Lesbian eXcursions: Excursus

Lesbian eXcursions: Journeying through the personal narrative – Excursus

© Nicki Hastie

Dissertation submitted for the degree of M.A. Modern Literature: Theory and Practice, University of Leicester 1991

If you are quoting from or printing parts of this page, please give full acknowledgement and reference as: Nicki Hastie (1991) Lesbian eXcursions: journeying through the personal narrative [WWW] http://nickihastie.co.uk/my-writing/essays/lesbian-excursions-excursus (add date you visited this page)

Some parts of this dissertation were revised and subsequently published as Nicki Hastie, “Lesbian Bibliomythography” in Gabriele Griffin (ed.) Outwrite: Lesbianism and Popular Culture London: Pluto Press, 1993 pp.68-85


Contents


(A number in square brackets, e.g. [1] indicates a link to a footnote)

Excursus

I do not wish to write a ‘Conclusion’ because this word signals to me an ending, the action of narrative closure. This would contradict the coming out process which is continuous and open-ended.

Towards the 1990s, the lesbian narrative of self-discovery or coming out story has been moving further away from the more direct parallels with traditional Bildungsroman which Bonnie Zimmerman was able to report in her “Exiting from Patriarchy” essay. Without the exit from patriarchy, the Lesbian Nation mythology falls flat. But it is at this point that different kinds of exploration become realisable. In another essay, Zimmerman had identified an area of interest for lesbian writers and readers: “lesbians may also question whether the incarnation of a ‘politically correct’ but elusive and utopian mythology provides our only appropriate role model”. [82] I believe that Miss X or The Wolf Woman attempts to discover a New Rhetoric which is not only capable of hijacking Patriarchy from within, but also of re-working stale lesbian mythologies. Without heroising, Miss X or The Wolf Woman makes conscious use of mythology (lesbian or otherwise) in an effort to create a more individualised understanding of lesbian identity. This is so, even when the text seems to deconstruct the notion of identity altogether, for deconstruction is not a disavowal. [83] Some of the most exciting recent lesbian writing attempts a playful relationship with questions of identity.

Even if the political climate has appeared bleak and unsettled for lesbians and gay men (occasionally the dominant majority’s scapegoat) in the last few years, I feel I should be able to find something optimistic in the changes which are being explored through lesbian personal narratives. Lesbian writers are beginning to detail lesbian experience without recourse to the icon of either the Victim or Hero. Different sources may be discovered allowing an examination of personal weakness and the failings of the State/dominant society’s failings. The personal narratives which will appear in the next few years “may perhaps be discussing the complexities of … a hitherto unexplored theme – the repercussions of ‘The Clause’ [Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 – see note 28]”. [84]

I imagine these narratives to continue the tension between affirmations of lesbian identity (lesbians responded to Clause 28, as it was originally, with terrific mobilisation and political solidarity) and personal uncertainties and vulnerabilities (because of the uncertainty surrounding the implications of Section 28, and because the strong sense of community which existed in the fight against the Clause has dissipated somewhat since). The fight against the Clause marks a significant moment in my biography. This is probably the most significant event (in the British history of lesbian and gay culture) to have occurred during my coming out story. The details of that part of the story, however, will have to wait until another time.


Contents

Recent Posts

What does your love look like?

We stand with Orlando ribbonSo here I am – driven to leave my quiet-ish hiding place (of late) and send some comments out into the world. It’s hard to have anything new or powerful enough to say about the atrocity in Orlando, FL, USA this weekend, but I must register my voice of grief, outrage, solidarity and connection with LGBT+ communities and allies everywhere. My thoughts are with all those who have been affected directly through the loss and injury of loved ones, and through the weight of being witness.

Some facts are clear. A heavily-armed man murdered 49 people and wounded 53 others at the LGBT+ Pulse nightclub. This was an act of hatred and homophobia (also biphobia and transphobia), and the majority of those targeted were people of colour during a Latina/Latino/Latinx night. All believed themselves to be in a safe place of celebration during a month of worldwide Pride events.

