When you’re a gay teen in a heteronormative society, there’s nothing more reassuring than tragic portrayals of homosexual people and being told, “You can be fixed!” In 1974, Young Romance #197 flirted with this subject with all the finesse you’d expect from a story titled “That Strange Girl.” They really called it that.
Before getting into the obvious issues with this book, I’ll admit that
tap-dancing around acknowledging homosexuality in a mainstream comic in the ’70s, however poorly and obliquely, was probably a big deal. Not convinced? DC plugged it as “The story they dared us to print!” It’s a hard book to find for a reasonable price, but I would not be denied. Thanks again, eBay.
Liz, our protagonist, isn’t like other girls. We know this because she likes to do bizarre things like play basketball, help her dad do chores that involve physical exertion, and wear pants.
The biggest red flag of all is that she’s nearly 16 years old and has never dated a boy! Liz’s mother tries to help by purchasing dresses and uncomfortable shoes. She’ll have to become a slave to traditional standards of femininity eventually, so why not start now?
Mom also doesn’t seem happy about the fact that Liz spends so much time with Agnes, her hoops-shooting best friend who isn’t into boys, either. Wink.
The only thing standing between Liz and a loveless, lonely existence is hunky Fred Reese, who is inexplicably on the basketball court during a game when she goes in for a layup. But not before some asshole in the stands makes a snide comment about Agnes telling Liz, “Guard your man!”
While walking Liz home later, a smitten Fred tells her how “real” and “wholesome” she is. It’s actually kind of sweet except for the part where he dismisses other girls as shallow bubbleheads.
Cue the harps and violins, because there’s a magical kiss beneath the stars that changes everything! But then she’s filled with fear and shame! She’s confused and fundamentally broken! When Fred says she surely must be “normal,” Liz is enraged by the suggestion that she’s “some kind of … ”
Obviously, being athletic and allergic to ruffles doesn’t make a girl gay. But, man, Liz is pissed by the slightest suggestion that she might possibly be a lesbian. On a serious note, I guess anyone would protest too much if they went to school with a pack of sneering homophobes. The book does depict the cruelty of Liz’s peers, and we can’t feel all that superior in 2013 when a lot of kids are still facing this and much worse.
But. After fleeing Fred’s arms and running home in a crying fit of self-hatred, Liz has a revelation: Not only is she in love with her new guy, but Fred has totally and forever shifted her paradigm where relationships are concerned. From him, she “learned how to accept affection. How to act with boys.” He declares his love for her, too, so …. yay?
The story closes with Liz directly addressing other girls who feel different “or despair of ever learning what it is to be in love.” Just find the right boy, and you’ll be rid of any
totally normal confusing, bothersome feelings about your sexuality. Nothing like a happy ending.