Who Writes the Lesbians?

***Trigger Warning***
***This piece mentions rape and suicide***

The Beginning

Watchmen is a graphic novel, written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons, and published in 1986.  Set in America during the beginning of the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union, the novel focuses on the Watchmen, a group of vigilante superheroes who first appeared during WWII and who reunite to investigate a conspiracy against them.    

The novel includes two lesbian characters who play marginal roles.  I bring up their roles because although the novel is set 26 years earlier, the struggles of these lesbian characters remain realities for LGBTQ individuals today.  


The Silhouette

On the far left is the Silhouette, also known as Ursula Zandt.  In the graphic novel, we read about the Silhouette’s story through Hollis Mason’s (also known as Hooded Justice, located on the far right) autobiography and through an interview with Sally Jupiter (also known as the Silk Spectre and located directly left of Hooded Justice).

Hollis Mason writes, “Yes, I daresay some of us did have our sexual hang-ups.  Everybody knows what eventually became of the Silhouette and although it would be tasteless to rehash the events surrounding her death in this current volume, it provides proof for those who need it that for some people, dressing up in a costume did have its more libidinous elements.”

So our first introduction to the Silhouette is foreshadowing of a negative ending and an accusation of donning a costume for its fetish association.  

Hollis continues, “In 1946, the papers revealed that the Silhouette was living with another woman in a lesbian relationship.  Schexnayder persuaded us to expel her from the group, and six weeks later she was murdered, along with her lover, by one of her former enemies.”

In an interview, Sally Jupiter admits that it was wrong of the group to kick Ursula out.  She admits that there were other gay members, but they were men.  



Joey is a female cabdriver in Watchmen.  There are two particular scenes I wish to mention that feature Joey.  

In the first scene, Joey approaches a man who works at a newspaper stand.  Her language is crass, and her appearance is masculine.  She grabs a paper and asks “Who’s this month’s centerfold?”  Then she asks the man if he’ll put a poster up for her and make sure it doesn’t get torn down.  The man takes the poster and says, “Gay women against rape?  Is this a joke?”  

In the second scene, Joey is out with her girlfriend, who isn’t named.  From their conversation, which takes place at Joey’s place of work, we know that Joey’s girlfriend is upper-class.  Joey’s girlfriend mentions that they should “respect gay professionals working openly,” but a few minutes later, she tells Joey that she wants to end their relationship.  She cries, “I wuh-wanna be straight…and, I wanna be dead…!”

Together Today

These characters’ lives are directly determined by their society.  In 1946, American families struggled to return to the lives they had lived prior to the war.  The family was no longer the economic unit, women were comfortable in the workplace, and men were not the only ones operating in the new public and urban sector.  There was no political gay community at the time, no identity to rally around.  The Stonewall Riot was over twenty years away.  The Silhouette was murdered for “flaunting” her “otherness.”  She was not murdered for being gay but for being out.  Her sexuality was also not the only marker of identity that worked against her. Her gender and nationality–Polish–further marked her as “other.”  Sally Jupiter admitted that there were other gay members in the Watchmen.  Why was Ursula the only one kicked out?  

In 1985, there was a vibrant gay community, but being out was still a danger.  Joey’s girlfriend mentions that they should respect open gay professionals, but being out in the workforce is still problematic almost thirty years later.  For Joey’s girlfriend, the pain of marginalization is internalized and results in the end of a relationship.  About 1/3 of LGBTQ youth attempt suicide, and a larger percentage suffer from some form of mental illness. The man at the newspaper kiosk trivializes rape because gay women are the ones struggling to stop the act of rape from claiming more victims.  Rape is often a violent crime committed against LGBTQ individuals, not one from which we are exempt.

Fortunately, there are places you can go for help.   

OUT for Work is an organization that helps LGBTQ individuals find work in non-discriminatory places.  Visit outforwork.org for more information.   

The Trevor Helpline is a national 24-hour, toll-free suicide prevention hotline aimed at gay and questioning youth. Call 1-866-4U-TREVOR if you’re having thoughts of suicide or want to talk to someone about your sexual identity.  Visit http://www.thetrevorproject.org/ for more information.


~ by thornfieldrose on September 23, 2012.

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