Whoosh! Issue 25 - October 1998


IAXS project #430
A Whoosh! Member Opinion
By Rebecca Hall, Esq.
Copyright © 1998 held by author
1343 words

Introduction (01)
Erotica vs. Pornography (02-03)
The Erotic Source (04-07)
Beyond Sex? (08-11)

Lesbian Erotica Without Apology: The Erotic As Power

The kiss that launched a thousand fanfics!

The 'kiss' scene from THE QUEST is regarded by some as one of the most erotic scenes in the series.

There are many kinds of power, used and unused, acknowledged or otherwise. The erotic is a resource within each of us that lies in a deeply female and spiritual plane... In order to perpetuate itself, every oppression must corrupt or distort those various sources of power within the culture of the oppressed that can provide energy for change. For women, this has meant a suppression of the erotic as a considered source of power and information within our lives.
   --Audre Lorde, "Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power", Sister Outsider, (New York: The Crossing Press, 1984) p. 53.


[01] I was asked to write this article to talk about why I write erotic fan fiction. My stories are explicit and I write them because I enjoy writing erotica. But there is more. I write lesbian erotica because I'm a lesbian, because I believe that the erotic remains an under-utilized source of power for women generally and for lesbians specifically.

Erotica vs. Pornography

[02] There is a lot of debate about what constitutes erotica, so when I talk about erotica as a source of empowerment, it is necessary to define my terms. The word "erotic" comes from the Greek word "eros", which means "love." The etymology of the word "pornography" on the other hand comes from the Greek "porne", which means prostitute and "graphein", to write. Pornography, then, relates to the writing about the sale or use of women for sex. A far cry from writing about love, especially love between women.

[03] Or, as Audre Lorde explains:

The erotic has often been misused by men and used against women. It has been made into the confused, the trivial, the psychotic, the plasticized sensation. For this reason, we have often turned away from the exploration and consideration of the erotic as a source of power and information, confusing it with its opposite, the pornographic. But pornography is a direct denial of the power of the erotic, for it represents the suppression of true feeling. Pornography emphasizes sensation without feeling. (Lorde, 54)

The Erotic Source

[04] The lesbian fan fiction written about the characters of Xena and Gabrielle illustrates the use of the erotic as source of power and information. It reveals the depth of the connection that can exist between women. It provides a model for the existence of a powerful intimacy between women that is emotional, physical and spiritual. Our society provides few images of this kind of relationship, and lesbian fan fiction on the Internet can inspire women, many of whom live in isolation from their own sexuality and from other lesbians.

[05] Another aspect that some of these stories illustrate so compellingly is the power of the erotic to heal. In my opinion, the best of this "alternative" fan fiction underscores the soul-level redemption in Xena and Gabrielle's relationship, a beautiful, powerful, story of love, healing, growth and liberation. The erotic connection between the characters in these stories contributes to the source, providing the fuel for this redemptive intimacy. And the erotic as a source of power requires, by definition, an erotic relationship.

[06] In this context, friendship is not enough. Some argue that erotic is not necessary here, that all of these things can be embodied in a platonic friendship between the characters. I disagree. What would be different comes through in the good alternative fan fiction stories: there is an intimacy and vulnerability that can come through the physical expression of love, an intimacy that uncovers, that strengthens and that heals in a special and unique way.

Beyond Sex?

[07] It is because I believe so strongly in the power of the erotic, the power of it to model and affirm lesbianism for those of us who are lesbians in an homophobic world, the power of it to build a strong and healing intimacy between women that I find recent discussions of the Xena/Gabrielle relationship as "beyond sex" so objectionable. This type of statement usually comes from TPTB or the cast of XWP when questioned about the show's "subtext: "...[T]he friendship has become so profound that it is not about a sexual relationship," Rene O'Connor tells us in her July 27 interview for TV Guide. Or as Steve Sears explained in a recent post to the netforum: "My comment that they weren't having sex sent a few people into a "Sears is a homophobe" tizzy. An act of sex does not define a romantic and spiritual relationship. Anyone who tells you it does is just trying to get you in bed. It hardly stamps on subtext and, in my opinion, elevates the relationship to a higher plane."

[08] I would ask these heterosexual members of the XWP team to engage in a thought experiment for a moment, in order to understand how statements such as these come across to their substantial lesbian fan base. For them to imagine that their heterosexuality made them sexual minorities in their culture, and where they were positively inundated at every turn by images of intimacy and sexuality which were foreign to their deep, internal experience of intimacy and sexuality. Then, finally when a possibly, hinted-at, heterosexual relationship was shown on television, the sexual aspect of that relationship was described as on a lower plane, less elevated than a non-sexual relationship.

[09] Or imagine that the erotic aspects of the great heterosexual love stories were considered somehow degrading. That once the relationship became truly profound, it would be beyond sex. As a friend pointed out, when TPTB say that the Xena/Gabrielle relationship is "beyond sex" they imply that a sexual relationship is somehow inferior to a non-sexual one. If they truly mean that, all the great lovers of history should have been celibate. If they mean it only for same-sex relationships, they need to re-examine their comfort level with regard to lesbian relationships.

[10] There is a reason why an important aspect of a love relationship is sexual. Sex between lovers, soul mates, partners, or whatever term one uses is not only about expressing and meeting physical desire. Sexual intimacy can foster the vulnerability, the intimacy, that expands the possibility of growth among and between the two people who love each other. I am certainly not saying that every intimacy requires sex, or that all sex requires intimacy, but where the two overlap the erotic is one of the grounds for the transcendence to which we aspire in love. The erotic itself has the potential to elevate the romantic relationship to a "higher plane." To enable us to reach for the depth, the strength and the power within ourselves and each other.

[11] And as lesbians it is crucial that we not denigrate, or permit others to denigrate our erotic source something that is by definition already rarefied in a homophobic and sexist society. We must honor our erotic source. The erotic connection as portrayed in the relationship of Xena and Gabrielle two powerful women characters in a society that is invested in disabling women's power helps us to strive toward being fearless in the face of the joy and healing two women can create together.


Rebecca Hall Rebecca Hall
After working as a civil rights and tenant's rights attorney for 8 years, Rebecca burned out, and is now in graduate school seeking a PhD in history. She lives in Santa Cruz, CA with her partner of ten years and their baby boy, Caleb.
Favorite episode: THE RECKONING (06/106), CALLISTO (22/122), REMEMBER NOTHING (26/202), A DAY IN THE LIFE (39/215), THE QUEST (37/213), and THE GREATER GOOD (21/121)
Favorite line: Lao Ma to Xena: "You're wrong. I don't eat meat." THE DEBT, Part 2 (53/307)
First episode seen: HOOVES AND HARLOTS (10/110)
Least favorite episode: Opening scenes of THE BITTER SUITE (58/312)

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