Australia’s “Kick” Features a Middle Eastern Lesbian Character

 
 

While most of the lesbians we see on television are white, new Australian dramedy series Kick has portrayed, for the first time on television, the journey of a Lebanese-Australian Muslim lesbian, Layla Salim (Nicole Chamoun). This is not a tokenistic gesture by the series, for in Kick, it is multiculturalism that is the norm. The series recently wrapped up its first season and is now available on DVD in Australia.

SBS, the free-to-air television network that produced and aired Kick, first began broadcasting in 1980 with the announcement, "Ladies and gentlemen, good evening and welcome to multicultural television." Since then, SBS has continued its mission to provide Australia with multicultural television by showing foreign-language programming from around the world as well as Australian-made shows that reflect Australia's cultural diversity.

This makes it a fairly unique television station, and so it is fitting that it features a character as unique as Layla, as representation of gays and lesbians from the Middle East has been very limited, particularly in popular culture. For Arabic or Muslim lesbians growing up in Australia, and potentially around the world, Layla provides someone to identify with as she struggles to find a balance between her lesbian desires and her responsibilities to her family and culture.

Kick centers on Greek-Australian aspiring actress and receptionist Miki Mavros (Zoe Ventoura) and her neighbors, including Layla and her family, who live on the aptly named Hope Street. The narrative loosely surrounds a soccer team in which Layla's younger sister Taghred (Marisa Sabljak) plays, hence the title Kick, but the series stretches beyond this basic premise.

Warning: Spoilers

Layla lives with her mother, two brothers and sister, and most of Layla's time is spent either at home or at the fencing club at her university, where she meets her girlfriend, Jackie (Romi Trower).

Our first glimpse of Layla consists of two people entirely covered in white fencing gear in the middle of a bout. After the bout, the two remove their masks, revealing Layla and Jackie, still breathing heavily. Layla later goes back to the gym to seek out Jackie and meets her in the showers, where Jackie flirts with her and asks for her phone number.

While Layla does not say anything about her desire for Jackie in the first few episodes, and she declines Jackie's invitation to coffee, she looks at Jackie with open desire. It is clear to viewers that she is attracted to Jackie. She persistently seeks out Jackie and yet hesitates, advancing and then retreating in a way that many young women coming to terms with their lesbian desires may identify with.

While the lack of a concrete lesbian identity early in the show could be seen as an attempt by Kick's producers to have it both ways — presenting a character whom lesbians read as gay while flying under the radar for straight viewers — this is also the way the main character Miki's feelings for her doctor-employer, Joe (Raji James), are presented.

Just in case you should miss the point, Kick's website includes "Layla's Secret Blog," in which she often writes about her desire for Jackie and her confusion as to how to proceed. Indeed, the lack of a clear announcement of Layla's sexuality allows this relationship to appear much like any other relationship on the series, rather than becoming an issue to be addressed.

Despite Layla's hesitations, she is not presented as a hapless heterosexual girl being seduced by the more experienced lesbian. It is Layla who initiates the couple's first — and very sexy — kiss, and who initiates a more intimate encounter when they are finally given some time alone at fencing camp.

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