Great LezBritain: An Overview of Lesbians in British Soap Opera


HOLLYOAKS – Sarah Barnes (Loui Batley) 2008-2009

The Hollyoaks cast are chiefly of a younger demographic and more easy on the eye than their other soap counterparts. As such, a lot of the cast (men and women) pose in minimal attire for calendars at Christmas time.

Sarah Barnes was no exception to this theme of young beauties and was initially a magnetic force for the men in the show until she swapped teams after an alcohol fuelled one-night stand with her best-friend ever Zoe Carpenter (Zoë Lister) who also happened to be sharing a bed with Sarah’s dad at the time.

Zoe, Lydia and Sarah Barnes

Initially this storyline seemed to be an attempt by Hollyoaks to offer a bit of titillation to the male viewer as well as to bolster its "edgy" credentials rather than offering any meaningful comment on lesbianism.

However, though this brief fornication was dismissed as a drunken mistake by Zoe, it became the first step for Sarah in re-defining her sexuality – although not before sleeping with another couple of fellas first.

When Sarah first meets Lydia, who was the first girl with short hair to ever live in Chester, the beginnings of the relationship were quite positively portrayed. In particular, Sarah’s coming out scene to her best friends was a nice moment, in that it was a real non-event for them. But that is where the lovely ends and the barmy begins. It was so awful we will not indulge in the specifics beyond the fact that Sarah is dead by parachute sabotage at the hands of Lydia. We hope for Beth Jordache’s sake that Lydia was not sent to G Wing.

CORONATION STREET – Sophie (Brooke Vincent) and Sian (Sacha Parkinson) – (2010)

Coronation Street, the old lady of televised soap opera, is celebrating its 50th birthday this year by introducing its first ever lesbian storyline between teen characters Sian and Sophie, who seem to already be receiving good approval ratings from readers.

The characters have, of course, been best friends for a while, but recent arguments over Sian’s lying boyfriend Ryan, led Sophie to realize that her feelings for Sian are romantic and she kissed her confused friend. At first Sian was all like, “Um, what you doing, I’m not like that,” but, thankfully, the last episode saw the girls share more kisses. And while they are still not comfortable with definitions, they are sure they want to keep kissing.

Sian (Sacha Parkinson) and Sophie (Brooke Vincent)

It’s early days, but so far the storyline has been written positively and without titillation and the actresses have played the characters with conviction. Actress Brooke Vincent’s sorrow over Sian’s initial rejection was particularly touching. Sources tell us that their relationship will be a long-term commitment by the program, which already has a long term gay male and long-term transgendered female character.

If this is true, then this relationship will be one of the most important lesbian teen storylines ever to be aired on British television. It will even be more important than Naomily (and before you Tweet us to death with rebuttals, we didn’t say better, just more important), because while Skins is on E4, a digital channel watched mainly by a young, progressive demographic, Sianphie’s relationship will viewed en masse by the mainstream.

Furthermore, Sophie Webster is a character that was born, and has grown up, on our screens to two of the longest serving cast members Sally and Kevin. Our grans, mums, uncles and neighbors are invested in their lives already so how they all deal with Sophie’s sexuality will resonate powerfully.

This is Coronation Street and Sophie is a Webster so it is unlikely that Weatherfield’s first lesbian will have an easy ride. But let’s cross fingers and toes and hope that the writers at least keep in mind that this storyline is worth so much more than just ratings for the thousands of gay teenagers who are struggling with their sexuality across the UK.

"Great LezBritain" authors Sarah, a Londoner, and Lee, a Glaswegian, met in a gay discotheque one bleak mid winter, eight years ago and have been shacked up together ever since. When not watching Tipping The Velvet, they find time to write, run a PR company, DJ at their own club nights and love a bit of jam on toast. Follow them on Twitter at greatlezbritain.

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