Here’s what lesbian sex in media not created by lesbians (or sapphics, or any terms you want to use for people who are not women who are attracted to people who are not women: I include non-binary lesbians in the definition) looks like: it’s charmless porn made by and for straight men, or it’s some peculiar attempt to be respectful of or an ally to lesbians, but where the result is nevertheless joyless, charmless, and stilted. Men (of all orientations, I’m afraid) are guilty of one or both but it shouldn’t surprise anyone that women who don’t experience attraction are pretty bad at it too. Cis women exclusively attracted to men are often deeply, deathly insecure of their heterosexuality. They feel ashamed by it because being attracted to men embarrasses them but they’re nevertheless utterly attached to the notion, and they are frightened of being perceived as other — hence demands for their partners to be taller than them, good with fixing cars, earning more than them, whatever else imaginary factors they come up with. And they are scared they might be thought of as lesbians: ‘I kissed a girl and I liked it […] You’re my experimental game’ is the Katy Perry anthem for that specific phenomenon of straight women seeking a thrill by kissing a girl (usually with their male partners as audience).
So it’s no surprise to me when I read lesbian characters written by straight women that the result is often so dead: perfunctory, emotionless, clinical. Of course some straight women think they’re doing us a favor and being allies, but that doesn’t make their abortive efforts to model lesbian attraction any less robotic. And then there’s the respectful men who, bless them, try but produce sex scenes that are so bizarrely and incoherently written that it’s hard to tell what is going on because in a bid to be so respectful, no body parts (not even limbs!) are mentioned at all.
It’s filtered through heterosexual or male lenses one way or another, about as titillating as mowing grass. It feels wrong, wooden, unsatisfying. I’m being served inferior pap and I can tell.
I’ve been writing sex, or about sex, quite a lot.
And Shall Machines Surrender is my most sexually graphic book to date, and the connected short story ‘Where Machines Run With Gold’ my most densely sexual short story: a perilous game of seduction and electric copulation. ‘Then Will the Sun Rise Alabaster’ has non-graphic sex, but the idea of it — and eventually the act — charges the entire story: the protagonist, a repressed nun, finds comfort both sensual and theological in the arms of a butch warlord (disguised as an assassin priest) and her femme wife (disguised as a nun). Mirrorstrike again features sex: two scenes, each very different from the other, both explicit and both charged with the question of power. You are not going to doubt that these characters possess libidos. There is no ambiguity.
My heart beats and beats, lead in my chest. It’s an exhilarating thought to know that nothing I say could matter. If such a thing were possible, I’d be sorely tempted to build a time machine to go before people of the past and say, “Let us dykes fucking rut.”
We’re all part god, born raging. Let us who wish to be soothed by this intimacy be soothed by it.
— ‘St. Juju’, Rivers Solomon
My other source of discontent with lesbian sex as depicted and written about by people who are not lesbians is that lesbian sex is treated as not real, not valid: it is a phase. Sometimes in anime and manga lesbian subtext comes up but is kept to hand-holding, to plausible deniability — the idea is that lesbians are so pure we just stick to holding hands. To circle back to Valens’ Blood Pact, which is larger than life and proud of it, there’s value in written lesbian sex being raw and explicit and charged. It’s written honestly and earnestly, and a world of difference lies between this kinky succubus sex and in the aforementioned lesbian sex written by a man that is not offensive exactly but so bland and anemic it doesn’t have anything to do with the body or the libido at all — sexless, alienating, unintentionally hilarious.
Of course there are asexual lesbians, lesbians with varying libido, or who simply prefer little to no sexual content in what they read; I’m just not one of them and I’m speaking from the perspective of me. For me I want lesbian desire to be as normalized across the pages and spines and covers as the heterosexual one — I want it to appear in erotica, in science fiction and fantasy, in noir, in general fiction, in fabulist fiction, in everything. I want it to appear for the purposes of titillation, or for characterization, or for metaphor (the same way the heterosexual counterpart is) and for plot. I want parity.
One sex scene at a time. We’ll get it, too.