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We Spoke to the Writer of the Controversial Book 'Lesbian for a Year'

She reckons everyone needs to chill out a bit.
Hannah Ewens
London, GB

Brooke Hemphill

Australian writer Brooke Hemphill recently released a book called Lesbian for a Year. Shockingly, that title hasn’t gone down very well among Australia’s – or Twitter’s – LGBT community, with many criticising it as kind of fucking flippant.

@godkiller2000 sums it the reaction pretty nicely here:

fifty shades of grey definitely wins most offensive book of the year but #lesbianforayear is a close second

— aaaaaaaaaAAAAAAAHHHH (@godkiller2000) September 4, 2014


And in the words of @davidgolbitz:

@shanito What in the world??? How ridiculous. How can someone in the year 2014 write this with a straight face? #lesbianforayear

— david golbitz (@davidgolbitz) September 10, 2014

The book itself follows what happened in the year after formerly-straight Brooke woke up with a woman lying in her bed – her “lesbian era”, as she calls it.

I wanted to hear Brooke’s side of the story – whether she really thinks you can choose your sexuality, or if the whole thing’s just been blown out of proportion – so I called her up for a chat.

VICE: Hey Brooke. So why did you decide to be gay for a year?
Brooke Hemphill: It wasn’t a social experiment. I didn’t wake up one day and say, “I’ve had it with men. I’m going to date women for the next year and see how it goes.” It was something that effectively just kind of happened after a series of events. I was out with my friends one night, having drinks, and there was a girl in my bed next to me. And I sort of went, “Gee, how did she get there?” I remember around that time I had this book on my shelf called The Straight Girl’s Guide to Sleeping with Chicks. The book gave me a range of suggestions about how I must cut my fingernails and various other things.

So that one-night stand is what made you “turn” gay?
While I was writing the book, I was looking over my previous relationships, both romantic and platonic. I saw evidence and signs that perhaps there was an inherent curiosity there that had led to this one-night stand. But a couple of weeks after that initial one-night stand, I started work on a show about a group of Sydney lesbians. At the first shoot, I met a girl called Claire "the Converter". She liked to meet straight girls and convince them to come over and join her team. We ended up dating for six months.


Claire the Converter converted you?
I think if that hadn’t happened I wouldn’t be able to tell this story today. I was open to being converted. There was curiosity there, but I didn’t really know how to explore it. Where would I find lesbians, or how would I meet women I might be interested in? So this kind of gave me the opportunity to explore that. Then, when we broke up after those months, I dated a few women who I met through getting to know the city’s lesbian scene.

A lot of people have taken offence to your book, saying it trivialises some of the struggles the gay community faces.
It’s a little easy for people who haven’t read the book to say that. I think people are having an emotional reaction to the title. I actually had to get off Twitter for a while because the commentary on there was quite nasty and overly emotional. I understand the challenges that people in the gay community have gone through and are going through in order to have their sexuality recognised and so on.

But you know what? I think if everyone went out and hooked up with their own gender for a year, we’d all be a lot more tolerant and open to the possibilities out there – particularly in Australia, where the debate around legalisation of gay marriage is on the table at the moment. I think people would be a lot more open to it.

So you think the negativity is all because of the title?
One hundred percent. People all over the world are commenting on it who don’t even have access to the book. I know the title has the power to be upsetting for people whose whole identity is built around that word, and they could look at that and go, “How dare you use my word? You don’t have the right.” I understand that, but I would encourage those people to read the book.


Would you change the title if you were given the chance?
You’re a journalist. You work in the media and understand the power of a headline. The point of a headline is to catch people’s attention, and then you hope that they would then go beyond the headline and dig deeper and go beyond the story. It’s a shame we can’t control what people do and what readers do. I think the title really has the power to get people’s attention, and obviously it’s doing that now. I hope that people actually read the book.

So what's happening at the moment? The "year" in the title implies you've "gone back", as it were.
My feeling would be that you can’t really go back. People have said to me, “Well, obviously you’re bisexual." I guess if you had to stick a word on it or define it, that's what it would be. I’m now with a man. However, who knows? Five, ten years from now, I may be in a relationship with a woman.

Cool. Lastly, what do you want people to take away from the book?
I just want people to be open to the idea of having a conversation. In my experience of speaking to a lot of women out there, my story is not that unusual. I don’t see how what I’m doing has a negative effect on the gay community. I feel like I’m just telling my story and opening up a dialogue about the fact that sexuality isn’t necessarily black and white.

Thanks, Brooke.


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