These Are Not Your Stories: Reclaiming Archetypes in the GLBT Community

Jenn and I at an equality rally, Valentine’s Day, 2008.

I am a gay woman, married (though not “legally”) to a woman. As such, there is an entire host of rights denied to me. Basic rights–like, if my wife got into an accident, I would not be allowed into her hopsital room to see her. My insurance does not cover my wife because I’m not a man. If I died tomorrow, because the house is only in my name, Jenn could be out in the street. There are thousands of rights I do not have, including the right to marry the love of my life.

Well intentioned people are lobbying for something called “civil unions.” They argue that it would include (roughly, but not really) the same rights as a marriage, but wouldn’t include the actual name, thus placating the rabid anti-gay groups and peoples by saying: “see? They don’t REALLY have marriage. It’s close enough, so the gays’ll be happy, and it’s not marriage so the anti-gays’ll be happy. Everybody wins!” The problem is that “separate but equal” has never worked, and by relegating gay unions to “civil unions,” we are classified as something less than straight: second class citizens.

“Marriage” is a word that some straights guard ferociously, with froth inducing zeal. “You can’t have it,” they say, clutching the idea. “It’s ours. It’s always been ours. You can’t have it.”

“It’s an idea,” we argue. “A word. It has nothing to do with you, no one can own an idea. It doesn’t hurt you if we marry, it actually does nothing whatsoever to you.”

“It’s only for straights,” they argue. “No gays allowed.” (And what we’re hearing in our heads when this is said is something akin to: THESE ARE MY TOYS AND ONLY I CAN PLAY WITH MY TOYS.)

The problem with the concept of “ownership” of marriage that many straights portray is reflected in many other instances within culture. Interestingly enough, even in stories.

There’s this amazing YA book, Ash by Malinda Lo–a lesbian retelling of the “Cinderella” fairy tale. I love it for several reasons, but a major one is that it is the first YA book that became well known that had a gay protagonist who didn’t have a terrible coming out or suffer through grief for being gay. Much of GLBT literature focuses on the pain of being gay (which will be another blog post for another time), and this book transcended all of it. It was brave and daring and I appreciated it greatly.

Traditionally published authors have no control over their covers or blurbs (book summaries). When Ash was published, I was surprised to see its summary contain only a very weak allusion to the fact that it was a gay novel. The publisher approached the book from the vantage most publishers take: they wanted it to reach the most people as possible. Whether that was the decision behind not explicitly stating it was a gay book, or they simply didn’t want to differentiate it in the marketplace (which would be a brave and wonderful thing if they did–I have argued many, many times that by relegating the GLBT books into a “special section,” it further insinuates how removed we are from the “regular” population. I, personally, believe–gay or straight–the books should be shelved together), I’m not certain. Perhaps it was none of these. But, regardless, the summary does not state that it’s a gay book, and you’d really have to read into it to figure it out. Or, you know, be gay. Since we’re surrounded by straight literature almost constantly, we have gotten to the expert level of sensing any gayness in a book. It’s a thing. πŸ˜‰

What’s interesting is that many people were blindsided that Ash was a “gay book.” Many people were pleasantly surprised, it’s true, but an equal number were angry that they’d read a “gay book.” Several people in several reviews of the novel went so far as to say: “why the hell would someone retell a straight fairy tale to make it gay? That’s SO WEIRD. It’s STRAIGHT. It’s not YOUR story!” The “HOW DARE THEY” was heavily implied.

It left me speechless.

The world is made and built for and caters to straight people. Almost all of the movies are straight. Almost all of the books are straight. All of the commercials are straight (and if they’re not, they’re almost 100% derogatory or making fun of being GLBT), almost all television programming is straight (and if it’s not, it’s yanked out during Sweeps to be controversial), all billboards are straights, all advertising is straight, everything you see in popular culture or surrounding you on a day to day basis is straight.

What are we supposed to do? Sit there and be silent? Act like we don’t exist?

