Book Review: ‘Bishop’s Run’ by B.D. Gates

I didn’t realize how hungry I was for a good lesbian novel until I read Bishop’s Run by B.D. Gates. Reading this novel made me realize how unsatisfying other novels I’ve read have been. I have to admit I haven’t spent much time looking for lesbian novels, and there may be good novels out there already that I just haven’t read yet. (Don’t worry, I will get to reading them eventually!) Mostly what I’ve read before is works of literature with “queer” themes by professional fiction writers. Although they are technically great pieces of writing, they aren’t as satisfying to my lesbian heart as a novel written by an ordinary lesbian for the entertainment of a purely lesbian audience.

Bishop’s Run is the story of Bishop, a woman who wakes up after a near-death experience and finds herself being nursed back to health and taken care of by the Witness Protection Program. She has to take on a new identity as a woman named “Lisa Baxter” and start her life all over in a new place. The novel takes us through her journey to recovery, starting a new job, meeting new people, and trying to hide and forget the life she left behind. Her new identity is provided by Witness Protection, and it’s quite different from her real life story, so it’s a process for her to learn to live convincingly as “Lisa Baxter” when her real self keeps threatening to reveal itself.

Bishop, now renamed Baxter, lands in a small town called Tenley in the southern United States. Although she is living in the Bible Belt, the story doesn’t focus on homophobia or intolerance—instead it paints a charming picture of rural life and friendly neighbors. The people of Tenley are very kind to her and make sure she gets everything she needs. The first part of the book is very positive—it’s all about her finding a job she enjoys, making friends, joining a softball team, and finding the other members of her local lesbian “tribe.” There is a long history of novels with lesbian characters who either die, go crazy, end up with a man, or lead a miserable life, and this novel does the opposite. It’s a refreshing story of lesbian success, health and happiness.

That’s not to say that it’s overly or unrealistically positive. It does contain the normal frustrations of lesbian life—like when you get your heart broken, or when you go through rough patches with your friends, or when your softball team isn’t playing well because of the dyke drama occurring among the players! And there is an occasional mention of homophobia, but it’s not the focus of the book.

There is a subtle butch/femme flavor among the characters, and I love the way it’s presented. Gates doesn’t try to categorize anyone using superficial markers or stereotypes. She rarely calls anyone by any label, and only uses the word “butch” once in the whole novel. She just describes their personalities and it comes through. The narrator, Bishop, is a “full-on dyke” and “not the frilly type,” who loves to crack jokes, play cards with the guys, and flirt with women. She is given the name of “Lisa” for her new life, but she finds it too feminine, and prefers to be called by her new last name, “Baxter.” Her butch personality is visible in a whole lot of subtle behaviors, like the way she flirts and carries herself. The women Bishop finds interesting are pretty women who are also strong people who can stand up for themselves, drive fast and shoot a gun. They come across as authentic and endearing lesbian personalities.

This is the first time I’ve read a novel with a happy butch narrator. The only other novel I’ve read starring a butch lesbian is Stone Butch Blues, which, although it’s an excellent book for many reasons, is characterized by almost never-ending misery. Bishop’s Run is the story of a happy butch, who lives her life the way she wants to as an out lesbian, who overcomes her obstacles and thrives in life no matter where she is planted. Although she has experienced some violence, it’s not related to her being a masculine lesbian. Despite having masculine mannerisms and being an obvious dyke, she feels no discomfort with her female body. She is the butch hero that the lesbian community has always needed.

One of the first things I want to know when I pick up a lesbian novel, after “Does anyone die or go crazy?” is whether there is a sex scene and whether it’s good (because sometimes they aren’t!) Let me tell you, there are several, and they are stunning. Gates describes sex between women in full detail in a way that is realistic and exquisitely satisfying both physically and emotionally. They are beautiful to behold and you may have to go back and read them twice.

This novel was refreshing both for its positive portrayal of lesbians and also its exclusive focus on lesbians. It’s not about “queer” people or any kind of special snowflake – it’s about a real lesbian community rather than an alphabet soup that includes the whole world. The way the lesbians in Tenley take care of each other is touching and beautiful. They don’t allow any dykes to go homeless, to be left out or alone, they befriend each other and watch out for each other. Older lesbians serve as role models for the younger ones to look up to. It’s a beautiful portrayal of the community we are longing for.

Here are a few words about the author. She is a butch lesbian living in a small Southern U.S. town. She’s old enough to remember what the lesbian community used to be like but “doesn’t feel any older than 28.” She started writing this novel just for fun but became more determined to publish it as it came along. Here are some words of hers from a short interview:

“When I started writing this around June 2015, I was writing out of boredom, and creating an alternate reality was a great escape. I “went to Tenley” every day and visited with the lesbian characters I’d imagined, I thought about them when I wasn’t writing and, quite suddenly, they were real and they were driving the story, telling me what was happening, what they were thinking, I just had to type fast enough to keep up with them. Then came the “Purge of 2016,” when all the lesbian and bisexual women were killed off on multiple TV shows in a matter of months and it broke my heart. All across my social media platforms, women were just shattered. I didn’t grow up seeing myself reflected on any screen that didn’t end with tragedy or death for any character remotely like me, so you’d think I’d be used to it, but I wasn’t. It hurt like hell. I hadn’t intended to publish “Bishop’s Run,” but when I looked at what I had been writing for myself and realized that damned few people, if any, were writing for real, honest-to-god butches, and that butches deserved our lives represented as much as anyone, I decided that my story wasn’t just for me anymore. So, “Bishop’s Run” is for the butches, and the women who love them.”

I was surprised to hear that she didn’t originally intend to publish it, because I think it’s the Lesbian Novel of the Year. It’s my all-time favorite one. Great things happen when we create our own materials and represent ourselves. This is a fantastic contribution to the lesbian community.

You can purchase the book on Amazon at this link.

Advertisements

Beauty and the Butch—A lesbian fairy tale

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.

Continue reading