Lesbian Love and Sex in Afterglow

Afterglow: More stories of lesbian desire, sequel to Bushfire: Stories of lesbian desire, is a collection of seventeen stories edited by Karen Barber. The stories offer much diversity, covering love and sex that is long distance, unconventional, for pay, for life, or simply in the moment spontaneity. The stories take the reader all over the country, even as far as Hawaii, and span lifetimes, all the way from tales of teenage awakenings to end-of-life memories. While the stories do generally focus on sex and passion, the stories are about more than that. The stories express the search for lesbian community, history, and belonging. As works of fiction, the stories are real and raw, without relying on characters who are confused or ashamed of being lesbians.

The stories touch on these themes in many ways; where one story might only allude to something, another spans the gap. Starting in the first story in the collection, titled “What is the goal & how will we know when we get there?”, issues of belonging, closure, and certainty (or uncertainty) start to be asked and answered. In this particular story, conflict arises when two women’s life circumstances – living in different states, having families and jobs – generate doubt that any type of long-term relationship is possible, and the story ends with only a slight sense of closure. Two other stories, “Carol’s garden” and “Streak of blue” deal with uncertainty, but here they end in comfort and possibility. All three of these stories represent the struggles of life, and it is important that they come from different angles. Variety is abundant in this collection, and many sides of lesbian existence are shown, even ones that are rarely acknowledged such as prostitution and female masturbation.

Surprisingly, history and legend also factor into a number of stories. The search for history is most notable in “Gardenias,” in which two young lesbians vacationing in Hawaii discover, with the help of an old lady named Eva, the belongings of a performer known as the great Wah Ta Ta. The great Wah Ta Ta was a remarkable woman who, as legend goes, was able to suck whole beer bottles into her vagina. Eva shows the two women some of the items she performed with, such as the emperor’s teacup and ivory and leather dildos. The two women end up using some of her items to have sex while Eva watches from afar. This account is reminiscent of Cheryl Dunye’s quest to find the Watermelon Woman since most of Dunye’s research is gathered from talking to other women and by finding historical artifacts. In both cases, fact and fiction are likely mixed, but the importance of the Watermelon Woman and the great Wah Ta Ta rests on the search for history and identity rather than truth. History and the handing down of knowledge is also important in another story, aptly named “Cunt cult.” Here, a community of lesbians exist to pass their knowledge of love-making down to younger lesbians. Initiation into the cunt cult community means acceptance into the community, but members are expected to spread knowledge rather than keep it amongst themselves.

Of course, “Cunt cult” isn’t the only story centered on sex; to some extent, all of these stories are. Despite this, even the smuttiest ones serve a purpose. None of them feel like filler stories, even though many are very pornograpic. This does not mean that they lack substance; in fact, the focus on pleasure is important because it is a portrayal of lesbian pleasure authored by lesbians for lesbians. “Siesta” and “Telefon” are two good examples of how pleasure is used not only to satisfy the reader but also to emphasize the joys of giving and receiving pleasure. “Siesta” is perhaps the closest to “classic” porn on levels of fantasy and submissiveness, but the narrator is still able to assert the importance of her own pleasure. On the other side, “Telefon” is about the joy of giving rather than receiving pleasure. Additionally, three stories in this collection are stories of sex on the job, titled “Cinema scope,” “Filth,” and “A working dyke’s dream.”

This emphasis on pleasure becomes an emphasis on sharing throughout the entire collection, whether it’s sharing of sex, love, knowledge, history, community, or a sense of belonging. So instead of watching the newest lesbian tragedy on Netflix, check out these and other stories in Afterglow, written by lesbians for lesbians.

Korea Queer Culture Festival

Korea Queer culture festival is the largest queer cultural festival in Korean and second largest in Asia. It first took place in the year 2000 and usually happens in late May to early June annually for about 15 days. Different year the event takes place at different locations throughout South Korea. Korea is a conservative country and many people see homosexuality as a foreign phenomenon. Homosexuality remains largely taboo in South Korean society and same-sex people are seldom seen in public. LGBT people in South Korea face discrimination that heterosexual people do not. However, unlike many similar events photography is limited in this event. This is done to minimize public exposure of LGBT people to avoid discrimination.

