Well, the men’s and women’s NCAA tournament brackets are finally here. At some point later today, I’ll sit down with my printed copies of the bracket and try and map out the future of the 136 teams in the field. I’ll take extra time with women’s bracket, though…in part because there feel like there are many more unknowns with this year’s tournament than have been in past years. But also? I’m trying to convince my Autostraddle colleagues to join me in a bracket competition and I can’t embarrass myself in front of them…particularly not after my second place finish in WNBA fantasy basketball last summer.
Already I’ve got a ton of questions running through my head: UCONN and Stanford have looked vulnerable at differrent points of the season, could we see upsets for them in the Field of 68? Can Caitlin Clark’s heroics carry Iowa through this tournament? With a their soft schedule, is LSU overrated at the #3 seed? Is Olivia Miles going to be back for Notre Dame? Does UNC carry the chip on their shoulder — thanks to being underseeded at #6 — into the tournament and pull a few upsets? For which of the 16 host teams will home court advantage be a true advantage and who is about to get vanquished on their own home court? Can anyone, anywhere, beat South Carolina? I have so many questions that need answers.
But when it comes to Autostraddle March Madness, today’s the day we start getting some answers…as we kick off the voting in the Forbidden Fruit Region. Remember, these couples were slotted in this region primarily because there are forces, mostly outside their control, that strive to keep them apart. To limit the potential participants, I created a firm rule: the couple has to have been featured in a new episode that’s aired since January 2020. Now, let’s check out the competitors.
#1. Emily and Sue – Dickinson
Early in Dickson‘s first season, Emily and her beloved, Sue, don men’s clothing and sneak into a lecture at Amherst. There, a famous geologist recalls the eruption of Mount Vesuvius and how it left Pompeii buried in ash. Later, in bed, Emily finds kinship with the volcano’s victims: “That’s how I feel sometimes. Like I’m frozen. Like I’m…trapped.” And, try as Emily might to write their way our, she is trapped. Trapped beneath the crush of societal expectations. Reduced to stolen moments with the woman she loves. But then Sue drags her fingertips against Emily’s bare skin and slips her hand beneath her nightgown. As Emily writhes beneath her touch, she is reminded that whatever forces the world exerts upon them, their love is the volcano.
#16. Astha and Peeplika – The Married Woman
Soon after Astha confesses her love to Peeplika’s husband, he assures her, “I am not your destination, just a path along the way.” He doesn’t live long enough to realize how right he was. In their mutual mourning, the two women find themselves drawn to each other and eventually share a kiss. For Peeplika, it’s nothing: she’s a modern woman — so many people call her that, their voices dripping with derision — who falls in love with a person’s soul, not their gender. But for Astha, it spurns a great awakening…a realization of what it means to love and to be loved. Everytime Astha’s with Peeplika, every time she touches her, every time they kiss, she tastes freedom anew. With Peeplika, Astha has found her destination.
But, they remain constricted by a seemingly inescapable truth: they live in a 1990s India where their love is outlawed and where societal norms imprison Astha in a loveless marriage.
#2. Cal and Juliette – First Kill
By the time Cal steps into the walk-in pantry with her for their spin-the-bottle make-out session, she knows exactly who Juliette is. Thanks to a misplaced blood capsule and a test with a silver bracelet, Cal knows for certain that Juliette is a vampire. She sees her opportunity: to stop being the family’s lookout and to finally get her first kill…the first step towards becoming the greatest monster hunter who ever lived. But when they kiss, Cal’s hand drops from the stake she has tucked in her jeans and onto Juliette’s face, pulling her deeper into the kiss. For as long as they can, they both supress their innate desire — for Juliette to bite, for Cal to kill — and pour into each other.
While their instinct ultimately overrides their lust in that moment, the rest of the series is a battle for their love…over their instincts, over their families, over expectations, over the supernatural world, over everything that’s striving to keep them apart.
