‘Gal Pals’ is a term which is often seen to erase queerness in the mainstream media. From Calamity Jane and Katie Brown singing “never underestimate a woman’s touch” (1953) to the kiss between Betty and Veronica (or Beronica) in the TV series Riverdale (2017); many representations of queer female relationships have been buried under the guise of close, platonic, straight friendship. It could be argued that this comes not only from heteronormativity’s general persistence, but more specifically from the Hollywood censorship laws of the early 20th century. Movies which suggested anything outside of the allowed scripts of heterosexuality and decency had to repair this by the end of the plot – usually either with a sudden wedding or the punishment/death of the deviant character. This is still evident in cinema today as these narrative tropes have carried through as a classic movie formula.
While this erasure is clearly a very important issue, and one which should continue to be addressed, I want to turn to a slightly different perspective. While many of these relationships are, quite simply, gay; I want to also look at the ways in which friendship (and female friendship more specifically) can be an extremely queer and radical thing in and of itself.
A few months ago, I borrowed Laura Marling’s new album ‘Semper Femina’ (2017) from a friend and listened to it several times from start to finish. With lyrics like;
“Now she’s gone and I’m all alone
And she will not be replaced”
“She’d like to be the kind of free
Women still can’t be alone
How I wish I could hit the switch
That keeps you from getting gone”
I started to realise how much queerer this album was than anything she had previously released. I quickly messaged my friend with an “ummmm…. how amazingly gay is this album??” and googled “Laura Marling Semper Femina Queer.” An interview with Laura Marling popped up and, to my initial dismay, I discovered that she had described the album as being all about female friendships. I messaged my friend again to let her know what I had discovered and soon got a response that said, “yeah but female friendships are so gay.”
How had I not thought about this? Of course, friendship can be queer! And when it is friendship between women it becomes even more powerful as we are so incredibly conditioned to see other women as our competition for men’s attention.
Heteronormativity not only frames the norm or default as heterosexuality, but more precisely a very specific image of heterosexuality. This involves normative gender roles, exclusive monogamy, marriage, and a sexual relationship that ultimately leads to reproduction and co-parenting. Your singular, romantic and sexual partner is supposed to be your one true love, your other half, the most important person in your life (even, in some cases, above yourself). As such, when friendships are prioritised at the same level (or higher) than ‘love interests’, they challenge this relationship hierarchy in a pretty radical way.
Music like Semper Femina or Feist’s song “Any Party” (2017) are perfect examples of this queer exploration of friendship. Other examples can be found in, what I like to call, friendship movies. Films such as ‘Muriel’s Wedding’ (1994), ‘Bridesmaids’ (2011), and even ‘My Best Friend’s Wedding’ (1997) all follow a very similar theme. Though (as can be seen in their names) all of these films revolve around a wedding, they all ultimately focus on friendships and prioritise these relationships over the romantic/sexual ones in the film. It’s important that we value these loves in our lives – loves which (alongside familial love) quite often outlive our other significant connections and can endure almost anything, including distance and time.