Even though there is no law against homosexuality in Korean history, homosexual couples and households are not entitled any legal protection from the government, unlike heterosexual people. Transgender people are allowed to have surgery to reassign their gender after age 20. People in dominantly religious country are more likely to reject the idea of homosexuality according to the Pew Research Center survey published in Washington Post. According to the survey 18% people in South Korea support homosexuality only. Homosexual people are often stigmatized and sometimes not classified as humans, as the country remains largely conservative on matters of sexuality. Political parties and most elected politicians of South Korea tend to avoid addressing LGBT rights issues except the Democratic Labor Party. The Democratic Party is the third largest political party and has a political panel known as ‘Sexual Minorities Committee.’ Their agenda includes discrimination against homosexual people and discrimination based on sexual preferences and equal rights for sexual minorities. I chose this event for my post because it shows even though Korea is a developed country but still the way people thinks is greatly influenced by religion and political influence. It relates to our class discussion of how politics and religion shapes a person’s view and on a much border scale a nation’s view. Military service is mandatory for all men Koreans. Active homosexual military members are categorized as ‘personality disorder’ or ‘behavior disability’ and honorably discharged. Korean Queer Culture festival receives no support from the government except the Democratic Labor Party.

The festival normally begins with opening events followed by a parade and after-party at club Pulse in Seoul’s Itaewon neighborhood, although celebrations continue in all LGBTQ clubs across the city People attending the event wear mask to avoid recognition on a website or newspaper for fear of reprisal by family, friends or co-workers. Demonstrators continue to disrupt the annual gay pride of South Korea where all gay and transgender Koreans meet together for a series of events and parades, recognized internationally as a gay pride month. The number of participants attending the event increased over time-but the increased visibility of LGBT supporters has also meant that the number of protestors also increased. Christian groups ran a campaign for weeks to try to block the parade. In May 2015, they camped out for weeks in front of the police station where parade organizers had to apply for permit and filed a counter request to hold the parade. Police initially ruled in favor of the anti-LGBT response committee, however a court ruled on June 2015 that the parade had to be allowed. The parade was banned in 2015 and this has attracted international attention to the event. This progressed LGBT rights in South Korea. Photography was banned in this event until 2010. The organizers issued no photography stickers, ribbons and bands. People who will allow photography will have to register or else faces will be blurred before publishing online.

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Largest counter-protests was organized by merging some of Korea’s largest Christian Church associations together as anti-LGBT response committee. The committee held a worship service across the street from the gay pride event and the committee was blasting sermons, hymns and prayers loudly enough to overwhelm the sound system of the event. Protestors held sign on their laps which says, “We pray for Korea not to be diseased/sick with homosexuality.” Girls performed ballet which resembles God’s angel and purity and to show what real beauty looks like. Some protestors laid down on the street to block the parade. But they were immediately removed and the parade went off without any major incidents.

korea-queerPictured, a demonstrator protested the 2014 Korea Queer Festival by holding a sign to obscure the view of the performance behind him

General awareness of homosexuality remains low among people in Korea because people are afraid if they come out, they will be face difficulty both in work place and among families. However there is increased awareness of homosexuality and gay-themed entertainment in the media can be seen now. According to a number of advocates for sexual minorities, two major issues are holding LGBT human rights- lack of awareness in society and strong opposition from the Christian Church.

Peaches’ Fatherfuckers

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Fatherfuckers is Canadian recording artist Peaches’ third studio album released in 2003. Peaches penned and programmed all of the songs for the album herself, most of which are rock-oriented. Fatherfuckers spent eight weeks on the U.S. Top Electronics Albums chart and sold 40,000 copies. To promote the album, Peaches opened for Marilyn Manson in Europe.

This album was huge for Peaches in expressing her bisexuality. Most of the songs on the album have to do with sex in some way, and the ones that don’t still often refer to her being interested in both genders. This is why I chose to include this artifact in our digital archive— it’s extremely expressive of queerness and bisexuality. The album cover also includes Peaches with a beard, which shows her openness to gender fluidity.