#15. Addy and Colette – Dare Me
Among nearly every other participant in this region, we find ourselves hoping that the couple will overcome whatever obstacles stand in their way. But sometimes, those obstacles exist for good reasons…and, certainly, the obstacles — professional ethics, the law — that are supposed to keep Colette French, the head coach of the Sutton Grove High School’s cheerleading team, from fraternizing with one of her students, qualify as just. Too often we romanticize these tropes — reconciling that it’s all fiction and the chemistry between the two characters is just too magnetic to ignore — but particularly when it comes to teacher/student relationships, we shouldn’t. It’s gross when Ezra Fitz does it, it’s gross when Colette — who is already married, with kids and a sidepiece — does it too.
Colette is grooming Addy…for what, besides covering up a murder, we may never know…but that particular piece of fruit is forbidden for a reason. The more we romanctize it — the more queer fans lay their scenes over sultry ballads on Youtube — the more we normalize bad behavior.
#3. Anne and Ann – Gentleman Jack
On their final trip to London, Ann and Anne have encountered a near constant parade of people telling them no — perhaps justifiably so, in some circumstances — and people judging their relationship. Captain Sutherland calls it “unnatural” and begs Ann to leave this and return with him and her sister to Cliffe Hill. But even if Ann sees some logic in Sutherland’s reluctance to manage her own affairs (Ann’s had her own doubts, after all), the attacks on her relationship…the suggestion that the love she shares with Anne is anything but pure…make her impervious to his logic.
Later, with her future in hand, Ann smiles as she climbs into the carriage next to her wife. She slides her hand over Anne’s and promises to sort out their wills soon. She apologizes for her moments of doubt but Anne rebuffs her.
“We are the only people in the whole world, on Earth, who want us to be together,” Anne says. “It won’t be easy — it’ll never be easy — but we’re both still here.”
#14. Mia and Meredith – Vampire Academy
From Valerie’s review of Vampire Academy‘s first few episodes, aptly titled “Peacock’s ‘Vampire Academy’ Teases a Queer Forbidden Romance:”
… just when I was about to issue the show a citation for unlawful lack of queerness in a vampire property, I caught A Look™. Mia, an ambitious socialite Moroi, and Meredith, a tough-as-nails Guardian, have a bit of a spark, their exchanges layered since they both tend to test boundaries using barbs. But something about the other softens each of them, and even though as of right now Mia and Meredith are mostly foils to Lissa and Rose, respectively, their moments have been meaningful enough that I can guess (or, at least hope) where this is headed, and I like it. Especially because “bitch who is a secret softiewp_postsis one of my favorite kinds of characters. And the idea of two of them together?? I don’t hate it!
#4. Carson and Greta – A League of their Own
As the Peaches’ season approaches its end, Carson wants to take Greta out…she needs to take Greta out. She needs their relationship to be something besides the two of them, hidden away from public view, stealing kisses behind locked doors and opaque windows. They have to venture out in the world so that once the season is over she’ll have some public affirmation that their romance wasn’t all a dream.
Greta sees the world differently, though. She knows what it means to live in this time as a woman who loves other women. She got careless once before — at 17 when she first fell in love — and, though she escaped relatively unscathed, her girlfriends’ parents had her committed. But she allows herself to be persuaded by Carson. Their first date goes swimmingly…they even get free pizza out of it. But the second, at the bar, ends in Greta’s nightmare: with the danger of being gay in 1943 having shown up at their doorstep.
#13. Frannie and Marguerite – The Confessions of Frannie Langton
There are a million reasons Frannie and Marguerite should not be together: because Marguerite is married, because Marguerite and her husband are trying for a baby, because Frannie is a servant and Marguerite her mistress, and because this is 1820s London and an interracial relationship — between two women, no less — remains forbidden, by social convention, if not by law. But one night, after a “misunderstanding” with her husband, Marguerite reaches out as Frannie tucks her into bed. She trails her fingertips up Frannie’s arm, pulls off the shawl Frannie’s wearing to expose her shoulders, and kisses her. Frannie returns the kiss but before more can happen — because Marguerite knows how forbidden this is — Marguerite turns away and bids Frannie goodnight.
The next day, the ever-bold Frannie confronts her mistress, asking, “What if, what if I could say I wanted it? What if you could say that you wanted it too?”
“Some things cannot be done in the light,” Marguerite replies.
“Then let it be done in the dark,” Frannie answers.
