Writing F/F

This is a a quick post taking inventory, inspired by the realization that “My Body is a Haunted House” looks like my first explicitly F/F story to be published. It’s not the first one I’ve written, though, nor the only one in the publishing pipeline; and it’s far from the only time I’ve explored my experience as a queer woman in writing.

Le Sommeil or “The Sleepers,” by Gustave Courbet–an inspiration for my short piece, “Her Perfume”

That said, experience and writing are two very different things (and what I write–in any pairing–often stems from my dreams, hopes, or fantasies more than experience). I feel like I’m still figuring out how to write F/F stories–which means lots of voracious reading. I figure you can’t go wrong with voracious reading.

Actually, before I was able to build up a reading list of lesbian and bisexual fiction–a lot of my reading material comes from a small town library, where even getting a copy of Nevada Barr’s Bittersweet felt like a victory*–one source of F/F inspiration was from reading books that were obliviously, agonizingly heterosexual. Not in the sense that there’s a man and a woman together (I talk more about that later) but where the narrative is adamant that there’s a MAN for every WOMAN, except when there’s one man for TWO women, but not in a sweet consensual poly relationship sense, more in the sense of bitter jealousy between her and that other b***h.

(Note to self: write more sweet consensual poly relationships, since, speaking of experience… *blows kiss to those who know who they are*).

I’ve talked about how “Bitterness of Flesh” was inspired by a jealousy narrative. While “Bitterness” is very much about a woman in love with another woman, the two of them are never able to directly interact because of the story’s premise. I still enjoyed the chance to write a bisexual heroine, but I wouldn’t tag it as F/F because I wouldn’t want to disappoint readers looking for a much more physical connection.

My Body is a Haunted House” takes a similar trope from “Bitterness”–two women who have both been married to the same man–but decides to fridge the man instead (sorry, Nick, thanks for playing), and one of the women has since come out as a lesbian. Instead of jealousy, they find a different source of intimate connection in shared grief and somewhat atypical family ties.

In my other F/F pieces, relationships with men aren’t discussed. They can be an important part of a queer woman’s narrative (they are in my own), but they’re certainly not universal or mandatory. “Her Perfume” is a flash piece on Bright Desire’s website [note: link has some NSFW pics & video]–and actually, when I look again at the update’s timestamp, “Perfume” gets to be my first explicitly F/F story to be published!

“Annunciation,” forthcoming in Mofo’s Sacrilege anthology, is about desiring another woman and finding narratives for loving women within the iconography of the Catholic Church. As she comes of age, the narrator is also examining gender and if she really wants one/has one/fits within gender as a structure, but decides to keep identifying as a woman at least for the time being over the course of the story (this is one of the semi-autobiographical aspects).

Speaking briefly of gender, “Phone Call, 3 a.m.” is one of several stories I’ve written where the narrator’s gender isn’t explicit (and reviewers have seemed to have read it in different ways, both F/M and F/F). I enjoy the ability to project the narrative differently depending on interpretation, or to avoid projection and examine how that affects my reading/writing and assumptions. This was partially inspired by Jeanette Winterson’s Written on the Body , which will change how you read books forever (though I remember now how I used to imagine different genders for some characters in books I read–I liked Gandalf a lot more as a woman wizard, for instance. And a few of the characters whose genders I rewrote–re-read?–this way also had women as love interests, though maybe I was repressed enough at this point in my life that I didn’t even realize what I was doing).

Anne Garreta’s Oulipo novel Sphinx just landed on my bookshelf. With its lack of gender roles or stereotypes, and the freedom to identify with either character in any number of ways, it is a complete breath of fresh air. Both Winterson and Garreta have written other novels with explicitly lesbian and bisexual women as protagonists, and those come highly recommended, too.

(Some reviews of Written on the Body call it a lesbian novel**, and I hope the “no explicit gender for the narrator” interpretation I fell in love with didn’t arise because of heteronormativity. However, it’s written in a notably different style than Winterson’s other books–when her narrator is a woman in love with women, she’s not secretive about it–and she has, in books like The Passion and The Powerbook, included scenes that play with gender presentation and fluidity. Meanwhile, even if you do interpret Written’s  narrator as a man, you’re still confronted with “his” bisexuality when past partners are mentioned.)

Both stories with F/F and unmarked gender are among my pieces being shopped around at the time I write this post, and I expect to produce more of both in the future.

I also have a number of F/M stories in which the heroine is bisexual (or asexual and biromantic, or where the hero is bi). For me as a bisexual reader, these stories serve an important role. Some publishers will only call books “bisexual” if the character has a relationship with both a man and a woman over the course of the story (nonbinary people rarely are acknowledged in these conversations). But bisexuality, like any orientation, is something represented by characters, not by pairings. A bi woman is bi whether she’s with a woman, a man, a nonbinary person, multiple people at once, or nobody at all. I enjoy reading stories about virtually any pairing, but when I read F/M and the heroine laughs at the idea of being attracted to another woman, it feels isolating. Meanwhile, I’ve created a Goodreads shelf to keep track of F/M stories that do acknowledge a character’s bisexuality.

Lastly, I’ve written a lot of F/F over the past two years in the form of femslash fanfiction. I’m especially proud of my takes on some public domain works: one-shots shipping ladies in Shakespearian tragedies, and a fix-it happy ending to Elizabeth Gaskell’s The Grey Woman.

So that’s where I’m at now in terms of F/F pairings and other explorations of queerness and gender. This certainly isn’t the only way to write about any of these topics, but the process has been interesting and rewarding for me, and I hope you as a reader also find something to enjoy and intrigue here. Thank you for reading!

*At least until I read it. God, people aren’t kidding about the tragic lesbian tropes! It was also noticeable to me, as an erotic writer, that it’s nearly impossible to tell when a sexual relationship ever starts between the two heroines. The whole thing was a real wake-up call for how difficult it was to publish happy, sexually involved F/F in the past (though I’ve found some great titles from small presses that managed it), and spurred me to be a lot of involved in building up my sapphic reading list.

**It appears Written has drawn criticism from another group of readers disappointed that it isn’t an “out” lesbian novel. Since I’ve bound both out, happy, and explicit lesbian or bisexual novels and novels with unmarked gender to be as rare as they are wonderful, I sympathize, while being personally glad that Written is its own unique thing.