The traditional Western was one of masculine, rugged individuals. Men who relied on only themselves. They had grit and mettle. They were self-determined makers of their own destinies. They… probably didn’t exist. We all rely on one another. We all desire belonging. We all seek a family of some kind. Also, where were the women? Women in westerns were often background or minor characters (with some exceptions). They were rarely the main protagonists. Modern westerns have come around a little bit and here we have three notable examples. These novels all have women at their centers, women who are cutting their own paths in worlds run by men. The situations in these stories often require women to be the strong individuals we’ve come to expect in westerns. But they also contain the more uncommon elements of finding yourself and finding yourself in others. The women seek self-acceptance in a world that will not accept them and seek belonging with those who will take them as they are. These elements, coupled with sexual and gender fluidity, create new dynamics and new stories to tell in an old setting that we seem to be drawn to again and again.
Outlawed – by Anna North – A reimagined American West in the aftermath of a pandemic. Oppression has ravaged the country and barren women are cast out or killed. Ada becomes one of these women and seeks refuge with the Hole in the Wall Gang, a group of queer, gender-non-conforming women who have plans for their own place in the world.
Upright Women Wanted – By Sarah Gailey – A post-apocalyptic American West. Queer traveling librarian smugglers. Bandits. Fascist. There’s a lot in this slim futuristic dystopian Western.
Whiskey When We’re Dry – By John Larison – Jessilyn lost her mother when she was born. And now she’s lost her father. With no family to help her work their land she seeks out her outlaw brother, joining a militia that is hunting him down. But it turns out that he’s more than just an outlaw. He’s a prophet to many, and Jessilyn finds herself examining her own identity in a world not designed for girls like her.