Lesbians in science fiction: give me more!

Earlier, while talking about the possibility of a relationship between Talia and Ivanova in Babylon 5, I commented,

I tend to err on the side of lesbians. Otherwise there aren’t enough.

In other words, when there is subtext that makes a lesbian relationship plausible, even if it’s never stated by the text, I will take that wiggle room and assume that the relationship is there. I’ve talked before about how this holds true for Xena, but I find that I do it a lot. Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune were pretty much official, in my mind, and after Talia spent the night in Ivanova’s room (and her bed), I believed in them as well. All it takes is a close relationship between two women, and I’ll take the chance to slip myself in.

What’s odd is that there are so few close friendship between two women for me to read into in the first place. I mean, even in the stuff with huge casts– Harry Potter? Hermione and Ginny speak, on occassion, but that’s it. Lord of the Rings? It doesn’t even pass the Bechdel test. Can you believe that? Nine hours and it doesn’t pass the Bechdel test! I tried looking at my bookcase to find more examples, and even though I’ve got a lot of kick-ass women, they’re all in relationships with men; the few that are single (even if temporarily) are always surrounded by male friends. It’s no wonder that I started settling for imaginary lesbians years ago.

Even my very favourite sci fi author, Lois McMaster Bujold, who has included every other letter in the acronym, has managed to forget the L. I was surprised to realize this, since she had a recurring hermaphrodite character (ah, the future!) as well as an entire novel from the viewpoint of a gay man. But nope, no lesbians!

In fact, the only lesbians I have on my bookshelf are Rosethorn and Lark (bisexual, but together) and Daja (totally out!!) from Tamora Pierce’s books. They’re awesome (!!!), but written for young teens, and while I still enjoy them, they’re an afternoon’s light read and not really up to the task of being my Only Lesbians.

Ooh, also: Trouble and Her Friends. It’s and OLD cyberpunk book that I stumbled upon in my Gender and Cyberculture class, and it’s all about this group of hackers who banded together because they were gay (an impulse I totally get). I don’t want to spoil it, but it doesn’t end with with death for our main lesbian couple, unlike a lot of lesbian love stories (see: Battlestar Galactica. Well, actually, don’t; I don’t like that show much at all.)

Originally, I wanted to talk about how I always play as a boy in Harvest Moon, so that I can give myself a feminine name and marry the girls, and just pretend to be a butch lesbian, but instead I’m going to leave this as a desperate attempt to think of excellent female characters who loved other excellent female characters. If you can think of any, whether they’re Officially gay or not, please let me know! I finally have some gay friends now, but it gets a little lonely sometimes, in the world of science fiction.

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17 Responses to Lesbians in science fiction: give me more!

  1. dollyann says:

    You know what, I think the only times I’ve actually ever seen lesbian pairings in scifi is through fanfiction. And even then, there’s usually a huge slant towards guyxguy relationships. Canon/gamewise though, I can’t think of any at all.

    That’s really depressing. 😦

  2. eloriane says:

    Oh, fandom can be great (in a ridiculous way)…I remember reading a Molly Weasly/McGonagall slashfic that was actually pretty good, back in my Harry Potter days.

    But you’re right, it’s heavily slanted towards M/M. I wonder if that has anything to do with the fact that it’s hard to find pairs of female friends that could be slashes, whereas male friendships are everywhere? Fandom doesn’t generall have a problem with disregarding existing romantic relationships in order to ship their preferred pairing, but they still need two characters who occasionally talk to each other in order to ship them, and that’s pretty rare.

    Even though fandom can be a lot of fun (I actually forgot Remus/Sirius wasn’t canon, at one point…) it’s not the same as a relationship that’s actually, well, true. And for those, I have seen not a one executed even half-properly. Instead, we’ve got whatever went on in BSG with Number 6 (I didn’t see it), and the bizarre “genderless” blue alien in Mass Effect, who looks pretty darn female but nevertheless talks herself blue(er) about how sleeping with girls is totally not gay.

    I’d love recommendations for better examples, but alas, I sincerely doubt anyone will be able to come up with any.

  3. lavendertook says:

    Laurie Marks’ Elemental Logic series of novels (Fire Logic, Earth Logic) is great with a very loving world view and a lesbian relationship at the center of the action.

    Nicola Griffith’s Slow River.

    Door into Ocean by Joan Slonczenski (*sp).

    Joana Russ’ “When It Changed.”

    Ellen Klages has a lovely time travelling lesbian story in her short story collection.

  4. eloriane says:

    Hurray!

    I figured they’d be a lot easier to find in books, and I’m still hankering for a great gay action hero in film or gaming, but books are definitely a great place to start. And I should probably be reading more, anyway πŸ™‚

    So, thanks! I’ll get those from the library first thing!

  5. dollyann says:

    Woohoo! Lavendertook, you are AWESOME. πŸ˜€ Gotz to get to my library too now.

  6. Crowfoot says:

    I thought of an episode from DS9 that kind of fits. It has two female characters falling in love and kissing (like, in full view, on tv, and everything! anyone else remember when that was shocking? πŸ™‚ ). But the relationship lasts only as long as the episode. At the time I thought that the creators of DS9 were trying to discuss homophobia via a story-line, much like they’ve addressed other social injustice issues within all of the series. At least no one dies. But it is only for one episode, and the relationship is doomed to failure.

    If nevermore is reading, they’ll probably remember the one I mean, heh.

    and I third the “thanks Lavendertook!” πŸ˜€

  7. eloriane says:

    I’m looking for lesbian romances that don’t end horribly– they may be interesting, but they’re rarely kick-ass.

    If anyone knows the episode, though, I’ll stick that DVD into my Netflix queue!

