Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Oh, so not a real book? Not a real college?

Not a real college?

I feel fortunate to work at a community college, where the majority of my colleagues not only consider themselves teachers, but announce that fact proudly. Ask a university professor what she/he does for a living, and she/he will invariably say "I'm a biologist," "chemist," "architect", etc. But not a teacher. 

Contrary to popular belief, the community college is not the step-child of higher education. Teaching at a community college wasn't my consolation prize for failing to have made it into the Ivory Tower. Like many of my colleagues, I was called to the community college because I believe in its democratizing mission--the notion that all individuals "should have the opportunity to rise to their greatest potential" (Cohen and Brawer, 2003, p. 10), that education should be made available to anyone who has the desire to learn. And to that end, community colleges remove their doors from the hinges and invite everyone in.

Yet, whenever I travel to conferences and answer the question of where I work, my university brethren give me that look--that "Oh, so not a real college" look.

It struck me this past weekend as I studied the slightly down-turned mouth of a Boston University professor who, with a hint of disdain, asked, "Is that a junior college?" -- that it's the very same look I face when I tell people that we wrote a lesbian romantic thriller.

"Oh, so not a real book," they say.

Not a real book?

The publishers of lesbian fiction give voice to the historically ignored. For decades, they have challenged the media's distorted portrayal of gays and lesbians as ungodly, sick, and perverted monsters. They have spun a new narrative of lesbians and of lesbian relationships that is positive and healthy.

When I was eighteen, I worked in a bookstore, in which the gay and lesbian section (notably one shelf at the time) was positioned just next to the Women's Studies section. Those shelves were mighty orderly during my tenure at the bookstore as I spent a whole lot of time there--pretending to peruse the Women's Studies books while surreptitiously reading the back covers of the lesbian novels when no one was looking. Like many small town lesbians in the early nineties, I was terrified to be gay because there were no images of happy, well-adjusted lesbians in loving relationships on television, in the movies, on the radio, or in mainstream books. In fact, gays and lesbians were regularly paraded on talk shows as freaks and given cameos in movies as demented, obsessed, killer roommates. So when I found those lesbian novels on that shelf, I cherished them. They gave me hope and they encouraged me to be who I was--no matter the consequences.

So, yeah, I write lesbian books.

I'm proud to be a writer of lesbian novels. In fact, it is as much a source of pride as being a teacher at a community college.

So, to you Mr. Stuffy Boston University Professor with the elbow patches, I say, community colleges are not only real colleges but they are vehicles for social change, and they are, in my opinion, staffed by the best damn teachers in higher education. They are colleges with heart--colleges with a conscience.

And to you Literature Elitists, I say, lesbian romances, thrillers, and mysteries are real books -- real books that have inspired and will continue to inspire social change, equity, and pride in one's community.

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