Beyond Visibility: It Really Does Get Better (And TV Helps)

I left church because of the cow-herd bigotry thing, mostly, and I immediately went on a bender like Kevin McAllister in Home Alone
— only instead of gorging myself on ice cream and cheese pizza, I
gorged myself on all the things my church had taught me to stay away from.
It started with Harry Potter (witchcraft!), continued with television
(swearing!), really picked up speed with BBC’s Big Read of Top 100 books
(lust! deceit! murder! drugs! strong-willed women! hobbits!), and
finally exploded into actual self-awareness with The L Word (girl sex! girl sex! omg, girl sex!).

therapist said to me one day, “Why are you so broken up about Bette
cheating on Tina?” I shrugged. “Your reaction to this television show
seems strong, even for you.” I shrugged again. She asked if I thought I
was a lesbian and I laughed in her face. She asked if I wanted to marry a
man and I laughed in her face even louder. She asked if I wanted to
spend my life with a woman and I said, “Yes, of course. Like Bette and
Tina.” And then I said, “Ohhhhhhhh. I’m a lesbian.”

I was
never bullied when I was growing up, because I was never brave enough
to be unique. I was never attacked, because I was never courageous
enough to take a stand. But I was different. Oh, so different. And there
were whole years I went to bed every night hoping my life was just a
terrible dream, begging God to let me wake up in a different bed in a
different home in a different school district in a different body, so I
didn’t have to feel so sad and so weird anymore.

But they’re so cute. And … normal.

And then
it got better. It wasn’t easy because the getting better meant I had to
dig into my desires and dreams, that I had to to unearth every fear,
plucking each one out of decades of detritus and debris. And I had to
polish those differences. And I had to treasure those differences. And I
had to display those differences for the entire world to see.

But you know what I had to
have first? I had to have the language to describe what was going on
inside me. I had to have the words and the images to understand what it
even meant to be a lesbian. And you know where I found that language? Books and movies and television.

are people who say that what we do here at — all
this writing about lesbian pop culture — is superfluous, that it doesn’t
matter. But lesbian and bisexual women (including characters) on
television and film and radio do matter. Not only because seeing a
queer character on TV is tantamount to knowing a queer person in real
life (thereby breeding acceptance), but because there really are women
of all ages all over the world who have only ever heard the word
“lesbian” associated with “hell” or “deviant.”

So imagine being scared and alone and different and turning on your television to see Emily Fields on Pretty Little Liars and
realizing that being gay doesn’t make you a kitten sacrificer after
all. Or imagine thinking you’ll never find true love because you just
can’t make it work with a man and opening up a comic book to see
beautiful, normal couple Katchoo and Francine in Strangers in Paradise. Imagine
knowing you’re gay and being afraid to come out and turning on your
radio and hearing Chely Wright’s story. Imagine being afraid of losing
your career because you’re gay and being reminded of what’s possible
just by flipping the channel to Ellen. Imagine equating being g-a-y with burning in h-e-l-l and seeing Sophie and Sian being in love in church on Coronation Street and realizing that loving another girl doesn’t mean you have to stop loving God.

Oh, that’s nice.

If I’d had any of those things when I was growing up — just one of them, just one lesbian or bisexual character to relate to — it wouldn’t have taken me 25 years to stop trying to outrun what was inside me.

received an email from an reader recently that affected
me deeply and I asked if I could share her story with you. She told me
that not long ago she was so lonely and terrified and exhausted from
fighting a losing battle with being gay that she decided to take her own
life. She stood in the bathroom with a gun in her mouth and right
before she planned to pull the trigger, she had a single, fleeting
thought: I should see see Skins before I die. She watched the third series in one sitting and found herself in Emily Fitch. She called the Trevor Hotline and she lived.

as a community, must continue to demand better from movie producers and
television writers. We, as a community, must continue to celebrate the
stories that really do reflect the joys and heartaches and normalcy of
our queer lives. Because “Visibility Matters” and “It Gets Better”
aren’t just slogans; they’re two facts that hold hands and make each
other stronger.

It got better for me.

And when it’s done right, TV and books and movies will make it better for all of us.

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