#5. Raelle and Scylla – Motherland: Fort Salem
Early on in Motherland, the lines are drawn: on one side, the US Army, with its membership of conscripted witches, on the other side, the Spree, a group of whiches who protest that conscription by any means necessary. There is black and white, there is good and evil and sides must be chosen. And, for a while, it looks as though Raelle and Scylla are on the same side of the fight. But eventually, the truth comes out: Scylla is Spree…and her affair with Raelle — her love for Raelle — were her taste of the forbibden fruit.
“I chose you!” Scylla shouts, as she prepares for what feels like certain death. “I had orders to deliver you. I chose you instead of them. I chose you.”
#12. Ellen & Pam – For All Mankind
Ellen shares the news of her selection to become the permanent NASA adminstrator before she and Pam climb into bed. She’s almost indifferent to the news, much to Pam’s dismay. This is everything Ellen’s ever wanted — a chance to lead the agency, to set a course to Mars — but Ellen insists she’ll decline the appointment when the time is right. Once upon a time that job was what Ellen wanted but now all she wants is Pam.
But while Ellen imagines a life with Pam, the political world is imagining one where she becomes the first female president. Pam overhears a conversation between Larry (Ellen’s beard) and the president’s political affairs advisor and she realizes that she’s the thing standing between Ellen and the possibility. Only one dream is possible at a time and Pam can’t deny Ellen hers.
“She knew it was her or your career but you couldn’t have both,” Larry admits to Ellen’s dismay years later when she’s in the Oval Office.
#6. Shelby and Toni – The Wilds
“I do family. I do Jesus. I do pageants,” Shelby Goodkind says, describing herself to one of her fellow retreat participants. It’s her entire identity and remains so even after a plane crash strands the girls far away from home. She prays as they search for water. She interjects her pageant-ready effervescence anytime the group’s mood gets too low. And when girls turn their shellfish dinners into jokes about lesbians and cunnilingus, Shelby reacts, lashing out with the “hate the sin, love the sinner” bullshiit she’s been taught her whole life. These are her beliefs, this is her whole identity.
Unwittingly, Toni challenges all of those beliefs and the identity Shelby’s clung to her entire life by just being herself. Toni reminds Shelby that, at least in this moment, she’s free. She notes, “you’re on a deserted island a million miles away from whatever bullshit expectations that you left behind. You know, you’re free here, Shelby, and if you’re not taking advantage of that, then I don’t know what the fuck to tell you.”
#11. Jackie and Leslie, Hightown
There’s a memorable scene in the movie, 28 Days, where one of the rehab patients asks their counselor how they’ll know when they’re ready to start dating. The counselor ponders for a moment and then shares his rule of thumb: “when you get home, get yourself a plant. Then, in about a year, get a pet. And then, if, in say…two years, the plant and the pet are still alive…then you can start to think about having a relationship.” That struck me, both then and now, as a little excessive but I get the point: in the early stages of recovery, it’s important for the focus to be on yourself. That time is about a newly sober person finding their footing again and you never know how injecting a new person into that dynamic will turn out. It’s dangerous.
But Jackie Quiñones doesn’t care. She just lost her best friend and thinks she’s already hit her rock bottom. Now she’s in AA meetings, she has a job she’s excited by and good at, and she convinced she’s won. She’s beat her addictions. And for while, that feels true, but never more than when she’s with Leslie. When Leslie weaves their fingers together, when she pulls Jackie into a kiss, when Leslie asks for permission to go down on her, she forgets how dangerous this could be.
And, if we’re being honest, so do we.
#7. Mon and Sam – GAP the Series
For years, Mon has imagined this moment: the moment when she’d be reunited with the person (Sam) she’d been in love with most of her life. They’d met by chance over a decade ago: Mon was playing with a puppy in the street and is nearly struck by a car. Sam saved her -and, in turn, Mon saves the puppy — Sam’s puppy that she can’t keep — by adopting her. Mon fell in love with Sam then and has been pining for her ever since. She’s worked to reunite with Sam, hoping love will spark between them, and secures a new job at Sam’s company to facilitate that reunion. But, on her first day, the Sam she encounters doesn’t offer the warmth that Mon recalls. She’s cold and indifferent. Sam invites the company’s staff into a conference room and castigates out two employees for their office romance. She fires them and reiterates that employee fraternization is not allowed at her company.
