Friday, 9 August 2013

Article: Lee-"Unshelter Me": The Emerging Fictional Adolescent Lesbian


"Unshelter Me": The Emerging Fictional Adolescent Lesbian

Vanessa Wayne Lee

Vanessa Wayne Lee. ""Unshelter Me": The Emerging Fictional Adolescent Lesbian." Children's Literature Association Quarterly 23.3 (1998): 152-159. Project MUSE. Web. 9 Aug. 2013. <http://muse.jhu.edu/>.

Terry Castle opens the fourth chapter of The Apparitional Lesbian: Female Homosexuality and Modern Culture with a discussion of how fictional representations of lesbianism have progressed from inconceivability to undertheorized reality (67). The point of contention for theorists, according to Castle, is determining what "lesbian fiction" is: who or what is represented and by whom? (67). Castle's theory of lesbian counterplotting offers a means for recognizing and evaluating adolescent lesbian fiction. This counterplot is an inversion of what Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick sees as a triangle of male homosocial desire that connects male-female-male: "the bonding 'between' two men through, around, or over the body and soul of a woman" (68). According to Castle, the lesbian counterplot successfully subverts this triangle to depict "a female-male-female triangle, in which one of the male terms from the original triangle now occupies the in between or subjugated position of the mediator" (72, 74). The state of the counterplotting at the end of a novel determines whether it can be categorized as euphoric or dysphoric. If the female subversion maintains dominance through the end of a novel, Castle describes the counterplot as euphoric, but if the traditional male plot takes over, the novel is dysphoric.

The lesbian novel of adolescence is part of Castle's dichotomy of probable lesbian plots, the other category being "novels of postmarital experience" (85). She claims that "the lesbian novel of adolescence is almost always dysphoric in tendency" (85). The texts that she specifies are texts written for and read primarily by adults: Dorothy Strachey's Olivia (1949), Jeanette Winterson's Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1985), Antonia White's Frost in May (1933), and Christa Winsloe's The Child Manuela (1933). But while a close look at texts on lesbian themes written both about and for adolescents reveals plenty of dysphoric counterplots—such as Rosa Guy's Ruby (1976), which "depicts female homosexual desire as a finite phenomenon . . . a temporary phase in a larger pattern of heterosexual Bildung" (Castle 85)—it also reveals several euphoric counterplots that defy Castle's classification of the lesbian novel of adolescence.1

My analysis makes use of Castle's theories but requires a change in focus from viewing the "lesbian novel of adolescence" to viewing the adolescent novel of lesbianism. Of critical importance is how adolescent lesbian sexuality is articulated by adults for adolescents in popular literature and culture, because whether the adolescent reads for truth, experience, identification, or pleasure, she reads what the dominant culture deems publishable.2 I propose here a critical account of how authors have textually constructed specifically adolescent lesbian sexual identities. Although Castle sees two types of counterplots in adult lesbian fiction, when the focus is shifted to adolescent lesbian fiction I find three provisional groups, in which both dysphoric and euphoric plots surface. First are texts that position lesbianism as a threat or problem. As such, they do not attend to the formation of a lesbian identity but are designed to educate audiences unfamiliar or uncomfortable with lesbianism and/or to eroticize the lesbian as a facet of male heterosexual pleasure. Texts of this sort include Deborah Hautzig's teen novel Hey, Dollface (1978), Elizabeth Levy's pre-teen novel Come Out Smiling (1981), and Juan Jose Campanula's made-for-cable family special More Than Friends: The Coming Out of Heidi Lieter (1995).

The second type of text focuses on the formation of lesbian identities.3 The lesbian identities represented in each text vary in depth, endurance, and scope. The texts best representing this category are Sandra Scoppettone's Happy Endings Are All Alike (1978), Nancy Garden's Annie On My Mind (1982) and Good Moon Rising (1996), and Maria Maggenti's film The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love (1995).

Texts in the third category interrogate received wisdom about lesbianism and lesbian identity. Whereas texts in the first and second categories isolate and magnify the issue of lesbianism in their plots, the texts in the final category represent lesbianism with less clarity. Stacey Donovan's book Dive (1996) portrays adolescence as complicated and does not presume that this state is knowable or honestly representable. And in the film Heavenly Creatures (1994), writer/director Peter Jackson's interpretation of two adolescent girls' psyches turns a fact-based tale into an unnerving spectacle of adolescent lesbians whose libidos are frighteningly powerful, even murderous. Both works are less focused on sexuality than on age; they show lesbianism as part of a larger cultural landscape.

This essay's ordering of these three categories, neither definitive nor chronological, begins with texts that presuppose that their readers have something to learn from lesbian characters. Such texts can appropriately be categorized as a particular brand of "after-school-special" problem novels. Hautzig's Hey, Dollface reads more like an informational book than like an entertaining novel. Narrator Valerie Hoffman tells the story of her intimate friendship with Chloe Fox, a classmate at New York's Garfield School [End Page 152] for Girls. Their friendship is cemented by their exclusion from Garfield's debutante crowd and from American society's standards of normal behavior and beauty in females. Hautzig's agenda includes an acceptance of romantic friendships between adolescent girls, and her characters stand as testimony that lesbian feelings are natural and that society's reactions cause undue stress, worry, and shame. In the end, her characters turn out fine in terms of hegemonic expectations because ultimately they opt for heterosexual relationships.

