October 26, 2011 | by Kathi Wolfe
Turning the page on homophobia in publishing

“Ellen’s book is so funny!” my elderly neighbor Grace told me recently.

Grace, who is straight, was talking about the bestseller “Seriously…I’m Kidding” by Ellen DeGeneres. “I heard about it from ladies from my church,” she added, “Did you know that Ellen’s wife [actress Portia de Rossi] is nuts about hand lotion?”

Back in the day, those of us on the Sapphic side of the street furtively hunted down books by lesbians. Wanting to affirm our sexuality, yet afraid to be out when many thought we were at worst “deviant” and at best “sick,” we read “The Rubyfruit Jungle,” “Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit” and other groundbreaking lesbian works. Along with giving us wonderful books, Rita Mae Brown, Jeanette Winterson and other queer writers, helped us to discard our shame at being lesbian. We devoured these books in bars, our bedrooms and lesbian bookstores. But always, behind closed doors. We’d have no more told our moms about “Rubyfruit” than we would have spilled about the woman who we kissed one night after a few beers at the bar.

Over the years, as the culture has grown more LGBT friendly, works by lesbian authors have become more mainstream in the literary landscape. “Tipping the Velvet,” a Victorian novel featuring the male impersonator and music hall star Nan Astley, by lesbian writer Sarah Waters was a 2002 BBC production. My straight friends enjoyed reading Kate Clinton’s 2010 essay collection “I Told You So.” In April, Geri Jewell, who came out as a lesbian in her recent memoir “I’m Walking as Straight as I Can: Transcending Disability in Hollywood and Beyond,” appeared in the “Facts of Life” TV Land Awards reunion.

If you’d have told me in the 1970s, as I hid my dogged-eared copy of “Rubyfruit Jungle” in my desk drawer before my parents visited my college dorm room, that one day, openly lesbian sitcom celebs would not only pen tell-alls, but appear on prime-time TV, I’d have thought you were crazy.

Today, it seems as if almost every author is lesbian and not only appearing on but hosting TV and movie award shows. In her spare time, she’s acting in films or TV programs, and using any extra nano-seconds to appear in commercials.

I’m thrilled that my team’s writers are getting so much attention and respect. But thank goodness that the straight comedy goddess Tina Fay’s memoir “Bossypants” is such a hit!  Otherwise, I’d worry that hetero scribes aren’t getting enough airtime.

Sorry, Michele Bachmann! Condolences, Rick Perry! But the awful truth must be told.  We’ve reached a tipping point with the release of DeGeneres’ “Seriously…I’m Kidding” and “Happy Accidents” by actress Jane Lynch.

DeGeneres, who hosts a TV talk show, runs her own record company, and does Cover Girl ads, is the wallpaper of our age. Who hasn’t seen or heard Ellen somewhere — whether in “Finding Nemo,” campily hustling Tide laundry detergent (as she did on her show recently) or hosting an awards show?

“Seriously…I’m Kidding” is a humorous book. A reader from Mars almost wouldn’t know that Ellen is a lesbian, except when she talks about her wife. No wonder “church ladies” gulp down her book even though we can only marry in six states and Washington, D.C.

If you’re a Gleek in love with Sue Sylvester, the cheerleading coach from hell or if you watched the Emmys last month, then you know Lynch, who married her wife Lara Embry last year. In “Happy Accidents,” Lynch writes about being a lesbian. But the book is much more than a coming out story. It chronicles the various aspects of her life, from her career to her family.  Showbiz legend Carol Burnett wrote the memoir’s forward.

I won’t pretend that even with the popularity of DeGeneres and Lynch’s books that homophobia doesn’t exist in society and in publishing. But, thankfully, despite this, a new page is being turned.

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