In the first track on the album, “I Don’t Give A…”, the music and lyrics are both very repetitive. The beat seems to mimic what Peaches is saying, which is basically just her repeating, “I don’t give a fuck” and “I don’t give a shit.” I think this makes the point that she’s resolved to be herself and not care what anyone else thinks of her. Peaches’ song “I’m The Kinda” is also very repetitive in both lyrics and beats. This seems to be a huge trend on her album that I believe she uses to express how determined she is to let everyone know who she is. Her foul language has a feminist tinge to it, which is relevant to our class topic of lesbian feminism.

In the song “Shake Yer Dix”, Peaches asks both males and females if they’re with her, and if they are they should “shake their dicks” and “shake their tits”, another clear display of her sexuality in a very sexually explicit way. This is another song where Peaches displays her determination to be herself and be accepted for it. A line in the song says, “I’ll be me and you be you.” The beat of this song is clean and soft, giving it a sensual feel.

The song “Stuff Me Up” is a very sexual song. It alternates between the phrases, “eat a big dick”, “eat a big clit”, and “why don’t you stuff me up?” Not only does this display Peaches’ bisexuality, it also expresses her sexual desire. Another extremely sexual song on this album is “Back It Up”. In this song, Peaches uses phrases like “I like to lick it and suck it” and “I like to tease it and tap it.” The beat and rhythm of this track is very sexual with heavy bass and echoing notes.

In “I U She”, Peaches alternates between saying “I you he together” and “I you she together”, clearly displaying her bisexuality. She then continues to repeatedly say, “I don’t have to make the choice. I like girls and I like boys.” This is the one place on her album where she explicitly states that she likes both boys and girls, in a sort of gay liberation. This reminded me of a discussion we had in class about how men used to sleep with both woman and men and still consider themselves straight. Although it does appear that Peaches identifies as bisexual, she emphasizes that she doesn’t have to make a choice. She then continues to talk about crops and whips, showing us that she likes to be with both males and females in a sexual way. This song really embodies the entire idea of the album in the way it shows both her sexuality and her desire to express and be heard.

Better Than Chocolate: A Lesbian Happily Ever After

Better Than Chocolate is a Canadian romantic comedy directed by Anne Wheeler. Released in 1999, the film was, and continues to be, ahead of the curve in its depictions of lesbian love, life, and community. The film follows the life of Maggie, a recent college dropout who works at a lesbian bookstore, Ten Percent Books, where she lives until she is forced to get a real apartment when her mom and brother move in with her. She also works as a dancer at The Cat’s Ass, a nearby lesbian nightclub. Maggie meets Kim, an artist living out of her van, the same day her mother calls, and Maggie invites her to move in with her as well. Most of the comedic action ensues in the first few days after Maggie’s mother Lila and brother Paul move into the apartment, as Maggie and Kim must navigate their new relationship in secret.

Throughout the film, Maggie has a variety of interactions with other lesbians and queer women, most notably Frances, her boss, who is occupied for much of the film with fighting customs for her confiscated books, and with fellow nightclub performer Judy Squires. Two romances play out during the film, one between Maggie and Kim, and another between Frances and Judy. In addition to the positive portrayal of lesbian love between Maggie and Kim, the film also provides a look at the acceptance and rejection Judy feels as a trans lesbian woman.

Unlike many of the sexualized depictions of lesbians in popular culture, Better Than Chocolate shows that sexual relationships between women are more than steamy sex. Maggie and Kim’s relationship is cute and sexy, not just sexualized, and they are not framed for the “male gaze,” rather, camera angles allow for a sense of privacy without being too far removed to show their intimacy. They do have sex their first night together, but despite their relationship moving along fast, their intimacy is realistic and loving. Not only do they laugh together, but they embrace the awkwardness of getting to know each other, both in and out of bed.

Maggie and Kim blend art, love, and sex on their first day together.