Valerie's idea of homosexuality develops alongside an exaggerated notion of heterosexuality, which she associates with the threat of rape in the city streets and unwelcome advances from older men. She describes the feeling she has toward Chloe as not a "big thing, because it wasn't, not then" (76). She further explains, "I don't think I thought of it as being sexual attraction until later, or if I did I wouldn't admit it to myself. I guess I thought I wasn't capable of really having that sort of feeling" (89). As these passages indicate, Valerie assumes the distance of retrospective evaluation. She links her daydreaming to the retelling of the past. She does not think that her feelings for Chloe were a big deal "then," and she does not realize the sexual element of her daydreams "until later." With these techniques the narrator removes herself from the immediate story. Since these shifts occur when homoeroticism becomes more of a focus, Hautzig gives her readers the opportunity to back away from identifying with a demonstrably lesbian narrataive voice, which may be uncomfortable for them.4

Nevertheless, although she gives them a way out, Hautzig invites readers to participate in the construction of meaning through narrative gaps, sophisticated metaphors, and intertextuality. For instance, the most sexual scene between the girls takes place at Chloe's house while Chloe's mother is out for the evening. Valerie comforts Chloe after a nightmare and unwittingly touches her breast, and Chloe does not make her move her hand. Val says to herself, "This isn't sick at all. . . . Everything I'm doing I'm doing because it's what my instinct says to do. . . . Is it wrong to feel good about doing this?" (127). When Mrs. Fox returns and witnesses the physical closeness, Val decides that she has done something wrong and leaves before anyone wakes up. But it is significant that Valerie and Chloe are uncertain what, if any, implications their feelings or actions have for their identity. These two young adults are dissatisfied with the strict dichotomy that their society offers them: "We do something like—what we did once. . . . And then there's a choice; either I'm a lesbian forever or I stop being myself with you. When I don't want either one" (146). Hey, Dollface directly challenges the dichotomy of heterosexuality/homosexuality, demanding that young adults be allowed the agency to lay their own linguistic and behavioral boundaries. The third position in Valerie and Chloe's counterplot is filled by heterosexuality, which takes the form of their families, perverted older men, male peers, and the expectation that both girls want to attract, and be attractive to, boys. Heterosexuality is the "subjugated mediator" (Castle 74) between the girls as they define sexuality for themselves. The girls gain an empowering understanding that they do not have to fit themselves into labels that are not comfortable, but the new freedom forces them to renounce a fulfilling form of closeness and stretches the counterplot to accommodate a friendship, without sex, between Valerie and Chloe and between Valerie and Chloe and their respective heterosexual partners.

Despite the narrative's dysphoric attributes, this insistence is markedly more positive than the message communicated by the next novel, Levy's Come Out Smiling, which narrates the story of Jenny Mandel, a confused teenager who has a crush on her riding instructor at summer camp, Peggy. Halfway through the summer, she observes Peggy and her new assistant, Ann, kissing. Putting together this open display of sexuality between females with her own attraction for Peggy, Jenny begins to think of herself as a developing sexual being. Come Out Smiling offers a subject position grounded in a fear of lesbianism, a position likely familiar to many pre-adolescent readers. The novel is ultimately about Jenny's transition from safe all-girl relationships to a desirable asexuality, because males are no more attractive to her than females. The crushes that the girls have on each other at camp are normalized by the text (50). Jenny's age places her in the liminal space between when these crushes are acceptable and when maturing heterosexually should dominate a girl's thoughts (51). Acting as what John Stephens terms a narrative and ideological "focalizer" (68), Jenny directs readers to both homosocial crushes and homophobia, which situates the text tensely between lesbian and heterosexual discourses.

Come Out Smiling's subject matter, tone, vocabulary, and sentence structure identify the target audience of this novel as early adolescent. The text closes itself off from reader involvement by constructing meaning through a staccato, choppy pace that mirrors the didactic narration and reinforces the text's control over meaning. The primary sources of tension are between the sexual changes of puberty and the narrator's desire to be asexual and between the innocent first-person narration and the novel's didactic agenda. In addition, one may locate coded references to normalized lesbianism in tension with heavy-handed messages of compulsory heterosexuality. The title of the book, Come Out Smiling, refers both to the process of homosexual "coming out" and to Jenny's parents' method of punishment. When Jenny acts up, she is sent to her room and told not to emerge until she can "come out smiling" (140). This double [End Page 153] entendre denies agency both for Jenny and for lesbian readings: to come out smiling from your room involves a swallowing of personal pride, a willingness to suppress feelings, and a lack of dialogue between the figures of authority and the perceived transgressor. At the closing ceremonies of the summer camp, the girls kneel down and pray to Sacajawea, the bird woman after whom their camp is named. Jenny prays, "Please, Sacajawea, don't make me turn out to be a lesbian," and "Please give me the courage to come out smiling" (186).

