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Sports Literature: Lesbian  
 
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In Miss Pym Disposes, Teresa, a Brazilian student and an "outsider" to the British boarding school scene, is the only character who is openly critical of "raves." Commenting on the relationship between Pamela Nash (nicknamed Beau) and Mary Innes, Teresa claims that this kind of friendship is not quite normal: "nice, of course . . . quite irreproachable. But normal, no. That David and Jonathan relationship. It is a very happy one, no doubt, but it . . . excludes so much."

However, Beau and Mary are openly affectionate and make no attempt to hide their relationship. In her somewhat gushing style, Tey develops a picture of attractive young female physical education students in the prime of youth, glowing with health and energy. There is no attempt to downplay the young women's joyous physicality, open affection, and playful spirits. Although Teresa dismisses their interaction as childish, Miss Pym finds the entire scene exciting and engaging.

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However, the novel ends on a tragic note, with a murder and the subsequent breakup of the relationship between Beau and Mary. This kind of melodramatic device for dissolving the lesbian relationship is familiar in novels of the era.

Lesbian Athleticism in Fiction since the 1970s

By the 1970s, however, the influence of the women's movements on feminist and lesbian fiction is apparent. Marge Piercy's The High Cost of Living (1978) provides an interesting commentary on sexual politics in 1970s urban North America and its depiction of lesbian athleticism is part and parcel of that commentary.

The main character is Leslie, a twenty-three-year-old lesbian living in a working-class Detroit neighborhood. Karate, for Leslie, is a means of bodily empowerment, a physical activity that she does for herself. She is proud of her muscles, because "every muscle represents years of effort." Practicing karate reassures her that her body is strong and graceful--good "the way a good race horse was good."

After she gains her black belt, she decides to volunteer to teach a self-defense course for a women's collective. At the end of the first class, deeply moved by the needs of these women, Leslie makes a symbolic gesture of reconciling her two worlds, the lesbian feminist community and the mainstream. Instead of the traditional opening ritual of bowing, she suggests that the women form a circle and hold hands.

Rita Mae Brown's Sudden Death (1983) is set in the world of professional tennis, a world in which lesbians have been both spectacularly successful and a potential embarrassment to the public-relations conscious management. The fact that Brown wrote the novel after the breakup of her widely publicized affair with tennis legend Martina Navratilova encouraged readers and critics to approach the novel as a roman à clef.

Carmen, a twenty-four-year-old professional tennis player from Argentina, is in a lesbian relationship with Harriet, a thirty-six-year-old professor of religion. Carmen is portrayed as a totally self-absorbed and overindulged "love-junkie," whereas Harriet is virtually flawless: patient, witty, sexy, intelligent, loyal. One critic described the book as prose "worthy of the National Enquirer."

However, despite Brown's nasty characterization of most female professional tennis players, both straight and gay, she does confront the issue of on the tennis circuit with no holds barred.

Especially noteworthy in this regard are the debates between women's tennis officials and potential sponsors over various players' marketability. Clearly, a player's talent is less significant than her heterosexual attractiveness. Soon after the scandal about Carmen's lesbian relationship, the Women's Tennis Guild initiates a rigid dress code.

This issue of "compulsory heterosexuality" as enforced in and through women's sport is the central thesis of Helen Lenskyj's Out of Bounds: Women, Sport and Sexuality (1986), which analyzes trends in North American women's sports throughout the twentieth century.

The influence of feminism is evident in Jenifer Levin's 1982 novel Water Dancer, which poses a challenge to the mainstream "heroic quest" genre of sports fiction. The main lesbian character is Dorey, a young marathon swimmer who is determined to swim the dangerous waters of San Antonio Straits.

Rather than viewing herself as a "giant" who dominates the water and her opponents, Dorey has reached the point of surrendering to the water and now sees herself as a "water dancer."

During the course of the novel, Dorey has sexual encounters with her coach, Sarge, and also with his wife, Ilana, who has long played the role of nurturer to the young male swimmers who train with Sarge. Ilana also seems to see herself primarily as a nurturer to Dorey, but the novel leaves most details of their emotional and sexual ties unexplored, and in the end, it is unclear which relationship Dorey is willing to sacrifice--Ilana's or Sarge's.

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