What Makes It ‘Lesbian’?

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WHAT’S WITH THE “GOOD” in the subtitle of your book? people ask me. Couldn’t you get the “best” writing? or (tongue in cheek) is it writing by “good lesbians”? The subtitle of Something to Declare: Good Lesbian Travel Writing echoes that of an earlier anthology published by the University of Wisconsin Press, Wonderlands: Good Gay Travel Writing (2004). Editor Raphael Kadushin explained in his introduction that he used “good” because he was tired of every other damn collection’s claim to be the “best” writing—which is logically impossible, after all. I admired his reasoning but avoided repeating his explanation in my own introduction—hence, the questions. Meanwhile, I’d like to address the other questions that the four-word subtitle has raised.

The hardest question focused on the definition of “lesbian.” By including the occasional straight-acting dyke or XY-chromosomed woman in a “lesbian” book, wasn’t I opening the floodgates to a slew of lesbian wannabes? Such “slippery slope” questions are inherently loaded, but that doesn’t keep people from asking them. What if most or even all of the pieces in the “lesbian” anthology were about having sex with men, or told from the point of view of MTFs (male-to-female transgenders)? Such inclusiveness might win points for political correctness (in the guise of “community”), but it would also raise questions about who had been left out of the collection—such as plain vanilla lesbians, born female and drawn to other bio-females. Still, if those intersex, queerest of the queers who hang out on the margins of our community had the most interesting stories to tell, then I wanted them—the stories and the outliers—in my book. My main criterion was to choose the stories with the most heart, not those that fit a marketing demographic.

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