To be a GLBT person in a straight world is to see yourself as invisible, relegated to the dusty “special interest” sections, separated, closed off. In this silence, we raise our voices, and we look at the straight culture we are immersed in, and we see a vein or a flicker of something we can relate to, and our hearts rise. Since we are surrounded by straight stories, fairy tales, myths, legends and archetypes, it is true that we often create our own, new stories because we must, because there has been nothing before to relate to, and we must create what we wish to see in the world. But reclaiming is powerful, in and of itself, and to take an old story and revision it to see a bit of yourself in it is something our community needs to do.

Without stories, humankind is nothing. Our past is a story, our future is a story, our lives are a story–everything is story. To grow up with no story you can relate to can be heartbreaking and devastating; to grow up in a world where you are seen as so vastly different as to be labeled “second class” can be excruciating. Surrounded by the straight makeup of the world, one of the most extraordinary actions of courage that can be done is to take an age old myth and see it for what it could be, instead of what it’s always been. It’s subversive, it’s brave, it’s important.

If we do not reclaim stories, I believe the world will stay as it’s always been. If we do not have the courage to have a voice, to say over and over again: “you’re wrong. They’re not just yours. It’s all of ours.” nothing will change. People will always assume we’re all right with second class. People will always assume we’re fine with the occasional mention of GLBT people in film or the secondary tragic gay character in novels because at least they’re gay, right? We should be grateful for that tiny mention, shouldn’t we?

No. We shouldn’t. We are an entire culture. We are “allowed” to reclaim entire stories so that we can see ourselves in them. We are “allowed” to reclaim archetypes so that they’re no longer painful for us to acknowledge, but empowering. We are “allowed” the use and meaning of words that currently only straight people have because, really, we are all just people, and no one concept or word can be held by one group and not all.

I have a novel coming out in less than two months. It’s called The Dark Wife, and it is very many things, but at the end of the day, it’s simplest to say that it’s a lesbian revisionist retelling of the Greek myth of Persephone and Hades. There are no base stories in classical myth that feature obvious lesbians as the protagonist, and very few that feature strong women. The original tale of Persephone involves a kidnapping and rape–the goddess is not a heroine, but the ultimate victim. However, the older version of the story cites that Persephone chose to journey down to the underworld, giving up everything she’d ever known for love. We know very little about Hades from classical texts, but we do know that Zeus was depicted as a jealous god who told many lies to assume control of Olympus, who could have lied to the ancient Greeks about who and what Hades was. Instead of simply changing Hades’s sex to come up with a lesbian story, I have rebuilt the myth and the idea of how we came to know it, reclaiming and reshaping its dark roots into a positive, empowering story that gives lesbians a myth that could have been.

Because of the way I told the story and what we know about the myths, it could have honestly happened (in a, you know, mythic way). But even though I have rebuilt it from the ground up, there will be those people who stand, hands on hips, shaking their heads, saying: “a lesbian retelling of Persephone and Hades. Who the hell would do that? Why can’t they make up their own stories?” There will be those people who, because it’s lesbian, refuse to read it (even though GLBT peoples do not have that luxury with straight literature since it’s everywhere). There will be those people who, because it’s lesbian, will hate it on principle, never giving the story itself a chance. After having read all of the reviews Malinda Lo received for Ash, after going through so much myself simply because I’m gay, after everything else…the question comes up: why are you doing it then?

There are so many reasons. I’ll leave you with the one I feel the deepest:

When I was growing up, I would cry myself to sleep at night because I was so different. There was nothing I could relate to, no one I could talk to. I was considered “perverted” and “weird” and “hell bound” because I liked girls, and I was all alone. There were no stories I read that gave me hope because, in all of my beloved fairy tales and myths, the girls always ended up with princes. If I had found The Dark Wife when I was fifteen, it would have given me the smallest ray of hope in the world. It would have been something. It would have been hope. Hope I wasn’t given until I was much, much older and realized that–regardless of the fact that people hated me because of who I loved–I could love myself anyway.

