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Why women love lesbian romance Conservative censors misunderstand its appeal

Ecstatic union is easier to picture between women. Credit: Portrait of a Lady on Fire.

Ecstatic union is easier to picture between women. Credit: Portrait of a Lady on Fire.


January 19, 2024   6 mins

If you’re the fastidious sort who cares about historical accuracy, then you probably aren’t the right audience for Don’t Want You Like A Best Friend. Billed as “a swoon-worthy debut queer Victorian romance”, US author Emma Alban brings us the touching story of Gwen and Beth: two blushing debutantes on the London marriage market who eschew the ghastly aristo males all around them and fall for each other instead, eventually managing to rekindle an old romance between their respective single parents as well. Publishers are calling it — perfectly accurately — “the lesbian Bridgerton/Parent Trap you never knew you needed”.

In truth, though, this book makes Bridgerton look like the result of years of painstaking research by Hilary Mantel. The ostensible setting for the romance is mid-Victorian England. Gloomy gothic is out, and poppin’ pastel dresses and splendidly lush trellises are in. Characters’ surnames sound as if they are being mumbled by a drunk or spoken underwater. Over here, lurking in the shrubbery, are Lady Ashmond and Viscount Demeroven; over there, guzzling all the finger sandwiches, are the Lords Havenfort, Prous, Frightan, Thorton, and Psoris. Occasional references to “the ton” and the desirability of playing the “pianoforte” hint at the Regency period, but mainly you know you are in Victorian times because the hooped dresses are voluminous, the maidservants are cheeky but devoted, and strapping young men are always chucking muddy rugby balls around when they aren’t playing croquet. And in case you’re still in any doubt, the 1857 Matrimonial Causes Act — a real-life parliamentary bill enabling secular divorce for the first time — features as an unlikely plot device.

In every other way though, the dominant idiom is 2000s Californian. In Charlotte Brontë’s roughly contemporaneous fictional world of Villette, Lucy says things like: “Some lives are thus blessed: it is God’s will: it is the attesting trace and lingering evidence of Eden.” Yet in this version of the mid-19th century, younger characters have somehow mastered Friends-style ironic repartee. “I don’t know about you,” says an august lady character at one point, “but I think I sweat my body weight on that walk.” Gwen and her rascally father tease and flirt with each other to an extent which cries out for a family therapist’s intervention. The cook and the maid have been having an affair for years. And Beth’s liberal mother just wants her gay daughter to be happy.

It’s not new for those writing for teen audiences to plunder the classics for inspiration — in the Nineties, Clueless smartly reworked Austen’s Emma by setting it in high school, and 10 Things I Hate About You retold The Taming of the Shrew — but it is relatively new to “queer them up”, as the parlance now goes. Alongside DWYLABF, we have recently been treated to Manslaughter Park, a reimagining of Mansfield Park “as a queer romance and a murder mystery”, and Emmet, a “gender-bent” retelling of Emma as a gay man. And soon to be published in the UK is Most Ardently by Gabe Cole Novoa, whose blurb tells us that its protagonist Oliver Bennet feels trapped: “Not just by the endless corsets, petticoats and skirts he’s forced to wear on a daily basis, but also by society’s expectations. The world — and the vast majority of his family and friends — think Oliver is a girl named Elizabeth.” Luckily for Oliver, though, along comes “a sweet, intelligent boy with a warm heart” called Darcy. Suffice it to say I doubt that any of these titles will appear on Florida school district reading lists anytime soon.

Though they superficially might look similar, these creative endeavours should not be confused with established academic attempts to “queer” literature from the past. A staple of would-be edgelords in the academic humanities for decades, the hypothesis goes that, whenever a repressed author of yore such as Austen or one of the Brontës wished to represent same-sex desire to her readers, she was thwarted by nasty heteropatriarchy. Accordingly, she had to create secretly “queer-coded” characters or images instead, hoping against hope that, centuries hence, some Gender Studies major would uncover the truth. And so, via the medium of heavily meaningful paragraphs about a woman’s archery skills, the sensory delights of hyacinths or the impenetrability of walled gardens, otherwise conservative authors supposedly indicated the presence of homosexuality even as they described deeply traditional social arrangements of the time.

Indeed, these days, attempts to find secret signs of homosexuality in great works of fiction from the past are so ubiquitous and unshocking that one wonders whether some kind of alternative academic practice should be introduced instead, whereby explicitly homosexual texts are trawled for their subversively heteronormative content. And in fact, Don’t Want You Like A Best Friend would be a good candidate. It’s basically a traditional marriage plot but with a couple of twists. According to scholar Talia Shaffer, Victorian literature offers at least two competing ideals of marriage: the ideal of romantic marriage, reliant on passion and sexual intensity, versus the “marriage of rational esteem”, predicated on trust, familiarity and shared family ties. Gwen and Beth seem to achieve both: madly excited by each other, but also exhibiting levels of friendship and mutual understanding impossible to reach with the men around them.

Being newly published it’s unclear how this book will fare on the market, but what is clear is that — with or without accompanying pseudo-historical paraphernalia, and whether the protagonists are girls or boys — same-sex romance is now a very successful YA genre. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, it is particularly popular among young women, whether they are emerging lesbians, bisexuals or straights. For, ignoring their modern trappings, at the heart of most such books is something rather old-fashioned and none the worse for it: sweetly passionate love stories.

Many adolescent girls adore the idea of romantic intimacy between two young people, and their adolescence is probably the last time society will allow them to indulge in the illusion of it. Later on, progressive society will tell them they should dilute any residual emotional intensity, quash their jealousy and possessiveness, date promiscuously, and cut off searing feelings wherever possible. Hundreds of magazine articles will promote polyamory to them as a cool, antiseptic modern ideal: the complete antithesis of a teenage girl’s obsessive focus on one person at a time. But for now at least, they are socially permitted to let their burning hearts run away with them.

