Casey reviews Dear John, I Love Jane: Women Write About Leaving Men for Women edited by Candace Walsh and Laura Andre


I had heard a lot of praise for Dear John, I Love Jane: Women Write About Leaving Men for Women (edited by Candace Walsh and Laura Andre) by the time I finally picked it up.  So, I was expecting good things.  This book, however, managed to actually exceed my expectations.  It was so refreshing to read an entire book filled with a different kind of coming out story.  I’ve never identified with the “I’ve always known”, or the “I was a gender non-conforming kid so it figures”, or the “I fell in love with a girl when I was five” stories.  It’s not that those stories aren’t valid in their own right.  But they never felt representative of my experience.  It turns out a lot of other women felt the same way.  Dear John I Love Jane has a few pieces where I was like, oh my god, this could totally be about me.  It was so amazing to read and feel like, yes, this is my kind of queerness.

There’s a huge range of different stories even within this anthology.  There are women who were never really happy with men.  There are women who’ve only really been attracted to one woman.  There are women in this book who married men in good faith, and were completely blindsided by their later (sometimes exclusive) attraction to women.  There are some women who open up their relationships with men to date women at the same time.  There’s even one woman in here who stays married to her husband after coming out as a lesbian.  There are women who identify as bi, lesbian, queer, and some who are uncomfortable labelling or naming their sexualities at all.   Lots of the women in the book have children.  There is one woman who falls in love with a woman for the first time at age sixty-nine.  Sixty-nine!!  This diversity of experience aside, though, the vast majority of the women whose stories were in the book are white, and I would really have liked to have seen more women of colour, as well as women from different class backgrounds.

It was awesome to see women questioning and attacking conventional understandings of sexual orientation—that model that’s built for gay men that just doesn’t seem to do a lot of LBQ women justice.  One woman writes about her lack of “brazen knowledge about” her sexuality; taught that she would be sure if she was queer, she felt paralyzed because she didn’t know for certain.  Another compares her newfound feelings for women as an acquired taste for fancy espresso when she used to slurp down drip coffee from a styrofoam cup without thought.  Another blames Angelina Jolie’s lips.  One woman admits thinking that she just wasn’t that kind of girl, until she realized she was that kind of girl, but for “andro-butchy” girls.  Another recounts her mother’s reaction to her coming out as “JESUS CHRIST!  I thought you were going to tell me you had cancer.  I don’t give a shit if you are a lesbian.”  Ha ha.

I highly, highly recommend this collection.  Not only did I love the content, I thought the majority of the pieces were really well written.  I think Dear John I Love Jane is especially an important read for queer women whose stories are of the “I’ve always known” variety and for folks who need to confront their biphobia (there are an unfortunate number of lesbians who need to work on this).  I’ll just leave you with this last awesome quotation, from Amelia Sauter: “You won’t find me rewriting history to say that I was gay all along.  I was straight.  Now I am gay… I always thought I couldn’t change.  I was wrong and that freaks out a lot of people who are scared to imagine that one day everything they think is true and permanent could change.  I found my knight in shining armour, and she’s a girl.”

Tag reviews Dear John, I Love Jane edited by Candace Walsh and Laura Andre


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.

Danika reviews Dear John, I Love Jane edited by Candace Walsh and Laura Andre

I love this book. I just want to say that straight off the bat. In any minority (of power) group, telling our own stories is crucial, especially when they’re stories that defy the narrative that has traditionally been put forth about that group.

The foreword of Dear John, I Love Jane is written by the author of Sexual Fluidity, which is a book I now really want to read. The only problems I had with the book in general were that the introduction and foreword combined seemed pretty lengthy, and the introduction especially seemed unnecessary.

Also, I was initially irritated because the  foreword set the tone for stories about sexual fluidity, which I was very excited about being able to read, because we have a very Born This Way, rigid conception of sexuality in our society, and I wanted to see the stories this framework ignores. When the first few stories didn’t really address sexual fluidity, I was disappointed, but by the end I was completely satisfied.

The major thing I loved about Dear John, I Love Jane was the quality of writing. With a topic this narrow, I didn’t have very high standards, especially since anthologies generally have a range of quality. Most anthologies tend to include at least one story that you really hate. This was not true! I actually didn’t have any story that I didn’t enjoy. They varied in styles, but I thought the quality of writing was high in each one.

What makes Dear John, I Love Jane so valuable, though, is the variety of the stories told. As I said, I was hoping for stories about sexual fluidity, and there were, but they weren’t the only ones. Dear John, I Love Jane represents many different situations where women left men for women. In some, it was because they had always been attracted to women and only were with a man because they felt it was the right thing to do. For others, though, they really were deeply in love with the man they were with. For some, it was one woman who changed everything, and had nothing to do with their sexuality, just with the individual. And some women decide to stay with their husband. It really represents a range, which I found refreshing.

I have a particular dislike for our dichotomy of choice vs born-that-way with sexuality. No other aspect of ourselves do we treat that way. Was I born sarcastic, or did I choose to be that way? Was I born loving books, or did I choose to be that way? It doesn’t make any sense. And it doesn’t with orientation, either. If sexuality is not a rigid, unchanging, biological, pre-destined thing, it doesn’t automatically make it a choice.

I also enjoyed the portrayal of men in the stories. Some of the partners are not ideal mates, but many are wonderful people, and it brings more nuance to it. I think that men in Dear John,  I Love Jane are primarily positively portrayed, which just makes those situations so much more difficult and interesting.

Overall, I highly recommend this book. I only keep books that I want to re-read at some point, and this is definitely one that’s going to go into my permanent collection.

(Check out the Dear John, I Love Jane website here!)