The text thus ends linguistically conflicted, with Jenny determined to do away with the all-female triangle of her story but also to "come out" smiling and begrudgingly accept her fate. Jenny knows that her father expects her to marry a rich man, but, after kissing a boy at the coed dance, she thinks, "I had liked dancing with Chris, but I had loved dancing with Peggy. Maybe I was queer. Chris had kissed me. If I were normal, I'd be feeling so high" (121). Jenny's father figures most prominently as the male in her counterplot with Peggy. Her father is not subjugated by the text, however, as he strongly influences Jenny and controls Peggy by labeling her a lesbian after a moment's glance. His linguistic ownership of both female elements of the triangle suggest a dysphoric counterplot, but if Jenny had her way she would separate herself from all triangles, dysphoric or euphoric.

Levy uses the metaphor of performance and masquerade to reify the concept of homosexuality in Jenny's budding sexual existence. The most influential performance, that of Peggy and Ann, is not intended to be a performance, but Jenny, arriving early for riding practice, "spies" on them "holding hands" (122). Jenny knows that "after you're ten years old, girls who hold hands are queer" (123). As she continues to watch Peggy and Ann, they kiss "lightly on the lips, not like friends—like lovers. . . . Peggy and Ann were lesbians" (123). For the rest of the book, Jenny feels "creepy" about this unwelcome sexual knowledge. Peggy and Ann represent a larger—and threatening—lesbian community (126). Levy's narrator, in short, is fearful and distrustful of lesbianism but simultaneously loves two lesbians. In the novel, sexuality is an uncontrollable, unstoppable, and unknowable force that occupies the place that should be taken by Jenny's subjectivity and agency. Performance and masquerade are an essential part of Jenny because she does not delve beneath the surface of the issues confronting her.

In contrast to Levy's novel, one of many repressive and voyeuristic representations of adolescent lesbianism, More Than Friends: The Coming Out of Heidi Lieter offers didacticism from a different perspective. In the two novels I have already discussed, lesbianism is the problem. More Than Friends turns the tables to position society's violence against homosexuality as the cause of conflict and primes main-stream cable viewers for this developing plot structure, which, as we will see, was already in bookstores on the young adult shelves. This short film portrays two adolescent girls whose lesbian identities are developed for the most part offscreen. The story is about their demand that their community accept their relationship as equal to heterosexual relationships. As part of HBO's series Lifestories: Families in Crisis, More Than Friends makes adolescent lesbianism visible, but by the series title also pronounces it a "crisis" that families need help resolving. Even so, the film itself resists the crisis label and maintains a euphoric plot. Heidi's girlfriend, Missy, is violently attacked by a homophobic male student who does not want her to go to the prom with Heidi. The girls make a milestone of the event and move beyond it to attend the prom and tell about it on a television talk show.

After the film's completion, the real Heidi Lieter appears on the screen to tell the HBO audience why she opted for visibility. She tells proponents and opponents alike, "You may think it's strange that I've been so public about a part of my life that's private. But I didn't do it for attention. . . . This is who I am. This is who I've always been. Being gay is not a choice I made, it's not something I just decided to be. The only choice I made is not to lie about it." These comments suggest that the film's intended audience is not lesbian teenagers or even supportive adults, but families who are opposed to such visibility and pride. Nonetheless, More Than Friends gives adolescent lesbian viewers a central and affirmative subject position, even if it assumes the task of educating others.

The educational plots discussed above inform their audiences that lesbianism exists, whether the reader/viewer likes it or not. The "coming-out" plots I next address centralize the formation of lesbian identities in an adolescent narrator. In telling their stories, the narrators demonstrate that lesbianism does not just exist but is a valid, livable existence. Contrary to what we might expect, such texts do not represent a chronological development from the first category; in fact, the coming-out story has evolved alongside the educational stories from 1978 onward.

The coming-out plot involves movement through four steps, the middle two closely related temporally. First, one of the female protagonists experiences a feeling for another female protagonist, usually a feeling that is difficult for her to describe. Second, the feeling is shared with the other female character. Third, the feeling is manifested in physical intimacy between the girls. Fourth, there is a forced public articulation of the girls' relationship. The relationship does not always survive this public "outing" with a euphoric triangle. [End Page 154]

