“In the study of lesbian history, the desire for proof is generally one the researcher doesn’t expect or even want to have satisfied. Queer research can feel like a secret club, where evidence is stored only within the blood that rushes from our bellies to our cheeks and is exchanged via intuition and rumor. When Shapland finds her proof, several years into researching McCullers, she’s overwhelmed by the verification of that which she’d known all along. Her girlfriend doesn’t share in her sense of shock. “‘Isn’t this what you were looking for?’” she asks. “‘Well,’” responds Shapland, “‘I didn’t think I’d actually find it.’”
…Which is to say, proof might be relevant, but it’s not the point. Often, the act of writing a biography is one on hand an attempt to uncover some previously unseen truth about a person, and on the other an effort to establish narrative or analytical meaning to the messiness of life. For Shapland, it’s more about finding a way to accept the mess in all its absences and utterances and to be honest with herself and her readers about what it is she wants from the archive. Ultimately, Shapland’s book aims to behold a woman she’ll never meet and to love her without laying claim.
The act of piecing ourselves together through each other shows up again and again in lesbian literature. Sure, it can fringe on enmeshment when done possessively and without regard for one’s own motivations, and that’s a stereotype that makes for a handful of easy punchlines. But all jokes aside (cue joke about humorless lesbians), what so often gets overlooked is the great possibility in considering self-creation as a collaborative work of love in which we carry the bodies of others within our own….The woman that the narrator loves is dead, but not. The narrator is the woman that she loves, but not. When we continually re-make ourselves and each other through intimacy, we’re never done becoming.”