“Fastlane” Lesbian Episode a Fun But Uneven Ride


The Bad

1. Since Sara and Jill are the only lesbians ever to appear on Fastlane, this episode reinforces the lesbian-criminal association that is a close cousin to the dead/evil lesbian cliche frequently employed in television and film (such as in the recent “lesbian episode” of Smallville). Of course, this is a cop show in which almost all of the characters besides the three cops are criminals — so it’s not that lesbians were being unfairly portrayed in the context of this particular series. The reinforcement of the stereotype occurs when you look at the portrayal of lesbians on a macro level — i.e. across shows.

So even while it might be totally appropriate and fair for the characters to be criminals within an individual series, when an overwhelming number of the lesbian characters on television are evil, criminal, or dead it creates an overall impression that lesbians are disproportionately evil/criminal.

The dead/evil/criminal lesbian has appeared on shows like 24, All My Children, Babylon 5, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dark Angel, ER, For the People, Law & Order, Millennium, Northern Exposure, NYPD Blue, The Practice, Quantum Leap, and Smallville, while the the number of happy (or at least not unhappy), law-abiding lesbian characters on television is much smaller.

2. It’s unfortunate that the only time butch lesbians are shown on television, it’s in a negative light. The are usually shown in a scene similar to the one in this episode where a butch lesbian makes unwanted advances towards a straight woman or newly out lesbian, and is rejected. The cumulative result is that anyone watching television would come away with the impression that butch lesbians are destined for a life of invisibility and rejection.

3. In the hot tub, Sara tells Billie she is drawn to women who are similar to herself because “I figure if I can’t be a better me, I might as well date her,” which reinforces the “lesbians are narcissistic” stereotype.

4) The show featured a warning about “adult sexuality” at the beginning, which is hypocritical and unnecessary considering the nature of the show and the fact that this warning is not shown before episodes which contain explicit scenes of heterosexual sexuality.

The Mixed

1. Billie’s comfort with kissing and feigning attraction to Sara is in marked contrast to Van and Deaq’s clear discomfort at the idea of kissing another guy when they are pretending to be a gay male couple in the club. While this makes Billie appear less homophobic, the episode does nothing to challenge the men’s homophobia, and worse, actually plays their homophobia for laughs.

2. When the cops discover the women are gay, they have the following conversation:

VAN: They may be lesbians but they don’t have to stay lesbians
DEAQ: Van thinks he can turn ‘em.
BILLIE: (laughing) Okay, I’ll let you in on a little secret — you’re the reason lesbians become lesbians.

Although the last line is said in jest, it does subtly reinforce the stereotype that lesbianism is a choice, and that it is not a choice for women but a rejection of men. It also obviously references the stereotype that lesbians just need to meet the right guy, but Billie clearly dismisses this idea at the same time — her tone is teasing and she makes fun of Van’s assumption that he can “convert” lesbians.

3. When Van and Deaq ask Billie where she’s going, she says “I’m going to see the lesbians.” The way the sentence is structured makes it sound like Billie is going to visit zoo animals, or a circus act, but Billie’s mocking tone appears to be making fun of the guys’ this idea of lesbians as strange and different.

4. Almost all of the women in the bar are ultra-femmey (i.e. long hair, trendy tight-fitting clothes, makeup, etc.). This isn’t too surprising given that it’s television where everyone has to look glamorous all the time, but it’s not exactly realistic (although if any lesbian bar actually looks like this, it probably would be one in L.A.)

5. Although she’s a criminal, the character of Sara is actually presented in a fairly sympathetic light, and Billie appears to genuinely care for her, at least a little (although not necessarily in a sexual way) as evidenced by Billie’s treatment of Sara after she has been arrested (she speaks gently to Sarah, reassures Sarah that her life isn’t over, and then offers her a deal which will prevent her from going to jail).

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