There are very few queer women in mainstream media. And usually when we do exist, we tend to get unhappy endings or wind up dead somehow. Thus “shipping” was born, also known as “slash” or “femslash” in fandom circles. While this may seem like a relatively new fangirl hobby that has only existed since the internet, the existence of Queer Theory disproves that.
The truth is, queer folks have been projecting ourselves and our relationships onto seemingly straight relationships for as long as there have been books, television, or movies. But before I get into why these ships are awesome, I want to talk about hetero and cissexual assumptions. Whenever the conversation of femslash comes up, inevitably there will be at least one hetcis fan who cries out “But they can’t be queer! Because reasons!”
Look dude (or dudette), just about any “reason” you can come up with for why a fictional character is hetcis, a queer person has experienced before. I’ve met a cis woman who dealt with transphobic slurs in middle school, just like I did. I have explicitly told a queer person who came on to me in high school, “No way, I’m straight!” only to later swallow my words when I grew up. I have adamantly denied my true identities on multiple occasions of my life. I’ve dated men and women while I perceived as male or female. Are you picking up what I’m throwing down yet?
The sexuality or gender identity of a fictional character is not the same as the sexuality or gender identity of an actual human being. Real humans’ identities are innate parts of who they are and should be respected whenever they inform you. Fictional characters’ identities are almost never explicitly stated unless they are queer (such as Dumbledore being gay). This is a product of the (mostly cis and het) writers who created them. In our heteronormative society, characters are considered to be straight and cis until “proven” queer because hetcis identities are seen as “normal”. Not only is this a shitty attitude to have, but it leads to stereotyping and the erasure of less-than-obvious identities like bisexual folks in hetero relationships or trans folks who are granted cis privilege (both of which apply to me, so I tend to get a little touchy about this sort of thing).
Making a character queer doesn’t change anything fundamental about the character. And if you think that’s true, you must have some unhealthy ideas about who queer people are, what we’re capable of doing, and what kinds of stories we’re allowed to be in. So get over yourself, and have a sense of humor about your fandom. After all, it’s just a show/comic/video game.
1. Adventure Time – Bubbeline
I adore the Marceline and Princess Bubblegum ship. Hell, I went out with a girl once (almost) solely based on her tattoo of Maceline and PB gettin’ it on. The episode What Was Missing is particularly interesting, as PB’s most treasured possession is a shirt of Marceline’s that she wears to bed every night. And Marceline’s song “I’m Just Your Problem” reads like the standard Either-come-out-or-I’m-done-with-you dyke drama that many of us are all-too-familiar with. Frankly, I think they’d be a good match because they can balance one another out. Princess Bubblegum can be a little too high-strung for her own good, so Marcie would be great at getting her to cut loose and have fun. And Marceline strikes me as someone who needs some affection and structure in her life, so PB would be great for that. And thanks co-writer Jesse Moynihan, Bubbeline is practically, if not explicitly, canon.
2. Batman – Harley and Ivy
Let’s face it, Harley Quinn and Joker are not a healthy relationship. He’s abusive, he takes advantage of her, he blames her for all of his failures, and is constantly kicking her out and taking her back. But then, Bruce Timm gave us Harley and Ivy, and the hope for Harley Quinn to be in a healthy and productive relationship (and one of comic book’s more popular ships) was born! There are several obvious nods to Thelma & Louise in their relationship. But in the Gotham Universe, “Let’s keep going” doesn’t result in them dying rather than give in to patriarchy. Because nobody really dies in comic books. They make a much better team than either of them alone, and each of them build up the self-esteem of the other, as all healthy relationships should. Not to mention, Ivy gave Harley a serum to make her immune to her own and several other poisons, so there is no mind control or anything else non-consensual going on here. Bruce Timm and Paul Dini seem to love the Harley and Ivy ship as much as we do, and they’re Harley’s creators, so that practically makes it canon. The only thing that makes me uncomfortable about this ship is there is so much Male Gaze to put up with. It almost takes all the fun out of it. But as long as I just watch the animated series and read the comics while avoiding the fan community entirely, I can still be happy.
3. Daria – Daria and Jane
Dirty Nerdy and I have already professed our love for the Daria/Jane ship on the show, but that’s no reason why I can’t write about it while sober. First, let’s get the obvious objection out of the way: Jane’s interaction with the predatory bisexual woman (grr, stereotypes) in Is It Fall Yet? Yeah, Jane explicitly states that she’s straight. But so have Dirty Nerdy and I when we weren’t ready to come out yet, so let’s not let that stop our fun. Besides, given that Daria and Jane are a high school kids in the 90s, it’s pretty unlikely for them to be out to themselves or anyone yet. All that being said, Daria and Jane are already the best relationship each of them have in their lives. Hell, their friendship even survived the betrayal of that whole Tom mess. They’re freakin’ friends, but hopefully they’ll be freakin’ girlfriends once they get to college. At least, that’s our epilogue.
