Where At Thou?
by Emily Almond
If they’re not dead, they’re evil. Why it’s hard to be a fanboy. Especially
when you’re a girl.
only television, right? It’s just a movie? When spurred on to answer
this question I realized that the potential of a medium for groundbreaking
storytelling is equal only to that of its power to break our hearts.
started asking myself this question many years ago, before I even
knew what I was asking. I was looking for something so rare and elusive
that I was not likely to be successful. I had no idea that what I
was looking for was so controversial and daring. I was looking for
a reflection of me.
grew up in a place that was geographically, socially and culturally
isolated. There was one library twenty minutes away and, when videos
were invented, the bait shop also became the video store.
looked around and saw no one like me. I knew women who were strong
in their ability to endure, to tolerate, to manipulate. These women
were not my role models. So I looked elsewhere.
first, I was looking for anyone who was strong. Superman, Wonder Woman.
Those were my first impressions of people who could really take care
of themselves. Then I wanted to see more ‘me.’ I read A Wrinkle
in Time and Ramona Quimby. Strong females indeed! But still,
they were barely teenagers.
even though I was barely a teen myself, I wanted to see the woman
I could be when I grew up. I wanted to read about women who kicked
ass. Who took control of their own lives.
was too young to articulate what I wanted and so was handed a copy
of Anne of Green Gables and told to go read in a corner. Smart
and sassy, Anne was great. Now, in historical context, I understand
how groundbreaking Anne was in her time. She talked back and stood
up for herself—big stuff! But to a ten year-old looking for a way
out, Anne sold out big time. Anne got married and became a teacher.
went to see Star Wars. Princess Leia talked back. She was sassy.
She was still the damsel in distress but she had an attitude. She
also carried a rifle. Getting closer.
Christmas, my brother was presented with what seemed to be the entire
Star Wars line of toys. I would amble over, inconspicuously
looking for a Princess Leia doll in the midst. Asked what I was doing,
I would reply, “just looking.” I did not find her.
then came Jaime Sommers, The Bionic Woman. Nirvana. Here was
a beautiful woman who kicked ass weekly! (When she wasn’t being chloroformed
or dating men who didn’t understand her.) For the first time, I was
seeing a woman fight. Really fight. She was flanked by three men in
brown polyester suits with bad hair and she took care of business.
Wham! Bionic punch. Swish! Bionic kick. And it was done. Bad guys
She did go back to her day job as a teacher (just like Anne) but when
her kids got out of hand, she just tore a phone book in half with
her bare hands and everyone started behaving double-quick.
loved her so much. In my head I replayed how she talked, walked, jumped,
ran, smiled. I didn’t know it but I had fallen in love.
So I made bionic running sounds as I ran to catch the bus and I lay
at night in my bed, staring at my poster of Jaime in her pro- tennis
days. I dreamed about how Jaime might need my help foiling an evil
super-spy ring. She might need me to be the cute kid decoy while she
went around back and caught them red-handed, doing something with
papers and money and briefcases while wearing plaid blazers. We would
go back to her townhouse after a long day’s work and have kool-aid
and sit by the fire. I would watch her run her hands through her hair
and she would ask me to be her partner. I would accept my badge and
gun gravely and tell her that I wouldn’t let her down. I didn’t know
it at the time, but I was one of the first fanboys. [Fangirls are
now just as common. Ed.]
I put together all of the equipment needed for a good long trip down
‘taking it way too seriously’ Street. I took our tape recorder (weight:
about twenty pounds; leatherette case; Kmart blank cassettes in a
three-pack) and dutifully recorded the sound from each episode as
it aired. I only had the one chance. There was no rewinding and watching
again. I had to commit as much to memory as possible on one viewing.
I would throw the tape recorder over my shoulder, get on my bike and
would be a part of the action as I pedaled. I made scrapbooks compiled
from clippings from Super Teen and Tiger Beat magazines.
I had to really scour the pages, though. Leif Garrett and Andy Gibb
were always on the cover and it took real digging to find the good
stuff. If it wasn’t worth buying the whole magazine I would sit in
the floor of the 7-11 and tear out the pictures and stuff them in
my pocket. I was not proud.
year, my brother received the Six Million Dollar Man line of
toys. Steve Austin came with a rocket ship and a science lab. I got
The Bionic Woman beauty salon. I didn’t recall Jaime ever visiting
a beauty salon on the show and was confused by this toy. Had I missed
an episode? Surely not. Further confusion resulted from the actual
Bionic Woman doll... she came with a purse. Inside it was a brush
and mirror. Where was her super-spy outfit?
was her sports car, her science lab? What was my takeaway here? The
message seemed to be to put priority on grooming.
slightly discouraged, I joined the fan club. I received my certificate
of membership, sticker, iron-on patch and glossy eight by eleven.
