With Y: The Last Man wrapping up and turning into a movie, the science fiction cliche of the female-dominated planet is red-hot once again. The cosmos is safe for our red-blooded spacemen to venture to worlds where there are no men, or where men are subjugated and the women wear funny headgear. But what about the subset of gynarchic cultures where everyone's a lesbian? It turns out science fiction is full of those, too, and it's time they got the appreciation they deserve.
Many, many thanks to Liz Henry with the Feminist SF blog for helping me put together this exhaustive list of lesbian-dominated cultures in science fiction. Smug Sappho! There are way more than I'd expected.
Ammonite by Nicola Griffith. A weird virus on the planet Jeep kills all the men, and most of the women, and the women who survive are changed, gaining access to a sort of Jungian collective unconscious. Deprived of access to men's precious bodily fluids, the women start mating using a weird ritual called "deep trance." One reviewer was annoyed that all these women, who presumably aren't naturally lesbians, seem way too comfortable turning to lesbianism and don't seem to miss the men at all. Ammonite won the Tiptree Award for science fiction that considers gender themes, prompting also-ran David Brin to complain that he'd been robbed.
Houston, Houston, Do You Read? by James Tiptree Jr. A trio of astronauts blast off into a mission around the sun, but a solar flare knocks them forward in time a few hundred years, to an era when a plague (again!) has wiped out all the men and most of the women. The surviving women reproduce via cloning, and a few of their girl-babies are dosed with androgens early on to make them grow up bigger and stronger. The three male astronauts are thrilled at the chance to be the only men on Earth — either to become patriarchs, or just to have lots of sex — but then it turns out the women rulers have no intention of letting the men live. They're happy without men around, and don't want to upset their groovy, stable society with annoying menfolk.
Walk To The End of the World and Motherlines, by Suzy McKee Charnas. A horrendous gay male-dominated society that locks up women in breeding farms. But then a free lesbian society, the Motherlines, springs up and shelters the refugees from the ebil male society. And the nomadic, horse-riding lesbian culture has an... interesting way of reproducing. In a nutshell, they, ummm... collect semen from their male horses and then use it as a catalyst to reproduce themselves. Or as Liz puts it, "horsefucking lesbians."
The Marq'ssan Cycle by L. Timmel Duchamp. In the dystopian future of 2076, everything's run by lesbians, and somehow the world is still totally fucked. The novel pits the lesbian Anarchist Collectives in the Women's Free Zone against the evil Executive Class, which runs the rest of the world and is equally lesbiotic. Ideomancer explains:
Executive men are 'fixed', which means they are capable of reproduction but entirely uninterested in the act except as a mean to an end. They derive no physical pleasure from the act, which frees them to pursue their vocations and hobbies without internal conflict. Executive women are almost entirely homosexual, except when it is necessary to bear their executive men children-and it is a distasteful act: in Renegade, one executive woman speaks of the obvious perversion of heterosexuality-but there is a very strong prohibition against executive-with-executive sex: executive women are only to have sex with service-tech women, who are sometimes available during parties much as champagne and caviar are provided. Executive women are also taught self-defense against un-fixed men.
The Door into Ocean by Joan Slonczewski. The planet Valedon is materialistic and has a rigid class system, but its moon, Shora, is covered by a shallow ocean full of water-breathing lesbians who live in harmony (but don't have any goats.) The Sharers of Shora are pacifists and super-advanced biologists, who communicate across long distances by talking to the insects, and reproduce by parthenogenesis. They live in peace... until an army from Valedon comes to "develop" Shora. Here's sample dialogue after the army has taken a few Sharers prisoner:
"We seek our sister Sharers," Merwen said.
"Who might they be?"
"Lerion Nonthinker, Ronesha the Coldhearted, and Oo the Jealous, who were last seen with Valans on Nri-el raft."
The Wanderground by Sally Gearhart. A linked collection of stories about a future lesbian utopia, where women can communicate telepathically, not just with each other but also with plants and animals. They can talk to the flowers! And everyone lives in harmony with nature. The women raise children collectively and die when they decide to. Gearhart coined some fancy terms for the lesbians' non-verbal communication, including "learntogether" and "listenspread." In the book's final story, an old woman and her goat prepare to pass on together.
Virgin Planet by Poul Anderson. This is more like the traditional "spaceman visits a planet of all women" story, except that for once the women-only planet is explicitly lesbified. As Liz puts it, "The lesbian society is like OMG SPACEMENZ please fuck us." Similarly, World Without Men by Charles Maine from 1958 features a lesbian-dominated dystopia, which is saved by a man. Here's how the Feminist SF web page describes it:
In World Without Men, all the men are dead and the women perverted lesbians. The story explains that this was caused by feminism and sexual liberation. One man is created from frozen sperm and saves the society.
Solution Three by Naomi Mitchison. Everyone in the ruling class is gay, except for a few "deviant" professional class hets. Cloning has replaced sexual reproduction as a means of carrying on the species, but a few women rebel and bear their own children. Heterosexuality is seen as "rather an unpleasant word," because heterosexuality leads to violence and aggression. And sports. By the end of the book, however, there's the suggestion that eventually society may stop conditioning everyone into mandatory homosexuality.
Shore Of Women by Pamela Sargent. In a post-nuclear dystopia, the sexes have been segregated: Lesbians live in the cities, while savage men lurk out in the wastelands. Every now and then, men come to "shrines" in the wilderness and "consort with the lady," meaning they have virtual-reality sex with a fake goddess. During these cyber hook-ups, the savage men are milked of semen, which is used for artificial insemination by the city women. A woman who murders another woman is exiled from the city, to a horrible fate in the wilderness of men. But there's a shocking twist: the men are so conditioned to worship women that when they meet one in person, they're enraptured instead of violent. So you see, cybersex can change the world after all.
Want more worlds ruled by lesbians? (And who doesn't?) Here's an exhaustive list of gay female worlds in lesbian science fiction.