I wrote this novel for Sarah, aged fifteen. And if one single, solitary person reads it now, and feels the tiniest shred of hope or confidence or love or peace–the simplest, tiniest shred–it will have made a difference. The myth, reclaimed, will have changed and touched and grown.

Humans tell stories. It’s what we do.

It’s what I have done.

Advertisements

About Sarah Diemer

I write about heroic, magical girls who love girls. I drink a lot of coffee. Follow me at http://twitter.com/sediemer or find out more about my work at http://sarahdiemerauthor.wordpress.com
This entry was posted in Muse 101 and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

36 Responses to These Are Not Your Stories: Reclaiming Archetypes in the GLBT Community

  1. Dakota says:

    A very important blog post indeed! Absolutely stunning, heart-wrenching, and right on. As usual.
    I’m getting your book the moment it comes out.

    Like

  2. Jenn says:

    Beautifully written~ ❀

    Like

  3. Tatyana says:

    Such beauty in your words… I’m sharing this in my LJ and hope more people read this!
    *LOVE*

    Like

  4. Yes, yes, and yes. The idea that anyone, no matter what (often marginalized) group doesn’t have a right to exist, let alone to claim the stories we’ve all grown up with, is BS. A lot of the things you mention here have been reflected in my own experience as a brown person in Ameria–though at least I can marry as I wish!–and I’m just so proud of you, Sarah, for being the change you want to see. I can’t wait for The Dark Wife!

    Like

  5. Siav says:

    I will be nabbing a copy of Dark Wife the second it comes out!

    I’m not GLBT, but the love of my life is transgender, and I hate that so many people can’t get past that. And aside from all the myriad other issues, it’s upsetting that no one ever writes about it. I wish someone would – I’d try, but I’m not confident that I understand what it’s like enough to have a transgender character, you know?

    The main character of my Star trilogy is gay, though. I’m just wrapping up book 2, so maybe someday there’ll be another hero on the shelves!

    Like

  6. Jen says:

    This is beautiful, Sarah. Sad, but beautiful. And you know how much I LOVE The Dark Wife. It is gorgeous.

    Stories are meant to be shared, not guarded jealously. No one owns fairy tales or myths or archetypes. I LOVE that you have the courage to take the heart of those stories, the spirit that makes them resonate, and reflect it in a way that illuminates the GLBT experience.

    You are an inspiration and an amazing woman and I am so proud to call you my friend. ❀

    Like

    • Sarah says:

      <33333333 Thank you so very, very much, Jen~

      You'll never know how much your friendship, your advice and support and love, means to me. You are wonderful, and I appreciate you so very, very much. *LOVE*

      Like

  7. Lena says:

    That beautiful picture of you and Jenn is a story in and of itself, and it is one of the most inspiring stories I have ever been blessed to know. I can’t wait to read “The Dark Wife” – and I celebrate this reclaiming with my whole heart.

    Like

  8. Sara (Asher) says:

    I absolutely loved Ash. It was a beautifully written story. And anyone who gets their panties in a twist should remember all the MILLIONS of re-tellings of countless stories.

    I would love to read your book. I loved reading about the greek/roman myths and gods/goddesses when I was in high school. πŸ™‚

    Like

  9. Willow says:

    This post is so beautifully written! It is heartbreaking to me that people in this day and age would deny any human being basic rights, like marriage. And the idea that stories can’t be retold in a different way is BS. That’s what creative writing is–it’s telling stories, original ones or ancient myths, in a new way. I actually heard about Ash a few months ago but have yet to read it, unfortunately. Just the idea of having Cinderella retold as a lesbian tale has inspired me to take my own favorite story (idk if you can call it a fairy tale or not), Beauty and the Beast, and retell it as a lesbian story. And I will be reading “The Dark Wife” as soon as it’s available as well! πŸ˜€

    Like

    • Sarah says:

      Thank you so much, Willow–I appreciate that~ πŸ™‚

      “Beauty and the Beast” (you’re right–it is a fairy tale!), has already been retold in a beautiful lesbian revisionist story that is one of my favorite books of all time. It’s called Roses and Thorns, and is heartbreakingly perfect in every way. I hope you give it a read–it’s worth it~ πŸ™‚