The photo sat on my dresser, in a black lacquer frame, until I was
almost twenty. First love never yields easily.
passed and The Bionic Woman was cancelled. Lindsay Wagner started
doing Danielle Steel television movies. I watched Laverne & Shirley.
I wanted them to stay home more and stop worrying about boys. They
had each other! What more could they want?
went to high school and experienced two very close female friendships.
I was called a ‘dyke’ and was bewildered. I couldn’t understand that
there was something other than the stereotypical butched-out, shit-kicking
dyke. I looked in the mirror and that wasn’t me.
I met someone. First love. I was overwhelmed by my desire to be near
her. We were in a relationship for six years, but we were both ‘straight.’
We didn’t know any lesbians and we didn’t see any lesbians on television
or in the movies. How were we to know that our relationship was OK?
That it was typical and just like countless others? And that it was
nothing to be ashamed of?
couldn’t have known this. We didn’t even know it was a relationship.
It looked nothing like anything we’d seen and, thus, we couldn’t define
it. I did know that she kicked ass just like Jaime. She talked back.
She stood up for herself. She stood up for me. She was Bionic in my
book. We watched Cagney & Lacey and went to see Fried Green
Tomatoes and Beaches. We were getting closer. But in C&L,
lesbianism was never addressed—they were just strong women—and the
movies? Well, as long as one of them dies, it’s OK to have a ‘romantic
lover and I split. She joined a church and got married. She was straight
after all. I got into a relationship with an out lesbian. We saw Thelma
and Louise seven times. The best yet! Oh yeah, except that they
I came out. I was in and out of relationships. I worked in gay-friendly
places and met many folks a lot like me. I identified with other women.
I commiserated and laughed and fell in love. It was an accelerated
I watched Star Trek: The Next Generation and fell in love with
Dr. Crusher. In the 24th century, she could almost bring herself to
love a woman, but not quite. So three hundred years in the future,
there are no gays in space. I wondered if there were entire gay planets
that they were just avoiding.
I watched The X-Files. Scully: pretty, smart, intense. She
didn’t cow-tow to smarty-pants Mulder either. And also, UFOs. Cool.
For date night I chose Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures.
Hot hot hot. And funny. Wait, they kill her mother. The price of lesbian
love at a young age, one supposes. I wondered if my date was thinking
about hitting my mother in the head with a brick. I decided not to
Then along came Xena: Warrior Princess. She kicked ass. And
was clearly in love with her little ‘sidekick.’ Now this was what
I was looking for. Strong, flawed, beautiful. And (drumroll here)
she didn’t apologize. She wasn’t punished. She wasn’t corrected. She
did a lot wrong and could be incredibly destructive. But her love
for Gabrielle never wavered and she never questioned its validity.
Although it was still subtextual, it was there for ‘us’ to see. We
threw parties where we taped the show and then played back ‘the moments’
in slow motion. You know what I mean: the look, the brush of a hand,
the peck on a cheek, the tear. Anything that illustrated the intensity
between these women was celebrated.
I learned to surf the Internet specifically so that I could pursue
my all-consuming desire for more Xena. I joined the International
Association of Xena Studies on the web, and nothing was ever the same.
The Internet provided a fan forum with no limits.
And I realized I had not been alone all those years ago with The
Bionic Woman. Everyone else had been making scrapbooks, except
now they were called websites. And tape recordings had become streaming
audio. Screencaps, video clips, original fan art—it was all there.
Not to mention fan fiction. I had been sure that I was the only person
writing original scripts besides the screenwriters themselves. Not
so. Between the message boards, fan forums and fan fiction archives,
one could truly become a full-time fan.
I still watched The X-Files, but Scully started making goo-goo
eyes at Mulder. Damn.
got out of destructive relationships and committed to a life-partner
who was everything I ever wanted or needed. We are still making a
life together and, after six years, have barely scratched the surface
of what we might be together.
My partner and I saw Go Fish and Claire of the Moon.
