Bibliophile: Lesbian For a Year


lesbian-for-a-yearLesbian For a Year

Brooke Hemphill

Affirm Press

When I first saw this book, I really wanted to hate it. Its salacious title and its cover illustration immediately put me on edge. Through a number of encounters with airport bookshops and their limited stock I have come to associate any lipstick or shoe related imagery with the kind of heteronormative materialistic piffle referred to cringingly as ‘chick lit’, as though the only books women could bring themselves to read must feature shopping and men as their primary sources of narrative conflict. “Ah, these women with their fleeting attention spans,” Imaginary be-suited book publishers chuckle in my head. “Let’s regurgitate the first ‘Sex and The City’ novel but this time with more Louboutins than Jimmy Choos and watch those sweet oestrogen-spattered dollars fly in!”

Perhaps my feelings towards lighthearted novels about modern-day straight Caucasian womanhood have been slightly warped by too many sleep-deprived hours spent in departure lounges wondering why every airport has three bookshops all selling the same 12 books. Regardless, I thoroughly judged this book by its cover and  gleefully waited for it for fulfill my expectations as a piece of voyeuristic exploitative nonsense using our culture’s preoccupation with lesbian fantasies to sell a few paperbacks.

And then I actually read the book. What I was expecting was a straight woman’s account of a cheap and half-hearted experiment to see if it was really possible to cross over to the other side after growing tired of men (groan). It’s more like a relaying of someone’s entire love life, focusing on how they grew and developed, and they simply happened to spend a year of it with ladies. Its title might suggest that the author deliberately set out to pursue lesbianism in the same fashion that one might pursue crossfit or scrapbooking, but fortunately, it’s more of a reflection on past events than any sort of pre-planned Sapphic dalliance for the sake of literary fodder.

If you enjoy human interest stories and detailed accounts of other peoples’ love lives (which I enthusiastically and slightly guiltily do), then this is an enjoyable book. Brooke Hemphill weaves her story in a conversational, easy to read tone and it’s quite well structured. This is some fun, trashy light reading, and Hemphill seems like she’d be great to have a beer with.  It’s good to hear the story of someone who doesn’t necessarily fit into the categories of straight, gay or bisexual, and for it to be spoken about frankly and honestly. She’s generous with her personal story and it’s relatable and humorous. In fact, at times her accounts of romantic misadventure hit a little too close to home.

Hemphill does drop a bit of knowledge about sexuality, including the Kinsey scale and what it is lesbians actually do in bed (a subject that incredibly still mystifies straight people). If you’re the type of person who likes to remain educated on queer lady issues, you’ll probably feel as if she doesn’t go much further than Lesbian 101. It is a memoir, not a textbook, but at times it seems like despite her foray into dating women, Hemphill’s notions of gender roles remain fairly traditional.

For people less educated on queer issues, this book could be quite an eye opener, and in many ways is a testament to the fact that love is rooted in human connection rather than gender. However, it’s difficult to get past the fact that the entire premise that this book is sold on is the idea that dating both men and women over the course of life is bizarre or scandalous. And while Hemphill does give her own personal relationships an honest and thorough investigation, it does seem as if she doesn’t quite get past that idea. If the book didn’t have its eye-grabbing title, I’d probably forgive it for not delving further into the nuances of gender theory, but I feel like if you’re going to put the word ‘lesbian’ in the title and base the book around the premise of leaving the heterosexual world behind, you need to be able to provide a fairly thorough examination of the community you’re representing and the possible views of sexuality that aren’t represented in mainstream media.

As an autobiography, ‘Lesbian For a Year’ is an entertaining read. If you’re looking to gain insight and knowledge into the breadth of human sexuality, you may need to look further.

Sophie Joske

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