strong women who lead. Diverse characters with feminist and activist chips on their shoulders. Women seeking justice and equality, and getting it. If we’re to take up Rita Mae’s challenge, those stories will have to do more than entertain — they must inspire.

    One Response to “Rita Mae Brown reminds us “It’s not over””

    1. I would have loved to have heard a dialogue between Rita Mae and the reviewer(s) who bemoan our “agenda driven” romances. After this GCLSCon, writing anything without an “agenda” will be very hard. Dorothy Allison also struck a note of fervent agreement inside me: if we don’t write the truth about our lives and struggles, nobody else will. I think romance novels can do that and still deliver the happy-ever-after.

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