I told myself, “Watch for the sex, not the story. Watch for the sex,
not the story.” In the theater we were surrounded by deprived lesbians—virtual
thickets of women looking for anything that resembled their lives
being reflected back to them off of the magic silver screen. We watched
for the sex.
We started watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Witty, cool,
Buffy kicked major ass
with a smart mouth and even smarter outfits. We loved it. It wasn’t
‘us,’ but it was cool. And Willow the witch was so cute. We liked
to think that we were kind of like her way back when.
We rented apartments and got jobs and got better jobs and took vacations
and talked about having babies. We hung out with our friends, started
exercising and went to therapy. We wrote and drew and went to graduate
We went to see High Art. Good! Oh wait, she dies. We rented
the Northern Exposure episode with Cicely and Roslyn. Good!
Oh wait, she dies. We rented Bound. Cool! And while we were
not grifters and con-people ourselves, we appreciated that these particular
grifters and con-people were indeed lesbians.
then, oh my god, who is that on Buffy the Vampire Slayer? She’s
so cute. Are they going to make Willow a lesbian? The blowing out
of a candle makes it official. Willow and Tara are together. Off camera,
out of range, mostly implied, but together. No subtext. And weekly.
I go to a lesbian bar to watch the series finale of Xena. Hundreds
of lesbians have gathered once more to pay homage to Xena: Warrior
Princess. With bated breath, they hold each other in the dark,
waiting, waiting. Waiting for the kiss, for the declaration, for the
summation of their energetic, financial and undying devotion to this
mythology of true love. Oh, and Xena dies. After six years of death
and resurrection, the Xena mythology is capped off with a permanent
sacrifice for the greater good. Gabrielle is sailing the seven seas
talking to Xena’s spirit and taking care of herself. Everyone goes
move to a better neighborhood, buy a better car, get promotions and
rescue a kitten. We become aunts and still discuss having babies.
We think about moving to a city where we might feel less threatened
should we actually start this family we talk about.
We rejoice weekly in the most honest, open and sweet lesbian relationship
we’ve ever seen in the media: Willow and Tara. We download pictures
and read reviews and visit the Buffy Boards on the web daily.
Willow and Tara love each other fiercely and smartly. The way we love
each other. And they don’t apologize. I love Buffy for bringing a
life-long dream to reality—a reflection of me. I see me in them. I
see my friends. I see my lover. We are in the world and it’s OK and
we belong. We are a part of the family.
The show moves to a different network and now what, they’re kissing?
In front of us? For all the world to see? It can’t get any better.
Time goes by. We love them. They love each other. They break up. It’s
OK, they’ll get back together. No one on Buffy is happy for
long. They are just like everyone else, so they have to go through
see Kissing Jessica Stein. It’s cute cute cute! And funny,
contemporary and true to life. Oh, but Jessica is really straight.
She was just experimenting.
I teach myself to do web design, how to FTP, network and maximize
time on video downloads. My teachers? People on Buffy boards.
I get a promotion at work. Thanks Buffy!
I go to a software conference and take my laptop so that I can download
Buffy. I’ve heard there was a kiss and I don’t want to miss
it. I spend two and a half hours downloading a twelve second kiss.
It is worth every minute.
They get back together. Then they kiss. And kiss and kiss and kiss.
Next week, sounds of sex, post-sex glow, more kisses, more glow and
even more kisses. Then Tara dies. Shot in the chest. Willow wants
talk to our friends and we laugh at how sad we are. We watch Buffy
now, telling ourselves that we will hold out hope that they are not
doing what we know they are doing.
We tell ourselves we just have to create our own reflections. It’s
up to us, to tell the story we want to hear and to make the story
we want to see. We are spurred on in our creative and professional
pursuits, with a new dedication to undo what we’ve seen done.
But privately, what I’m really thinking is that I want my money back.
I want a refund, a full and unconditional promise of compensatory
damages for havoc wreaked. I don’t want to have invested what I have
in this story. I don’t want to believe what they are telling me. I
don’t want to hear the moral of this story. I don’t want this, in
the end, to be the summation. But it is. It’s back to the beginning.
Bad lesbians. Bad girls.
And it’s hard to move on. It’s hard to realize that I can’t quit being
a fan. It’s part of who I am. Because, in the end, my job as a fan
is to seek, reveal and celebrate that which I deem worthy. And for
every disappointment, wrong turn or story line that didn’t live up
to its potential, there’s another on the way. And that one might be
done right. And that one might be written by me.