In order for Maggie and Kim’s relationship to work in the end, however, Maggie must be open to the world, specifically her mother, about her feelings for Kim. Ultimately, this is only possible because both characters, mother and daughter, grow during the course of the film. Lila is the one who finally brings the topic up and asks them what is going on, and at this point, she is ready to be open to her daughter. But when Maggie is unable to tell her mother that she loves Kim, the relationship is temporarily broken. Lila’s development is important, however, because it offers an alternative narrative in which a child’s homosexuality can actually bring a family closer together rather than tearing it apart. Lila is willing to open her eyes and accept Maggie’s sexuality and decisions, and the end of the film provides a moment of resolution for mother and daughter.

Even though it is ultimately resolved, this break in their relationship is hard on both Maggie and Kim, and both rely on Judy to vent their feelings and ask for advice and comfort. Judy also supports Lila, befriending her upon her arrival, out of concern for her loneliness. Rejected by her parents and habitually attacked and mocked by some patrons of The Cat’s Ass, Judy lives perhaps the loneliest life of any of them, and yet she never gives up or stops asking to be taken seriously. Even though Judy’s character is not played by a trans woman, her character is not treated as a joke; instead Judy is a character with depth. It is very important for her to distinguish herself from male drag artists, and more than anything she would like to be accepted as a woman and as a lesbian woman by other queer women. After all, she too has hopes and dreams and a desire to love and be loved. Also important is her refusal to forget her rage. She has no sympathy for her parents, and, as her performance at the club shows, no sympathy for those who disrespect her gender.

Judy and Frances find love.

Refreshingly, both relationships end happily. While many queer films culminate in tragic death or focus on loneliness, it is a tragedy that brings them together. In this way, the film provides a happy ending for these four characters while still being able to address issues of violence and hatred that comes both from society at large and from within the lesbian community. The positivity at the end of the film is a stark contrast to the life and death of Willa Cather’s Paul. Written more than 90 years before Better Than Chocolate was released, Paul, like Judy and to some extent Maggie, feels isolated and trapped, but instead of being exiled for their behavior, the two women are able to find love and acceptance. Maggie takes power into her own hands by deciding to protest book censorship and her own personal censorship of herself. Judy decides to be her authentic self and to lung into love. Hopefully this film will continue to shape more recent narratives into ones where this is possible.

Tipping the Velvet: The Lesbian Underground

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Tipping the Velvet is a historical fiction novel written by Sarah Waters, and published in 1998. I chose to review the three-episode film adaptation released in 2002.

The story takes place in Victorian England during the 1890s and follows the life of Nan Astley as she starts to recognize her sexuality. She falls madly in love with a woman named Kitty Butler who poses as a man in theatre. They develop a close and fun love that goes sour. Nan is shattered, leaves their apartment and tries to make a life of her own. She encounters numerous situations that leave her worse off than the last (there is not much a woman in the 1890’s can do as an independent) until she has nothing left to sustain her – injured, homeless, and hungry. She finds a woman from two years prior that she was developing feelings for, asks to stay with her, and they fall in love.

I chose to add this to the archive because throughout Nan’s entire experience, not much judgment is placed on her. There are few short scenes which do serve to show the overall intolerance of female-female sexual relations of that era. She was completely rejected by her sister after revealing her love for Kitty Butler. A prominent man in Kitty’s life dismissed the idea that women could have real sex together, saying, “You need a man for that, I think you’ll find.” highlighting the idea that penile-vaginal intercourse is the only proper, and legitimate, act of sexual behavior. In another scene, a few drunken men in an alley tried to attack Nan and her girlfriend after Nan stood up to their crude remarks.

It’s important to highlight, however; that while the story in Tipping the Velvet is a created history, Nan found social environments that supported her own identity. She frequented spaces that were comprised of women dressed like men and accompanied by their “wives.” She was in a relationship (though abusive) with a woman that heavily centered her life around this social environment.
I draw a relation between the underground scene in Tipping the Velvet to that of the gay world mentioned in George Chauncey’s introduction to Gay New York. Though same sex sexual relationships were heavily frowned upon, individuals who identified with those interests were able to create a thriving counterculture that suited their needs of expression, search for partners, and validation. They weren’t forced into feeling that they must completely shut themselves away in isolation because of the harsh judgments and regulations of the dominant culture – one of the three “myths” Chauncey introduces in his text.

