I often wonder if fans of Michelle Tea are familiar with the work of Sarah Schulman. The lesbian novelist, playwright, journalist and professor has written several works since the 1980s, including Rat Bohemia, Empathy and Girls, Visions and Everything. The stories revolve around young, queer women, their lives in the city in an era when AIDS was prevalent and fringe art and theater was a common link in the LGBTQI community.
Schulman just released two new books: The novel The Mere Future and Ties That Bind: Familial Homophobia and Its Consequences. Publisher's Weekly talked with the author today, inquiring about the ideas in the book, and why homophobia that hits close to home is bigger than a personal problem:
My argument in brief is that the family is the place where most people, gay and straight, first learn about homophobia. ... I explain clearly, and with examples and arguments, that familial homophobia is not a personal problem, but is instead a cultural crisis.
The book has been received incredibly well, but Sarah told PW that it's been ignored by the press that would arguably reach the people that need to read it the most. She said:
There has been a parallel blackout by the straight press. This interview is the very first engagement with a mainstream publication acknowledging that the book even exists. It's a strange through-the-looking-glass experience, one that I have had all my life. It speaks volumes that work that LGBT people love and embrace is often ignored completely by mainstream institutions.
Surprising? Not really. But if we're reading the book, as queer women, then perhaps we can take what we learn from it, and from Schulman, and apply them to our own families and situations in which we might deal with homophobia.
Now that most people know an openly gay person, I have come to realize that the word "society" is basically a euphemism for our families. It is in the family that people are often first rewarded for being straight and punished for being gay, even though there is nothing wrong with homosexuality and nothing right with heterosexuality. And this later gets played out in all of our social institutions.
Even if you are lucky enough to not have dealt with homophobia inside your own family, directly or otherwise, it's unavoidable in "society," as it's alive in other peoples' families, no matter how many gay people they know.
So what will a book like this do for us, besides tell us what we already know? Well, for one, Schulman hopes it will inspire us to rethink about how we present ourselves, as queer people, in society — aka within our own families and around the people that are closest to us, and how we treat other queer people within our own community.
If you need further proof that Sarah Schulman is a pioneer in queer history, perhaps you'll be happy to know she was chosen for the OUT 100 this year, which is always a feat for a woman, considering the magazine is very male-heavy. But that's a whole other blog topic, although one that would certainly be related to the above idea of how queer people are treated by others in their own community, especially lesbians and bisexual women.
Thanks to Publisher's Weekly for covering Schulman's groundbreaking piece of work.