Erasing erasure

By Penny Young

Naming is a potent way to obscure queer people and their relationships. One way this happens is through incorrectly referring to lesbians as friends, companions, sisters, or – a cliché that is now almost exclusively used ironically – ‘gal pals’. This reduces love to friendship, and incorrectly records history.
I recently spotted an example of this on the Faber website where on Sylvia’s author page, Valentine is referred to as Sylvia’s ‘close companion’. ‘Close’, here, is being expected to do an extraordinary amount of euphemistic work, given that the pair were lovers, partners, spouses, wives (pick your term) for almost forty years. Indeed, their ashes were scattered together, and their shared gravestone is a rare material testament to early 20th century sapphic love: ‘close’ doesn’t quite cut it.
When I emailed them, Faber promptly amended this webpage, thanking me for pointing it out. They published Winter in the Air in 2022, in which the biographical note describes Valentine as Sylvia’s ‘partner’, so we can assume that ‘close companion’ was copied from an older text, or was perhaps a legacy of an older version of the site.
The page now calls Valentine Sylvia’s ‘partner… whom she lived with from 1930 until her death’. It is a small change, but one Sylvia would have wanted. In the last of the letters collected in I’ll Stand By You (1998), she wrote to Valentine, ‘our love is the one thing I can never question’; I think she wanted us to know.