When I chose Dear John, I Love Jane to review, I knew I wouldn’t be breaking any new ground, and it’s yet again a topic entirely out of my realm of experience. I mean, I knew from a young age that I’m lesbian, and I haven’t been married to a man or in committed, heterosexual relationships as an adult. However, in reading each story I became aware of something I and these other women share very much in common, and it just began rippling from there, so of course I have to tell everybody all about it.
Any group of stories like this excites me because I always love little tidbits into peoples’ lives, told from their own perspective. As good as it is to have one big novel-length autobiography about a person’s experience, no matter what it is, I find that anthologies like this feel like they represent their theme very well. One of my favorite things, possibly my favorite, about this particular book is that each woman’s story is very different from the last. When experiences start to bleed together and seem the same, that’s always suspect to me, but at no point did I stop during reading Dear John, I Love Jane and say to myself, “Well, this doesn’t seem authentic at all.”
On the contrary, I think I highlighted more out of this volume than I tend to. I highlighted whole sections about how saying your partner is your wife is “coming out on speed,” (Over the Fence) and how gay men were seen as harmless, but lesbians were not to be talked about (Leap of Faith). In numerous stories I have paragraphs highlighted about how it feels to have to prove your “lesbian credentials.” Even as a woman who hasn’t left a heterosexual relationship to pursue one with a woman instead, you would have to try hard to not relate to any of these stories.
Of course, not all of them are the same, which is the beauty of this anthology. Some of the women writing their stories haven’t left their marriages; instead, they’ve made the marriage work around their newfound (or newly accepted) sexuality. Some of the writers’ husbands or boyfriends were supportive and lovely people, and some were not. The inclusion of women who have stayed in their heterosexual partnerships is important, I think, and was encouraging to read, as was the inclusion of a few women who weren’t yet sure what they were going to do. All in all this whole volume is full of hope for the future no matter what situation these women find themselves in, and for that I’m grateful. I never want to forget the generations of women who shelved their desire for whatever reasons, who sacrificed and became truly “themselves” later in life, and I never want to forget that desire can change people in any direction. Dear John, I Love Jane is a powerful collection I would recommend to anyone who’s ever been confused and uprooted their life for changes they’ve felt.