Queerly We Gaze
Recently I attended the Golden Crown Literary Society (GCLS) Conference in Las Vegas. GCLS was founded in 2004 to bring together authors, readers, and publishers to both celebrate lesbian literature and nurture writers.
This year’s event featured two special honorees: the extraordinary Dorothy Allison (Bastard Out of Carolina) and the exceptional Elana Dykewomon (Riverfinger Women), along with two speakers: Rachel Gold (Being Emily), and keynote speaker Lucy Jane Bledsoe (A Thin Bright Line).
For me, this annual conference is a wonderful time. I catch up with old friends, make new ones, hear reader feedback, score insider tips from fellow writers, learn from motivating panels filled with insightful panelists, and finally, find myself enlightened by speakers whose accomplishments speak for themselves.
This year, as I took my seat in the ballroom for the keynote speech, a funny thing happened. I didn’t so much learn something or gain enlightenment, as I absolutely absorbed the message—eating it up, gulping it down, until it became part of my “conference five-pound-weight-gain.” (What can I say? Las Vegas has great food!)
But for the weighty word part…we’re in the ballroom, with its round tables, beige walls, and hard-back chairs. Lucy Jane Bledsoe rises, takes the mic, shares a smile, and begins—quietly, conversationally.
“I’ve been actively calling myself a writer for about 50 years now. I knew as a very little girl that that’s what I wanted to do: tell stories, hopefully stories that made a difference. This lifelong process of finding my voice has been, for me, a very long one, probably complicated by my lesbian gaze. That’s g-a-z-e. Not g-a-y-s. My view of the world through lesbian eyes: my lesbian gaze.”
And I’m thinking, “Now, that’s an interesting way to put that.”
But Lucy’s not waiting for my thoughts. She continues, “I gazed, and gazed, and gazed.” Pause for the small chuckle. “A lot has been written about the ‘male gaze.’ Again, that’s g-a-z-e, not g-a-y-s. As I’m sure you all know, this basic tenet in feminist theory is about how women are depicted in the visual arts, and in literature, from the specific point of view of heterosexual men. Most often, I might add, heterosexual white men. And all the fall-out from that point of view, from that gaze, and its shortcomings and inaccuracies about women’s lives.”
All the fallout from that point of view. It was a small sentence, a fragment really, but it struck me hard and echoed as Lucy continued.
“Frankly, I’m bored to death by the white male heterosexual gaze. And more, I think America is too…despite so much detritus (notice I didn’t say evidence) to the contrary. I think the people in this country are done with the white male heterosexual gaze….
“Today, mostly, I want to talk about the lesbian gaze. Mine. And yours. What happens when we do the looking, the observing, the gazing? What do we see? How do we communicate what we see? How are our stories different?”
Here, Lucy got a little less quiet, a little more pointed. She paused for just a second before directly asking, “Why does that matter?”
Sitting there, I answer for myself. Simply put, it matters because without our gaze, our perspective, we will cease to exist.
What does happen when we do the looking, the observing, the gazing? What happens is Rehoboth Beach. What happens is Letters from CAMP Rehoboth. What happens is, we see the world our way, through our own queer gaze.
I acknowledge this isn’t earth-shattering news. CAMP Rehoboth exists because instead of seeing the world through the eyes of straight people, primarily men, we knew we needed to see our own world view. Without it, we cannot have a vision to share, a voice to demand, and the tools to build our community.
Without CAMP Rehoboth and its leadership, perhaps the Delaware powers that be would have happily maintained a gaze that allowed gay bashing, ignored equality, and offered little progress in anti-discrimination. Having, and using, our queer gaze gave us, and gives us, the ability to show all we are equal.
Our gaze. Our voice. Our Rehoboth.
CAMP Rehoboth co-founder, the late Steve Elkins, lived this. He and founding board president Murray Archibald lived this every day. As interim executive director, Murray Archibald still does. Current board president Chris Beagle does, VP Leslie Sinclair does, longtime treasurer Natalie Moss does. All of the board members do.
And with every column in these pages, Rich Barnett, Eric Peterson, Lee Lynch, Michael Ford, and Fay Jacobs do, too. Everyone in these pages does. So do CAMP Rehoboth staff members like Sal Seely, Monica Parr, and Barb Ralph—and a list of volunteers to fill page after page do it too!
So I thank Dorothy Allison, Elana Dykewomon, Rachel Gold, and Lucy Jane Bledsoe, for seeing the world and sharing it through their lesbian gazes.
A while ago, I wrote a column for Letters about Wonder Woman, arguing Wonder Woman did not defy expectations, nor under-deliver them. Wonder Woman simply gazed at the world through a feminist gaze, and invited us to see it through her eyes. And you know, it looked amazing.
So too does Lucy Jane Bledsoe’s brand new book, The Evolution of Love. Treat yourself. I’m going to. ▼
Stefani Deoul is a television producer and author of the award-winning YA mystery On a LARP.