After looking at the displays for lesbian pulp fiction, I began to wonder what categorizes a novel as lesbian pulp fiction? I knew that there must be two female characters that were in love with each other but what else? The display said that these novels were written at a time when homosexuality had legal and societal consequences so then how were these novels published? I read that early gay and lesbian fictions have a few common occurrences: the gay/lesbian character was either unhappy or crazy and the gay/lesbian relationship ended bitterly – there were no happy endings. Overtly gay and lesbian themes were permitted, in so far as the characters were abnormal and the ‘homosexual’ relationships hopeless because of their moral failings. I also noticed that on the surface the lesbian pulp fiction novels paralleled the heterosexual romance novels in many ways. Both novels are about romantic, secretive fantasies that woman commonly share. The main difference is the object of desire. Both are used as a way to forget about the world and get lost in the characters in the book. Many read pulp fiction novels to escape their routine lives. Both lesbian and heterosexual women readers divulge in pulp fiction (romance genre) for many of the same reasons. Some are even ashamed to admit that they are avid readers of pulp fiction. Many consider it their “guilty pleasure.” I also found the novels to be interesting in their appeal. They are presented similarly to the romance novels for women. The romance covers are wistful and ambiguous. The titles are suggestive. The cover models are usually two women for lesbian pulp fiction while the more recent heterosexual romance novel covers picture a blonde and Fabio.

While walking through the displays I was also reminded of a film I watched about Gay Rights movements and how members of the LGBT community felt through the decades when they basically had no outlets to express themselves to feel free and safe from harm and judgment. Many women said they looked to novels and movies depicting LGBT relationships and fantasies. The women said it helped them not to feel alone and that they weren’t weird or “abnormal” they were just like many other women who also hide their true feelings and desires to save themselves from public humiliation and ridicule. These women found hope and entertainment from these novels and movies that fictionally chronicled their lives. The documentary brought to light the power of books and movies. The documentary also touched on the production of documentaries about LGBT individuals and their struggle in their daily lives and their “coming out” process to both family and friends. I found these documentaries to be enlightening. It showed that homosexuals have the same feelings and desires as almost all heterosexuals.  Just because they were gay, bi, or transsexual did not give others grounds to dehumanize them. The documentaries gave a window into a world foreign to heterosexuals to prove that homosexuals are people too and they are more like heterosexuals than heterosexuals think.

After reading blogs and websites about the LGBT community, I found that pulp fiction was present on just about every site stating the importance of the novels in lesbian history. Another blogger (The Gender Offender) stated that “Lesbian pulp fiction novels served as a means of communication between lesbian women, at a time when coming out and self-identifying publicly as lesbian would mean being marginalized, ostracized and criminalized. These novels were purchased for pennies, hidden away under mattresses, and passed secretly between lesbian women, looking for themselves in the pages. They were cheap to buy, and disposable and they served as the information-highway for lesbian women, who moved into the cities that the books identified, trying to find others like themselves.” “In spite of the never-happy-endings, lesbian pulp fiction novels (and gay pulp fiction), allowed for the beginnings of community establishment – gay and lesbian people collected and traded these books, learned that there were others like themselves.” We all connect with characters in books and get wrapped up in the lives of the characters. It is always nice to know that someone feels the same way you do or has gone through similar situations (even if the book is considered fictional).

I also realized that I have not seen an advertisement that was aimed solely at lesbian women. I may be looking in all the wrong places though. Can lesbian women see something that I (a heterosexual) cannot? Advertising agencies have a difficult time advertising to lesbians. The reason being that advertisers do not want to gear their campaigns toward a subordinate group as to turn off the dominant group from their apparel or product. In almost all cases the advertiser will take the most economically powerful route. However, advertisers want to reach lesbians without turning off their potential heterosexual buyers. They are supposedly using more covert methods of advertising. This has become more obvious to me lately with many models looking androgynous. Historically, lesbians do not like the objectification of women in advertising, which includes the fashion codes that go along with it. They (generally) do not like heels, tight clothes, spanks, or anything that turns women into objects for men. The lesbian dress code of the 1970s especially resisted this objectification by wearing flannel and denim. They opted for a more natural and comfortable style. Their anti-style effort was done in resistance to both capitalism and patriarchy. Flannel and denim do not objectify women’s bodies. Fashion runs on the idea of taste which means you have to keep up with your wardrobe, but by wearing fabrics that are durable and long- lasting (flannel and denim) they went against this notion.

-Melissa Brake

Advertisements