GABBLER RECOMMENDS: ‘Queer Visibility & Coding in The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle’ by Hannah Abigail Clarke

Joking aside. There’s a part of this novel, spoiler-alert I guess, where a man magics the unicorn into a girl-shape to protect her. She fucking hates it, is horrified by it, tears at her body and laments that being a girl feels like dying. The man assures her that she’s still a hot questing beast, so it will be okay. And after a while, it almost is. The girl-shape naturalizes. It lets her fall in love, which is nice. She almost believes that the girl-shape fits her, forgets it’s even a shape at all. Something goes flat behind her eyes. Then she’s a unicorn again and nobody ever sees her again, because she’s saved the unicorns and now is off in her woods (not?) dealing with the fact that she has feelings now.

Lots of people gave me, and continue to give me, my girl-shape. I am almost used to it now. Despite the soul-grinding banality of misplaced assumed girlhood, commonly associated pronouns and all, one acclimates to it after a lifetime of living under its banner. For clarity, until recently, I was a being with long blond hair. My eyes aren’t purple, because I am not an anime character, but outside of that, unicorn-as-girl and I had comparable forms. We were deemed beautiful, and valuable, for similar reasons—we were absent-minded half-feral bony little white girl wisps, a phenotypical categorization that Disney and other overlords have aesthetically lofted for rancid reasons for some time now. I was raised by a culture that designated me a good questing beast. Unicorn-as-girl and I have that in common. Perhaps because of this book, I have a thing about my gender perils and being hunted, which maybe explains some of the deer stuff in my novel, The Scrapegracers.

Girlness is tricky. The unicorn has a vexed relationship with her girlness, but she remains tethered to it because girlness allowed her to access and comprehend certain kinds of love and affection. Likewise, I am deeply fond of the word ‘lesbian’ because of the ways that word flags affinity, even and especially because of how people like me complicate its definition. I love women and associates. I am an associate. No boys allowed. It is a productively incomplete and partial word, but it also is the best one I’ve found to illustrate the sort of love I’m interested in seeking out. It gestures toward the sort of yearning I tend to undergo. Yearning’s the name of the game.

Thank you, Peter Beagle, for the yearning. This book is nothing if not a crash course in how to miss people you haven’t met yet and long for doomed affection, which is a lesbian pastime if ever there was one. This book is all about desperately reaching for alike strangers, because you have some marrow-deep understanding that your existence is tied with the existence of people like you. You’re not the only damn lesbian in rural Ohio. Actually, there are lots of them, and also there are places that aren’t Ohio. Maybe go to those places. You might have to undergo some narrative tomfoolery in pursuit of these other lesbians, but it is a worthy pursuit if ever there was one.


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