February 19, 2013

IconWhy do lesbians on TV make me cringe?

Let’s be honest, it’s not very often that you find real life, bona fide lesbians on television.

Criiiiinge. Big Brother 11 contestant Shabby. Photograph: Channel 4/PA Wire

I’m not talking Sue Perkins or Clare Balding. I mean, people that your average Joe can relate to. More often than not, Sapphic representation on the small screen come in the form of knife-wielding sociopaths, murderers or other crazies masquerading as gayers in Soap Land before a) killing their girlfriend, b) killing themselves or c) deciding it was a phase after all.

You’d think I’d be happy, then, to watch something, ANYTHING, with real lesbians talking about their sexuality and being themselves. Say, BBC Three’s The Year of Making Love starring 26-year-old Alex, who identifies as bisexual, and Tash from Australia. The premise of the show is this: 500 couples fill out a compatibility test, scientists pair up couples based on their answers, and then the cameras follow their every move to see if their real life chemistry matches up to what the science says.

Alex, from Chester, wasn’t sure if she would be paired with a man or woman, but she looked delighted with red-headed Tash who seemed equally pleased with her match. We then follow them through the early weeks and months of their blossoming relationship.

On paper it all makes sense. I like lesbians, I like rubbish television and they’re kind of attractive, vaguely amusing and articulate. So why am I cringing? I had eyes before I clawed them out. Why do I want the ground to swallow me whole?

It’s not just lesbians on TV. Even some of the most iconic lesbian films leave me dying of awkward, curled up in the foetal position, begging for it to stop. I don’t know if it’s the sub-par acting, the low production values or the amateur feel to it, but more often than not, I’m left with no feeling in my toes from curling them so much and depressed that this is all we have to offer as a community.

It’s much the same sensation I get watching Scottish people on Jeremy Kyle. It’s so utterly cringe-worthy I feel like peeling the skin from my face would be less painful, but it doesn’t make any sense. It doesn’t take a genius to understand that the people on the show aren’t an accurate representation of people from Scotland and besides, it’s not like we have anything in common, save the accent and a penchant for a deep fried Mars Bar.

And yet, watching lesbians on TV leaves me feeling like I’ve just watched every home video my parents ever recorded (the one of my brother and I pretending we’re Torvill and Dean was a winner) in front of every girl I’ve ever fancied. I’m embarrassed, I’m mortified, and as we say in Scotland, I’m black affronted.

Alex and Tash. The Year of Making Love is on BBC iPlayer now.

Of course, there are exceptions. I loved Santana and Brittany in Glee, Lip Service finally found its non-awkward feet with Lexy, and even The L Word had moments that didn’t make me want to throw something at television (or throw myself at the television, killing two birds with one stone, so to speak).  There is no denying that TV portrayals of lesbian and bisexual women have come on leaps and bounds in recent years but representations of any kind, particularly positive ones, are so few and far between that when we do have an actress or a television series or a reality TV star, our expectations are far too high for them to ever live up to.

It’s an experience that many people from minority backgrounds share. So often TV execs resort to caricatures that we’re left with lesbian protagonists that have been reduced to nothing more than skinny jeans and stereotypes, which is embarrassing for everyone involved. It’s only natural, then, that lesbian reality stars are going to play up to those images because that’s what is expected of us. But we deserve more than that from our television portrayals. There is so much depth of personality, creativity and originality in the lesbian and bisexual community but we don’t see that on screen.

Glee's Brittany and Santana

Still, I keep watching, toes curled and all. Call me masochistic, but I think it is optimism. With so many talented actors, directors, producers and people working in creative industries like television that also happen to be gay or bisexual, it’s only a matter of time. It has to get better. Right?


1 Response to Why do lesbians on TV make me cringe?

  1. Sandra says:

    Great post – and I agree. We don’t have too many great role models out there for the Bi and Lesbian community on TV. Mind you, I did like the portrayal of Lesbian couple Melanie and Lindsey in the US version of Queer as Folk – how did you feel about them?



Carrie Lyell


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