For the most part, these girls don’t want sexual pleasure simply for its own sake — they can barely understand what that might mean. What they long for and love to read about is passionately intense intimacy. They want a meeting of minds as well as bodies; a merging of twin souls in order to face the rest of the world together as one. The very otherness of the opposite sex in romantic fiction — his essential differences — can seem like an impediment to the female reader’s imagination in this regard, and the spectre of reproductive consequences can also get in the way. But where the lovers are both female (or both male), ecstatic union is so much easier to picture. Everything is just that bit more symmetrical.

In DWYLABF, the main characters exemplify this ideal very well, though it is far from its only manifestation. Another recent example is the graphic novel Heartstopper, written by a woman and now also turned into a film. In Japan, there is a hugely popular genre of fiction and fan-fiction called Yaoui or “boy love”, featuring homoerotic stories about male couples, written by women for women. Even where the object of teenage female lust is actually a person of the opposite sex, he is often relatively feminine in his presentation — with K-Pop boy bands sometimes taking this to a surgically enhanced extreme.

Arguably, women writing about gay male relationships are typically about as accurate as men making films about lesbians; with the women falsely inflating the role of longing looks and wildly romantic feelings, and the men falsely inflating the role of unfeasibly pornographic sex. Female authors writing about female relationships are probably on safer ground. But either way — and as with wanton carelessness about historical details — it won’t matter one jot to the average young fan of same-sex romances. They are only in it for the swoons.

There’s a deep irony here, I think. The more that the sexes are set up by contemporary society to do battle with one another, and the more all of us are encouraged to disassociate emotionally from strong romantic feeling, the more likely it is that same-sex relationships — as depicted in fiction, at least — will look like a paradigm of intimacy. When Right-wing politicians such as DeSantis or Orbán try to ban books like DWYLABF, they presumably think they are protecting young people from something subversive and corrupting. The reality, however, is arguably the opposite: they are removing a quaintly archaic vision of how close, emotionally committed, and sweetly faithful a human sexual relationship can still be.


Kathleen Stock is an UnHerd columnist and a co-director of The Lesbian Project.
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Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
6 months ago

 Luckily for Oliver, though, along comes “a sweet, intelligent boy with a warm heart” called Darcy.
Has the author of this book actually read Pride and Prejudice?

J Bryant
J Bryant
6 months ago

When Right-wing politicians such as DeSantis or Orbán try to ban books like DWYLABF, they presumably think they are protecting young people from something subversive and corrupting.
I would argue they are, indeed, protecting young people from something corrupting, but the corruption doesn’t come from a story about an improbably romantic relationship between young people of the same gender.
Books like DWYLABF (that’s an awful abbreviation!) are presented to kids as part of a broader agenda that seeks to discredit heterosexuality and, more broadly, our Western cultural values. It is that agenda that is corrupting. Sadly, the supposed “liberals” have pushed their agenda so far that a book about a lesbian teen love affair, that would barely have raised an eyebrow twenty years ago, is now viewed as emblematic of a broader, corrosive cultural agenda.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
5 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Thank you. This is a very astute comment.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
5 months ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

Agreed

Arkadian Arkadian
Arkadian Arkadian
5 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

“an improbably romantic relationship between young people of the same gender.”

You mean “sex” surely 😉

A A
A A
5 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

As far as I’m aware, DWYLABF has never been on any school reading lists and is not among the books that DeSantis has banned. These are titles like Gender Queer and Flamer and are graphic novels/sex instruction books which contain explicit sex images that are not age-appropriate for the kids reading them.

Chipoko
Chipoko
5 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Spot on!

Shrunken Genepool
Shrunken Genepool
5 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

100 % Kathleen still doesn’t get it

Caty Gonzales
Caty Gonzales
5 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

DWYLABF
Is that a Welsh place name?

John Dewhirst
John Dewhirst
5 months ago
Reply to  Caty Gonzales

It’s secret lesbian code for a particular lesbian act unknown to men.

El Uro
El Uro
5 months ago
Reply to  John Dewhirst

You got ahead of me, I just wanted to point out that this article lacks graphic illustrations. Some explicit content would make reading much more fun.

Andrew Vanbarner
Andrew Vanbarner
5 months ago
Reply to  John Dewhirst

I’ve heard of this, I believe it involves topless pillowfights at the women’s dormitory. It’s possibly Swedish.

John Dewhirst
John Dewhirst
5 months ago

Maybe if it was filmed it would encourage more celebration of lesbian romance.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
5 months ago
Reply to  Caty Gonzales

Good one, Caty!

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
5 months ago
Reply to  Caty Gonzales

Read the article…..

Caty Gonzales
Caty Gonzales
5 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

And the ‘banned’ books aren’t banned in any real sense. They are removed from school libraries. If you do want your kid to read these books, go buy it!
In the real world, school libraries have limited shelf space and administrators and librarians have to work to decide which pieces of writing get a spot. Rightly, they decided these don’t make the cut as they are not appropriate for the likely audience and certainly not more worthwhile for them to access than any number of books.

Thomas Wagner
Thomas Wagner
5 months ago
Reply to  Caty Gonzales

Spot on!

