The Case for Paradise Island As Lesbian Utopia [Pride Week]
The Amazons are queer to begin with. That’s not even up for debate.
And when I talk about the Amazons, I’m talking about the ones in Wonder Woman comics, as originally introduced in 1941 by H.G. Peter, William Moulton Marston, and Marston’s partners and uncredited collaborators, Elizabeth Holloway Marston and Olive Byrne. The idea that Greek Myth and ancient writings are good sources for what DC’s Amazons should be like didn’t really take hold until Brian Azzarello’s run, and it didn’t serve them very well.
How do we know that the DC Universe Amazons are undeniably queer? To start with, they’re a single-gender civilization that thrived for thousands of years. In the absence of men, they would have formed relationships, taken pleasure in each other, and built their own families. There are no straight women on Paradise Island. There may be some asexual Amazons, and certainly there’s going to be no shortage of lesbian Amazons, but straight Amazons just don’t make a lot of sense.
To believe that an Amazon could be heterosexual, you have to believe that female sexuality is a thing that sits dormant until there’s a man around to wake it up. That’s not just an outdated belief; it’s practically Victorian. In truth, all the evidence points to sexuality, and female sexuality in particular, being quite fluid. Even a woman who might find herself exclusively dating men if there were any around is unlikely to spend centuries on an island populated entirely by beautiful women without finding someone who makes her happy.
And then of course you have Wonder Woman. She grew up on this queer, all-woman island, and it was only when she was a young adult that the idea of her leaving was ever even considered. The idea of gender as something that determines who you might love simply wasn’t an aspect of her upbringing. When she first encounters men, they’re strange and intriguing to her, but there’s nothing to indicate that they’re the people she’s been waiting her whole life to love. It seems likely that, if Diana is attracted to men --- which existing canon assures us she is --- she must surely be bisexual or pansexual. Because again, there are no straight women on Paradise Island.
Paradise Island, as the name implies, seems like a great place to live. The Amazons create art, explore science, hunt on the back of their kangaroo mounts, and generally do what they want, far from the confines of the patriarchy. In short, they’re the ultimate lesbian separatist society. But unlike the lesbian separatists in our real world, there’s also no reason to believe that the Amazons would exclude trans women. After all, the Amazon understanding of womanhood is rooted in a feminist spirituality, not in patriarchal science. And unlike the transphobic religions of our world, the Amazons directly speak with their goddesses and understand what matters to them. (And let’s go ahead and assume that these goddesses aren’t jerks like the ones in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, because there’s no reason to assume they would be.)
When Wonder Woman’s canon was first being established in the 1940s, writing openly about queer themes simply wasn’t acceptable, so the sexuality of the Amazons was never addressed. But considering that the character sprang out of a real-life triad arrangement, which included two women (Holloway and Byrne) who stayed together for decades after the male partner (Marston) died, this is simply not a case in which a queering of the text can be viewed as a betrayal of creator intentions. If anything, the stronger argument would be that to establish the Amazons as queer is the culmination of the creators' intentions.
Later writers dealt with this issue in various ways. Robert Kanigher, the writer who followed Marston, didn’t do much with it overtly (it still wasn’t an option at the time), but he claimed in his later years that he was writing the Amazons as lesbians all along.
George Perez couldn’t have dealt with it any more explicitly 40 years later, but his depiction of the stately and glamorous Amazons has always read as queer, at least to this queer reader.
Things had come a long way by the time Greg Rucka first wrote Wonder Woman, and he seemed more comfortable with the queerness of it all than DC editorial probably was at the time. He had Diana make a point of saying that she didn’t have a boyfriend or a girlfriend, when she’d only been asked the former. He also introduced a very overtly queer (and butch) Amazon named Io, who is noticeably flustered by an obvious (and quite possibly mutual) attraction to Diana.
Then of course there’s Grant Morrison. While I didn’t love everything about his Wonder Woman: Earth One graphic novel, he full embraced the idea of Paradise Island as an overtly queer society, and that’s something I can support.
And now with Rebirth, we find Wonder Woman back in Greg Rucka’s hands. Rucka not only let queer elements sneak into his initial Wonder Woman run more than a decade ago; he's also one of the creators of Batwoman, DC’s most prominent lesbian character. And given that his run is revising what we know about Wonder Woman’s origin, this seems like the perfect time to establish Themyscira, Paradise Island, Amazonia — whatever name you use for it — as a nation of women who love women: An inclusive lesbian utopia in which romance and sex thrive despite the lack of men --- or perhaps because of it.
Surely it's easier to believe that this society could have produced one of DC’s three greatest heroes than the warlike tribe that Azzarello envisioned, where Amazons raped male sailors and sold their male children into slavery. I’m not saying that version was created specifically as preferable to something queerer, but I think we can all agree that something queerer would be preferable to that.
It’s time for DC to stop running from the undeniable queerness of the Amazons, and the undeniable queerness of Wonder Woman herself, and let the truth win. Wonder Woman is a champion of truth, after all.