When I found out that someone had written a book about temporarily becoming a lesbian, my eyes rolled at 31 miles per hour. Halfway through writing a letter to Guinness, to find out if that qualified as the world’s fastest eye roll, I began to wonder why anyone would want to spend 365 days pretending to be gay.
Brooke Hemphill, 35, is a straight woman from Australia. She’s also the author of Lesbian For a Year, which was released in August. The tale of the straight woman who chooses to try on lesbianism, like a slightly loud H&M sweater that might make her look boxy, is as old as rocks. Have you heard the one about the lady diplodocus who was messed about by one too many man diplodocuses and decided to become a lesbian (or a “rawrrrAAAGHrrr” as it was definitely known in the Jurassic period)?
Hemphill, who shows absolutely no evidence of being a dinosaur: same story. Having dated a lot of quite shitty men, she decided to give women a shot. Because if there’s one thing that lesbians enjoy being given, it’s “a shot”. Cheers, Brooke Hemphill. Starting, notably, with Sex and the City, this tedious trope has been wheeled out in pop culture for a long while. I guarantee that, right now, somewhere in the world, a straight woman, having just taken an emboldening gulp of white wine, is announcing that she’s “done with men” and is going to “switch sides”.
What I object to here isn’t that Hemphill decided to experiment with her sexuality. Bi-curiosity has yet to hurt anyone. What does stick in my throat like a sneaky pube is this idea that lesbianism is a last resort. The narrative goes something like this: “I couldn’t find a nice boyfriend, so I moved onto onions. Onions made my breath smell, so I decided to hump furniture for a while. Furniture gave me splinters, so now, God help me, I’m actually considering becoming a licker.”
The stale notion that lesbians are straight women who couldn’t find boyfriends needs a sharp kick in the crotch. And, no matter how much depth and nuance there may well be between the covers of Lesbian For a Year, the book’s premise is damaging and dreary.
And, in case you were wondering if, while undergoing her experiment, Hemphill found true love in the mighty arms of a trucker called Rayleen, spoiler alert: she didn’t. “Ultimately, dating women made me a better straight person”, she writes in an article about the book. This says it all, really. Hemphill treated gay women as guinea pigs, made money off of them by writing a book about it, and only served to reinforce her heterosexuality. I can’t speak for the several women who “fell into my lap” as Hemphill so humbly puts it, but if a woman used me to make herself straighter than ever, I’d feel just a little bit used.
Some may see Lesbian For a Year as nothing more than a perfectly reasonable look at female sexual fluidity. Sure, this is something that needs to be understood more widely. But the fact remains that my lesbianism doesn’t have an on/off switch, and neither does that of many, many others. If it did, sadly, there have been several points in my life so far at which I would’ve been tempted to switch it off. Let it be known: Straight For a Year is a book I’m never going to write.