Women’s Humanity in Crime Fiction
The issue of keeping women human in the crime genre is one that I’ll wrestle with probably for the duration of my career. Writing Texas, Hold Your Queens challenged me to do it in the most difficult situation: taking an unidentifiable female victim of rape and homicide with a life and personality unknowable to the reader, and making her more than just a catalyst for the protagonists’ story.
Too often in crime fiction, women are props, one-dimensional characters limited to the roles of sex object and violence object. They exist only in relation to men: the men who kill them, the men who avenge them, the men who investigate the crime they suffered, the men who fuck and fall in love with them.
I wanted more for Reina, the murder victim whose life remains a mystery, and to a degree, the story having female detectives tracking down her killer, instead of men, did a lot of the work for me. Through Farrah and Mason’s treatment of Reina, I hope that I succeeded in keeping her human, in making her more than just a reason for readers to feel pity.
Despite the fact that she is killed on American soil, Reina’s character is symbolic of the women who have made Juárez, Mexico internationally notorious: the victims of hundreds of unsolved murders and disappearances since the 90s, most of the women young and poor, some of them teenagers. Their bodies have littered the desert outside city limits, dumped like garbage to rot, the casualties of Mexico’s drug cartel wars, sex trafficking, and the misogyny endemic to Mexican culture. Many of these women’s stories remain unknown, their cases all but ignored by police, but whether the public ever finds out who they were, why they were killed, and where the missing are, their humanity endures. I hope the same is true of Reina.
Texas, Hold Your Queens speaks to the tension I feel being a woman writing about women in the crime genre. I didn’t plan it that way, but in retrospect, I can’t help but think that this novella was my way of coming to terms with that tension. To read and write crime fiction, as I do, is to constantly face down the most gruesome and unapologetic misogyny. Look it in the eye, see it for what it is, and acknowledge how often it goes unpunished. Every woman in this story has been affected by male violence, and just as in real life, the story ends without any solution or promise of liberation for them. The only silver lining for Mason and Farrah is the love they share. That love is what saves them, as women and as human beings. I would like to think that women loving other women, women fighting for other women, will bring us salvation. That love won’t bring back our dead or erase the wounds of male violence and misogyny, but it will help us survive. If we’re lucky, one day it will set us free.
Although I wasn’t consciously thinking about it when I wrote the book, it seems obvious to me now that Texas, Hold Your Queens explores the idea of female love and female unity as resistance to misogyny, at least a little. I think this is an interesting theme, particularly in the context of the crime genre where women are almost always isolated from each other and simultaneously victimized by men. Mason and Farrah unite with each other for the purpose of vindicating women, and this ultimately deepens their bond, after threatening it first. Their love itself becomes a rebellion against society’s expectation of them as women, of the crime genre’s expectation: in choosing each other and rejecting a traditional heterosexuality, Farrah and Mason challenge male domination in their personal lives as much as in their work. I would go so far to say that Mason and Farrah reject the male-defined model of love, built on sex and romantic coupledom, and instead choose a female-defined model of love, rooted in friendship and oriented toward community.
Thinking about this book now, over a year after I wrote it, I’m surprised at how much more relevant it is to my political concerns than it was originally. Mason and Farrah struggle to answer the same questions I myself chew on like gristle: how should women respond to this culture of male violence we live in? If the legal system fails to punish male violence and protect women and girls from it, are we not justified in sidestepping the law? Should we continue to wait for the system to improve, or do we take matters into our own hands? Can we use violence as a form of resistance to male terrorism of women and should we? How much sense does it make for us to expect a legal, cultural, and social system dominated by men to do better for women, when men are the ones hurting us in the first place? Are women really doomed to forever occupy a world where we have to constantly look over our shoulders?
I don’t have the answers. But if writing Texas, Hold Your Queens taught me something, it’s that women need each other, whatever we decide and whatever happens.