Most of the female characters in these texts discover their homosexuality beginning with a "queer," unnameable feeling. As the main character, Liza, explains in Annie on My Mind, "I felt as if I were about to burst with I didn't quite know what" (65). Annie is the love story of two seventeen-year-old girls, Liza and Annie. Liza attends an exclusive private academy in Brooklyn Heights and Annie attends a crime-ridden public school in Manhattan, which results in a class tension that is also highlighted in Heavenly Creatures (1994). Despite their economic and ethnic differences, however, the increasing sexual awareness in the characters motivates them to identify the nature of their feelings—feelings that come as a shock to Liza if not to Annie. In Happy Endings Are All Alike, Peggy "had a flash of lying in Jaret's arms and realized it made her happy, warm, content. Was that love? Sexual love? Would she want to kiss Jaret on the mouth?" (31). The relationship that develops between Peggy and Jaret in Happy Endings is occasionally joyful, but predominantly torturous as the girls deal with judgmental family members and a violent community. Mid, the boy who rapes Jaret and threatens to tell the town about her relations with Peggy, is the male element in this counterplot and, as such, plays the role of subjugated mediator when Jaret decides that coming out about her sexuality will heal more than the scars of rape. The sexual nature of love often brings about feelings of fear and guilt, about sex in general and about the public condemnation of homosexuality in particular (see Garden, Annie 13 and Moon 76).

Next, the girls in these novels begin to resolve the tension of identifying their queer feelings by articulating their feelings for each other, to each other. The sheer intensity of those emotions leads to verbal articulation for most of the characters discussed here (see Garden, Annie 85 and Moon 75; Scoppettone 35). In contrast, the rapport between Evie and Randy in the film The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love is narrated primarily through tense and silent cinematography ("Synopsis" 1). One example is an awkward moment in the school bathroom with sexy backlighting as Evie silently lights her cigarette off of Randy's. Their closeness is accentuated by the way that director Maggenti positions them: each girl faces inward with her back creating the left and right edges of the frame so that what passes between their bodies is emphasized—the mock-kiss of their cigarettes. This framing technique is used throughout the film to focus on the silences and words that pass between them. During a verbal exchange, Randy explains to Evie that when two women hold hands and have feelings for each other, it is not always accepted. Evie is too caught up in the rapture of her feelings for Randy to consider the political consequences, but in fact the action of holding hands in public invites and accepts spectatorship of their love. Holding hands is used so often in lesbian fiction, specifically adolescent lesbian fiction, that it can be considered a trope of the genre.5 Randy exclaims, "God, Evie, you are so sheltered." Evie responds, "Unshelter me."

It naturally follows that the girls in these texts begin to question their identity because the feelings they have are for another female. Experimentation with the language of sexual identity and gender, which we saw as far back as Hey, Dollface, appears frequently in these coming-out novels. Kerry in Good Moon Rising concludes, "A lover. . . . That's what we both really wanted, isn't it? Only since boys somehow didn't fit, we thought what we wanted was a friend" (96). Usually, the girls find that they have "always" had these feelings for females instead of males (see Garden, Annie 94; Scoppettone 29). Sexual and gender definition are intertwined in these novels as the girls come to terms with their love for another female. In Happy Endings, Peggy explains that "sometimes I wish one of us was a guy," and Jaret responds, "Then we wouldn't be us. If you were a guy, I wouldn't be interested" (102). These young women do not always find empowerment in labeling themselves as gay or even in love; they avoid fitting themselves into prescribed roles and argue that labels of sexuality must be flexible, if they are to be useful at all (see Garden, Moon 152).

The girls usually engage in physical intimacy for the first time by kissing. In Good Moon Rising and The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love, the narrators describe the girls' meeting, mutual attraction, and physical contact, from touching and kissing to genital sex. Happy Endings Are All Alike and Annie on My Mind, on the other hand, are framed texts, in the sense that one of the girls finds a reason to tell the story of meeting her lover. Roberta Seelinger Trites argues that the embedded narrative, specifically in Annie on My Mind, "situate[s] the text within the genre of the romance novel . . . in an act that is at once revisionary and reconciliatory," and allows the form to accent the content, since "the telling of the tale is critical to Liza's healing" (93).

The language of sexuality here is as explicit as teenage romance typically allows but tends to focus on non-genital contact (see Garden, Moon 75). Annie on My Mind moves from "before either of us knew what was happening, our arms were around each other and Annie's soft and gentle mouth was kissing mine," to "I remember so much about that first time with Annie that I am numb with it, and breathless" (146). In the gap between these two descriptions, the inevitable question arises: did they do it? Did they have genital sex? Precisely what Liza experienced with Annie is not shared with the reader, but as is the case in each of these coming-out stories, sexual contact is explicitly acknowledged. In Happy Endings Are All Alike, that Peggy and Jaret have sex is taken for granted; instead, more narrative weight is given to the various characters' reactions to the sex. And when the camera depicts Randy and Evie making [End Page 155] love in The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love, it does not eroticize their bodies for the viewer. Their bodies are shown naked, but the close-up angle of the camera emphasizes their connection rather than what one body is doing to the other.