  8. Chally says:

    Hi, I’ve just been having a look at your blog – great blog! – and checking through the archives a little.

    Maybe you’d find thislist useful. I’m trying to think of some non-depressing lesbian SF…

    lavendertook mentioned Nicola Griffith and I read a marvellous story by her partner, Kelley Eskridge, called “And Salome Danced”. It’s on her website if you want to read it, and it’s a cool exploration of identity – really not happy-making, though. I also enjoy the work of James Tiptree, Jr., but her lesbian stories all end sadly.

    I’d also go with Joanna Russ. The companion novel to “When it Changed” is The Female Man, one of the feminist SF canon. It’s horrible to trans people, which Joanna Russ has taken back since.

    I hope that helped a little.

  9. eloriane says:

    That’s a HUGE list, at the link! Wow! Thanks so much for sending it my way!

    I’m willing to read depressing lesbian sci fi if it’s cool enough (which much of it is), just because it’s nice to throw off the heteronormativity for a change, but it’s, well, depressing. I like to read sci fi about people who totally kick ass, and it’s frustrating that if I want heroes who are Like Me in my favourite books, I have to lower my standards from “kick ass!” to “not dead or crazy (unless maybe they are).”

    Still: there are more out there than I thought, which is cool, despite the enduring uncool of the dead/crazy! Thanks again, and I hope to see you around the blog more often!

  10. Chally says:

    Well, I’m glad because I’ve got more for you! Thank you for your warm welcome. I shall most certainly be back. And you’re welcome for the link. πŸ˜‰

    You should check out the Tiptree Award, which is for fiction that explores and expands gender roles. There’s a PDF file here of nominees and winners and there’s a lot of marvellous feminist lesbian writing in there.

    There’s also a Bitch Magazine article available in their book, Bitchfest, called “Rubyfruit Jungle Gym” which is an overview of lesbian YA, not SF-specific. It helpfully points out whether the books are happy or not!

    (And all that should keep you reading for about a thousand years… now if we could get some lesbians who don’t die into Doctor Who, that would be awesome.)

  11. Chally says:

    Oh, and one more thing. Aqueduct Press ought to have some things right up your alley. Timmi Duchamp, who runs it, is my favourite literary critic.

  12. Satsuma says:

    Reading this was painful! Let’s start with Sally Gearhardt and “The Wander Ground” and “The Ruins of Isis” written by lesbian sci fi author Marion Zimmer Bradley, and go on to Katherine V. Forest’s sci fi lesbians, then let’s head over to a sea of lesbian utopian fiction of the 1970s. “The Female Man” by Joanna Russ and so much more.
    ‘Daughters of the Coral Dawn”… and I could go on and on.
    Has all of this lesbian utopian other world literature been completely forgotten? It’s scary to read this column that’s for sure!!

  13. eloriane says:

    Satsuma,

    I’m sorry! I guess it just didn’t make it into my parents’ personal collection, and that’s really the only place I find old sci fi! I wasn’t born until 1989, after all, and didn’t start looking for lesbians in sci fi until well after that. I had no idea there was lesbian utopian fiction being written in the 70s! Do you (or anyone else) know any good titles/ lists for me to start digging in to that?

    I’m glad that there is stuff out there for me to go looking for, and I finally have access to a public library again so I bet I could find them there! I definitely didn’t mean to belittle the work that’s already been done, although it’s worth noting that my original question was about movies and games, and it was only because we couldn’t find any there that the conversation turned to books. Anything is possible in books! But I want to be on TV. πŸ˜€

  14. Satsuma says:

    Wow, Eloriane, now I’m really glad I listed all those books above. I have no idea how many are still in print, but I’d start with the Amazon search of each author’s name or the book titles I listed. And I agree with you, I REALLY wish they’d make a movie of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s “The Ruins of Isis” about a planet ruled by women, who enslave the male population, and have relationships with each other. It will seem dated to you, but I just LOVE that book!!! I personally met just about all of these authors. Alas, some of them are now dead.
    “The Wander Ground” is also one of the groundbreaking sci fi lesbian visionary utopian novels of the 70s too.
    I get very frustrated with our lack of just plain old movies with good lesbian stories. It seems all they’re capable of doing is insults like “L-Word” but I think these stories would make great movies.
    Had no idea that younger women haven’t heard of these authors, but no surprise, because heteroculture does everything in its power to erase this stuff and stop publishing it. And I had to smile, because I had no idea you were referring to games and movies. πŸ™‚
    To me the greatest lesbian works of all time continue to still be books. I’ve never really seen my life ever told in movie form, and the book is the brilliance of lesbians and women throughout the ages. Check out Lambda Literary Report for complete listings of new titles that might include new lesbian sci fi stuff πŸ™‚

  15. Satsuma says:

    P.S. This is such a wonderful little blog, inventive, clever and engaging! Thanks for doing all this wonderful work!!!

  16. Chally says:

    Ooh, I so like Marion Zimmer Bradley. I’m reading The Mists of Avalon at present.

  17. Alice says:

    Hi! I’ve stumbled across your posts by accident, and am always pleased to find people who love Ivanova.

    The lack of lesbians in scifi is miserable, and like you, I also tend to see lesbian subtext when two women have scenes together. Unfortunately that rarely happens.

    I love Talia and Ivanova’s relationship though (and I don’t know if you’ve read anything jms had to say about it, but basically he was gearing up to have them start a relationship, when the actress who played Talia quit the show.)

    Otherwise, there is very little, text or subtext out there. Even when there is more than one female character, even when it would make sense for them to talk to each other all the time, we never see it.

    Anyway, I’m off to read the rest of your Babylon 5 posts. πŸ˜€

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