In preparation for the release of the latest Twilight movie, I've been thinking a lot about the series' leading man, Edward Cullen.
Edward is mysterious and masterful, chivalrous and cool. He decides when his lover can touch him and where. He rarely gives up sexual control. His chiseled chest is as hard as a rock.
In other words, Edward is a stone butch top.
In other words = totally hot.
I have to agree with my fellow feminist commentators who argue that Edward's ladylove, Bella, is a problematic heroine, always swooning and needing to be saved. And yet...my identification with Bella is over the top. We were both raised in Arizona and moved to the Pacific Northwest at age 17. We are both notoriously uncoordinated and pale. We both faint at the sight of blood.
Most importantly, as a femme dyke with a genderqueer butch partner, I'm familiar with the complex negotiation of physical boundaries that makes Edward and Bella's romance so agonizing, suspenseful, and sexy.
Some critics have taken issue with the series' emphasis on delayed sexual gratification. Pointing to author Stephanie Meyers' Mormon roots, they argue that Twilight is abstinence-only propaganda disguised as palatable pop culture. But while it's true that Bella and Edward delay penetrative sex, it's not entirely accurate to say that they don't have sex before marriage.
Like some queer sex, human/vampire relations don't necessarily fit the heteronormative paradigm of genitally focused sex. Check the scene in the first movie when Bella is bitten by the homicidal vampire Laurent. In order to save Bella's life, Edward must suck the venom from Bella's veins. It's the moment they've both been waiting for, and Edward gets carried away. Pushing the boundary is fraught with peril--he could accidentally kill her. But the film depicts Edward and Bella panting, moaning, and writhing, getting off on the exchange of blood and danger.
They're totally doing it.
When I saw the movie, I couldn't believe that boatloads of tweenage girls were getting to watch SM erotica with the blessing of their (possibly conservative) parents. And while I might root for Team Hermione over Team Bella in a battle of fictional heroines, part of me wishes I'd gotten to read the Twilight series as a teen, if only for its unabashed description of teen girl lust and kinky queer subtext.
So, as the opening of New Moon approaches, part of me hopes that the series will keep its undeserved conservative image...and that some queer kids will be able to find their desires between the lines.