Brooke Hemphill – "Why I wrote 'Lesbian for a Year'…"

zoom_variation_HEMPHILLB_view_01_990x1290Brooke Hemphill is the author of controversial memoir Lesbian for a Year. Unsurprisingly, Biscuit’s Lottie Dingle just couldn’t resist inviting her for a chat…

Lesbian for a Year is the story of a (you guessed it) year-long foray into “lesbianism”, undertaken by a “straight” woman, Brooke Hemphill, who had previously only had sexual contact with men. “I only slept with women that year,” she explains, “I wasn’t even really around men much and certainly not in a sexual or potentially sexual context.”

“The point was to try and experience what the word ‘lesbian’ means to people,” she says. “I was expecting that title to get a bit of grief when the book came out and it did.” What on earth made her choose it? “My friend came up with it,” she laughs, “and he’s the launch editor of Zoo, so I figured that if anyone knew how to come up with a catchy headline for something he did!”

And how did she end up getting involved in this experiment in the first place? “It wasn’t an experiment,” Hemphill insists. “The title just reflects an established format, that’s why I used it – like in Julia and Julie, where Julie Powell cooks a different Julia Child recipe every year for a day, for instance!” It still sounds a lot like an experiment to me – a bit of a coincidence that her dalliances with women did happen to last for just this convenient, trips-off-the-tongue period of a year…

“No, not at all – I didn’t just wake up one day and think ‘I’m going to do a social experiment in dating women!'” What she did do, however, is wake up one day after a heavy night out and find an unexpected woman in her bed. “I kind of freaked and thought ‘What happened?’ And there were definitely signs in the past that it would happen, but I hadn’t really taken any notice of them.”

By sheer coincidence, a few weeks later a friend asked Hemphill to go and work with him on a show about a group of lesbians. Hemphill ended up meeting a woman on the set, Claire, who went on to be her girlfriend for six months. “By the time we broke up I’d become embedded in this community and I ended up dating a few other women,” Hemphill says. “Then there became a point where I wasn’t sure if I wanted to date a man or a woman…” Hemphill met a man, who she is still dating.

So she’s, er, “straight” again now? Not quite, apparently. Hemphill’s answer suggests that her adventures as a “lesbian for a year” may actually have pushed her away from the idea of talking about labeling altogether. “I guess if you have to put a label on it then I am bisexual” she responds. “Does everything have to have a label on it? I spoke to a lot of people in the LGBT community who agreed with me on that one. Everyone seems safer trying to label me but I feel like I don’t need a label. I’m with a man now and I have no intention of leaving him anytime soon but who knows what might happen down the track?”

So what sort of variety of reactions has she had, personally, from the LGBT community? “Reactions have been very mixed,” she answers. “Many seem to feel my story is as valid as anyone else’s story of exploring their sexuality. But then there have been others who have responded quite negatively to the title of the book – mainly those who haven’t read it and don’t really know what they’re talking about. But it’s the kind of headline that gets attention, so that was what I was expecting.”

It’s true that A Bi Woman Who’s Never Dated Another Woman Only Dating Women for a Period Which Honestly Just Happened to Organically End up as a Year, Which is a Timescale That Coincidentally Happens to Sound Good in a Book Title probably wouldn’t sail off the shelves quite as fast, but a slightly more explanatory title which really conveys what Hemphill says she is trying to do in the book wouldn’t have gone amiss (and I’m pretty sure there are catchier possibilities than my suggestion out there, ahem).

As it is, she has probably alienated a lot more of the LGBT community and their allies as a whole than she thinks, with this title that blithely seems to claim homosexuality is something that can be dipped in and out of – a “trial” cut off clinically after 365 days. Can we be blamed for not wishing to totally trust everything the narrator says inside the book after she has cruelly chosen a title like that, which further damages perceptions of us when people who already don’t understand us hear the book’s title? Or should we, alternatively, accept that shock sells and that the at best ambiguous and at worst eye-wateringly offensive title means Hemphill’s memoirs will at least mean her book will get people talking, and mean a wider audience can be educated about the possibility of bisexual desire?

Lesbian for a Year isn’t available outside Australia yet, and there’s no set release date in the UK, so you won’t be able to check it out for yourselves for a while yet. But we’ll let you know when you can!



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Charlotte Dingle

Charlotte 'Lottie' Dingle is Biscuit's founding editor. When she's not running freelancing for a diverse bunch of clients ranging from Cosmo to Occupy, she enjoys teaching life drawing, discussing life/the universe/everything with her beloved (but smelly) 22-year-old cat, writing flash fiction for her MA course, getting pretentious tattoos, listening to folk music, creating surrealist art, trying to change the world and drinking red wine. Oh, and My Little Pony. Don't forget My Little Pony. Her favourite biscuits are cream crackers (do they count as biscuits?).

2 Responses to Brooke Hemphill – "Why I wrote 'Lesbian for a Year'…"

  • janis hetherington says:

    Sounds like she was talking about a Prison sentence!!!! Perhaps she’d have enjoyed Lesbian lust behind bars a tad more but then not being able to amble through the Tome we shall have to see. I prefer the Title A THOUSAND DAYS OF SODOMY ( but then that was banned decades ago as we all know!)

  • mm
    Charlotte Dingle says:

    I bought “A Thousand Days of Sodomy” on my Nook just after you posted this, then didn’t look at it… I just read the first 20 pages. Oh my days. 😛

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