This is a post in response to a conversation started by aceadmiral about what gets read as desexualization and what gets read as asexuality in regards to w/w relationships.
- “the space [for w/w representation] is far smaller than for m/m representation, which exacerbates problems”
- “There does not seem to be room for people to think about relationships like mine, which may or may not be normally romantic, are definitely sexless, but are also primary and very much outside heteronormative assumptions”
- “This isn’t about being accused of lesbophobia; this is about being defined as inherently lesbophobic”
- “I think this shows that people are fighting over the table scraps of representation”
- “Also, in my experience, this tension doesn’t show up with explicit ace representation like we’ve been seeing more of in webcomics – it comes up when people talk about fictional and/or historical characters who are more ambiguous.”
[Side note: I’m confused by Ryan’s implication that interpreting a character as a homoromantic asexual is mutually exclusive with saying the character is gay, and I don’t think the distinction between queerbaiting and ace representation is as blurry as Sennkestra made it sound, because my understanding of queerbaiting has less to do with “is there sex or not?” and more “are potentially homoerotic readings set up for the specific purpose of being disavowed and mocked?” (then again, in the Dragon Age fandom I remember there being some good discussion of this re: Leliana’s dialogue in DA:I).]
I suppose it would be easy to brush this off as yet another case of people assuming “nonsexual relationships are less important and meaningful than sexual relationships.” And, yeah, I’m sure that’s something that people are bringing to the conversation. But when this happens in the context of wlw issues, I think there’s more going on than that.
It’s the heterosexual motivation for interpreting a woman-woman pair as “gal pals” to make room for the possibility of (romantic) relationships with men taking precedence. It’s the reasoning behind assuming that lesbians date women as a fallback because they couldn’t get a man. It’s the broad criteria that classes affection between women as “normal” and nondeviant unless, like in the case of N., they have sex and thus “prove” it’s a relationship set apart from everyday nonromantic friendship. Even then, it’s the enthusiasm of straight men saying “girl on girl is hot” because that part is just supposed to be foreplay to the real action. It’s the wlw anxiety that their girlfriends will leave them for a man, in a culture that tells them at every turn that relationships with men are more worthwhile.
It’s the fact that, across the board, women are expected to prioritize men over other women. And that’s an issue that just doesn’t apply in the same way to men (“bros before hos”).
This thing which I’ve seen called “lesbophobia”* isn’t just a matter of denying/demonizing/delegitimizing romantic/sexual attraction between women. That’s just the first half. The other half is attacking lesbians for not being interested in men. Which is why you’d think there’d be a natural alliance between aro/ace women and lesbians, but, uh, I guess bickering over the q-slur is more important.
*It’s very much a thing, but I have qualms about the medical/nonmoral connotations of the phobia suffix, and I haven’t seen any alternative terms coined and used by lesbians.
Incidentally, having been primed, among other things, by very specific rhetoric around this subject, it’s actually bizarre to me that there are WLW who celebrate the relationship between Ruth and Naomi as “q***r” on the basis that they express strong committed love for each other, which is pretty cool (although, I really don’t want to read their relationship as romantic/sexual, specifically, because we can assume Naomi was old enough to be Ruth’s mother). It really is a noteworthy passage, if you think about the fact that Ruth does eventually marry a man again & have a son with him and it’s treated like a minor sideplot next to the centerpiece of Ruth and Naomi’s love.
I forget where I was going with this.
But I think… part of what’s going on, in discussions of what’s sexual and what’s not and what’s romantic and what’s not, when it comes to w/w relationships, is an unspoken assumption of what it would take to disavow a Phantom Hypothetical Man taking priority… and an assumption that the “type” of relationship (romantic/sexual or not) is the difference between Women Actually Prioritizing Each Other First and… as Sciatrix put it, just “hanging on and waiting for the right man to show up.”
Which makes the story of Ruth and Naomi an interesting example of how that doesn’t have to be true at all — regardless of whether they “experienced same-gender attraction” or not.