(skip to 7:30 to see an example of social gatherings of the quest community, and to avoid spoilers)

Nan extensively challenged societal norms. She regularly passed as a man in her day-to-day life, or went on as a woman whenever she felt. While this idea ties into the concepts of gender (as we interpret it today), many people of the time would have labeled such a person an invert.  There are several mentions of the unnaturalness of the lives of women who love women. I think that the reverse gender presentation of many of the characters in the show highlight the idea that crossing gender boundaries is wrong, and contribute to thinking homosexual activity to be unnatural. Choosing to adorn oneself in men’s attire transgressed cultural expectations of females, and this sort of behavior was typical among the female homosexual community in Tipping the Velvet. Sigmund Freud (while his work appears later than the time of this story) considered inversion to be a deviation, but not innate – so essentially unnatural, and this show presents that idea.
The TV adaptation of Tipping the Velvet is a drama, based off of historical fiction, and produces a story of some seemingly unrealistic encounters. Yet, it offers a representation of the resilience of the female homosexual community, much like what is offered in George Chauncey’s true historical analysis of the gay male world in New York. Tipping the Velvet serves to create a history where one is lacking, and offers representation of a historical community to those that need one – the lesbian world.

Love Is Not A Choice: China’s LGBT Awareness Campaign

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Since the year 1997, China had associated homosexuality with “Hooliganism,” a term used to describe a disruptive or unlawful behavior. Until 2001, China believed that homosexuality was considered to be a mental disorder.  The Chinese government decided on a “Don’t support, don’t ban, don’t promote” type of policy.  Due to the government’s lack of response on homosexuality, many Chinese homosexuals feel enticed to participate in cooperative marriages which means a gay man will marry a lesbian women.  Also, many straight women end up marrying gay men because they fear other people’s opinions which is referred to as “tongqi.”  The Chinese have somewhat changed their opinions about how they view the LGBT community thanks to the attention the United States has been getting on the government’s support on gay marriage, although they still have a long way to go.  Also, the use of social media has helped calm down the negative thoughts of China due to many campaigns and interactions on these social media sights that show more support and have more people speaking on behalf of being part of the LGBT community. This is where China’s LGBT awareness campaign comes into play.

The campaign, “Love Is Not A Choice” was a collection of ads that showed same-sex couples in the comfort of their own home with the words: “Love is not a choice. We did not choose to be homosexual. We just are. Happily, the world is big enough for all of us.” This campaign also incorporated some ads showing a heterosexual couple with the words: “ We did not choose to be heterosexual.”  This campaign was posted all over social media for Valentine’s Day weekend.  Each ad shows some sort of interaction among the couple whether it is a man fixing his partners tie, a same-sex couple holding hands, or a same-sex couple leaning on each other and smiling.  The message these ads are trying to get across is they are living a happy life with their partner.  They are normal people who deserve to live a good, happy life without being frowned upon by others. 

This campaign was a very positive campaign in support of the LGBT community which greatly differs from Epstein’s views on homosexuality.  At an early age, Epstein was introduced to homosexuals in a pedophilic way.  He kept these views that homosexuals were sick people with twisted minds.  He mentions feelings of anger and thinking differently about homosexuals.  He has this idea that homosexuality is on the rise and may make the world one very dark place full of pain. Epstein is still not sure whether he thinks homosexuals are truly attracted to the same sex or simple running away from the opposite sex with the possibility of having a traditional lifestyle with them.  He believes that homosexuals are different from the rest of the world. He says nothing would sadden him more than if any one of his sons became homosexual.  Epstein fails to recognize that love is not a choice.  He fails to respect other differences.  He fails to see these homosexuals as human beings that deserve to live a happy life the way they want to live it.

http://www.theatlantic.com/china/archive/2013/08/tiptoeing-out-of-the-closet-the-history-and-future-of-lgbt-rights-in-china/278869/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/02/14/china-lgbt-rights_n_6681220.html

http://www.advocate.com/world/2015/02/15/valentines-day-ad-campaign-encourages-chinese-lgbts-come-out

http://www.theatlantic.com/china/archive/2013/08/tiptoeing-out-of-the-closet-the-history-and-future-of-lgbt-rights-in-china/278869/

Lesbians cool only for the summer?

