SHM Pride Guest: Tamsen Parker on The Power of the Female Default

Hi friends! I’m super excited to welcome our first Pride guest author of 2018, Tamsen Parker! A new friend to ALBTALBS, so please welcome another first timer with a fabulous post!

The Power of the Female Default: Why I Love F/F Sports Romance

Fire on the Ice by Tamsen Parker Book CoverI went to an all girls high school, and one of the best things about being at an all-female school was that all the resources were devoted to us. Classrooms and the dedication of our teachers, but also both of the gyms, the theater, all of the squash courts and tennis courts, the classrooms, and the weight room were for women. They were women’s spaces that centered women’s effort and accomplishments.

The romance genre is also a space that centers women. As a genre that is written primarily by and for women, it centers the pleasure, agency, and voices of women in a way that most genres do not.

When the worlds of sports and romance combine, it can sometimes be jarring to find most of the books in the popular subgenre of sports romance dominated by male athletes, especially those hitting the tops of the charts. Which perhaps shouldn’t be surprising. The big money sports—both professional and at the college level—feature primarily men. That’s where the money and the media and the fame are weighted. But still… Isn’t this a space for women? Why do so few sports romances feature female athletes?

Which is one of the reasons sports romance featuring f/f relationships is so very important. Like at my high school, the leading roles are filled by women. The space on the page is theirs, the romance is theirs, the pleasure and the victories all belong to women. It’s refreshing to see women’s desires and achievements centered, doubly so. Especially when in mainstream sports coverage, women’s sports so frequently come in second fiddle, if at all.

One of the few sporting events where women’s sports are given equal if not top billing is during the Olympics. During international competitions, so often the flag trumps any other loyalty. People tune in to sports they don’t normally follow or watch and celebrate the accomplishments of their fellow citizens, and the incredible feats of athleticism and beauty of their fellow human beings. Women’s sporting events are elevated to equal coverage in a way that they aren’t the other three years and eleven months outside of the Olympics.

Writing books which centered women’s skills, and yes, a lot of satisfying sex, was great. In the Snow and Ice Games series, all of my heroines are athletes, whereas two of the heroes are not. It was important to me to write a series that centered female athletes and their accomplishments, and also show them with partners who think they are phenomenal, who value their effort and their dedication, who love their powerful bodies and competitiveness. Also to show women enjoying sex and pursuing the kinds of romantic and erotic relationships they want and to not be shamed for that.

Too, it was important to me to show an arena where queer women have historically been more welcome than in other areas. Of course the stereotypes of lesbian softball players and gym teachers are in their own way problematic, but countless queer women have found community and acceptance by playing sports and that should be celebrated. As should women finding steam-up-the-page sex and heart-clenching romance. There have been few moments in my writing career that have made me giddier than when my editor told me she’d had to stop reading Fire on the Ice on her way to work because she was blushing too hard on the subway. The two heroines in my American speed skater and Canadian figure skater romance may have different approaches to their careers and different definitions of success, but they share a passion and a drive to get what they want in the bedroom.

I also enjoyed the slow-burn romance of Edge of Glory by Rachel Spangler which focuses not just on the heart-pounding snowglobe of two weeks of fierce international competition but on the years and years of hard work and injuries and training and mental fortitude that it takes to become a world class athlete. Spangler’s opposites attract romance between a skier and a snowboarder also showcases women being afforded the same top-notch training and facilities as male athletes.

In Her Court by Tamsen Parker Book CoverAs for real life world class female athletes finding romance and a happily ever after, I think we all got a little swoony when former rivals on the hockey rink turned teammates Caroline Ouellette and Julie Chu announced the birth of their daughter in November of 2017. I would like for someone to write me this book, please, complete with beautiful baby epilogue.

I’ve also got a soft spot for athlete heroines who aren’t world class athletes. After all, not all of us who pounded the track, spent hours practicing free throws or penalty shots, lifting weights, or returning serves made it to the world stage. Perhaps not technically sports romance, it’s still nice to see women who are driven to actively compete and who are excellent at what they do. My contribution to the 2017 season of the Camp Firefly Falls continuity, In Her Court, features a former college tennis player who perhaps could’ve gone pro but pursued a PhD in geology instead and is using an unexpected free summer to be a tennis instructor at a grown-up summer camp. Sports taught Willa a lot about commitment and hard work, and while her heroine Van is mystified by why anyone might ever exert themselves in such a manner, Willa’s passion is something she very much appreciates. I’d love to see more heroines in romance who not only take the occasional jog but who consider themselves athletes: night or weekend softball leagues, country club tennis showdowns, triathletes. And see what it is about their athlete’s soul that their partner loves about them, even if they’re not winning any gold medals.

For me, f/f sports romance is powerful in the way that my single-sex education was: while so often women’s opinions, bodies, and stories are pushed to the side or trivialized or dismissed, these places provide space in which women’s stories, bodies, and accomplishments are centered. We deserve that.

While I generally find that inclusion and diversity and examination of the default is preferable if not essential, perhaps in this instance there is power in the default. In f/f sports romance, you will find stories that center women’s power, women’s bodies, women’s pleasure, and women’s accomplishments, all in one swoony package—what’s not to love about that?

PS: If you need help finding f/f sports romance, or more broadly, books featuring athlete heroines, Lacy Literary has put together a wonderful list.

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Thank you for sharing with us, Tamsen! I don’t know how I missed “baby Chullette” but oh my gosh how darling! I definitely need to check that list – one of the first professional athlete heroines I remember reading is a tennis player Nora Roberts wrote … What about all of you?

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