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literature

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Sports Literature: Lesbian  
 
page: 1  2  3  4  

The characters in this novel, male and female, lesbian and straight, are multidimensional, and Levin's thoughtful portrayals of a wide spectrum of friendships and relationships are rare in sports fiction. However, apart from Dorey's symbiotic relationship to the water, it is difficult to see how her obsession with marathon swimming and her brutal self-discipline differ significantly from Sarge's or from that of any of her male counterparts.

In Levin's second lesbian sports novel, The Sea of Light (1993), there are three major lesbian characters: Bren, a university swimming coach, whose partner, Kay, is an English professor; Babe, a former competitive swimmer who is recovering from an airplane crash; and Ellie, the team captain.

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The literary device of multiple narrators is used, thus facilitating an intimacy between the reader and several characters. Bren is firmly closeted, and puts considerable energy into maintaining a professional distance between herself and her athletes, especially the lesbian swimmers. She is totally committed to competitive swimming and refuses to deal with Kay's critique of competitive sports.

Bren is clearly an advocate of the "no pain no gain" school of coaching. In a stereotypical portrayal of campus politics, it is Kay, the nonathlete, who is interested in women's studies and critical of competitive sports, whereas all the athletes are too immersed in sporting competition to concern themselves with political issues.

Both Babe and Ellie, young women in their early twenties, are struggling with their sexual identities but soon become lovers. Unlike many sports novels with lesbian characters, these women are not portrayed as physically perfect. Having survived a plane crash, as well as surgery for sports-related injuries, Babe's body is a mass of scars.

When Ellie initiates their first sexual encounter, she begins by caressing the scars on Babe's back. Ellie finds Babe's strength erotic in itself: "a big, smooth, firm, fleshy strength that I love, that I want, have loved and have wanted all my life."

Judith Alguire's 1988 novel, All Out, is a lesbian romance, with women's marathon running as a central focus. The main characters are Kay, a successful distance runner, and Tab, her roommate, best friend and occasional lover, who is a university teacher and political lesbian.

Like many of the primary characters in lesbian sports fiction, Kay is portrayed as an apolitical lesbian in single-minded pursuit of sporting victory, whereas her nonathlete partner, Tab, is the voice of a lesbian-feminist analysis of society in general and sports in particular.

"What do sports really do to advance women?" she asks. "They benefit only the elite, those few women at the top, particularly those who fit the male notion of what a female athlete should look like." And she concludes, "Sport fosters competition rather than cooperation. Cooperation is the key to advancement."

Conflict between Kay and Tab is both political and personal--their housekeeping standards are worlds apart, as are their stances on lesbian visibility. For example, Tab is outraged when the coach asks Kay to make sure that one of her more outspoken lesbian teammates is dressed "appropriately" for a reception (that is, not in her usual butch attire).

By the end of the novel, however, Kay is prepared to take a more radical stance, as indicated by her decision to wear a button stating "Mother Nature is a Lesbian" when she receives her medal for winning the women's marathon. By the end, too, Kay and Tab agree to a monogamous relationship.

Joyce Bright's novel, Sunday's Child (1988), also has marathon running as its sports focus. Like Kay in All Out, Kate, the main character, has her sights set on the Olympics. Initially, Kate is in a heterosexual relationship. Her running partner and closest friend, Angie, is lesbian. Predictably, the two become lovers.

A compelling subplot is the mystery of the serial rapist whose assaults are deeply disturbing to both women--Angie as a burnt-out rape crisis counselor and Kate as a survivor of child sexual abuse. The novel has a clear feminist message in its treatment of sexual violence, women's friendships, and female sexualities. Unlike many other novels reviewed here, it does not set up the lesbian "jock" as apathetic to political or feminist issues.

Novelist R. R. Knudson also deserves to be mentioned in this overview. None of her characters is explicitly lesbian, but her work has an important place in women's sports literature.

Her main character in her juvenile fiction, dating from 1972 to 1984, is Zan, a gifted all-round high school athlete. Zan's (unofficial) coach and best friend (but not boyfriend) is a completely unathletic boy called Arthur Rinehart.

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