Signs of the Times

I order books from Daedelus, usually fiction, often mysteries. I enjoy exploring places and time periods unfamiliar to me, via the settings of the stories, and am particularly happy when the writing is really good – vivid, original in its imagery, witty or incisive. I have been especially pleased, recently, with my discovery of Richard Crompton whose lead character is Detective Mollel, a Maasai working in modern Nairobi. Crompton skillfully weaves tribal culture into the present-day narrative.

But the interplay of traditional and modern African culture is the topic of a different essay than this.

Quite by chance the previous two books I read each featured a lesbian protagonist. What stayed with me was not that coincidence, but rather the matter of fact tone of the stories, each of which adhered to the expected blending of investigation into “who/how done it” with development of the character of the investigator. One was a current inhabitant of the U.S; the other an historical figure, a writer herself of “puzzlers”, now cast into the role of investigator of fictional events which might have occurred in her life. Both authors (Ellen Hart and Nicola Upson ) meet my criteria for a good read – they create the backdrop world for their stories with clarity, originality, and a fine use of language. Both present the love relationships of their protagonists in a style appropriate to the time period in which they take place. And both happen to present those relationships as lesbian.

What most struck me, as I read the novels, was both how matter-of-factly the lesbian material was included in the stories, and how matter-of-factly I accepted it as normal and natural to the characters. I think I’ve always been comfortable with the fact of homosexuality, certainly never one to think sexual orientation should be relevant to employment, housing, entertainment or any other aspect of public life.

One of my first (boy) friends shared with me that he enjoyed dressing in women’s clothing and sometimes thought he was born into the wrong gender body. Later in life he began exploring the process of changing gender identity. I lost touch with him about the time he met a woman whom he had come to love deeply, and whom he said he could share his life with as he was, “somewhere in between”. Perhaps for Jan, and many others, the solution to the North Carolina bathroom crisis should be the European model familiar to me from decades ago – unisex bathrooms, with the calm expectation that women would walk past men using the urinals, to reach the stalls at the back of the room.

But I digress from my original point, that mystery novels now include lesbian relationships as a matter of course, are marketed to a general reading public, and are not singled out or “flagged” except perhaps by the intolerant few who still think they have a divine right to judge. With so much strident name-calling and ugly rhetoric usurping public dialog, it’s reassuring to find quiet examples of tolerance and acceptance between the covers of a good book.

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2 Responses to “Signs of the Times”

  1. kipallen Says:

    Perhaps we as a culture are making some progress…. I remember the pleasant surprise of discovering that the Mormons officially decided to approve of gay marriages. Are there other indications of increasing tolerance — indications that we take for granted but that we might celebrate more consciously? (I say that in the face of the absurd, bigotted, thoughtless pronouncements from the political right in the presidnetial campaign field….)

    • chelawriter Says:

      The Mormons and now Pope Francis, two rather distant views along the spectrum of Christianity, have found a point of accord. May we hope for more joining together from practitioners of a religious tradition whose primary teaching is to love one another?

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