Demi Lovato, popular singer and actress, has continued to stay in the public eye and influence teens for many years now. She got her start as a child on “Barney & Friends.” In 2008 and 2010, she became a Disney Channel star in the hit movies “Camp Rock” and “Camp Rock 2” with the Jonas Brothers. In 2009, she was given her own Disney show, “Sonny with a Chance.”

Her music career took off during that time, as well.  In 2008, she released her first album, “Don’t Forget,” which was very pop in genre. Her second album “Here We Go Again,” was released in 2009, and it appeared on the U.S. Billboard 200. It’s top track made the Billboard Hot 100 at number 15.

During 2010, her music and acting career took a hiatus due to mental health issues. She openly discussed  her issues with anorexia, bulimia, self-harm, and bipolar disorder. In early 2011, she entered a rehab facility for three months to undergo treatment for these issues.

Three months after her release from the treatment center, she told People magazine, “What’s important for me now is to help others.”

After overcoming her struggle with mental health, her music took a meaningful turn. With every song that she released, she encouraged self-confidence, acceptance, and strength. Her third album, “Unbroken,” addressed a lot of her personal mental health issues. The album’s emotional and powerful lead single, “Skyscraper,” was Lovato’s first top ten single.

In the midst of trying to destroy the negative mental health stigma in society, she also became an advocate for the LGBTQ community. On numerous occasions, she publicly spoke about supporting same-sex marriage.

Check out this video:

In 2014, she served as the Grand Marshal for LA Pride Week, where she filmed her music video for her single, “Really Don’t Care.”

Lovato at LA Pride 2014

Her newest album, “Confident,” was just recently released on October 16th. Similar to her other music after her recovery, it embodies self-confidence and acceptance.

“Confident” album cover

Billboard.com comments on the album: “Since her emancipation from the Disney Channel’s clutches, Demi Lovato has become one of pop’s leading motivational figures, wailing songs about self-empowerment and talking to Congress about destigmatizing mental illness.”

However, the release of the album’s first single, “Cool for the Summer,” received some backlash from critics and fans. The song doesn’t embody the same attitude of all her other music, which is being yourself and being proud of who you are

I am a fan of the song, and I really liked it when I first heard it on the radio this summer. At a first listen, I didn’t realize this song is actually about a lesbian relationship since it does not use any pronouns whatsoever.

Listening closely to the lyrics, however, it became very clear: “I’m a little curious, too,” “Got a taste for the cherry, I just need to take a bite,” and “Don’t be scared, ’cause I’m your body type.”

A song like this from Demi Lovato, a powerful advocate for the LGBTQ community, is not unexpected. However, overall message of the song threw me off, and I was not the only one.

The song is about a lesbian relationship, but it suggests that the relationship is not approved by society, and that it needs to be kept a secret.

She sings, “Shhh…Don’t tell your mother,” “We’re cool for the summer,” and “Just something that we wanna try.”

Overall, the song depicts a secretive, experimental lesbian relationship that isn’t very serious, and that it’s just “cool for the summer.”

Afterellen.com comments, “Certainly there are women whose interests align with “Cool For the Summer,” but when pop stars create hits about bisexuality being less serious or, you know, cool but just “for the summer,” it implies female/female relationships should be (or are) not on the same level of sincerity that a female/male romance might be.”

Being an ally of the LGBTQ community, Lovato would most likely disagree with this statement; however, the lyrics to her song suggest differently.

The issue with this song can be easily connected to a reading we recently did in class by George Chauncey, “Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World 1980-1940.” Chauncey introduces the myths of isolation, invisibility, and internalization. The myths of invisibility and internalization can be recognized in the lyrics of “Cool for the Summer.”

