A Queer Love Story
The Letters of Jane Rule and Rick Bébout
In August 1989, Jane Rule – novelist, essayist, and the first widely recognized “public lesbian” in North America – summed up the first eight years of her correspondence with Rick Bébout, journalist and editor with the Toronto-based Body Politic: “It seems to me that what has concerned us is richly human and significantly focused on the concerns of our time and our tribe.”
A Queer Love Story presents the first fifteen years of their correspondence. At turns poignant, scintillating, and incisive, their exchanges include ruminations on queer life and the writing life as they document some of the most pressing LGBT issues and events of the 1980s and ’90s, including HIV/AIDS, censorship, youth sexuality, public sex and S/M, Toronto’s infamous bath raids, and state regulation of identity and desire.
Rule lived in a remote rural community on Galiano Island, British Columbia, but wrote a column for the Body Politic. Bébout was a resident of and devoted to Toronto’s gay village. As writers, Rule and Bébout hoped to nurture a more precise language to articulate gay and lesbian lives. In her letters, Rule reflects on her life with companion Helen Sonthoff and expectations regarding marriage, monogamy, and long-term relationships. In his letters, Bébout details his more “promiscuous affections,” ranging from a knowing glance at a stranger in the subway to obsessional on-again, off-again affairs. Together, they offer sharp-eyed and unsentimental observations on queer communities and politics and, if those politics clashed with their personal beliefs, they were not afraid to express more radical views, most notably opposition to same-sex marriage, a conviction they both shared.
A Queer Love Story showcases not only two incisive minds in intimate dialogue but also, more largely, how members of the queer community worked together to build ties of love and friendship amidst intolerance and outright hostility.
This book will appeal to anyone interested in writer’s lives, literary studies, queer and gender studies, and the history of LGBT communities and political activism in North America.
These smart, deeply felt missives constitute a more than 600-page archival record and reference tool. Enhanced by an excellent index, A Queer Love Story will be invaluable to those interested in the history of the queer movement in Canada as viewed by two of its most thoughtful, lifelong participants.
It’s one of history’s all-time great queer love stories.
A Queer Love Story … encompasses a quintessential period for the queer community in Canada … What emerges is not merely an engaging portrait of two provocative thinkers, but a snapshot of a period in Canadian history that saw a seismic change in the lives and attitudes and ideas of the nation’s queer community.
It is a joy reading this correspondence that allows us to truly get to know these two powerhouses of contemporary LGBT history, and to see how they grew as people due to the exchange of ideas and experiences that they shared with each other.
A Queer Love Story is a wonderful book full of daily life's details, notes on the writing process, and commentary on gay and lesbian issues. It will introduce younger readers to two exemplary members of the gay community ... I felt privileged to be in the presence of these two gifted, courageous writers, both of whom left the U.S. for Canada when they were young. Imagine a book of 600 pages that seems to end too soon. Will we ever again, in this age of texting, have such a lively, spirited, and revealing correspondence?
Both Rule and Bebout are fiercely intelligent, thoughtful, opinionated and perceptive writers ... This voluminous and essential collection offers delights on every page: beautifully crafted sentences and astute opinions on racism, health care, same-sex marriage, violence and publishing.
In an era when tweets, texts, and e-mails have surpassed the art and practice of letter-writing, this volume will delight historians of the LGBTQ movement and everyday readers.
It is a pleasure and a privilege to ‘watch’ their friendship grow. I highly recommend A Queer Love Story.
... a fin-de-siècle dialogue of bicoastal and pan-Canadian sensibilities, A Queer Love Story is a tribute to exemplary citizenship and the ethics of personal responsibility in times of crisis.
Reading a collection of letters can be something of a guilty pleasure. Marilyn Schuster’s edition of the letters of Jane Rule and Rick Bébout, by contrast, is a moving experience, deftly mingling genres of memoir, diary, and essay. Though reduced by three-quarters from the carefully chronologized 2700-page collection both correspondents agreed to present to the editor, covering fifteen eventful years of their correspondence (1981-1995), A Queer Love Story offers a deeply personal view of academic and publishing life from two of Canada’s leading gay authors.
