Where were you in 1997? I was just on the cusp of my interest in anime. I was devouring lesbian mysteries- not because they were good, per se (and many were not) but because I could stand in a large bookstore like Barnes & Nobles or Borders and look though them in the newly minted “Gay & Lesbian” sections.
Borders was a real game changer, if you remember. Barnes & Nobles took up the spaces and, seemingly, the stock of the Waldenbooks and B. Daltons and Coles that had left gaping holes in the malls of New Jersey. But it wasn’t until Borders stepped in, wanting bigger spaces near the malls, that the landscape changed for gay and lesbian readers. There was, for the first time, a “Gay & Lesbian” section. Admittedly a hodgepodge of fiction and non-fiction, self-help, coming out narratives and other miscellany. But it also had gay and lesbian literature. And pop culture. And mysteries.
I was reading mysteries in the 90s. Mysteries that starred adult women with sardonic attitudes and who weren’t (always) obsessing about men. Kinsey Millhone, V.I. Warchawski. and the like. And I had discovered Naiad Press, a publisher of lesbian novels and their openly lesbian private detectives: Kate Delafield, Carol Ashton, Caitlin Reece, Virginia Kelley. I ate that shit up.
One day in the early 2000s, I suddenly realized that every single lesbian detective was an alcoholic and had had a stupid affair, breaking up their current relationship and all the straight detectives had terrible taste in men and I walked away from mysteries.
In that 20 years a lot has changed. Progress, regress and digress, as I like to say. I thought I’d step backward and see if there were any chapters left from that era I hadn’t read. To my surprise.,there were. I’ve read mostly everything written by Katherine V. Forrest. Heck I wish her a “happy birthday” on Facebook these days. But although I’d read all the other Kate Delafield novels, I had apparently missed Apparition Alley. Why not?I thought.
Kate Delafield is a detective in the LA Police Department. She earned her position in the bad old days of extraordinary sexism and homphobia, by being 5 times the cop the men were and by being as tightly closeted as any human could be. When we meet her in Murder at the Nightwood Bar, her partner is a viciously racist, homophobic and misogynist dickwad, typical of the LAPD force at the time. By the time Apparition Alley takes place, LA police have been radically overhauled twice – once after the Rodney King beating and again after their overt corruption and incompetence seen nationally in their handling of and testimony during the O.J. Simpson case. In Apparition Alley, the LAPD is trying to be a better police force…and a lot of officers are unhappy with it.
The case is typical of a Delafield case. One thing leads to another and the subplot is – always – about the dangers of being gay in th LAPD. But Apparition Alley also addresses the issues inherent in coming out or being outed in the late 1990s. Kate is, in the course of her investigation, given information that could out hundreds of LAPD employees at all levels. What she does with that information was not at all surprising to me, but it made me wonder what I might do in her situation.
I’m not always opposed to forced outing, I’ll admit. If a person is in a position of being able to cause real good or real harm to LGBTQ people and chooses to use that position to be overtly homophobic and harmful, I’m not going to feel bad if they are outed. Homophobic pastors and politicians caught with rent boys, for instance. Oh well, cry me a river. But the situation becomes more complicated as we go through the list. How about a gay cop, whose partner with seniority is violently homophobic? Do they risk their job, possibly their life, to come out? No…but what if they are complicit with gay bashing by that partner in order to protect their secret? It’s easy enough to say, “well, they should come out” or “get another job” when one is not deeply embedded in a culture that supports and encourages homophobia.
But, then, we are all in that culture right now, aren’t we? Outing is a viable threat, still. My goal is to see this become a world in which it no longer has any power.
Overall – 7
I want to like Kate Delafield, but in this volume you can really see her hitting a wall. She’s become the old guard that my generation had to crawl over because they had become too terrified to change, until AIDs started picking them off. And, sadly, she will share the fate of so many other self-loathing lesbian detectives in future novels.
Which is why I chose to review this today. Not just because of nostalgia, but because we are again on a cusp of being a society that encourages shame and fear of consequence. Only it’s 20 years later, and we’re (obviously not for me, anyway) going to be shoved back into the closet.
So….what do you think about outing public figures? I’m genuinely interested to know what you think.