Isabel Ward
Isabel Ward
5 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Agreed. Also just lumping DeSantis and Orban is lazy and misleading. Yes, they are both conservative politicians (there are actully a few about). Orban is a corporatist, DeSantist is not etc. Whist Orban probably does want to ban certain books. As stated by others DeSantis hasn’t banned any books just proscribed certain books from being given to kids at public schools upto a given age – quite different from banning them. I doubt if he’d have much to say about Don’t Want You Like A Best Friend.which would be vary mild compared to the books he has proscribed.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
5 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Governor DeSantis, as has been repeatedly said but ignored and lied about, has not banned any books, nor has he tried to. He has had explicit pornography removed from the libraries of elementary schools. Books like the one cited here are available in age-appropriate middle and high schools.
Parents who wish to expose their young children to pornography can go to the local public library or buy the materials at any Florida bookstore. Amazon is also happy to send the porn right to your house.
In any case, this thing sounds like a bore. If anyone is interested in sex, romance, rogering, and a rollicking good old Victorian adventure, no one did it better than George McDonald Fraser! Go, Flashy!

B Davis
B Davis
5 months ago

Very true.
But ‘book banning’ sounds much more glamorous and threatening than simply saying normal library curation …. or as-per-usual book purchase selection.
The arithmetic is very simple. The average school library has maybe 10K books…and every year about 1M books are newly published. Assuming the average library buys an additional 300 books annually (just a guess), then 99.97% of all books are ‘banned’ every year from school libraries…meaning they are not selected.
So called book-banning in public schools is a ‘tempest’…in a very, very, very tiny teacup.
And you’re right, George M.Fraser is far better!

Andrew Vanbarner
Andrew Vanbarner
5 months ago
Reply to  B Davis

What strikes me as particularly hypocritical about the “book banning” charge is the well documented efforts of American Democrats to censor social media posts, using DHS, the Justice Department, and numerous other agencies to threaten Twitter 1.0, Facebook, et al.
Most censorship efforts were aimed at conservative, Republican, or libertarian posts, on topics such as COVID shutdowns, transsexualism, the Biden family’s sordid doings, border issues, street crime, and civil unrest.
These actions are illegal, a clear violation of our First Amendment.
Restricting sexually explicit materials and lesson plans involving race shaming from children’s schools aren’t violations of our First Amendment.

Andrew Vanbarner
Andrew Vanbarner
5 months ago

Flash for Freedom!

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
5 months ago

John Charity Spring would likely say O irrumabo vos annorum crepitu.

B Stern
B Stern
5 months ago

Porn. In elementary schools and public libraries? Surely you jest.

Cal R
Cal R
5 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

I think Ms Stockton acknowledges that: “Later on, progressive society will tell them they should dilute any residual emotional intensity, quash their jealousy and possessiveness, date promiscuously, and cut off searing feelings wherever possible. Hundreds of magazine articles will promote polyamory to them as a cool, antiseptic modern ideal.

I think we can mostly all agree that same-sex attraction is in no way, shape, or form the problem here. The problem is the currently dominant cultural message (and the corrosive agenda I think you refer to) that innate differences between the sexes have turned out to be a conspiratorial myth of the oppressive patriarchy.

Cal R
Cal R
5 months ago
Reply to  Cal R

*Stock

MJ Reid
MJ Reid
5 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

You do know that homosexual people are born not made, dont you? And that young girls want books thst explain what they feel. How is that corrupting anyone?

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
5 months ago
Reply to  MJ Reid

That’s kind of an urban myth. Researchers have found causal links between child abuse and homosexuality.

Barry Dank
Barry Dank
5 months ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

They have also found links between child abuse and myriad forms of heterosexuality.

LeeKC C
LeeKC C
5 months ago
Reply to  MJ Reid

Are they? – ‘born not made” I mean?
you sure?

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
5 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Which other part of the world promotes homosexuality or even bisexuality as the norm? Modern Western cultural values (those prevalent since the 1960s) are the only ones that promote tolerance of sexual orientation.

Barry Dank
Barry Dank
5 months ago

No other part of the world promotes homosexuality and bisexuality as normative. So what? What’s your point? What has occurred post WW11 and post Kinsey is more and more persons breaking out of sexual straitjackets, and attempting to find their own way sexually. Remember it was only 100 plus years ago that many parents tied the hands of their children to prevent masturbation which was held to cause madness.

Will Whitman
Will Whitman
4 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

You had a hammer and then nailed it.

Damon Hager
Damon Hager
5 months ago

“For the most part, [teenage] girls don’t want sexual pleasure simply for its own sake — they can barely understand what that might mean.”

This will come as a surprising revelation to anyone who attended a British comprehensive school in the 1980s.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
5 months ago
Reply to  Damon Hager

And 1990s, I might add. I’d hate to be a teenager in this day and age,

Barry Dank
Barry Dank
5 months ago
Reply to  Damon Hager

At this point I wish we had some teenage girls here who can speak for themselves as to what they want sexually.

David B
David B
5 months ago

Removing books from school classrooms is not banning them.

Barry Dank
Barry Dank
5 months ago
Reply to  David B

True, but it is a form of cultural degradation.

Ciaran Rooney
Ciaran Rooney
5 months ago

“Put a chick in it and make her gay”

Matt M
Matt M
5 months ago

I’ve got to hand it to Kathleen Stock, she is one hell of a writer. I would never usually be able to get through an entire article about homosexual books but I finished this one.

Jon Morrow
Jon Morrow
5 months ago

This straight middle aged man’s response to the writings of Prof Kathleen Stock proves that the phenomena doesn’t just apply to young adults.