These letters swept me up like a novel. The evolving friendship between these unlikely correspondents – the older lesbian writer and the younger gay editor and activist – is, indeed, a love story. But their love is about something much larger than themselves. Jane and Rick’s running analysis of the sea changes occurring in queer life, from the radical seventies, through the AIDS-devastated eighties, to the assimilationist nineties, is incisive, deeply considered and, above all, engaged. In the current era of atrophying attention spans and political atomization, these lush, eloquent letters between people who see themselves first and foremost as part of a movement are exhilarating.
A Queer Love Story is an extraordinary gift. The letters unfurl a heartwarming friendship, a fierce commitment to ideas, and the ordinary iterations of everyday life that enrich the public and political profiles of these two important writers. Marilyn Schuster deserves the highest praise for recognizing the profound value of these letters and turning them into a book that reads like a novel.
The passage of time has only burnished this living legacy of intimate exchanges between the greatest lesbian writer of her generation and the peerless gay editor who was her closest confidante. To read this gift to history is to eavesdrop on two profoundly perceptive eyewitnesses to events central to all our lives, in a conversation unsurpassed in its intelligence, richness, insights, and wisdom.
The letters in A Queer Love Story are not simply a look into private lives, which are satisfying and rich in themselves. Here are two powerhouses influencing Canadian history. They helped make our queer history – one word, one gesture, one fight at a time. I felt waves and waves of gratitude, both for the work these two heroes performed and for the chance to see it documented, to be welcomed into that past. This book will remind you just how deeply personal are our political struggles.
It is a queer love story indeed, and it is a story that must be told … This book reminds readers that other, more radical alternatives are available, that conversations about these alternatives were very much part of both feminist and gay liberationist discussions in the eighties and nineties, and that Rule and Bébout lived the promise of queer community considerably avant la lettre.
These very readable letters, written in a braver and less conventional time, offer a refreshing view that prizes friendship over coupledom and suggests how we all – gay, straight, or just plain queer – might organize our lives and loves outside of the ready-to-wear straightjacket of family and marriage.
A Queer Love Story offers fresh insight into two important figures in Canadian LGBT history – their lives, their views, their activism, and their deeply engaged friendship.
These letters document a love affair with ideas and moral meaning, as two writers separated by age, gender, and geography give each other space to think about the pressing queer social and political issues of the eighties and nineties. Their respectful exchanges offer an insightful running commentary throughout a tumultuous fifteen-year period of Canadian LGBT history.
The intelligence of both writers, the means by which they directly confront the issues affecting the queer community and identity politics, and their desire to explore love, power, the erotic, and the nature of sexuality – these are some of the most engaging facets of these letters.
Marilyn R. Schuster was the Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Smith College and has been professor and provost emerita since 2015. Her research and writing focuses on contemporary writers such as Jane Rule, Marguerite Duras, and Monique Wittig, and she is the author of Marguerite Duras Revisited and Passionate Communities: Reading Lesbian Resistance in Jane Rule’s Fiction. She lives in Oakland, California.
Rick Bébout was the editor of the hugely influential Body Politic, “the magazine of record for the activities and development of the gay liberation movement across the country.” He was born in Ayer, Massachusetts, and came to Canada at age nineteen in 1969. He died in Toronto in 2009.
Jane Rule was born in Plainfield, New Jersey and moved to Canada in 1956. She died at her home on Galiano Island in 2007 at the age of seventy-six. She was inducted into the Order of British Columbia in 1998, and into the Order of Canada in 2007. She wrote fourteen books, including Desert of the Heart (1964), which was turned into the movie Desert Hearts.
Foreword / Margaret Atwood
1981 “Any question of such censorship”
1982 “An odd flu”
1983 “It’s raining men”
1984 “Moved by a stranger”
1985 “Why is a star a word for the exceptional?”
1986 “What is it we want when we want sex?”
1987 “Life and its sheer wonder”
1988 “Loving is a way of being”
1990 “The dying of the light”
1991 “There is no fault”
1992 “A lesbian in the ’40s”
1993 “It’s all right (even useful) to write drunk, as long as one edits sober”
1994 “I accept this degree”
1995 “A public space for our views and values”
The Last Chapter “I will do my best to live up to you”
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Lesbian Lives in Canada, 1900-65
Social Movement Activism and Canadian Public Policy
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Lesbians and Community across Canada, 1964-84
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Canadian Homonationalisms and the Politics of Belonging
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