The sex, however, is not the source of the tension in these coming-out stories. Rather, the girls' verbal and physical articulations become meaningful with the threat of public knowledge. When Jaret and Peggy's relationship in Happy Endings Are All Alike is forced into the public eye, it is because Mid threatens to "out" them if she tells anyone what he did to her (121). When Jaret decides to risk the public knowledge of her sexual orientation and relationship with Peggy, they break up because Peggy cannot handle it. Peggy returns to Jaret in the end to explain how much she cares for Jaret, but she stresses that this does not necessarily mean that she wants to be in a sexual relationship with her. This ending offers a pointedly pessimistic conclusion about the future of lesbian relationships: "so what if happy endings didn't exist? Happy moments did" (202). Peggy and Jaret repair their friendship but sever the triangle as each leaves for a different college with only the memory of their "happy moment." Liza and Annie's sexual relationship in Annie on My Mind is discovered by a woman, Ms. Baxter, who forces Liza to make a public declaration about her sexuality. This counterplot is euphoric because there is no notable male component and because of Liza's final decision. In the expulsion hearing at her conservative school, Liza opts to lie, and she leaves for college apparently having broken off her relationship with Annie. But by the end of the novel, as an MIT freshman, Liza calls Annie to apologize and to tell her that she loves her; Annie responds that she will take the next flight to visit Liza in Boston.

Good Moon and The Incredibly True Adventure brave the same public outing but present endings that are more clearly optimistic than Happy Endings Are All Alike. In Good Moon, Jan and Kerry are found out because they play hooky together and rumors begin to circulate. At the cast party for their senior play, Jan plays heterosexual with Raphael, her gay male friend from summer theater stock.6 Kent, the instigator of the rumors, publicly challenges them to admit their homosexuality. An interesting arrangement arises as heterosexual Kent and homosexual Raphael share the role of subjugated mediator when Kent makes his challenge. Jan, with Kerry's whispered approval, interrupts Raphael as he defends her heterosexuality and faces Kent, the male who threatens to offset the triangle, saying, "'You were right . . . I am gay.' With the words came a sense of relief and liberation so great that she felt she never wanted to hide again, even though she knew at the same time that she might have to. 'And so am I,' came Kerry's clear voice" (221). They find pride in admitting their sexuality of their own agency in public and in a highly theatrical context. They are allowed to stay together, to represent a euphoric potential for lasting lesbian relationships and euphoric plots. This potential is also suggested in The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love when Randy and Evie run away together. Randy's gay male friend, Frank, completes their triangle and mediates between the runaways and their parents, but he finally succumbs and leads the parents to the hideout. When Evie and Randy decide to leave their hotel room and face their angry parents and peers, they stand in an open doorway facing and touching each other with the noisy crowd behind them. The camera shot is from inside the hotel room, so the dynamic framing has the effect of placing the viewer on the side of the girls and supporting their pledge to love each other forever.

Tellingly, the girls in each of these texts are punished once they reach a level of sexual activity. These narratives insist that the teen balance sexual identity with the rest of her identity. The ultimate punishment for transgressors is a forced coming out. Good and bad and right and wrong are knowable. In the third category of texts, however, things are not so clear for the (lesbian) characters. The works that have been discussed so far combine hetero-normative adolescence and lesbianism, sharing information and representing lesbian identity through fairly static characters. Some contemporary texts do not offer such easy centerings, but instead represent fractured and less identity-bound versions of both adolescence and lesbianism. In Heavenly Creatures and Dive the lesbian characters function less as characters and more as points of narrative negotiation.

Dive narrates a few months out of the life of Virginia, including the relationship she develops with Jane, a new girl at school. The novel's narrative structure is fragmented and often abruptly stream-of-consciousness. While the book is concerned with Virginia's quest for identity, the first half is dedicated to her father's terminal illness and the hit-and-run accident that injured her dog. Virginia's self-awareness is heightened by her relationship with Jane, which helps prepare her for the loss of her father and induction of her sexuality. Lesbianism is not the central element of this text, and intimacy between adolescent girls is articulated as a negotiation, rather than a definition, of sexual identities; Virginia and Jane never identify themselves or their relationship as lesbian, but Virginia recognizes how her feelings for Jane are different from her feelings for other people. No one except the reader discovers Virginia and Jane's sexual relationship or their love for each other. Dive frames the process of adolescent identity formation within the complexity of social and sexual existence in general. [End Page 156]

Virginia feels a sense of urgency to find meaningful words for her feelings for Jane because "If I can't make somebody understand what I feel, I'll disintegrate into the air" (188-89). Her frustration is the same as that of most of the other adolescent lesbians we have discussed and is indicative of the lesbian invisibility that results from a lack of appropriate language to signify women's desire for women (Zimmerman 96). Virginia's language centers on the existence of love and the need to express that love verbally without relying on labels. Expressing it physically, "how simple it is, how natural," is not as difficult as expressing emotion with effective words, "Do I love her? I mean, do I love her?" (219, 196).

