My girlfriend has a pet rock that watches us in bed. A cold lump of gray with googly eyes, a feather headband, and a red glitter mouth that Becca would never wear. It used to be in a box…
For the past year, I’ve committed to writing only characters who are queer women. This is not to suggest that queer writers must always write queer characters or that cis-heterosexual people cannot write characters who are LGBTQIA+, but I noticed that I’d been shying away from writing characters who resembled me and, at the same time, not seeing a lot of flash fiction that accurately reflected my experiences as a queer woman, especially as far as desire and intimacy were concerned.
One of the things that was important to me to do in this piece was to not center the story around queer pain, such as the trials of coming out or homophobia, but to make it about communication between the two women. Is there queer pain in the periphery? Possibly, yes, but the relationship and the people in it are the focus of the narrative, not the bullying they endured as children. While I believe it is essential not to overlook negative experiences that queer people have had and continue to have, it is also imperative to make sure that pain, shame, and queerness are not made synonymous in life or fiction. Doing so is limiting to those characters as well as to LGBTQIA+ readers in search of themselves.
What I’m focusing on here, and in much of my current work, is writing fiction populated by queer women in which queerness is normalized. Their identities are not new to these characters, nor are they a point of discussion. Coming out stories or those about first-time same-sex sexual experiences are important and valid, but those tend to dominate the queer literary landscape, and there are so many other LGBTQIA+ experiences worthy of narrative, including the day-to-day. A short fiction collection emblematic of this is Kristen Arnett’s Felt in the Jaw from Split Lip Press, which was described as “queer domesticity and its discontents.” Each piece brims with day-to-day homelife and, in doing so, normalizes one kind of queer experience.
Intimacy is one part of day-to-day life for queer women that I want to see depicted more in literary fiction. Often the most common sex scenes readers encounter are heterosexual and written with a straight and/or male gaze. It is uncommon to come across sex scenes featuring queer women that aren’t meant for titillation but for those characters themselves, and which include the same awkward or infuriating or joyful moments as other parts of life. Sex does not fit in every story featuring a queer couple, of course. But queer bodies and the desires in them are worthy of gracing the page. My goal is to avoid writing lesbian desire(s) as either hypersexualized or desexualized—there is a tradition of doing both—and I definitely want to make lesbian sex less squeaky clean and homogenous. For any combination of genders, sex is a moment rich with storytelling potential. So much emotional exchange happens during sex—or if it doesn’t, that also reveals something about a character. When characters are that close together, more is uncovered than just their bodies. People have sex for many reasons: love, anger, grief, caretaking, boredom, or any combination—you name it—but sex is frequently about more than pleasure. Motives exist alongside physical desire, and I don’t want my fiction to be squeamish in any direction. To me, that is dishonest storytelling.
KATHRYN MCMAHON is based in the Puget Sound, though she never stays long. Her prose has appeared in Black Warrior Review, Hobart, Wigleaf, and elsewhere, and she has won flash fiction contests at both Prime Number Magazine and New Delta Review. Find more of her writing at darkandsparklystories.com and follow her on Twitter at @katoscope.