CF Hankinson
CF Hankinson
5 months ago

Yes. It’s amusing to see the male comments here. As if they had ever been 13 year old girls.
It’s been well documented but little analysed how young pre teen and teen girls fall deeply, romantically in love with unattainable love objects.
I can totally understand the current Japanese girls obsession for falling for effeminate beautiful boys irrespective of their sexual orientation. Because it isn’t about sex. It’s about romantic love. Love that transcends everything.
I think the saddest thing to happen in a the past few decades is how young females to have increasingly been persuaded to indulge in oral sex acts when all they wanted was highly valued male attention and having been persuaded and complied, they were rubbished.
Look how deeply girls bond with each other in their shared love of a fantasied love object, a vicarious emotional lesbianism safe from judgement. Not dissimilar from typical boys bonding over sporting heroes and teams. Satisfying and safe from dishonour.
It’s much more complicated being a girl than males imagine, we’ve had to view the world through the male lens for too long.

peter lucey
peter lucey
5 months ago
Reply to  CF Hankinson

A pity this was downvoted. I’m not a teenage girl, but I think you have a point. Most boy bands are pretty boys rather than masculine adults, and they are marketed that way for a reason – to sell to young adolescents.

Shakespeare adapted the source texts for Romeo and Juliet, changing Juliet’s age from 18 to (nearly) 14. It makes the tragedy more intense IMO if Juliet has an youthful crush.

William Shaw
William Shaw
5 months ago
Reply to  peter lucey

“Most boy bands are pretty boys rather than masculine adults”
That definitely was not the case in the 60’s and 70’s.

David Morley
David Morley
5 months ago
Reply to  William Shaw

Donny Osmond, David Essex?

Andrew D
Andrew D
5 months ago
Reply to  David Morley

And David Cassidy. Or in the 60s, the Beatles – pretty boys to start with, and unthreatening (unlike those nasty Rolling Stones)

LeeKC C
LeeKC C
5 months ago
Reply to  David Morley

There was also Led Zepplin.

Amelia Melkinthorpe
Amelia Melkinthorpe
5 months ago
Reply to  LeeKC C

There will always be Led Zeppelin. Thankfully.

andy young
andy young
5 months ago
Reply to  CF Hankinson

As usual, The Simpsons nailed it with Lisa’s magazine (Non-Threatening Boys).

David Morley
David Morley
5 months ago
Reply to  andy young

Spot on

Martin Ashford
Martin Ashford
5 months ago
Reply to  CF Hankinson

“It’s amusing to see the male comments here. As if they had ever been 13 year old girls.”. Then…
“It’s much more complicated being a girl than males imagine, we’ve had to view the world through the male lens for too long.”

So let me get this right, males can’t know what it’s like to be female, but females can know what it’s like to be male? The usual eye-rolling hypocrisy and doublespeak we’ve come to expect after six odd decades of narcissistic feminist complaining.

You want to know what ‘complicated’? Try jumping through the endless, complex, revolving, hoops that white, english, men and boys are forced to do in today’s society. Then see if you still find your life ‘complicated’.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
5 months ago
Reply to  Martin Ashford

So women don’t have to jump through endless, complex, revolving hoop as well? It’s complicated for women, too. And yes, women have complained about not being able to vote, forced to be housewives rather than going to college, many of which didn’t allow women, the right to use the pill without her husband’s permission, the right to have reproductive rights, the fight against domestic violence and rape, the right for her to have her own checking account and credit card, the right to get jobs that didn’t require typing skills, (Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor had a hard time getting a job in a law firm—they said she could be a secretary.) and so on. Sorry, men haven’t had these battles. It’s hardly narcissistic to fight for basic rights.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
5 months ago
Reply to  Martin Ashford

Now who’s complaining?

B Davis
B Davis
5 months ago
Reply to  CF Hankinson

It’s much more complicated being a plumber than people imagine. It’s much more complicated driving a garbage truck…or hitting a tennis ball…or making a really nice custard. Heck, it’s much more complicated being me, actually, than anyone who’s not me could possibly know. The truth is that Imagination is not the tool one uses when seeking to deeply analyze and understand much of anything.
But shouldn’t that all be followed by a ‘so what?’? So being human is complicated…is there another choice we can make other than being a complicated human? My son spent some time wanting to be a dog, but that never really worked out for him.
As for the amusement provided by male comments on YA writing designed & marketed for 13 yr. old girls, are you suggesting we should segregate commentary by identity group? Should women only comment on essays about women? For that matter, are full grown women even qualified to comment on essays about the reading habits of 13 year old girls? Perhaps only self-identified “queer historical romance” authors should be allowed a comment on ‘queer historical romance’ writing? Cat Sebastian & Emma Alban can take turns.
The point being of course — no one is forcing anyone to view the world in any particular way at all. We are all free to view the world as we wish…accurately, inaccurately, through a glass darkly, with a pair of rose-colored glasses, through a male lens, through a female lens, through the lens of an angst-filled 14 yr. old, or a senior citizen suffering from neuropathic foot pain. Pays your money; takes your choice: there are a million lenses in the naked city, we’re all free to choose our favorite.

CF Hankinson
CF Hankinson
5 months ago
Reply to  B Davis

I don’t think you quite get it. It is well understood that to be educated girls and women have to become honorary males to understand the greats of history and literature because they are solely written by men. This is what makes it complicated.
All understanding of girlhood is imagined through male consciousness of which she is not or hardlyvaware.
There are very few Maggie Tullivers in her education.
She absorbs the male PoV as the norm and any thoughts resisting it remain guilty, secret, transgressive and hidden while she tries to work out how to proceed. That’s complicated.
You have to own that our society and culture are patriarchal. Or perhaps if you don’t like that word, traditionally male-led, seen translated and described through male eyes.
Anyone who knows anything knows that the female voice has been vigorously suppressed throughout time. And until the Victorian novelists, who of course had to pretend they were men, the literary cannon was male.
Now? The challenge to the sole male point of view is necessarily deeply disruptive and we have no idea where the status quo will settle but you won’t be able to squash it back in the box without the kind of control we see in Iran, like ‘ don’t educate girls’ . I’m sure you don’t want to agree with that.

