I spent a fair amount of time thinking about what the parameters of my website were going to be before I set it up, although I admittedly probably didn’t think the cheesy name Canadian lesbrarian through well enough. Oh well, I’m stuck with it now! Anyway, I knew right away that I wanted to limit the site to Canadian authors and/or content, because there were already high quality more general lesbian book blogs out there—I’m looking at you, the lovely Lesbrary! Actually, I couldn’t believe that nobody else had started a Canadian lesbian book blog before I got around to it.
Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian is actually an adapted and extended version of the PhD thesis I was planning before I hightailed it out of grad school—no offense to those of you still trucking away at the academic grind. Best of luck, suckers! No really, good luck. Seriously. Anyway, I had planned on focusing on Canadian and women’s literature, because I wanted to write about queer Canadian women’s writing. Easy peasy, right? I thought so.
When I was setting up the blog, I was also pissed off that in general things known as LGBTQ tend to actually be mostly G, with a side of L and little-to-no BTQ, so I wanted to make a concerted effort to, uh, not write about cis gay men (as much as I love you, my queer brothers). I was also concerned about the lack of attention that queer authors and characters of colour had gotten, and wanted to highlight writers I loved, such as Shani Mootoo, who I thought weren’t as widely read as they should have been. In addition, I wanted to read and discover new queer Canadian writers of colour.
At first, the lines I drew were pretty clear and straightforward: authors and/or characters had to identify as trans or cis women, had to fall somewhere on the LBTQ spectrum, and they had to have some connection to Canada, whether it was the author’s nationality/place of birth or residency/etc., or the setting of the book. I was very specific that the website was not just for lesbians and bi women. I really wanted (and want) to read any and everything that was by Canadian trans women, and I could care less whether they identify as straight or LBQ. There is so little published fiction by trans women at all that I have even reviewed The Collection, an anthology of trans fiction writers who are almost all American, besides the very exciting up-and-coming writer Casey Plett, from Winnipeg (check out my review of her other story that was published in Plenitude magazine here).
This all got a bit complicated, however, when I realized I actually wanted to include writers who didn’t fall under the rubric I had set up. In fact, one of the authors, Ivan E. Coyote, who was one of the inspirations for the site and originally one of the writers I was so excited to read and talk about in the first place, started using the pronoun they. I also wrote a review of a debut short story collection by Rae Spoon—another writer who uses they. Oh yeah, and Elisha Lim’s amazing zine Favourite Dating Tales 2009-2013. Most recently, I read and reviewed Brian Francis’s young adult novel about an assigned-male thirteen-year-old whose gender identity (present and future) is not that clear. It was one of the things that I really loved about the book, actually. All of this didn’t really fit in the constraints I had established. Hmm. What exactly had I meant by the term ‘woman’ anyway?
How problematic is it if I go so far as to say that I guess what I meant by ‘woman’ is ‘not-man’? I know, I kinda sound like Monique Wittig. If I continue to say that my site focuses on women, is it ever okay to include people who use the pronoun ‘they’ and/or identify as genderqueer? For example, in this recent interview with Canadian Women in the Literary Arts, Ivan Coyote talks about their complicated relationship to ‘woman’:
Take this interview, for example. I am really grateful for the opportunity to speak with you, but I don’t really identify as a woman, I identify as trans, and although I have struggled with the very same misogyny and homophobia and sexism that women writers do, I don’t really fit here. I don’t not fit either, and I don’t want to appear ungrateful, but the truth of it is that gender politics are complicated for me. I feel like even to speak here, I have to deny some part of myself, or, even worse, worry that I am taking up space where I shouldn’t.
There are two important things that I took from this interview. The first was that it gave me a well-timed reminder about how misgendering is a form of violence and to be diligent about writing about people according to their self-identifications. This is something that you would hope LGB writers would have no problem getting, but I recently had to let a lesbian fiction site know (twice, actually, before they changed anything) that it wasn’t okay to use ‘she’ for Coyote. Pretty disappointing.
The second is what I read into Coyote’s comment that they are taking up space where they shouldn’t. The first thing that came to my mind is that this space for women is being offered to someone on the trans masculine scale but perhaps not to someone on the trans feminine one—even someone who simply identifies as a woman. Maybe this isn’t what Ivan meant at all, or maybe they meant more than one thing. But if you’ve followed the politics of the exclusion of trans women in queer women’s spaces (such as Michfest), you know exactly what I’m talking about: that fucking transmisogny disguised as ‘womyn-born womyn’ crap. Transmisogny disguised as ‘feminism.’
So, by including folks on the trans masculine / male spectrum on my blog, I’m concerned about repeating or reinforcing the tendency in queer women’s communities to include this group at the exclusion of people on the trans feminine / female spectrum. If you want to know more about this, see Julia Serano’s brilliant book Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity, as well as her latest (interesting but less ground-breaking) Excluded: Making Queer and Feminist Movements More Inclusive. Like Serano, my experience in queer women’s communities has been to recognize a certain level of acceptance of trans men and people on the trans masculine spectrum as well as a glorification of masculinity that, as someone who is feminine, makes me feel uncomfortable and unwelcome sometimes.
Let me be clear: I’m not begrudging the place of trans men and trans masculine folks in my communities—but I am worried that this acceptance comes at the expense of people on the trans feminine / female spectrum. I wonder why, for example, in the queer and trans basketball league I play in, I’ve met lots of lovely cis women and trans guys but no trans women. Why do I know of so many more queer Canadian writers on the trans masculine / male scale than on the trans feminine / female one?
These are legitimate questions that I don’t have answers to. So, I’m in the process of redefining the blog a bit. I want to specifically include both writers who identify as women and those who don’t identify in the gender binary. Articulating this succinctly is a bit troublesome, though. I don’t want to define the blog by saying what I won’t or don’t want to talk about. I want to put the emphasis on those writers who aren’t getting the attention they deserve, not back on the people everybody’s already talking about. Who wants to follow a website called Casey The Canadian Lesbrarian: A Book Blog about Everyone except Cis Gay Men?