Chauncey states, “The myth of invisibility holds that, even if a gay world existed, it was kept invisible and thus remained difficult for isolated gay men to find” (3).

He also states, “The myth of internalization holds that gay men uncritically internalized the dominant culture’s view of them as sick, perverted, and immoral, and that their self-hatred led them to accept the policing of their lives rather than resist it” (Chauncey 4).

In the song, Lovato tells her female partner to keep the relationship quiet, especially from her mother. She fears that society will disapprove, so the relationship is kept invisible. She internalizes the fact that they will be judged negatively for participating in homosexual behavior.

Overall, this song does not align with what Demi Lovato claims to support. It sheds a negative light on lesbian relationships, and it supports hiding who you really are in fear of being criticized by society.

Fried Green Tomatoes

DVD Cover of Fried Green TomatoesOn January 24th, 1992, Universal Movie’s “Fried Green Tomatoes” opened in 673 movie theatres across the nation. Directed by Jon Avnet, the movie was a silver screen adaptation of Fannie Flagg’s 1987 novel, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café. While Flagg was (and still is) generally credited with writing the screenplay for the film, the director, Jon Avnet, actually composed the majority of the script.

To follow the narrative of “Fried Green Tomatoes”, one needs to understand that the movie is really the composite of two stories. Set in southern Alabama, the film vacillates between the present day (or, what was the present day in the early 90s) and the early 20th century. While visiting a member of the family at a nursing name, Evelyn Couch meets 82-year-old Ninny Threadgoode. Rather open with strangers, Ninny begins sharing with Evelyn the life of Idgie Threadgoode, a woman who grew up in Whistle Stop, a neighboring town, nearly sixty years ago. From there, the past begins to chronologically weave itself into the present, and Idgie’s world becomes just as real as Evelyn’s. From the death of her brother to train side cafes to cancer, the audience follows the cultivation of a relationship between Idgie and Ruth Jamison. As Evelyn learns more about these women’s lives, she is inspired to take charge of her own and concurrently develops a profound friendship with Ninny, the present-day Idgie.

Marketed as a tale of friendship and how it can transcend across time to unite mere strangers, the film (to this day) seems to be largely written off by the public as innocuous in content and significance. Anyone with a keen eye, however, can immediately recognize that Ruth and Idgie’s relationship can’t fully be conceptualized by heteronormative standards of female interaction.

Sprinkled throughout the film, there are subtle interactions between Ruth and Idgie that lend themselves to suggest something more between them. These range from word choices, to tonality, to facial expression, etc. In an earlier scene where honey is retrieved and shared, Idgie’s imploration for Ruth to taste the honey and the looks they exchange almost bespeak of allegorical sexual exchange. Later, when Ruth announces she’s getting married and then pecks Idgie on the cheek, Idgie looks off in what can only be described as wounded and confused.

After she is married, Ruth quickly becomes the victim of domestic violence and the first person she turns to is Idgie. She then moves in with Idgie and the two open a café together. It is also during this time that Ruth has a child and Idgie along with another female character, Sipsey, help her raise the boy. When Frank, Ruth’s husband, shows up vowing to bring his wife and child home, he also intimidates the household with his ties to the Klan. Subsequently following these threats, Ruth asks Idgie whether she should “move on” to let Idgie settle down. Without a beat, Idgie replies that she’s “as settled as [she’d] ever hope to be”.

After Frank is killed and Idgie is on trial for his murder, Ruth is called to testify. Upon being asked why she moved in with Idgie, she replies, “Because she’s my best friend and I love her”.

From my perspective, the Ruth-Idgie dyad is best understood in Rich’s terms “lesbian continuum” and “lesbian existence”. Ruth and Idgie do many things together without or with minimal assistance from men, particularly jointly living and working together (lesbian continuum). While evidence of sexual desire between the two women might be disputable in the eyes to some, we can say with certainty that they do lead a voluntarily chosen life together where men do not dictate their movements and where they are economically independent (lesbian existence).

