In this new introduction to her classic novel, author Rita Mae Brown revisits Rubyfruit Jungle and looks at how the labels we apply to ourselves box us in.
Where does the time go? If you find out, tell me. I’ll go get some and bring it back.
Over forty years ago I wrote Rubyfruit Jungle. Loving the English language since I first learned to speak it, I found that I loved writing in it even more. My love for our language has deepened with the years, but then who couldn’t be thrilled living in the cathedral of English?
If Rubyfruit helped you know you aren’t alone, good. If I made you laugh even better.
This novel is pegged as a lesbian novel, therefore classified in the ghettos of literature. Any time any work or any person is qualified, it’s always an insult. The message really is, ‘This is not about people like yourself. You might enjoy it but after all, the subject matter concerns the “lower orders”.’
There are no lower orders. There are no lesbians or transgender people or fill in the blank. There is only people, a wild mix of energy, different abilities, colours ranging from ebony to bleached white. We’re everything and everybody. I don’t even believe in male and female, it’s a sliding scale and we are hag-ridden by a binary culture: male-female, black-white, straight-gay, rich-poor and so it goes. The gradations are infinite and the silliest mistake of all is to define people by their material possessions. It’s even worse if people define themselves by money.
When I wrote Rubyfruit Jungle in 1971 (the year I wrote it was not the year it was published), the only way to begin to understand your situation was to take the label given to you by others, a label devised centuries if not millennia before, and to understand how this became hardened oppression. That work is done.
There are no lower orders. There are no lesbians or transgender people or fill in the blank. There is only people, a wild mix of energy, different abilities, colours ranging from ebony to bleached white
Think about it. Once you buy into a definition of yourself that has been made by others, you’re a victim. Victims draw great strength from banding together and declaring a common oppression and a common (always glorious, of course) culture. Perhaps, but you’re still a victim.
In its own simple fashion, Rubyfruit alludes to this without ever collapsing into non-fiction propaganda. This is not to rap non-fiction. I worship The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Gibbon. Then again, it’s not propaganda.
Until we are willing to read, see, embrace any work of art by any gifted person, we are still held back. Think of this in non-artistic terms. Moses took the Jews out of Egypt. Could he take Egypt out of the Jews? Only then can one be free. Let go of your oppressor. Many people cannot and many artists cannot. Whole careers are made by those who fall into disadvantaged categories (and economically and politically, they do). And it’s not just those who are wrathful about their condition, it’s those who become lawyers and self-appointed spokespersons for the rest. You might say that oppression sells.
The most revolutionary thing you can do is to be yourself, to speak your truth, to open your arms to life including the pain. Passion. Find your passions.
The English language, horses and hounds, the theatre are mine. I wish for you something that enlarges your life, teaches you to respect all life and forms and helps you connect to other people.
If Rubyfruit Jungle helped to push you on your path to freedom, I’ve done something right.
Onward and upward.