Here are some other commentaries which say far more than I can:

Latinx LGBTQ community response from Isa Noyola interviewed on Democracy Now (warning – this video contains a shameful clip of Donald Trump taking advantage of the massacre to spread anti-Muslim hate speech).

Orlando is just the tip of the iceberg – a powerful article by Jane Czyzselska, editor of UK Diva Magazine for lesbian and bi women.

Statement from the British Psychological Society recognising that members of LGBT+ communities experience high levels of abuse, discrimination and psychological distress.

I’m sad and angry and confused. It seems to have been a default position of mine recently. But at least these emotions make sense in these circumstances, even if I will never be able to understand how someone can plan and carry out such an attack. I am unable to understand any crimes of hate, whoever is being abused and killed. I have empathy beyond the communities I specifically identify with. It’s important I say this because some despicable individuals are already using the Orlando shooting to encourage different marginalised communities to turn against each other. We must not let that happen.

News sites are reporting (surmising) today that Omar Mateen was most likely gay himself and therefore chose to kill people in a LGBTQ venue due to intense self-loathing. As if this somehow stops the attack being an act of homophobia! As if it’s suddenly explained and means all others in wider society need take no further responsibility and can file it in a tidy box which requires minimal scrutiny: Oh, that’s alright, then – it was just one queer of a certain faith we can’t be bothered to understand killing a load of other queers we can’t be bothered to understand. They only have themselves to blame!

Don’t you see? No person starts out hating themselves or others. It comes from years of indoctrination and prejudice, where instead of  being embraced and celebrated, difference and diversity are viewed as the enemy. When you think of love, what do you see? Who do you include?

On Sunday 12 June, I posted this on Facebook:

Fuck! Why do some of us care? And the rest are intent on destroying the whole world. You don’t have to understand me to not want to kill me. I’ve spent my whole life trying to hurt no-one but myself. I shouldn’t even want to hurt myself. If there was more empathy for diversity, far more of us may survive.

All of my Facebook friends are trying to comfort each other right now.

I understand something about self-hatred. I really do. The agonising attempt to explain to yourself why recognising you’re different from a so-called ‘norm’, and regularly being misunderstood, can make you feel as if there is something fundamentally wrong with your whole being. That your very self is the problem. It’s sad enough when that personal inner struggle only destroys the individual experiencing it. But where does the destruction end when fear and hate is routinely justified? No-one decides to hate. It is taught and it is validated by legislation. The Orlando massacre comes after lawmakers in the US filed more than 200 anti-LGBT Bills.

This fear of difference goes way beyond sexuality. I have experienced this feeling of self-doubt, self-sabotage and insecurity around my mental health. Some of my close friends will know of a new journey of self-exploration I’m just embarking on. It’s not the time to talk about that but, ultimately, this will be positive for me, and I will write about it when I’m ready.

Actually, I’m not sure I have ever *hated* myself for being a lesbian. I just feel as if I’ve been bruised and punished a lot, and that is why the poem below refers to “being a lesbian / would be one / prompt apology.” I am who I am. I’m proud of that. I have not, do not, and I never will apologise. But I have always had to be ready to defend myself which can sometimes amount to the same thing.

It’s another blackout poem, taking words from an interview with author Emma Donoghue which appeared in the Observer Magazine on 8 May 2016. It makes a lot of sense to me, but I wish it didn’t mean so much. I wish I didn’t have to write about being sad, confused and fearful.

It was two weeks ago when I chose to highlight these words and create a new personal commentary. It doesn’t help much with understanding the atrocity in Orlando. But in light of the terribly sad events, perhaps I can ask you to read between the lines to find another space which invites connection, remembers to begin with love, and doesn’t have to end on hate.

Newspaper blackout poem from interview with Emma Donoghue

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