In her literary analysis of twentieth-century adult lesbian fiction, Bonnie Zimmerman identifies the heart of the lesbian novel as the search for a lesbian self (31). Dive constructs a complex and mature narrative in which a female who is sexually attracted to another female does not assume a lesbian identification process, not just because of lesbianism's negative connotations in our society but because she does not give credence to a unified identity. According to Jackie Stacey, our theoretical inquiries need to "consider questions of lesbian identity and desire within the models of fragmented subjectivity" (qtd. in Vicinus 468). True to this dogma, the book as a whole looks fragmented. Donovan does not indent her paragraphs; instead she writes them as blocks of thought and dialogue separated by a line of space. Virginia's thoughts, too, are fragmented, but in the course of the novel the fragments are held together by threads of thought, or repeating phrases. For example, "I am a stone" and "Let the wind in" appear numerous times to clarify and extend her contradictory feelings of stability and disintegration. Virginia works with all of these fragments to gain a poetic sense of self, and, as such, notions of self and meaning constantly perform a dialogic dance, folding back on themselves as time moves forward.7

Virginia makes clear that a unified self is not possible as she becomes aware that many questions in life go unanswered (231), but as soon as she sees Jane, she is able to center her attention on herself, so that the questions are no longer frayed and sensitive, but "in place" (102). Virginia is preoccupied with all that she does not understand about her life. Her confusion grows as her father's health worsens, and she realizes: "But now I need somebody. Now the world seems full of everything but magic. Except for Jane. There's Jane. But with her, there's also confusion" (225). The death of Virginia's father sends her reeling, forcing her to view a home movie in her mind of memories and experiences she does not understand, but when she sees Jane walking up to the funeral home with a bouquet of flowers, she is made "unbelievably dreamy with hopes" without having all the answers (240). Although the connection between Jane and Virginia waxes and wanes, the final image of Jane arriving at the funeral home keeps Virginia's father in the male position of the triangle even in his death and portends reconciliation and longevity for the homosocial relationship.

Dive offers an ambitious postmodern portrayal of adolescent lesbianism. Virginia opens before us on the pages of Dive as an incomplete yet abundant persona. Donovan does not attempt to represent Virginia in any totality, possibly because no such totality exists. She represents complex adolescent sexuality and how it cannot be cleanly extracted from the rest of a person's identity in order to be examined or depicted. To do it right, in a postmodern sense, you have to show the whole messy picture, and it will not always fit into a nice narrative form. This may be why there are no films that succeed as well as Dive. Film may not be able to avoid creating a spectacle out of the observed figure on the screen.

Take, for example, Heavenly Creatures, a fictionalized account of the 1954 New Zealand case of the murder of Honora Parker by her sixteen-year-old daughter, Pauline, and Pauline's fifteen-year-old friend and lover, Juliet Hulme. In the well-publicized case, the judgment of the New Zealand public seemed to be that Parker came between the girls and that their unnatural lust drove them to murder her.8 The issues raised in the film, which is told from Pauline's perspective and includes voiceovers from her diary entries, are mature and complex, and the advanced style and focus seem to target adult viewers more than adolescent viewers. Unlike the creators of the other texts discussed here, Jackson does not participate in the rhetoric of informational or identity-formation texts. To tell an informational tale about the homosocial connection between the girls would closely parallel the rhetoric of the court case, especially because it would require interrogation and invasion as motivating forces in the plot; to present a text that honored the girls' formation of lesbian identities would go against the facts, since the girls did not identify themselves as lesbian.

Jackson tries to avoid taking an explicit stance on whether the girls were "lesbian" or whether it matters to the story. For example, he stylizes their lovemaking to the point of ambiguity. At first they enact "how each saint [male actors they like] would make love in bed," with the black and white torsos of the men superimposed over each girl, but in the end Jackson brings the two girls into the frame to kiss as themselves. Eventually, almost every adult in the film is preoccupied with classifying and pathologizing the girls' relationship. While a diary entry makes clear that the girls had sex with one another, the film professes that their bond is more complicated than that. Jackson, who has stated in interviews that he believes the question of the girls' sexual orientations is a "red herring" (Porter 3.1.11.1), implies that viewers are misled, as were the people of New Zealand, [End Page 157] if they attempt to label the girls' sexuality. But in fact, the question is pivotal to the story. To problematize sexuality, Jackson must highlight it; lesbianism cannot function as a red herring in a plot that depends upon it elementally. For example, the most blatantly sexual scene between Pauline and Juliet occurs immediately prior to their decision to commit murder. This proximity underscores the film's association of adolescent lesbianism, family revolt, adolescent angst, and matricide.

Jackson also includes several lesbian references that substantiate a lesbian reading by the informed viewer. In French class Juliet is required to choose a French name, and since the scene takes place before the girls become friends or start writing about each other in their diaries, that Jackson has Juliet choose the name "Antoinette" suggests that Jackson believes she may already have some sort of lesbian identity. As Castle points out, "That Marie Antoinette was herself a lover of women had been rumored at least since the 1770s"; a spectator aware of this fact may identify the doomed queen, as many nineteenth-century women did, as a "secret heroine—an underground symbol of passionate love between women" (126).9 The association of Juliet Hulme with Marie Antoinette is suggestive, since the queen's "'crime' of homosexuality was . . . made part of the Revolutionary Tribunal's death-dealing case against her" (Castle 131), just as Juliet's will be. The viewer who picks up on the Antoinette reference can superimpose one lesbian martyrdom onto the other.

