I recently got another very nice review for my novel Alif on Smashwords by a reader, SophieD, whose preference, judging from the list of books she enjoys, is for Lesbian fiction, especially those set in imaginary societies. And on all counts Alif is clearly a novel that delivers.
However, it does raise an issue that often causes me concern. Why is it that so much of my fiction involves lesbianism and, given that I am not a lesbian, is it right that I should write on such matters?
This is a difficult one to answer because an axiom often used is that one should only write about things you know about. But this is a crime that I’ve committed countless times. Not only am I not a lesbian, I’m not even bisexual, I’ve never had sex with a man, I am not at all attracted to sexual relations with children or animals, I can’t imagine having a sexual relationship involving any of the elements of Bondage, Submission, Dominance or Masochism, and the list goes on. (My sexual peccadillos really are nothing to write home about).
But on the other hand, I’m also not black, a fundamentalist Christian, disabled, transgender, a prostitute, a mediaeval peasant, or countless other things that I’ve written about.
I suppose all I’m saying is that fiction is an opportunity to imagine oneself as something different to what one is.
But, on the other hand, a reader is well within his or her rights to demand that the fiction is a truthful reflection of what that might be.
And that is, of course, where the difficulty lies when someone writes as much as I do from perspectives that are absolutely imaginary.
I partly dodge that accusation by making most of my fiction satirical or ‘about’ something. In that way, it can be argued that since the object of the stories is not just an explication of a certain type of person or lifestyle, it has other objectives which can therefore justify not being an absolutely true reflection of the fiction’s characters.
Another way I have of dodging the accusation is that I do make a huge effort to be as truthful as I can be. I’ve had many friends and associates who belong to most of the social or sexual groups I employ in my fiction (not to mention different races, religions and social backgrounds), so I use as much of that as I reasonably can. And where I can’t be sure, then I use that range of behaviour, attitudes and emotions that are common to everyone. I might not know for sure, for instance, what it is for a man to be attracted to another man, but I do know what it’s like to be in love and I do know what sex with another person can be like.
So, this is a kind of roundabout way of saying that I am genuinely very pleased that a reader of lesbian fiction has enjoyed my fiction and that my portrayal of lesbian relationships have not been too far wide of the point.