4. Firefly – Kaylee and Inara
We already know that Inara is bisexual from the War Stories episode, and Kaylee hasn’t been shy about enjoying sex since she met Captain Mal in the middle of tryst. So it’s not surprising the two women who are open and unashamed about their sex lives would hit it off and become friends. Inara is sweet on Kaylee, telling her fun stories about her clients and playing with her hair. Which is great, because Kaylee’s kind of a tomboy in the “I like being pretty but I don’t have the time nor the job to do it” kind of way. And Kaylee is completely nonjudgmental about Inara’s life as a sex worker. When Inara goes off to see a client, Kaylee just wishes her, “Have good sex!” So there’s zero jealousy too, so I imagine them having a FWB relationship. Given that Kaylee is carrying a torch for the dense doctor, this helps deal with sexual tension until Inara leaves the ship. Hence why Kaylee is so frustrated by the end of Serenity. Inara keeps her happy while she waits for Simon to wise up, and Kaylee gives Inara a healthy sexual relationship that isn’t about “owning” her. It’s a win-win.
5. Parks and Recreation – Leslie and Ann
Confession: I don’t really ship Leslie and Ann, but only because the Leslie and Ben ship is equally adorable. I know, I know, damn bisexuals screw everything up. But I can totally make the argument that Leslie and Ann are a ship. Except, I don’t have to make the argument, because even the actresses who play them joke about it. Regardless of the nature of their relationship, Leslie and Ann have a great one. They support one another, they don’t judge, and they’re unapologetically feminist. Or at least, Leslie is. Leslie’s over-the-top Type A personality gives Ann a kick in the butt to get things done. And Ann’s “how about we calm down and rejoin reality” personality keeps Leslie grounded. Together, they get amazing things done. And it’s awesome to see women building each other up instead of tearing each other down. Whether they’re sexually involved or not, makes no difference to me.
6. Tomb Raider – Lara and Sam
I don’t care about the history of sexism and Male Gaze and other men-ruin-everything* shit that Lara Croft has gone through. She’s the first female character I remember playing in a video game and she will always have a special place for my heart. Which is why I was so glad that the latest incarnation got rid of the oversized breasts and focused on a good story with good gameplay. And to top it all off, you get to rescue your girlfriend, Sam. The cutscenes between Lara and Sam are freakin’ adorable, and Lara pushes herself much harder to rescue Sam than she does for any of the other shipmates. Plus anything that turns the “damsel in distress” trope on its head in a clever way is always welcomed by me. Although the game doesn’t spell it out, it’s as “official” as the writer was allowed to make it. But in a way, I’m glad that it was subtext and not overt, because it helps avoid a lot of that creepy men-ruin-everything* shit that I mentioned earlier. I’m not saying that it doesn’t exist, but it could have been a hell of a lot worse had they come right out and said, “Yeah, Lara and Sam are lesbians.”
*Yeah, I get it. “Not all men“. Please restrain yourself from stating the obvious.
Damn! I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface but this post is already getting super long. Consider this Part 1 of a series, my Shethinkers. ;-)
What are your favorite queer ships? Post about them below or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Bonus! Mystique is Trans
When little preteen Dori started putting together the obvious queer subtext of X-men, it didn’t take her long to realize that Mystique’s mutation was what every trans girl wished for. It seems like most (if not all) mutant’s origin stories involve dealing with a traumatic event during puberty, when mutations manifest in a kick-ass-but-problematic-way. Then a bald dude shows up at your house, tells you there’s a whole school full of weirdos just like you, and then whisks you away to a place of acceptance. Basically the ultimate fantasy for every kid who know they were “different” but had not yet figured out they were queer. So at various traumatic points in my adolescence I thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if I could just change my body at will and disappear?” And for me, that’s exactly how Mystique got her powers to shapeshift.
I don’t care what has been revealed about her past, and I don’t care what she looks like when her powers are taken away in X-Men 3 (besides, do we really want to acknowledge the existence of that movie?), to me Mystique will always be a trans woman. At the very least she’s a transgender/gender-variant character of some kind, because she’s constantly changing genders and appearance to suit how she feels or for the enjoyment of her lovers (I have similar thoughts about Tonks from Harry Potter for similar reasons). And if you don’t think that’s all kinds of awesome, you can get out of my face.