“It’s too lesbian.”
Is that a loaded phase, or what?
I mean, we’ve all heard about loaded baked potatoes. And new cars that are loaded with options. Guns are loaded, too. And if memory serves, my dear, departed father was frequently loaded—especially on Christmas Eve, when the threat of so much “family” intimacy was more than he could bear without blowing a few circuits. At the time, I judged him for his weakness and perceived lack of self control. Now I think I understand his motivations a bit better.
You don’t have to be a published author to appreciate the angst that goes hand-in-hand with the joy of putting out a new book. Think about anything you’ve ever poured your heart (and most of your sleep) into creating. Then remember what it was like to finally put it out on public display for the world to embrace, ignore, celebrate, scrutinize, reject, or revile. It’s like closing your eyes and pressing the enter key when you’ve finally finished writing those first few perfect words of love—or those last few flawed words that mark the end of love.
It’s a risk. But you do it anyway. You have to.
And, hey? Dealing with the fallout is why we have Al Anon…. It’s a good reminder when your life becomes unmanageable and you need to be reminded that the dance works better when you don’t try to lead.
In my very short career, I’ve written and published six books. That’s the good news and the bad news. Six books in two and a half years is really pretty crazy. I mean…how do you do that and have any quality of life?
Well. As the sage KG MacGregor once explained to me, you work hard, try to write books that hit the mark, and do your best to marry well.
Check. Bought the t-shirt on that last one.
But the negative feedback? That one’s a toughie. We all get criticism. It’s always hard to hear, and it’s always painful, no matter how much we try to insulate ourselves by wearing our titanium-lined big girl panties. But I remember when a great friend of mine said, “McMan, you gotta pay attention to the message behind the words. There will always be important things for you to learn, even if you disagree and don’t want to hear them.”
But nobody really tells you how to handle it when your severest critic is your own mother. Especially when her reaction to something you’ve worked so hard to create is a curt, “It’s too lesbian.”
And what, exactly, does “too lesbian” really mean? You know me. I think in metaphors. I listen for the things behind the sounds. And, sometimes (most of the time?), a cigar really does masquerade as a substitute for something more…sinister. So when my mom tells me how much she dislikes my newest book, Hoosier Daddy, because it’s “too lesbian,” I have to wonder what we’re really talking about.
If I strain really hard and try to remember the math I took pass/fail in college, I might be able to break it down as follows.
If X = “too lesbian” and Y = “Ann McMan” — then X = Y.
So we can extrapolate that if Hoosier Daddy is too lesbian, then Ann McMan is too lesbian, too.
Well. I have always liked comfortable shoes and Julie Andrews movies….
But at the same time, I have to confess that at the ripe old age of fifty-eight, there was something especially painful in the way this particular criticism was levied. Is it fair to marginalize a book because it’s poorly written, trite, lacking in depth or redeeming content, or vapid and puerile? Of course. Is it reasonable to offer a wholesale repudiation of a prose work that took eight months to craft because its content is too lesbian? I don’t really think so.
It’s worth noting that no one ever (as far as I know) rejected works like Gone With the Wind, Doctor Zhivago, or LIttle Women because they were “too heterosexual.” Not that I’m comparing myself to Margaret Mitchell, Boris Pasternak, or Louisa May Alcott—although there are rumors that Louisa may have played for our team. And for the sake of argument, I’ll add that my mother’s bookshelves contain not only these classic works of literature—but all three volumes in the Fifty Shades series, penned by that rabid heterosexual, E.L. James.
So here are the sad realities I have as take-aways from my latest literary foray. Ann McMan is a lesbian. She is an author. She writes books. She writes books about lesbian characters who live, love, and struggle to relate to a world that still, after all—after everything—continues to categorize, classify, and identify them as not quite normal. As not quite right. As not quite ready for prime time.
Or, to boil it all down to its simplest form: funny, romantic books about lesbians are icky.
Do I sound angry? I’m not as angry as I am hurt. And disappointed.
News flash from Flawed Me to Liberal, Open-Minded, Left-Leaning, Straight-Democrat-Ticket-Voting, Heteroxesual Moms Everywhere: I’m not Eudora Welty. There was only one Eudora Welty, and she’d be the first person to tell you that her mother didn’t really like her stories very much, either. I think Flannery O’Connor would say the same thing—and she had all that twisted Catholic angst to contend with, too. And peacocks. Lots of them. In fact, O’Connor once placidly quipped that lesbian sex was no worse than any other kind of sin.
That’s something, at least. And, as all of us who are card-carrying members of the Sapphic Sisterhood have learned the hard way, “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.”
I wonder if O’Connor would’ve liked Hoosier Daddy?