Drawing on the erotic, I think one could argue that Ruth and Idgie derive a sense of personal fulfillment and satisfaction from each other. Before they began spending time with each other, each woman was constricted to some degree by a sense of powerlessness; Idgie perpetually grieving for her brother and Ruth checked by scripture and the expectations of her gender role. Once they truly embraced each other, however, those personal limitations melted away and they became unwilling to allow themselves to concede to that position of vacuous living ever again. And, while Ruth did suffer at the hands of her husband for three years, I’m not sure she would have ever left if it hadn’t been for the personal agency she cultivated in her relationship with Idgie. Indeed, Ruth and Idgie are truly women-identified women.

Pariah

Dee Rees’ 2011 award winning film Pariah   starring Adepero Oduye, Charles Parnell, and Kim Wayans   is about a young black girl accepting her lesbian identity. When the movie begins, Alike (Oduye) is shy and uncertain, but she slowly learns and comes to embrace all of herself.

Alike is a junior in high school whose only friend is the openly lesbian drop-out Laura (Pernell Walker). They hang out in lesbian clubs, in which Laura frequently pressures Alike to find a girl to have her first sexual experience with. Neither of Alike’s parents know about her sexuality, though her mother Audrey (Kim Wayans) has her     suspicions. Disapproving, Audrey forces Alike to wear more feminine clothes and spend less time with Laura. She pushes Alike to befriend Bina (Aasha Davis), a much more feminine girl from church.

Though their relationship starts out rocky, Alike and Bina grow to like each other. Their indifference becomes deep discussion about music and sharing their love for writing, while Laura slowly fades out of the picture. One night after a concert, they end up kissing. Because she has not had any previous experience, Alike is reluctant. But eventually she opens up and it is assumed that they sleep together. The next morning, Alike tries to discuss their relationship but Bina responds by saying they don’t have one. She says she’s not actually gay, just “doing her thing” and urges Alike not to tell anyone. Alike leaves abruptly and, once she gets home, cries her eyes out.

Alike wakes up to her parent fighting. Her mother is screaming about Alike being a dyke while her father Arthur (Charles Parnell) is consistently denying it. Eventually Alike gets involved and finally comes out to her parents. Her mother attacks her, the punches only stopping when Arthur pulls her off. Alike flees to Laura’s house.

Some time later Alike’s father finally comes to visit. He urges her to come home, saying that things will be different. Alike doesn’t acknowledge his statements, instead telling him that she got accepted into an early college program for writing. Alike leaves for California, unable to reconnect with her mother. The film ends with one of Alike’s poems.

Heartbreak opens onto the sunrise
For even breaking is opening
And I am broken
I’m open
Broken to the new light without pushing in
Open to the possibilities within, pushing out
See the love shine in through my cracks?
See the light shine out through me?
I  am broken
I am open
I am broken open
See the love light shining through me
Shining through my cracks
Through the gaps
My spirit takes journey
My spirit takes flight
Could not have risen otherwise
And I am not running
I’m choosing
Running is not a choice from the breaking
Breaking is freeing
Broken is freedom
I am not broken
I’m free.
This storyline definitely has parallels to the narratives of many LGBTQ+ community members, regardless of race, gender, or class. The trauma of being abandoned and seen as a freak by the people closest to you is not something new.
Judith Butler’s concept of gender performativity is prevalent throughout this film. Butler argues that gender is not something we have, but something that we continually act out. In the beginning of the film, we see Alike on the way home from the club. While she is still on the bus, she slips out of her baggy clothes and into something more fitted and feminine. Audrey buys and makes Alike wear girly clothing, despite her daughter’s protests. During the scene where Alike comes out to her parents, Audrey tells her husband that Alike is turning into a man. This is what really emphasized the performance of gender. It is not her daughters gender identity or even sex that determines whether or not she is a girl, but how she is acting. And baggy clothes are not something that girls wear. Audrey’s motivations for buying Alike the clothing are so that she will become a “true woman”, and true women are always heterosexual. Of course, Monique Wittig would say that Alike never was and never will be a woman, and somehow I think her mother would agree.