Earlier this year, I wrote a blog post critical of an interview with Brooke Hemphill, author of Lesbian for a Year. Hemphill wasn’t amused and issued a few personal attacks my way, finding fault with my poor journalism. I’m not a journalist, just a blogger, but that didn’t seem to mean anything to her. She claimed that I didn’t know her and that complaints I expressed about the interview, were addressed in the book.  The book received a fair amount of criticism within the LGBTQ community– I was far from alone in my criticism, but she had one thing correct. While I could critique the interview with her, I had no place critiquing the book unless I read it. I wanted very much to be wrong with my criticism. I wanted so much to find out it was an amazing book, but to do so I had to read it and find out.

I admit that I went into the book with some pre-conceived ideas about what a “Year of…” book may be like. Not too long ago, I had read The Year of Living Biblically, and while the subject matter was quite different, the two books suggest to be doing the same type of thing by chronicling a year of time. In Hemphill’s book, you very quickly you realize It is less about a year, and more about her own life’s story. Hemphill pens a truly engaging book that is an interesting read and I am glad I read it. But it is fallacious to say it is about a year of being a lesbian. I want to talk first out what the book is, then what the book isn’t.

It is quite true that Hemphill has shared an important read. Not enough people, and women in particular talk about their intimate sexual experience with such honesty, and I’d call Hemphill courageous for her sharing. Several truly poignant stories are there but especially her sharing about her night with Darren. Much of the book reminds me of leads I’ve heard in various 12 steps rooms, but especially Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous. In the rooms, people share intimate things, and there is never cross talk or criticism. I admit, the book left me feeling afraid to say anything negative at all since this level of honestly should be respected and supported. But this isn’t a 12 step lead, or within the confines of a meeting.

The biggest sign that the book isn’t about a year of being a lesbian, is that, apart from the first few pages, close to half of the book is setting the stage for Hemphill’s not very persuading attempt to see how the other half loves. Though it isn’t clear Hemphill has figured it out, even by the end. Her relationships with women are really quite similar to her relationships with men. This is a book about a women coming to terms with learning how to act in her own best interest, rather than being a book about exploring sexual orientation.

Even with the level of honesty with which she shares, there is a shallowness to all of her storytelling. Or rather, if there has been any great level of self- introspection to sort out what it all means, that part, she keeps to herself rather than putting it out there as easily as the surface level stories themselves. This is a shame, as I believe a deeper reflection and a greater job tying all the points together would have solidified a truly excellent work.

To be honest, there are some sections which are suspect and frankly hard to believe. Hemphill mentions Sex in the City, and The L Word, and one has to wonder if Hemphill lifted some aspects of the book directly from these or other sources. The most cringing text for me was her description of the Dykes on Bikes. I have been to many Prides in the last 35 years and while my trips to Sydney were never during Pride or Mardi Gras, I cannot for the life of me believe it is really that stereotypical when it comes to the ladies. Sometimes stereotypical discourse is used as short hand, and maybe that was the case here, since the lesbian year was crammed into less than half the book. Or maybe Lesbian Sydney, really is that bad, but I have trouble believing it.

My big criticism of the interview and of the book itself remains the title and Hemphill’s demonstrated ignorance regarding sexual orientation. During her year dating women, Hemphill asks over and over, if she is acting lesbian enough– does she fit in? Sexual Orientation isn’t about “fitting in,” but rather coming to be authentic to one’s self. It probably won’t surprise many that the title was suggested by a marketing guru guy, who I believe is straight. For some reason, straight guys tend to have their ideas about Lesbians. Was that the intention– to gain more (male) readers with a scintillating title? Or just another example of how marketing bulldozes over real lives? Yet, I believe there will be readers who follow Hemphill’s journey, and see how it relates to their own lives and their own journeys. And that could be a good thing.

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