Barry Dank
Barry Dank
5 months ago
Reply to  CF Hankinson

I agree.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
5 months ago
Reply to  CF Hankinson

Well said. Or Afghanistan.

Amelia Melkinthorpe
Amelia Melkinthorpe
5 months ago
Reply to  CF Hankinson

Hildegard of Bingen, Julian of Norwich, Cristina of Pisan, Bess of Hardwick (the Countess of Shrewsbury), Aphra Behn, Mary Wollestonecraft, Artesmisia Gentilesci, Elisabeth Vigee le Brun, etc, et., etc.
Not all of them had to act like “ball-breakers” to be heard in the world, but I would say Bess of Hardwick wasn’t someone to cross …

Paul Thompson
Paul Thompson
5 months ago
Reply to  CF Hankinson

As people mature they go thru phases. The confusion of “affection” with “love” is common. 99% of women go on to finish development and prefer men. 99% of men prefer women.
There is currently a push to mix up the “puppy love” phase where same-sex attraction can be found with mature love.

David Morley
David Morley
5 months ago
Reply to  CF Hankinson

teen girls fall deeply, romantically in love with unattainable love objects.

From Jesus to Donny Osmond and beyond this is certainly true. But it’s more about sex without the actual sexual sting than it is about transcendent love. Possibly that is also the reason for girl on girl crushes.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
5 months ago
Reply to  David Morley

“The unattainable is all the more desirable” is a turn-on at any age.

Barry Dank
Barry Dank
5 months ago
Reply to  CF Hankinson

Thank you, CF, for your insightful analysis.

LeeKC C
LeeKC C
5 months ago
Reply to  CF Hankinson

What a beautiful comment. This has not been spoken about enough. Too often girls have been ridiculed and shamed for feeling this way.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
5 months ago

“Once again love drives me on, that loosener of limbs, bittersweet creature against which nothing can be done.”*

(* SAPPHO of Lesbos, circa 620-610BC- 580-570 BC.)

Richard Pearse
Richard Pearse
5 months ago

Charles – you are a priceless addition to the generally excellent comments by Unherders- especially your familiarity with the classic world! Thanks much!

LeeKC C
LeeKC C
5 months ago

So sweet. Indulge me further. Please ….

Richard C
Richard C
5 months ago

How many copies of this book are likely to be sold? 10,000, 20,000 worldwide?
I doubt that it moves the dial on the direction of travel for reading which, sadly, sees book sales continuing to fall.

Chipoko
Chipoko
5 months ago

“Why women love lesbian romance”My wife most definitely does not love lesbian romance! And I know of no women in our social horizon who do (apart from one lesbian couple we know). To the contrary, they dislike it intensely.

El Uro
El Uro
5 months ago
Reply to  Chipoko

It seems you have children

Vesselina Zaitzeva
Vesselina Zaitzeva
5 months ago
Reply to  Chipoko

Fully agree. I cringed when I read the title. What a sweeping statement!
I highly respect the principle ‘whatever two consenting adults do in private, is their own business’ and I firmly believe that this principle should be upheld in a civilised society. Hence it is perfectly normal to have books describing, for example, lesbian relationships. But, by the same token, it’s perfectly normal for me not to be in the least interested in them (in both books and relationhips, that is).
Definitely, a more realistic title would be ‘Why some, and probably not so many women, etc.”

Fafa Fafa
Fafa Fafa
5 months ago

“Why people like to travel” – if you read that title you would know that it would describe the kind of people who like to travel, what people who like to travel like about traveling, and you would not think that the title claims “ALL people like to travel and I will tell you why”. It is clear which people the author thinks like lesbian romance.

Barry Dank
Barry Dank
5 months ago
Reply to  Chipoko

Would your women friends who love lesbian romance be likely to tell you they love lesbian romance?

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
5 months ago
Reply to  Barry Dank

Probably.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
5 months ago
Reply to  Chipoko

To dislike something intensely can be a bit of a red flag.

Shrunken Genepool
Shrunken Genepool
5 months ago

‘Ban’ – ‘censor’ – lying woke talking points. They have Amazon in Florida. we just don’t want it foisted on our kids at school.
BS article

Barry Dank
Barry Dank
5 months ago

If you do not want things foisted on your kids, take away their computers and turn off all TV, definitely no streaming channels.

Louise Henson
Louise Henson
5 months ago

It’s a long time since I read a romance but from memory the enjoyment comes from being able to fall in with the hero along with the heroine and thus enjoy a vicarious romantic fulfilment. So a story about lesbians isn’t going to do it me.

Elizabeth Baber
Elizabeth Baber
5 months ago

Deleted.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
5 months ago

DeSantis has not tried to “ban” books. He lacks the power to do so. What he has done is say that certain titles have no place in the elementary school library. When school boards freak out over a parent reading from one of those books out loud, but also saying it’s okay for kids to read the same books, something does not add up.
It is also tedious to hear the “ban” talking point when the discussion ignores titles such as To Kill a Mockingbird, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and others that reflect the language – accurately – of a previous time, but have been deemed out of bounds for the kiddies. You can’t have it both ways.

Jonathan Andrews
Jonathan Andrews
5 months ago

Please forgive me making a side point here (and I hope not a banal, obvious one). It’s hard to accept men who pretend to be women because we know that they won’t have to endure the rather tough physical symptoms of the potential for motherhood that women face.

Women pretending to be men bother me less except; “The world — and the vast majority of his family and friends — think Oliver is a girl named Elizabeth.”

