I just finished The Autobiography of Carson McCullers by Jenn Shapland. The author weaves her story of her coming out and experience of queerness and illness with the narrative she constructs of McCullers’ life and lovers.
One of her dominant themes is how the straight world paves over romantic relationships and queer love stories of women. We see this with Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok. Katharine Hepburn and Laura Harding. Karen Blixen and Clara Svendsen. Carson McCullers and Mary Mercer. In contrast, historians of the dominant straight culture play up their relationships with men. Even if platonic or unhealthy, biographers portray these men as the great loves of these women’s lives.
Some who’ve interviewed me emphasize my long term, platonic relationship with my colleague and roommate, David. Also, my struggles as a woman in medicine in the 1970s. They downplayed my intense romantic and sexual relationships with women. Yet, I intended for them to be front and center in my memoir, Making the Rounds: Defying Norms in Love and Medicine.
When I began writing, I could find no other true stories of lesbian physicians that emphasized their personal lives and relationships. The richness of our complete lives and identities has historically been paved over and written out of history. I wanted my book to be an in-your-face recounting of my complete coming-of-age experience.
I am grateful for the letters and reviews from readers who have seen themselves in my story. Though the details of our lives differ, there are universal truths of our experience as lesbians. Many of us have had to hide our identities and deny our loves to survive. I am also grateful that, at least in some parts of the country, that is no longer necessary.