I read Karin Kallmaker's Substitute for Love
today. It's a cheesy lesbian romance novel, which I knew going into it, but it has two insurmountable flaws, aside from the disappointingly low number of sex scenes.
The first flaw, and one of the first things you can pick up in the book, is that there isn't one likable male character in the whole thing. All the men are horrible--Holly's male boss fires her friend Tori because she's a lesbian, Holly's boyfriend is mentally and emotionally abusive, Holly's father was a rapist, and Reyna's father is the manipulative head of an extremely conservative think tank. While the starkly negative portrayal of men sparked my anger, it is actually part of a larger problem in the composition of the characters. There aren't any likable straight men--even the token nice guy isn't very nice--only one gay man--and he's Reyna's father's "ex-gay" assistant--only two straight women--one of whom is one of the villains of the novel, the other of whom is dying--and even the "bad" lesbian isn't that bad. The answer to the problem of negative portrayals, or no portrayals at all, of lesbians is not to portray everyone else negatively, or not at all.
The second problem is related to the lack of sex scenes. At no point in "Holly's Quest for Orgasm" does anyone suggest to Holly that masturbation might be a stop along the way. She receives advice from a number of lesbian friends (all, of course, happily paired off into domestic lesbian bliss) on the potential for her new sex life, and not one
of them suggests she spend a little time getting intimate with her body on her own terms. If a friend of mine were to tell me she'd never had an orgasm, the first thing, the very first
thing, I'd suggest would be that she go home and spend some time figuring out how she likes to be touched. Holly is a mathematician (one of the things I really like about the book is her constant use of math); she could even frame it as a mathematical query if that's the only way she can approach it: What is the minimum number of people who must be involved for an orgasm to occur?
It's Holly's desperate search for someone else to get her off that is precisely what angers me when I rant about couple's privilege
. I don't need someone else to make me happy, I don't need someone else to make me complete, and I certainly don't need someone else to make me come. Neither does Holly, neither does Reyna, and neither do you.