      Like

      • Willow says:

        Oh thank you for telling me about Roses and Thorns–it’s definitely been added to me “to-read” list πŸ˜€ I wonder though, perhaps it’d still be okay for me to write my version? Yes, it’d be a lesbian retelling but I sorta kinda doubt they’d be exactly the same story πŸ˜›

        Like

      • Sarah says:

        There’s no law that says you can’t retell the same story eighty bazmillion times–you just have to think about what new thing you could bring to it. I see no problem whatsoever in you retelling it as a lesbian story again, so long as you made it your own and brought something very unique and beautiful to it–as with any story. πŸ™‚

        Like

  10. Sandy says:

    Wow. Well done.

    I’m not sure how you feel about Facebook, but most of my connections are there, and I would really like to share this with them. Would you mind terribly if I shared a link on my FB Wall?

    Like

    • Sarah says:

      Thank you so much, Sandy–I greatly appreciate that. Of course–share wherever you wish. And thank you for doing so. πŸ™‚

      Like

  11. J. Koyanagi says:

    Thank you so much for this gorgeous piece, and for sharing your heart with us. I could say more, but you’ve said it all.

    Like

    • Sarah says:

      ❀ Thank you so much, J. πŸ™‚

      And thank you so much for linking me! That was wonderful of you–I appreciate it~

      Like

      • Heather S. says:

        I’m so glad that she did! I loved the post, and I had no idea that you have a novel on the way! I loved Ash and I’ll be sure to read The Dark Wife!!

        Like

  12. Heather Tomlinson says:

    Lovely and brave. Thanks for sharing your story– I look forward to reading the book.

    Like

  13. Jazz says:

    You’re so right about all that you’ve written here. Which version are you referring to that cites Persephone chose to go into the Underworld? I have never heard of this version, and would love to read it.

    Like

  14. Marcia says:

    There is a tradition that goes back to the myths and you allude to it here, of retelling and changing to suit the needs of the people. I think that with The Dark Wife and Ash, this is simply continuing today. Because the dominant culture is not the one re-writing these myths, they are unhappy.

    Keep doing what you’re doing. We need you.

    Like

  15. maddox says:

    It seems you take comments to heart, so here’s another one to add to your collection: YES! This post gets a 5 star review!

    Your analysis broke it down and pinpointed exactly why I enjoy reading re-told stories so much. It’s a familiar storyline and the characters are familiar archetypes, but I finally get a chance to really connect with them, instead of it being something everybody else seems to enjoy.

    I have read Ash and enjoyed it, and I’m looking forward to reading the prequel Huntress, and now I have yet another book to look forward to. Congratulations and all the best.

    Like

  16. Pingback: Round Table: LGBTQ Edition « Dennis R. Upkins

  17. Pingback: Round Table: LGBTQ Edition « Ars Marginal

  18. Pingback: search queries, links of interest, more author meltdowns « Requires Only That You Hate

  19. Ebba says:

    This post alone gives me hope. Thank you for doing this, for writing this book, for doing something to make people feel more connected to the world, history and mythology.

    In general, I love retellings of old myths, legends and fairy tales. I especially love it when the one who tells the story takes into account that it is an *old* story, that there have been many retellings before. That, usually, it’s been an oral tradition long before anyone ever wrote anything down, and that, the original (or true?) story was probably something very different.

    I love when a retelling feels like it could very well be the original, true series of events, and that the myth that we are more familiar with has been twisted in time, that it was originally told from anothers (unobjective) point of view to benefit someone else.

    I’m pretty sure I will love this book.

    Like

  20. Pingback: Rich in Color | Interview with Sarah Rees Brennan

  21. reesec18 says:

    Will you be my mom? Sorry, that sounds weird, but you and Jenn are so amazing and I really really admire you, and honestly, I aspire to be like you someday. You inspire me, and even though you’ll probably never know who I am in real life, you make me feel loved, just by writing the stories that you do. Thank you. πŸ™‚

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s