I finished reading The Well of Loneliness last night.
As a novel it’s not fantastic. The plot plods along in a relatively predictable fashion, following Stephen – the protagonist – as they grow up, get a job, and meet people. The writing is mediocre and occasionally quite dull.
As a giant “fuck you” to the world, it’s very powerful and still disturbingly relevant. The story follows Stephen, a female-assigned “invert”. Invert is a late nineteenth century/early twentieth century term that’s often said to refer to homosexuality, but there’s a whole body of literature out there discussing whether or not it’s more to do with gender identity than sexuality. It’s now considered somewhat backward to associate lesbianism with necessary masculinity, which has led to a great deal of criticism by latter-day activists. However, if Stephen – and other female-assigned inverts such as Jamie – are seen as trans men, everything begins to make a whole lot more sense Certainly Stephen’s story often reads more like that of a trans man than a lesbian.
I’ve come across several pieces that describe The Well of Loneliness as a plea for tolerance. It strikes me more as a demand for tolerance, and one that’s still disturbingly relevant. . The condemnation of those “good people” who oppress others for differing from society’s norms still holds true. The demand to accept the very existence of those who transcend sexual and gender stereotypes still holds true.
I got pretty depressed earlier today reading the mindblowingly ignorant comments following a Guardian article about trans rights. It made me think about how there’s still a lot of people out there who happily move through their “normal” lives whilst handing out casual bigotry whenever it suits them. We’ve come so far, yet we still have so far to go.
On a brighter note, a guy I know from Queer Youth Network was in a positive documentary on Channel 4 last night, which you can still watch on 4od. The fact that we’ve got to the point where we can tell a positive story like this on national television shows that progress.