That edict isn’t the only roadblock for the couple: Sam has just a year to turn her company into a success before her grandmother withdraws her financial backing. After that, her grandmother insists that Sam must focus on becoming a wife (by marrying her friend and business partner, Kirk) and becoming a mother.
#10. Amelia and Luisita – Luimelia/Amar es para siempre
As someone who grew up watching (and loving) soaps, I’m always interested in making sure that the genre’s represented in March Madness somehow. But none of the American soaps were offering much in the way of queer content: Kristina has been MIA on General Hospital, Chanel and Allie’s relationship was upended by Lindsay Arnold’s departure on Days of Our Lives, and Y&R‘s Mariah and Tessa have had their entire baby adoption story happen off-screen. So in thinking about which soap, outside the US, to highlight: I wanted to pick the one that seemed to be doing the most, the one putting their queer couple front and center.
Luimelia seemed like the obvious choice.
The love story between Luisita Gomes and Amelia Ledesma is one that began in the ’60s and ’70s in Madrid, Spain on the telenovela, Amar Es Para Siempre (Love is Forever). On their way to fashioning an epic love story, Luisita and Amelia grapple to overcome the era’s blatant homophobia and conservatism. Their story offered the same care and the same screentime as Amar Es Para Siempre‘s straight couples. But what’s more impressive is that the network behind the novela recognized the fandom developing around these two characters and created a spin-off, Luimelia. Over four seasons (!!), Luimelia tells the story of Luisita and Amelia’s love…only this time, it occurs in modern-day Spain.
#8. Hattie and Ida B. – Twenties
Technically, when Ida B. shows up on Hattie’s doorstep and pulls her into their first kiss, there’s nothing forbidden about it. After Hattie passes a monologue from one of Ida’s manuscripts to her friend, Nia, for an audition. Ida knows instantly who’s responsible for the words she’d long kept from view finally getting out and she promptly fires Hattie from her job as a production assistant. So, technically, the problematic aspects of this relationship — the power imbalance — are no longer a problem. Technically. But if we’re being honest, we’d admit that the boss and her assistant had been heading down this road, long before Ida shows up on Hattie’s doorstep…and that’s where things get murky.
When Ida invites Hattie to an advanced screening, we know where this is going. When Ida slides a white blazer over Hattie’s slight frame and notes how good Hattie looks, we know where this is going. When their hands touch during the screening or when Ida places her hand on the small of Hattie’s back to lead her out, we know where this is going. And when Ida invites Hattie to stay at her place — and Hattie ignores calls from her ex to stay — they both know where this is going too.
#9. Max and Esther – A League of their Own
When Max first spots Esther at Bertie and Grace’s party, she doesn’t approach her right away. She takes a long look — her interest is obvious — but then relents. She’s still in awe of the space she’s in, a place queerness is cherished and celebrated, and just a little overwhelmed. But also? She’s been trying so hard to be who everyone else wants her to be that she hasn’t established her own identity…and before Max approaches this woman and tries for something real, she has to assert who she is.
“You know, for a long time I felt like I had to be my momma. And part of me is. But a lot of me isn’t. And now I can’t talk to her. I don’t want to go through that again with you,” she tells her Uncle Bertie. She thanks him for the suit but acknowledges, “this is how I wanted to wear it.”
The understanding gives Max her swagger back and she immediately approaches Esther and insists on a dance. As they dance, across town, there’s a bar being raided. A bar that’s playing host to people just like her and Bertie and Grace. Ironically, it’s the nearby train tracks — built to keep the town segregrated — that likely keeps them safe. The danger hasn’t come for them yet but it’s 1940s America and for queer black women, it remains omnipresent.
You have 48 hours to cast your ballot in the Forbidden Fruit Region. This year, you can vote four times over the voting period (or to be more precise once, every 12 hours). I’ll be back on Wednesday to introduce you to the competitors in the Enemies to Lovers region and to share the winners from this opening round.
ALSO!! Over the weekend, several readers reported issues with accessing our Trope-y Wives bracket challenge so we’re extending the predictions period until Wednesday as well.