In those days, and in many parts of today’s world, men had a fair chance of being forced to fight the French or whoever. Rough conditions, whether on land or at sea. Oliver would have put his hair in pigtails, quick as you like, if he’d had the King’s shilling pressed on him.

Cross my heart and hope to die, I don’t care how you dress. how you call yourself and present to the world but let’s not accept this stupid idea that men can become women and women, men.

Barry Dank
Barry Dank
5 months ago

We are all pretending. The great pretenders become celebrities.

Daniel P
Daniel P
5 months ago

If I paid attention to what comes out in movies, TV, music and in a whole lot of new books, I would think that everyone has a gay fantasy and that 40% of the population is gay or bisexual.

This is a media culture driven phenomenon and I disagree that it is answering some subliminal need in our youth, male or female, but has an agenda.

Katja Sipple
Katja Sipple
5 months ago
Reply to  Daniel P

40 percent? If you believe the media, it’s at least 70 percent if you include the bisexual community. It’s utterly bizarre, because we all know that’s not the case.

Barry Dank
Barry Dank
5 months ago
Reply to  Daniel P

The fantasies that movies most frequently embrace are revenge fantasies.

Melissa
Melissa
5 months ago

Enough with the book banning nonsense. This article was a complete waste of time.

Laura Pritchard
Laura Pritchard
5 months ago

Oh my, you lot are niave. I don’t know about men but women love *all sorts* of sexual couplings in literature. It doesn’t mean they want to replicate them in real life.

Peter Lee
Peter Lee
5 months ago

In fact we all cringe at the thought!

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
5 months ago
Reply to  Peter Lee

What do you cringe at the thought of?

William Shaw
William Shaw
5 months ago

“Why women love lesbian romance”
Some do I’m sure but the ones that I know cringe when even a relatively mild (kissing) lesbian scene is shown on TV.
If they do in fact love lesbian romance they put on a good act to make others believe the opposite.

Barry Dank
Barry Dank
5 months ago
Reply to  William Shaw

But the others who believe the opposite may also be great pretenders.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
5 months ago

Ron de Santis et al are more concerned about keeping critical race theory and gender ideology out of schools.

David McKee
David McKee
5 months ago

Going a bit off-piste here, but let’s try to see what this looks like from the point of view of the Global South, rather than the usual Western navel-gazing.
Queering up the classics seems like a harmless pastime, does it not? But then, we are looking at it from our own point of view, where homosexuality is seen as normal. For the rest of the world, it isn’t. And that goes in spades for the view of Global South governments.
The Russians have spotted a gap in the market, and they are going for it, especially in Africa (https://ecfr.eu/article/propaganda-in-holy-orders-africa-ukraine-and-the-russian-orthodox-church/). There, the attractions of Orthodox Christianity, unsullied by the dominance of the West in the Catholic and Protestant churches, are winning converts. It may seem strange to our eyes, but approval of homosexuality is much more of a turnoff to Africans than the unprovoked attack of Ukraine, or holding al-Assad’s hand as he gasses his own people.
The Russian Orthodox Church is an arm of the Russian state, so it does what Putin wants. So the Global South drifts away from us and towards the dictatorships of Russia, China and Iran (much to the current discomfort of Israel in the International Court).
So.. do we care? Or at least care enough to amend our own activities that we get back into step with the rest of the world?

Paul Thompson
Paul Thompson
5 months ago
Reply to  David McKee

Homosexuality approval needs a re-evaluation. I do not want criminalization of homosexuality. But we are way too far into “promotion”. What we should be doing is “reluctant tolerance”.
I am friends with a family. A daughter, about 29, is very attractive young lady. She has had multiple public boyfriends. Now she is going to marry a woman. I’m sad for the mom. There will be no grandchildren. If the daughter, the new lesbian, feels the “clock”, what then? Will she, like a cow, be inseminated by the anonymous semen of some donor? How wonderfully clinical.
Homosexuality is fine so long as “recreational sex” is the function of sex. When sex is to provide the experience to have children, the approach breaks down.

R Wright
R Wright
5 months ago
Reply to  Paul Thompson

I think that horse bolted a decade wgo when self-professed conservatives legalised same sex marriage.

Elizabeth S
Elizabeth S
5 months ago
Reply to  Paul Thompson

Hate to break it to you, but I’m a woman in a heterosexual marriage and my mother still will never see any grandchildren from me. You worry about your family friend’s daughter being treated like a cow, but you already talk about her like a broodmare.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
5 months ago
Reply to  Elizabeth S

Well said.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
5 months ago
Reply to  Paul Thompson

There will still be grandchildren.

Kirsten Walstedt
Kirsten Walstedt
5 months ago
Reply to  David McKee

Is “the Global South” the new way of saying Third World?

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
5 months ago
Reply to  David McKee

Most of the bigoted and homophobic laws and narrow minded cultural norms of the world are in countries where the conquerer and colonisers from the north entrenched their own laws, now outdated, to control the population often at the expense of previous norms that included acceptance of more diverse relationships and ways of living. Hence the modern attraction of states with similar controlling and banning tendencies run by male dictators.

Barry Dank
Barry Dank
5 months ago
Reply to  David McKee

Trying to be instep with the rest of the world is a misnomer. In any case, I prefer that we be out of step, follow our chosen paths. Telling any adult to get in step with the rest of us, strikes me as being highly arrogant, or, if you will, Putinian.

