Thursday, January 10, 2013

2013 Lesbian Fiction Appreciation Event: Suleikha Snyder on F/F Romance: Screen But Not Heard?

Known for pushing boundaries, breaking barriers and telling all kinds of female-positive and sex-positive stories, the one area in which romance novels seem to be lagging is with lesbian and bisexual love stories. Why, when readers are already primed for it? If it's compelling at 8 o'clock or 9 o'clock at night on your TV screen, isn't it a logical leap to find it on the page?

In 1977, The Young and the Restless’ Katherine Chancellor developed feelings for her friend Joanne. In 1983, All My Children’s Devon McFadden wondered if a relationship with Lynn Carson would solve her man problems (Lynn, pardon the pun, set her straight!). Fast forward to the ‘90s and beyond, and soap viewers had many more fulfilling stories to become enraptured by. There was Erica Kane’s daughter, AMC’s beloved Bianca, and her romantic struggles with Sarah, Frankie, Lena, Maggie and Reese. Then came Guiding Light’s Olivia and Natalia, who fell in love while cohabitating in a classic “Gay For You” fashion that you mostly see in male/male romances. “Otalia” soon took the show by storm, becoming one of its beloved pairings by the time the show wrapped in 2009. In primetime, drama fans have jumped on the train as well, with Grey's Anatomy’s Callie and Arizona, The Good Wife’s Kalinda and Glee’s Brittany and Santana winning just as many fans as their hetero counterparts. And, of course, sci-fi television has housed queer characters and stories for years, be it Jadzia and Lenara’s Trill symbiont reunion on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine or the Holmes and Watson-esque Madame Vastra and Jenny on the current series of Doctor Who.

Television audiences have been consuming stories of gay women in love along with all of their straight-themed media — and frequently rallying for it, in the case of Otalia and Bianca's various pairings — so why is romance fiction playing catch-up? Why is it primarily in erotic romance and erotica that f/f pairings seem to flourish when, on TV, we can see Arizona and Callie cope with the loss of Arizona’s leg or Kalinda seducing FBI Agent Lana in order to accomplish her goals? LGBT characters still need more authentic, non-caricature representation, but we’ve zipped past the titillating days of Mariel Hemingway and Roseanne kissing, and Ellen’s half-hour comedy dying a slow death after she came out, and gotten to one where lesbian love stories are told more freely.

I remember going through a glom, watching every LGBT-themed film I could get my hands on. From the awful Lost and Delirious to the excellent but tragic Fire and Gia to the more lighthearted Better Than Chocolate and But I’m a Cheerleader. When it came time to turn to books, Sarah Waters' Tipping the Velvet was pretty much the only thing being widely recommended, as well as Nancy Garden’s Annie on My Mind, which I read for a college class. But I didn't want historical literary fiction or YA; I wanted honest-to-goodness, trope-y, happily-ever-after romance. And, now, it's an ever-widening market! It's there, just waiting to be tapped.

So, shine a guiding light, Romancelandia, and give us more ladies in love!

Bio: Editor, writer, American desi and lifelong geek, Suleikha Snyder published her first romantic short in 2011. 2012 brought a slew of releases, including Suleikha’s first two Bollywood Confidential novellas from Samhain Publishing, a Wild Rose Press short story, and a short in Cleis Press’ Suite Encounters anthology. Currently hard at work on more Bollywood tales and a “lesbian sci-fi thingy,” Suleikha lives in New York City, finding inspiration in Bollywood films, daytime and primetime soaps and Hell’s Kitchen wine bars. Visit Suleikha at and follow her at 


Jolie du Pre said...

Good post. By the way, I've been watching the hit show "Pretty Little Liars" with my college age son. One of the main characters, Emily, is a lesbian and they do a really good job with her life. They don't get over dramatic with her love life, and they aren't afraid to show her touching or kissing another girl. They focus on her relationships just like they do the M/F relationships in the TV show. I'm very impressed.

Suleikha said...

Thanks, Jolie! I watched Pretty Little Liars for the first few seasons and loved their handling of Emily, too! She's a great character.

Cathy in AK said...

Thanks for the post. I haven't watched most of the shows you mentioned for one reason or another, but I agree that audiences should be ready for more "ladies in love" in their reading. I'm working on meeting the upcoming demand ; )

Suleikha said...

Best of luck meeting the demand, Cathy! ;-). Thanks for reading!

She said...

Thanks for your column. I have to admit I don't watch a lot of television so I haven't really paid much attention to how TV portrays lesbians. I have watched Glee in the past. I am more a reader. I like finding new authors and have been reading more f/f romance. It is still hard to find without extensive searching but this week has given my new titles for which to look.

Kat L. said...

Good post. I also don't watch a lot of television, but when I do I don't many lesbian portrayals. If I have, they've been played for laughs or the lesbian is a "villain" who "stole" somebody's wife or girlfriend. I remember watching Friends when they'd have Ross's ex-wife on, and her partner was always sniping at Ross and acting ugly toward him. Not exactly a positive portrayal. Hope it's gotten better.

Suleikha said...

Portrayals of lesbians have definitely gotten better, and I don't know that I've stumbled upon evil/butt-of-joke lesbians, at least not in the drama realm, where gay characters are flourishing. I also forgot to shout-out to SyFy's Canadian import, Lost Girl, which has a bisexual succubus heroine and treats her love for Lauren (female) and Dyson (male) with equal value.

I think, with any medium, it takes time and it takes people willing to tell the stories...because the audience IS there.