Guess what—I wrote a fairy tale!
The reason I wrote this is because I was thinking one day about superheroes and princesses, and how kids are being expected to identify with the characters that are marketed to them based on their sex, and how identifying with characters of the opposite sex is taken as a sign of being transgender. For example, right in the DSM criteria for gender dysphoria, they list identification with opposite-sex characters in stories as a sign of gender dysphoria!
Both kids and adults can identify with any characters they want, and all it means is that the character resonated with them in some way. It doesn’t mean they have a medical problem that requires treatment. It’s quite normal for girls to identify with male characters, since male characters are fully-developed characters who are often heroes and who get to go on fun adventures, while female characters are two-dimensional pretty things for the male characters to win. It’s also normal for lesbians to identify with male characters, since we also want to be the one to “get the girl.” Maybe we’d identify with lesbian characters if there were any!
As a woman, who was once a girl, I am expected to identify with princess characters, at least according to what the marketers think. However, I don’t usually identify with princesses, and if I had to buy a product that had either a superhero or a princess on it, I’d choose a superhero. There is only one princess I identify with, and that is Belle. Belle is a girl who doesn’t do what girls are expected to—she likes to read and she’s more interested in learning and having adventures than swooning over boys. When a young man does try to woo her, she has no interest and rejects him. What I identify with the most about Belle from the Disney film is when she sings “I want much more than this provincial life.” I love that she doesn’t want the regular life that’s expected of her and instead wants “adventure” and “so much more than they’ve got planned.” For many years now, I’ve thought of Belle as a lesbian, and I know in the real story she ends up with a guy, but hear me out. She rejects an offer of marriage from a man who, although he’s obnoxious, would make a good provider, and who all the village girls are swooning over. Then she falls in love with someone she never expected to fall in love with, and when the villagers find out, they don’t understand and try to kill her lover. This sounds like a lesbian narrative, if you leave out the part where the beast is actually a human male.
I was thinking about how Belle could be a lesbian if you just rewrote the story a little bit, and then I thought about how rewriting fairy tales to give them a modern/feminist/queer twist is an actual genre, and then I remembered that I’m a writer and I could totally write that myself! So I did!
Here is the PDF file for my lesbian fairy tale, Beauty and the Butch.
I’m going to continue to discuss it here, but warning: spoilers to follow! If you prefer to read it before hearing about what happens, then stop reading this post now and click on the PDF.
*SPOILER ALERT BELOW*
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When writing this story, I didn’t want to rely only on the Disney film, so I did a bit of research first. I found out that Beauty and the Beast was written in 1740 by a French woman, and I read an English translation of her story, which was over 10,000 words. In the original, there is a rich family who loses all their fortunes, and the youngest daughter is a very sweet and lovely girl who is nicknamed Beauty. When the father has an opportunity to possibly get some of his wealth back, all the kids ask him for presents, but Beauty only asks for a rose. The father ends up picking a rose outside of a mansion and a beast confronts him and says he owes him a debt for taking a rose. Since it was Beauty who asked him for the rose in the first place, she agrees to sacrifice herself and go live with the Beast. So Beauty goes and lives with the Beast, and he frightens her with his monstrous appearance but every day he asks her to be his wife. She keeps having dreams where a handsome prince tells her that she should trust her heart and disregard outward appearances and that she has to free him from the disguise that he’s under so they can be together. And we all know how it ends, of course, Beauty disregards her fear of the Beast and comes to love him and that breaks the spell and he turns back into a prince.
The lesson here to girls is that even if a man frightens you, you should put your fear aside and agree to be his wife anyway, and then you will be rewarded for your good behavior. This is a terrible, dangerous message. When rewriting the story, I wanted to make it more feminist in every way possible.
- In my story, instead of an absent mother, Beauty still has her mother as well as her father. There is no reason why mothers always need to be killed off in fairy tales!
- Beauty has a lot more “agency” in my story than in the original. Instead of her father giving her to the beast to clear his debt, which is fucking gross, Beauty picks the flower herself and deals with the consequences herself.
- In the original story, Beauty dreams of a man who tells her what to do, and in my story, it’s a witch who comes to Beauty in visions and gives her advice. The witch character might represent just a plain old witch, or she can be thought of as a goddess, a guardian angel, or Beauty’s “higher self.” Either way, she helps Beauty along the way without trying to control her, she simply gives her hints and lets Beauty figure things out for herself. I much prefer Beauty listening to a female authority figure rather than a male one.
- In the original story, Beauty is always passively entertained while she’s in the beast’s castle. There are monkeys and parrots who put on shows for her, and she watches opera and theater. In my story, Beauty doesn’t sit around being passively entertained, she does things herself, like cooking, playing piano, reading, and working. She’s smart and self-reliant and therefore a character you can look up to.
I also made the story lesbian, obviously. I described Beauty as always loving her female friends and having no interest in men whatsoever. Instead of a rose, I had her pick violets, because they are a lesbian symbol. When Beauty was tempted to pick from the garden of violets, that represented her desire for a lesbian lover. When I wrote the character Noble, I needed to create a Beast character who appeared to be something but was really something else, because the basis of this story is that Beauty breaks the spell and the true identity of her lover is revealed. So in my story, Noble is a woman who wears men’s clothes and does masculine things and Beauty, who has never seen a woman like that before, thinks she’s a man at first. Beauty realizes all on her own that Noble is a woman and it’s then that she realizes that she loves a masculine woman and that breaks the spell.
Today it’s not very typical for a woman to just wear pants and that makes her pass as a man, but I read about 19th century lesbians who lived as men and that’s all they did—wore men’s clothes and did men’s jobs and they passed, because people were so unused to women doing that that it didn’t occur to them that they were seeing a woman. I vaguely tried to make this story sound 19th century, although I was not specific about time period.
It was really fun writing this, and I’m so glad I did. I thought a fairy tale deserved to be presented all pretty in a PDF file rather than just pasting it into WordPress. Feel free to share the PDF with your friends who may be interested—I hope many will enjoy my lesbian fairy tale!