Lesbians 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.

It’s 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.

I 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.

I 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.
I 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.

At 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.
And 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.
I 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.

I 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.
That 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.

And 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 dispensed.
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.
I 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 ride.
I 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.
That 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?
Where was her sports car, her science lab? What was my takeaway here? The message seemed to be to put priority on grooming.

Only 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.

Time 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?
I 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.

Then 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?

We 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 friendship.’
My 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 both died.
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 adolescence/early adulthood.
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 ask.

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.

I 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 drawn by Kyan Wingass 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 school.
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.

And 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 home.

We 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 the wringer.

We 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 revenge.

We 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.

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