The Danger of Inventing Closets

On October 3, 2017, the WLP Department hosted a Publishing Series panel in the Bill Bordy Theatre & Auditorium called “Gayly Forward: The Future of LGBT Publishing.” It was moderated by Emerson professor Benoit Denizet-Lewis and featured publishing experts William Johnson, Alexander Chee, Bryan Lowder and Stacey D’Erasmo.

The panel was established to talk about all queer publishing in just 90 minutes, a nearly impossible feat. While the topics discussed offered insight on how the world of publishing works in a specifically queer intersection, it was one response to a very specific question that ended up sticking with me days after the event.

A student stood up and mentioned they work at an independent bookstore and have often gotten comments about whether or not there should be a LGBTQ+ section. One line of Chee’s response echoed in my head after the panel was over:

“I feel like we’re always in danger of inventing the closet.”

I’m glad the question was brought up because I’ve often wondered the same thing. It was brought to my mind when I went to our already small DVD section in the Iwasaki Library looking for a specific movie only to encounter an even smaller LGBTQ+ section within. I think about it whenever I write another story about queer identity and question if I am I limiting myself to only one kind of story. I think about it whenever I hear about more labels for different identities or whenever I wonder if labelling myself as non-binary is counterintuitive if I also consider gender a social construct?

I know it’s nice to think of an ideal world where stories about queer people are just stories and not something under a special category on a website or in a bookstore. But I also think that wanting these stories to assimilate into their surroundings is threatening to undo all the work that’s been done to get these stories heard in the first place.

Another panelist, Bryan Lowder, commented on this by sharing how during his time at Slate Magazine they published an entire issue centered around lesbian identities; the issue contained fifteen pieces. Lowder said that many pieces on the same topic would not have found publication had they not had a separate LGBTQ+ section at Slate.

If we allow this so-called “ideal world” to take over, placing queer stories among the rest, it allows these stories to be ignored all over again. What needs to happen, really, is that these small LGBTQ+ sections should expand, so instead of a dusty shelf in the corner, they span across bookshelves and intersect within many genres of storytelling. What I want is more representation, but that’s sometimes confused for allowing things to be diffused into the mainstream. That’s a whole different closet these stories should not be shoved into.

Lauren Lopez is a Writing, Literature and Publishing Major graduating in May 2018 and is the Assistant Editor-in-Chief of The Luminary.

Lauren Lopez