The critically acclaimed novel showed me that no one can put me in a box
BY SILVER CONSTANTINIDES (THEY/THEM)
“This novel is pegged as a lesbian novel therefore classified in the ghettos of literature,” Rita Mae Brown writes wryly in the opening of her 1973 novel, Rubyfruit Jungle. But if I could keep this book on a pedestal under lock and key for people to revere as an artefact, I would.
I’ve always loved a modern American classic. I acted out Stella Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire fervently in my room for A-Level. I devoured Holden’s story in Catcher in the Rye in a week. In secondary school, I carefully angled myself in the library so my peers could see me with a copy of The Great Gatsby. Yet, I never held any of these characters dear to my heart because I never saw much of myself in them.
Of course, that was before I met Molly Bolt.
Picture the meet cute of me and my heroine: it was June 2019, and the library near my college had brazenly crafted a Pride reading section.
I, 17 and still unsure of myself, identified as a lesbian, so when I clocked the tiny lesbian flag sealed onto the lurid cover of Rubyfruit Jungle, I was already sold. My train journey home was an hour long, and by the time I pulled into my station, I was already over a quarter of the way through and seriously considering whether to ride to the end of the line so as to not interrupt my reading. Come the next evening, I had finished the book.
Rubyfruit Jungle divides the life of Molly Bolt into four parts, spanning her childhood into young adulthood as she fights tooth and nail to make her own way in life, despite the bigotry she faces. I could hardly believe it when I first read it — an unabashed lesbian in a 20th century novel! But more than that, the book engages with every aspect of women loving women. From Molly’s tender puppy crush on her classmate, all the way to her farcical affair in which she two-times a middle-aged woman with her own daughter… yes, really.
From the first scene, I was roaring with laughter at the uncensored humour was. Of course a young Molly fights the Virgin Mary as Joseph in her nativity! She is a laughably blunt, well-rounded, and fierce character — so addictive that I was sad to leave her by the end of the book. With her tongue-in-cheek attitude she is adamant on making her mark on the world, and she refuses handouts — determined to do everything on her own terms.
This is what I found so inspiring about the novel: Molly Bolt boosted my own confidence. Despite growing up poor, shunned by even her own family for being a lesbian, Molly never gives up. She provides hope for all of us who feel that the cards are stacked against us, telling us to do whatever it takes to achieve what you want. The hopeful ending of the novel is one that stays with me whenever I feel despondent. But, I’m not one to spoil things, so you’ll have to grab a copy if you want Molly’s departing words of wisdom.
Ultimately, Rubyfruit Jungle is a story about refusing to be put into a box, and I know that LGBTQIA people everywhere will glean something special from this narrative. I would argue that this is why the book remains relevant even to this day, when our 21st century community cites the importance of breaking down binaries.
For women who love women, Molly’s quick wit gives a role model we all wish we’d had. “I’m the exact same person you knew before. Jesus Christ, I’lI never understand straight people,” she shouts, after a mentor discovers she’s a lesbian. “I don’t know, I haven’t met all homosexuals,” she quips sagely when asked: “Are all homosexuals as perceptive as you?”
It is a pushback against those who force us into boxes, and Rita Mae Brown affirms the importance of this in her introduction: “Art is about connection and not about divisive labels.” Almost four years on, lots has changed for me. I am 21, more confident in myself and my future, and I still love women. Though I don’t identify as a lesbian like Molly does, I never forget how this novel inspired me.
Keep trying, no matter how difficult. Break out of your box, reject divisive labels and celebrate your love.
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