Diamonds in the Rough: Lesser-Known Lesbian Finds You Can Watch or Read

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Some fictional couples get all the fans. Some movies are constantly listed among the top ten “Best Lesbian Movies Ever.” Then there are the things that fly under the radar, that don’t get the recognition that they deserve. Somehow, they slipped through the cracks of the lesbian community’s attention span and have languished there ever since, unrecognized in a travesty of injustice. Below, AfterEllen offers three such diamonds in the rough that we believe deserve more attention:

photo via YouTube

Film: “Liz in September” (“Liz en Septiembre”)

If we’re honest, not all of the lesbian-themed movies on Netflix are…um, good. For that reason, I had low expectations going into “Liz in September.” But the movie is, in a word, fantastic. In fact, it is criminally underrated among lesbian films and deserves to place significantly higher on “best of” lists. “Liz in September,” which is in Spanish but subtitled in English, is first and foremost about death and what we leave behind. Liz (Patricia Velasquez) is dying of cancer, and her impending mortality has forced her to confront humanity’s age-old fear of death without a legacy: her friends will leave behind them children, paintings, novels and medical discoveries, but she fears that she will be forgotten in the blink of an eye per the adage “out of sight, out of mind.” Eva (Eloísa Maturén), meanwhile, has lost a son to cancer, and her husband, probably unsettled by the loss, is having an affair. This is heavy, y’all. Except, it’s not.

The acting is solid: Velasquez does a masterful job of showing Liz’s pain, fear, and sadness in just her eyes. Maturen is captivating as the brave Eva, with the face of an angel, and together they have an understated, beautiful chemistry. Sometimes, you only find true love right before the sun sets. The movie is shot very languidly, with a slight aura of the unreal. Viewers might well be on this tropical beach with the characters, experiencing events as the unseen eighth character. Definitely you’ll want to go stay at that beach resort.

Movies about cancer are always sad. We know how they’re going to end as soon as the word “cancer” is uttered or implied. But although I used my cat as a Kleenex, the movie nevertheless can be said to have an uplifting approach to death. “Liz in September” is based on Jane Chambers’ play “Last Summer at Bluefish Cove” and draws most of its themes from that play, but the addition of Eva’s backstory with cancer takes it in a different, perhaps deeper direction. For example, remember the fish that Eva releases from Liz’s basket. Overall, this is absolutely an overlooked movie that deserves a second look from anyone who saw it on Netflix and assumed it was the same caliber as “Elena Undone” (sorry, I’m not sorry).

TV Couple: Mary Agnes and Callie (“Godless”)

Godless

“Godless” is a Netflix mini-series about the town of La Belle, New Mexico. After a mining accident kills pretty much all the men in the town, the women are left to run it. I didn’t know I needed a Western lesbian romance in my life until I met Mary Agnes McNue (Merritt Wever) and Callie Dunn (Tess Frazer), and now I need a whole lot more lesbian couples set in the old West.

The Mary Agnes-Callie storyline is like a chocolate truffle: delicious and fleeting. I want more. I want a whole box of truffles. I want fanfic. Since the accident, Mary Agnes has taken over running the town, and at the same time has taken up wearing her deceased husband’s clothing and carrying around a revolver. Callie, meanwhile, who was one of the town prostitutes, turns the former brothel into a school and becomes a schoolteacher. How their relationship began is never explained; when the series starts, we see that they share a quiet, mostly comfortable relationship that isn’t exactly hidden from the other residents, but nor is it open.

We learn that it was Callie who pursued Mary Agnes, and it’s Callie who has no problem standing in the middle of the town loudly declaring her love for Mary Agnes while Mary Agnes uncomfortably tries to shush her. Mary Agnes is shy, Callie determined, and I love everything about this storyline, most particularly the Western accents and the dynamic between the two characters.

 

Book: “Straight: The Surprisingly Short History Of Heterosexuality”

Okay, “diamond in the rough” may be a bit strong here, but it’s an interesting read you probably won’t find at your local library. Sometimes when we try to counter homophobia, we resort to science: homosexual behavior is evident among more than 1,000 animal species, homosexuality appears to have a genetic and biological component, etc. We characterize it as a naturally occurring variant of the dominant sexual orientation, heterosexuality.

In “Straight: The Surprisingly Short History of Heterosexuality,” Hanne Blank offers a fascinating, compelling intellectual argument that heterosexuality isn’t the monolithic, unchanging bastion that people seem to think it is today. Instead, this short book—which can easily be found for free online—argues that the scientifically defined concept of “heterosexuality” has only been around since the second half of the 1800s, and its existence is based more on the perception of its existence than any tangible scientific evidence (e.g. just as there’s no gay gene, there’s no straight gene either). Consider the following argument:

“We don’t know much about heterosexuality. No one knows whether heterosexuality is the result of nature or nurture, caused by inaccessible subconscious developments, or just what happens when impressionable young people come under the influence of older heterosexuals.”

It’s like the smarter version of the question: “How do you know you’re not gay? Have you ever tried dating someone of the same sex before?” By assuming that homosexuality was “abnormal” and heterosexuality “normal,” science launched into an investigation of it without first understanding “heterosexuality.” In essence, a study in which the control was assumed but not confirmed.

An anthropological study of heterosexuality that combines history, psychology, social studies, and anecdotes, “Straight” is accessible to the general reader with a strong interest in a more academic approach to understanding how society has come to frame the issue of sexual orientation (although this may seem redundant and basic if your background is in gender or sexuality studies). It’s not that heterosexuality doesn’t exist, of course, but rather that what “heterosexuality” is constantly evolves and changes, just as homosexuality does. After reading, you’ll understand this analogy by Blank and be able to use it in conversation:

It seems to me that people come to acknowledge that heterosexuality can have a history in much the same way that they come to acknowledge that food can have a history. People have always, obviously, eaten food. But they haven’t always eaten the same things in the same ways, or prepared them identically, or ascribed the same meanings to the food they eat. Heterosexuality — or at least relationships between men and women, which is not entirely the same thing — is not so different.

 

These are just three diamonds in the rough that we found. What else have we missed?

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