Those who made me

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Sarah Kane was one of Britain’s most interesting and innovative playwrights by the time of her death in 1999. Perhaps most importantly for me, she was female. 

When I read her play 4.48 Psychosis for the first time aged fifteen, it revealed that female playwrights can be loud, crude, mean, romantic, violent, vulgar and downright disturbing. It also showed that there doesn’t have to be any barrier between the author and the audience such as character or setting. A play can be poetry, and characters and authors can blend into one, expressing desires and fears without boundaries. 

female playwrights can be loud, crude, mean, romantic, violent, vulgar and downright disturbing

She has been integral in the way my view of the world has been shaped, and re-reading her plays this year has confirmed how I feel about pretty much everything. Life is grim; love is awfully complicated; most things and people are brutal—but there’s hope. That quality of hope is incredibly important and I’m glad she wrote it into every play, even one that seemed to function as a ‘suicide note’. 

The full force of her pride in her emotions, sexuality, and talent have shaped me immeasurably. 

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I first picked up a book by the legendary Jeanette Winterson when I was seventeen. It was her best known, semi-autobiographical novel Oranges are Not the Only Fruit about her evangelical Christian upbringing and her coming-out. 

It is a bittersweet story of a girl who is intelligent and empowered despite all the odds. I was in love. I was reading a book, for the first time in my life, with a lesbian protagonist. 

I went on to read as many of her books as I could find. The Passion is also a stunning novel. It features a beautiful, bold woman who dresses in drag for her job in a casino, mirroring Winterson’s own qualms with the polarity of gender. While the hero predictably falls in love with her, her heart belongs to a married older woman with whom she has an affair. 

I was reading a book, for the first time in my life, with a lesbian protagonist

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? is the ‘silent twin’ of Oranges, an autobiography which is named after a question posed by her homophobic mother, after Winterson said her girlfriend made her happy. Her life story is so heart-achingly sad yet she always manages to find the light. 

Jeanette Winterson provides a much-needed lesbian voice, writing lesbian stories that are about love, passion, excitement and strong, brilliant women. She makes me excited about my future in a way few other lesbian stories do. 

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No writer has ever explored identity quite like Virginia Woolf. The evocative, innovative writing style Woolf employs is crucial in contributing to her limitless examination of human consciousness, not least seen in her novel Mrs Dalloway. 

Taking place in a single day of Clarissa Dalloway’s life, the protagonist re-examines the choices she has made over the course of her lifetime. Woolf’s startling use of stream of consciousness immerses the reader within the lives of the characters, whether this be a few fleeting moments or for a portion of the text. Through this the reader experiences the universality of emotion, love and often sensuality. 

Woolf demonstrated to me that whatever attraction I did or did not feel towards a person of any sex was natural

Woolf’s effortless interweaving of sexuality into her work indicates how natural same-sex attraction can be in one’s own life. From her love of Sally Seton at Bourton, her daughter’s relationship with her tutor Ms Kilman, and even the florist in the flower shop, Clarissa’s life is embedded by lesbian lust and longing. 

Having read the novel at the tender age of sixteen, and not personally encountering a literary exploration of lesbian identity before, Woolf demonstrated to me that whatever attraction I did or did not feel towards a person of any sex was natural. One’s sexual identity, attraction and love ebbs and flows as much as Woolf’s narration does; an acceptance of this within ourselves is what we can take pride in. 

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