In short, Heavenly Creatures is postmodern in its subversion of "lesbian identity." Subversion is also the function that Castle gives to the essence of the lesbian counterplot. The postmodern adolescent lesbian counterplot, therefore, is right at home in a postmodern film context; with all its disturbing elements, Heavenly Creatures maintains a euphoric counterplot. Juliet and Pauline attend an all-girls' school and do not develop lasting male friendships. It is the all-female triangle of Pauline, Juliet, and Mrs. Parker that dominates our attention. The film, however, makes identification with the protagonists uncomfortable, problematizing not only lesbianism but even feminism; as reviewer Luisa F. Ribeiro observes, "The horror of the story lies in the unaccustomed positioning of desire and determination in the hands of two adolescent females" (33).

As Heavenly Creatures appears to concede, patriarchy and heterosexuality are antithetical to a woman-centered community with agency. To be sure, none of the works studied here discusses the larger lesbian community as a support network or as a possible destination. Yet the homosexual community enters many of the texts intertextually: Jaret and Peggy are initially drawn together by their common affection for Edna St. Vincent Millay, Virginia and Jane discover agency in the poetry of Arthur Rimbaud, a character in The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love refers to The Coming Out of Heidi Lieter, Annie lends a "battered" copy of Isabel Miller's Patience and Sarah to Liza. These intertextual references suggest that reading lesbian texts is political because it offers a point of lesbian identification and community.10 Indeed, readers have found identification and community in even the most negative and conflicted lesbian texts by reading against dysphoric plots and making heroes out of unfortunate characters. Kay Vandergrift, for one, claims that "engagement with story is life-affirming; it puts us in touch with the world, with one another, and with our essential selves. . . . Story helps us to shape and reshape life, to give it importance and to reflect on who we are and who we might become" (ix). Similarly, Sorrel, a young lesbian interviewed in Mary Pipher's Reviving Ophelia, explains that "I wanted stories about girls like me that were okay. There was nothing like that. . . . I need to know that I'm not the only one. I want to read more about girls like me" (110-11).

Cultural representations of adolescent lesbianism in literature and film require the critical attention of future scholars, because such texts are part of "the process of coming out—a movement into a metaphysics of presence, speech, and cultural visibility. . . . Or, put another way, to be out is really to be in—inside the realm of the visible, the speakable, the culturally intelligible" (Fuss 4). But the strength and potential of these texts has been weakened by their isolation from each other. Extending Castle's examination of the lesbian counterplot to include adolescent lesbian texts has revealed a large body of fiction that employs the dysphoric lesbian counterplot, as Castle notes, but we may also see that adolescent lesbian texts have progressed to include euphoric lesbian counterplots and postmodern plots that de-center, while problematizing, issues of information and identity. The power of these texts is in the changes they have made to the way stories are told and in the possibilities they continue to create for readers like Sorrel.


Vanessa Lee, now a resident of Austin, Texas, has an MA in children's literature from Illinois State University. Her interests are youth culture and critical theory.

Notes
 
1. Guy's Ruby (1976) is one of the earliest adolescent novels to include lesbianism. It is the story of a high school girl, Ruby, whose homosexual relationship with her friend Daphne is a desperate attempt to distance herself from dealing with the heterosocial world of males, dominated by her father and her ex-boyfriend, Orlando. Guy's plot thoroughly demonstrates the dysphoric counterplot because even though the female homosocial triangle represented by Ruby, her father, and Daphne dominates most of the plot, the male homosocial triangle of Ruby's father, Ruby, and Orlando is restored by the end of the novel.

2. Control by censors and publishing houses is complicated by written works "published" on the Internet.

3. In using the word "lesbian" to refer to something applicable to adolescence, I do not wholly agree with Judith Butler's quasi-nihilistic theories of gender and sexuality (21) or with Adrienne Rich's continuum of lesbian identity as including non-sexual [End Page 158] friendship (648). Rather, I borrow from Castle's definition of "lesbian" as "a woman [or, better, 'a female' so as to include young adults] whose primary emotional and erotic allegiance . . . is to other females" (15). Casde's definition is appropriate to a study of young adult literature because it focuses on both the emotional and the physical aspects of sexual desire. Sex is a definitive element of the adolescent lesbian text. Most literature and films for and about adolescent girls focus on girls' close friendships with other girls, a theme that began to flourish in nineteenth-century school-girl stories and continues in current series fiction such as The Babysitters' Club or Sweet Valley High; contemporary lesbian texts for and about adolescents distinguish themselves from this pervasive genre by depicting varying degrees of sexual conduct between female characters.

4. John Stephens argues that "part of the socialization of the child is that she learns to operate as a subject within various discourse types, each of which establishes its particular set of subject positions, which in turn act as constraints upon those who occupy them" (55). Subjectivity and agency are presented through elements of narration, such as point of view—which "has the function of constructing subject positions and inscribing ideological assumptions"—and character positions that determine sympathy (56). In other words, texts attempt to control how the actual reader, through accepting the subject position of the implied reader, responds to and sympathizes with certain characters and their actions.

