'Dear John, I Love Jane' Editors on Falling for Women Later in Life: Interview
Was this book intended to culturally challenge or questions certain things?
Laura: We always considered the book to be more of a resource for, rather than a challenge to the current cultural climate, which, for the most part, expects women to partner permanently, or at least consistently, with men and vice versa. I think the real challengers are the women whose stories appear in the book. They are the ones who first had to confront deeply ingrained cultural norms, as well as their own individual sets of assumptions, before finding their sexual selves and living lives that are honest. In that sense, I think we conceived of the book as a reflection of this certain--and I hate to use this term, because it sounds like it's trendy--"phenomenon" that is women leaving men for women.
It's not trendy, but rather just one aspect of a long, and sometimes painfully slow tide that is making it okay for people to find and express their true sexuality. Having said that, however, I suppose the book itself might be considered a challenge, or perhaps a device through which people can begin to question the supposedly fixed nature of sexuality and why it has such a hold on so many people who find themselves unhappy, despite doing their best to live up to the expectations they've inherited from the current culture.
How do you go about collecting all these stories that are in this book?
Laura: We thought it might be difficult to reach people willing to tell their stories, so we tried to cast a wide net. We also did not have an advertising budget, so we posted the call for submissions on as many blogs, mailing lists, forums, and websites as we could find who were willing to publish it for free. We got a large number of submissions as a result of the call appearing on the AfterEllen website, and a significant number of submissions from the call posted on LambdaLiterary.org, as well as our publisher's website, SealPress.com. We sought a diversity of voices, and also targeted resources where the call would likely be seen by women of color, and by women who didn't necessarily consider themselves writers, either by trade or avocation. We also kept our eye out for people who were writing about our topic, and directly recruited a few writers ourselves. It was arduous, but it paid off, in that we received around 130 submissions and had a tremendously difficult time narrowing them down to the twenty-seven that appear in the book. We're still finding writers whose stories we wish we had known about as we were putting the book together--I think that's a good sign that the book is timely and fresh.
Was there any reason that you found this topic (women leaving men for women) so interesting?
Candace: After my marriage to a man ended in 2006, I decided to date women. I had wondered about it my entire life, and felt like I had an opportunity to really explore it. I was hungry for stories by other women who had a similar journey. And I wanted to capture today's stories for all of the women out there who were questioning and questing and would do so in the future. I saw Cynthia Nixon, Carol Leifert, Wanda Sykes, Portia de Rossi doing what I was doing. I felt like it was a new era in terms of acceptance and willingness to go that route.
Do you believe that this is a book a lot of women, lesbian and bisexual will relate to?
Candace: Yes, I do. I think straight women will relate to it, too. It's about defining love for yourself on your own terms, instead of accepting and making do with a received definition of what one's romantic life should look like. I think gold-star lesbians might enjoy being privy to a series of intimate revelations from women who didn't know they were gay when they were eight years old, who might have a complicated romantic history, and yet might also be the women who they end up falling in love with. I think there's a lot of fear in the lesbian community about us latebians. I remember going to my first women's events, being straightforward about my deal when I talked to women there, and being looked at like I had two heads. There was an assumption that I was just playing, or hiding, or experimenting. Isn't every date an experiment? I honor that many lesbians have been hurt by women who were indeed experimenting or playing at being bi to turn on some dude. But there's so much more to it than that.
I also think that for every woman who leaves the heterosexual world for a woman, there is a circle of family and friends who is left wondering what the heck happened and what it looked like from the inside. This book will give those individuals a deeper understanding of how it all went down. Reading this book is a way to draw near without being intrusive. I hope my parents read it.
Laura: Well, speaking as a so-called "gold star" lesbian, which I take to mean someone whose always considered herself lesbian and never been with a man sexually (does my 10th-grade boyfriend, who I reluctantly kissed once, count?), I'd also add that this book is very affirming. To see what others have gone through just to be themselves makes me appreciate all the more the relatively smooth path I've traveled. At the same time, for a variety of reasons, I can really relate to the "Oh my God, is this really happening to me?" emotion that so many of the writers express. I think a lot of women and men, regardless of sexuality, will be interested in how this book also details what it's like to undergo a major, totally unexpected life change, and how to do it gracefully.
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