LeeKC C
LeeKC C
5 months ago
Reply to  David McKee

I believe you are right about the Orthodox church but I contest the reason for it is off centre in my view. I believe its not so much the “Russian” version of orthodoxy itself by more broadly “Eastern Orthodoxy” religions in general as it is more closely aligned to the traditional spiritual wisdom associated to Christianity in general. It has not been so many times morphed and changed over time.
I strongly believe that this movement is more closely aligned with the loss of what the true meaning of life is. What being human actually is in connection with all things. All the push for tech, AI, and at the other end, where it appears that all we are is our sexuality – both causes have gone way too far off central themes as in they now totally disregard the base of what makes us all human.
A mind that will not even be ours anymore or as base as you can get – sexual instincts – mind or animal…….all for consumption by the market.
No wonder people are moving away – searching for something a little deeper.

Fafa Fafa
Fafa Fafa
5 months ago

The key part of this article, for me, is the paragraph where KS touches upon some critical comments of progressivism. “Progressive” what a wonderful word, like when you are progressing toward the edge of crater… Anyway … that paragraph was the point where, I went from simply being interested and enjoying KS’s usual wit, I started to feel sad. I don’t have people in my immediate family in that age group right now (only younger or older) so I have been watching this “progress” from my one-step-removed distance. Reading about the inevitable collapse of young girls’ view of “romantic intimacy between two young people” in today’s society is disheartening. There is a big difference between the idealized view of relationships of a 15 year old maturing into the view of an adult about relationships versus being totally abandoned for the sake of hedonism. These young girls will once day be wives and mothers … well I guess we can see why that is not happening so much any more, I should have changed the grammatical tense of the beginning of this sentence.

Andrew Stuart
Andrew Stuart
5 months ago

Fun when “unfeasibly pornographic sex” gets a hyperlink. Even to mouse over and check the letters at the bottom of the browser feels illicit. Must go for a run.

Colorado UnHerd
Colorado UnHerd
5 months ago

Thankfully, I’ve been spared the pain of reading this book by Kathleen Stock’s analysis, which is almost certainly more entertaining, as usual. Thanks to Prof. Stock for putting quotes around variations of “queer,” a perfectly innocent word turned epithet turned vaguely anarchistic “woke” signaling. Poor persecuted adjective. I’m lesbian but rather with DeSantis on the needless early sexualization of curricula in American public schools. Let them play — not as trans-identified boys trespassing in girls’ sports, but as children who deserve a childhood without having adult matters prematurely foisted on them.

Barry Dank
Barry Dank
5 months ago

But adults continually foist stuff on children, from dress to table matters, to being polite, to…on and on.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
5 months ago
Reply to  Barry Dank

Exactly.

Christopher Chantrill
Christopher Chantrill
5 months ago

If lesbian movies can make money, go for it!

Sheryl Rhodes
Sheryl Rhodes
5 months ago

When Right-wing politicians such as DeSantis or Orbán try to ban books like DWYLABF…”
This is a careless assertion, and the author should have provided examples of DeSantis “banning” this type of book before making it. Do Florida elementary school libraries feature books centered on intense passionate romance, period? If so, has anyone attempted to “ban” such books if they feature SS romance?
School books for kids should not include graphic depictions of sexual acts or how-to guides for, erm, how to phrase this, posterior pleasure? That’s the type of material that parents would rather their kids not be exposed to in their tender years and those are the books being removed from school libraries.

Paul Thompson
Paul Thompson
5 months ago
Reply to  Sheryl Rhodes

Absolutely. The deliberate blurring of the lines between porno, gay promotional material, and actual literature is so annoying. In addition, I would love to have a full-text reading OUT LOUD in libraries of “Huckleberry Finn” which includes a whole bunch of the famous word we are not allowed to say.

Ida March
Ida March
5 months ago

Kathleen Stock is dreaming, or engaging in wishful thinking.
What she means is that lesbians love lesbian romance.
Or is it the headline writer?

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
5 months ago
Reply to  Ida March

Yes, it’s to lure us into reading the article. I wonder if more males read lesbian romances than straight females. It’s certainly true that more males are turned on by lesbian sex than straight females are.

B Davis
B Davis
5 months ago

Kathleen is usually so much better.
No, ‘Women’ as a category do not “love lesbian romance”. Where does such a blind & unjustified assertion come from?
Some women do, no doubt. And equally some men. But “women” as 50% of the reading demographic? Hardly. Lesbian fiction is published by lesbian publishing houses for a lesbian audience. There are always exceptions of course, but that’s how sales typically track. If we compare the top 10 best-selling books listed in Amazon’s Women Fiction there is zero overlap with the top 10 best-selling books in Amazon’s Lesbian Fiction. Examining the number of Amazon reviews for each Top 10, we find 679K reviews left for Top 10 Women’s Fiction and 6K reviews left to Top 10 Lesbian Fiction. These are cursory comps, but there is no reason to believe that any other comparison (total sales…total ratings, etc ) would tell us anything significantly different.
And the assertion that “at the heart of most such books is something rather old-fashioned and none the worse for it: sweetly passionate love stories”?? Does Prof. Stock suggest that making a perversion ‘sweetly passionate’ and “emotionally committed” somehow elevates it to not just another form of ‘normal’ but a higher form? That there is no need to waste time trying to ‘protect young people from something subversive and corrupting’ because at heart the subversion and corruption is placed within a literary context of hearts & flowers & loving commitment?
That seems a dubious and even dangerous belief.
Certainly we would not equally suggest (as per the Man-Boy Love Association) that a sweetly passionate love story of child & adult, filled with close emotional commitment & connection is quaintly archaic and an example of a good and positive sexual relationship. It seems strange that that is the argument here.

Paul Thompson
Paul Thompson
5 months ago
Reply to  B Davis

All of the homo crap on TV is advertised as “romantic”. Well, it’s not romantic if you are not homosexual. It’s just disgusting for normal people. The usual gay “performative public display of affection” is used deliberately to annoy normal non-gay viewers. I have no interest in male homosexual romance novels. I doubt most normal women are interested in lesbian stuff.