5. Consider this powerful moment from Violette Leduc's landmark adult lesbian text, Thérèse and Isabelle (1966), "[I] slipped my arm under hers: our intertwining fingers made love to one another" (55). The trope of political hand-holding appears most evidently in Come Out Smiling, Hey, Dollface, The Coming Out of Heidi Lieter, and Higher Learning (1995).

6. Randy's gay friend, Frank, and Raphael of Good Moon Rising function to complete Sedgwick's female homosocial triangle.

7. This style is very similar to that of Jeanette Winterson, author of the "coming-of-age/coming-out" novel Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, which critics deem "postmodern." Winterson's and Donovan's broken narratives emphasize the way that communicating our own lives through storytelling demands many separate stories, which are never linear and always interwoven in our minds with other stories, thoughts, and experiences. These techniques work to involve the reader in the developing subject position of the narrator as it develops in the course of the novel. It may also function to exclude readers who are not ready or willing to participate in piecing together the fragments.

8. Jackson chose to glorify and revive a story involving murderous lesbians, but he is not alone. Wendy Kesselman wrote and produced the film version, Sister My Sister (1994), of her play, My Sister in This House (1983). She retells the story of the young sisters Christine and Lea, who, in France in 1932, were convicted of killing their employer and her daughter, who supposedly walked in on the sisters having sex. Kesselman is also the author of Flick (1983), the story of two girls' summer riding-camp relationship. Christine Jenkins reports in her review of the book that "this is a rehash of the same evil-and-crazy-lesbian-temptress theme" (188).

9. Marie Antoinette has also appeared as a lesbian icon in other lesbian texts. See Radclyffe Hall's The Well of Loneliness (1928), Sylvia Townsend Warner's Summer Will Show (1936), and Winterson's The Passion (1987).

10. This fear of texts as cultural forces drives Lillian Hellman's play The Children's Hour (1934). A lesbian text, Mademoiselle de Maupin by Theophile Gautier (1834, trans. 1890), is located as a possible cause for a young girl's devious behavior.

Works Cited

Butler, Judith. "Imitation and Gender Insubordination." Inside/Out: Lesbian Theories, Gay Theories. Ed. Diana Fuss. New York: Routledge, 1991. 13-31.

Castle, Terry. The Apparitional Lesbian: Female Homosexuality and Modern Culture. New York: Columbia UP, 1993.

Donovan, Stacey. Dive. New York: Puffin, 1996.

Fuss, Diana, ed. Inside/Out: Lesbian Theories, Gay Theories. New York: Roudedge, 1991.

Garden, Nancy. Annie on My Mind. New York: Ariel, 1982.
———. Good Moon Rising. New York: Farrar, 1996.

Guy, Rosa. Ruby. New York: Viking, 1976.

Hautzig, Deborah. Hey, Dollface, New York: Greenwillow, 1978.

Heavenly Creatures. Dir. Peter Jackson. Perf. Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey. Miramax, 1995.

The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love. Dir. Maria Maggenti. Perf. Laura Hollman and Nicole Parker. Fineline Features, 1996.

Leduc, Violette. Thérèse and Isabelle. 1966. Trans. Derek Coltman. New York: Dell, 1967.

Levy, Elizabeth. Come Out Smiling. New York: Delacorte, 1981.

More Than Friends: The Coming Out of Heidi Lieter. Dir. Juan Jose Campanella. Perf. Sabrina Lloyd and Kate Anthony. HBO, 1995.

Pipher, Mary. Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls. New York: Ballantine, 1994.

Porter, John Douglas. "Heavenly Creatures." FAQ. Online. 10 April 1995.

Ribeiro, Luisa F. "Movie Review: Heavenly Creatures." Film Quarterly 49.1 (Fall 1995): 33-38.

Rich, Adrienne. "Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence." Signs 5 (1980): 631-660.

Scoppettone, Sandra. Happy Endings Are All Alike. Boston: Alyson, 1978.

Stephens, John. Language and Ideology in Children's Fiction. New York: Longman, 1992.

Synopsis: The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love." Fine Line Features 28 June 1995. <http://www.flf.com/two-girls/tgsynops.htm> Online. (10 April 1996).

Trites, Roberta Seelinger. Waking Sleeping Beauty: Feminist Voices in Children's Novels. Iowa City: U of Iowa P, 1997.

Vandergrift, Kay E., ed. Mosaics of Meaning: Enhancing the Intellectual Life of Young Adults through Story. Lanham: Scarecrow, 1996.

Vicinus, Martha. "'They Wonder to Which Sex I Belong': The Historical Roots of the Modern Lesbian Identity." Feminist Studies 18 (1992): 467-497.

Zimmerman, Bonnie. The Safe Sea of Women: Lesbian Fiction 1969-1989. Boston: Beacon, 1990. [End Page 159]

 

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