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Victoria Brownworth talks Axelrod, identity and feminism
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Sarah Toce
2015-03-24

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Lambda Literary award-winning author Victoria Brownworth contributes regularly to a respectable arrangement of global publications, including The Advocate, SheWired, Curve, and Huffington Post. With an array of viable options from which to choose her next centerpiece, how does the self-professed "politics junkie" decide on a genre?

"I believe the best literature is genre literature. I have made students gasp in classes when I've said that, but if we look at classic literature, that's what we have: Jane Austen and Virginia Woolf and Tolstoy—all romance writers, as were Dickens and Flaubert," she said. "Our greatest current American novelists, Joyce Carol Oates and Toni Morrison, are both genre writers. Oates does romance and mystery and horror, Morrison mostly romance. Genre gets a bad name, a diminished name. It shouldn't. It's where we live in letters."

Speaking of letters, "A few years ago I started a mentoring program for inner city kids, KITH ( Kids in the Hood ) for reading and writing because our public schools here are 86 percent of color and among the very worst in the country, so I wanted to help get kids on board with writing about their lives as a means of maintaining interest in school and in how to use words to keep themselves centered in the midst of what can be a tough time—middle school and junior high," she shared.

The print landscape has morphed since the invention of the Internet, blogging and new media—a topic that hits close to home for Brownworth.

"I love getting my news via Twitter every morning, I admit—I follow 20 different publications from the New York Times and BBC World News to smaller queer publications. But I am, as a journalist who came of age in daily newspapers, disturbed by the lack of fact checking, the presumption that a tweet is the same as actual fact and that kind of sloppiness in reporting."

Further on the subject of instantaneous news, Brownworth doesn't discount its potential to get a story from the laptop to a worldwide audience in seconds.

"Social media is essential. I am a fiend for Twitter because of its immediacy and its political edge and the instant gratification it offers with regard to the issue of the moment," she said. "Twenty years ago stories didn't go viral because people were buying newspapers and magazines and there was a time lag between TV news and print news. Now I can write a story within a few hours of an event and it's out there. That's the up side of social media: more readers."

But there's a caveat.

"The catch is, are they actually reading these stories or just reading the headline in the tweet? I see a lot of 'discussions' on Twitter between journalists and 'readers' where it's apparent the reader arguing hasn't even read the piece. So that's the down side—seven second news," she said.

Brownworth has authored 13 novels ranging from horror stories to erotica. Her next novel, Ordinary Mayhem, was released Feb. 17.

"Ordinary Mayhem is a novel about a photojournalist, Faye Blakemore. She works for a daily newspaper in New York City, which is not stated as the New York Times, but is. Faye goes for the stories that shock and stun readers, but those stories, of course, take their toll. The novel is about how Faye's past and present converge as she covers stories that are about what is happening to women in the world," she explained. "If the novel has a specific theme it is violence against women, which impacts one in three women worldwide."

Brownworth went on to discuss her second upcoming release—Lesbian Erasure: Silencing Lesbians—out in late 2015.

"For the past several years I have been increasingly concerned by the obliteration of lesbians as a group by mainstream culture, mainstream feminism and regrettably, even by our own community," she said. "Major online publications like Slate and Salon conflate lesbian into gay, as if lesbians and gay men don't have separate identities. And increasingly there is also a revision of butch lesbians as trans men when that is rarely the case—that makes both butch lesbians and trans men invisible. Not all trans men were lesbians, not all butch lesbians are closet trans men. Let each have their distinct identities."

It's a concept straight women can innately digest as well.

"Mainstream feminism has similar problems. There is a long history within mainstream feminism of lesbians being erased or expunged and that is still true. Within straight culture lesbians are the most likely to be raped and killed. There's a lot of attention to the murders of trans women of color, many of them sex workers, who are killed, but very little to lesbians who are murdered. We have to change that," she said. "Corrective rape was invented specifically to teach lesbians a lesson about heterosexual normatively. While it's most common in South Africa, India and Jamaica, it also happen in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere. There are 78 countries where it is illegal to be lesbian or gay—specifically. Lesbians are the victims of honor killings in a dozen countries. The forced marriages of lesbians to men happens in several dozen countries. These are some of the things I write about in Erasure."

Brownworth said she hopes to have two more novels hitting the stands within the next year. "Cutting is a young adult novel about a young lesbian dealing with conflict over her sexual orientation. I also really want to write more non-fiction about the role of lesbians in national politics and do another book on lesbians and cancer—my first being Coming Out of Cancer: Writings from the Lesbian Cancer Epidemic, which won the Lambda Literary Award," she said.

With such a vast history in the LGBT movement, Brownworth offered some insight for the upcoming generation.

"I am of the first generation of lesbians and gay men who came out post-Stonewall," Brownworth added. "A lot has changed in those years, but a lot hasn't. Yes, we have marriage equality in many states now, and Alabama was just forced to allow marriages, but at the same time it's more than 20 years since ENDA was first introduced. It still hasn't passed.

"David Axelrod's new political memoir asserts that Barack Obama was always pro-same-sex marriage but that he hid that to get elected. The problem with that narrative is that Obama repeatedly said post-election that he was against marriage equality and evolving on the issue and if Vice President Biden hadn't spoken out, would Obama ever have? We just can't know. So going on Axelrod's book, either the President is a cynical liar, or Axelrod is looking to sell more books with a good, if untrue, story. That's pretty ghastly if we consider the ramifications of it and the impact it had on the real lives of lesbians and gay men."

With the looming SCOTUS decision regarding national marriage equality this June, Brownworth said, "[Edie Windsor's] face should have been on the cover of every magazine in the country. And yet even The Advocate—the LGBT mag of record—made Pope Francis the person of the year for 2013. That was shocking."

Learn more about Victoria Brownworth and purchase her books at www.victoriabrownworth.com .


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