Barry Dank
Barry Dank
5 months ago
Reply to  Paul Thompson

But I consider my lesbian friends to be normal. And does the public performative display of heterosexual affection used deliberately to annoy normal gay men and lesbian women? Absurd on its face.

laurence scaduto
laurence scaduto
5 months ago

I loved this essay; Kathleen at her best. And such a light touch.
As a proud cis-hetero teamster of the patriarchy I say: If certain young women want to have non-compliant crushes they damn well should! A little bit of chaos is good for all of our souls.
I can’t imagine what all the negative commentary is about.

B Robshaw
B Robshaw
5 months ago

I can’t understand the negative comments either. I thought this was a witty, perceptive and very well-written piece about an interesting phenomenon. It was also very good-natured, which most of the comments are not.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
5 months ago

Well said.

Paul T
Paul T
5 months ago

“edgelord” really made me laugh.

Paul T
Paul T
5 months ago
Reply to  Paul T

Actually I just looked up the definition in the OED and I think it’s wrong. “edging” is where a person (a man almost certainly) stops masturbating just before the point of no return prior to orgasm. Some saddos spend hours edging to online porn, delaying their ecstasy as long as possible. An edgelord, by that definition, would be somebody who has gone so far that it’s almost tantric; they can leave long gaps – days – and do other things, returning to the edge when they have time and more…inspiration? Consequently they are deeply, profoundly, frustrated and angry because they build up all that energy, all that friction, waiting for it to explode. In the meantime they take it out on internet forums. I much prefer this interpretation.

R Wright
R Wright
5 months ago

I am not surprised the author is blind to the corrosive effects of deconstructionist postmodern tripe like this because she was born and raised in the liberal left Academy.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
5 months ago

“Why lesbians love lesbian romance”. Lesbians, an aging and vanishing demographic, because gender fluidity makes nailing your proclivities down to one biological sex obsolete. And bigoted. Get with the times.

Janet G
Janet G
5 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Spot on. The transgender movement aims to abolish homosexuality and to a large extent it is succeeding. Young potential gays and lesbians are persuaded to transition, thus making them faux heteros.

Citizen Diversity
Citizen Diversity
5 months ago

Is an author already at work on an introductory book about same-sex relationships for use in school PHSE lessons for 5-year olds featuring a love affair between two lesbian felines, Jinja and Brindel, called, Purride and Purrjudice?

David Morley
David Morley
5 months ago

An absolute joy to read. Witty and intelligent. More please.

Brian Thomas
Brian Thomas
5 months ago

I am a heterosexual man. I find lesbian stories and films boring and homosexual ones seriously off putting. Consequently I read/watch neither. Hopefully my indifference is acceptable.

Linda Arnold
Linda Arnold
5 months ago

I do not love lesbian romance. The title is so crazy that I don’t want to read the article. I’m perfectly happy for the occasional lesbian romance to be on screens, to be enjoyed by the minority of women who are lesbians – they deserve so see a romance they identify with, and to be enjoyed by many if not most men. But heterosexual women do not particularly enjoy lesbian romance.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
5 months ago
Reply to  Linda Arnold

Exactly.

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
5 months ago

There is a lot of competition for the best article by Kathleen Stock. This though is probably it.

Brian Thomas
Brian Thomas
5 months ago

Interesting. You make no reference to the basic standard of Ms Stock’s articles. Are they all pretty awful but this one a tad less so?

Elizabeth S
Elizabeth S
5 months ago

As a straight woman I’ve been confused by the proliferation of lesbian romance for (probably) straight girls, but this article really has the ring of truth to it. It saddens me that girls are pushed to choose between physical and emotional romance in this way, as if it is only through denying their (hetero)sexuality that they can see any way of fulfilling their romantic longings, both for love and emotional companionship. Looking back, I think I did go through a similar phase in the form available in my time (extremely close, possessive female friendship that to some degree stood in for male companionship). It’s that phase where you burn with desire for the other, and yet know well enough to fear it, too. And while I never experienced it personally, I can all too well understand how there could be pressure to put away romantic notions as childishness, in order to graduate into the “mature” world of online dating, ghosting, reluctant polyamory, and callousness. No wonder young women want to hold onto YA stories long past the time they can quite be considered young adults (another mystery I’ve been brooding over).
Oh the ache of being a girl! It’s a side of things we don’t talk about enough.

Matt Sylvestre
Matt Sylvestre
5 months ago

I am not sure what to make of this other than to say that “kids” are idiots. (Just as I was once and they are for now)….

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
5 months ago

Sounds quite ghastly to me. Same sex love stories have been around for decades and no one raised an eyebrow.
Now, all of a sudden it is being hailed and deconstructed like mad.
Apparently all literature is secretly gay and heterosexual love is the odd one out.
Makes you wonder what the hidden agenda is.

Duane M
Duane M
5 months ago

“There’s a deep irony here, I think. The more that the sexes are set up by contemporary society to do battle with one another, and the more all of us are encouraged to disassociate emotionally from strong romantic feeling, the more likely it is that same-sex relationships — as depicted in fiction, at least — will look like a paradigm of intimacy.”

Amen to that!

LeeKC C
LeeKC C
5 months ago

Sigh. Speaks to the core fantasy of the tender heart and wanting.

Hanne Herrman
Hanne Herrman
5 months ago

Maybe I am not a woman, but I find it extremely boring with all this cross-gender romances – same shit new wrapping in away … Give me rather a strong romance with heros and needy greedy women.