2. Beebo Brinker – The Beebo Brinker Chronicles
Pulp fiction often touched on lesbian themes but typically followed the standard formula of nice girl has a nice guy, nice girl gets seduced by a wicked (possibly Satanic) lesbian, nice guy eventually gets girl back, and wicked lesbian, I don’t know, dies in a fire. Or commits suicide. OR gets institutionalized. You can really use your imagination as long as you keep in mind that no one who still considered themselves queer by the novel’s climax was allowed to have a happy ending.
Anne Bannon’s series of lesbian pulp novels (which later came to be known as The Beebo Brinker Chronicles) defied this formal in many ways. The women fall in love, break up, and fall in love again—with other women. There’s loads of trashy drama and histrionics, and none of the characters gets a fairy tale ending, but they do get real endings and they are allowed to be happy. Critiques have praised the series for portraying gay relationships both accurately and positively, and Bannon for giving her characters and unheard of amount of depth for pulp characters. One of the most popular and enduring characters in the series is none other than the eponymous Beebo Brinker.
Beebo is a rare find—a butch lesbian who embraces her masculinity and is celebrated rather than punished for it (by other gay characters, at least). The fact that butch characters are rarely seen even today makes her all the more remarkable. Indeed, women considered to be “manly” in any way are routinely mocked, and if they are gay, people jokingly assume it’s just because they couldn’t find a man who wanted them. Beebo is unapologetic for who she is and is openly desired by the women around her.
Beebo deserves a high spot on this list for not only being iconic but revolutionary. A real butch woman from the pre-Stonewall era who is flawed and human but never a villain? That’s one in a million.