Television’s Queer Teen Girls

 
 

In 2005,
Britain’s
Channel 4, previously well-known for queer programming such as Dyke TV and Queer as Folk, adapted the young adult novel Sugar Rush to television. This series featured the character Kim
(Olivia Hallinan), who openly lusted after her (straight) best friend Sugar (Lenora
Crichlow).

Kim and Sugar in Sugar Rush

The
noticeable difference between Sugar Rush
and previous depictions of queer teen sexuality is that it focused more on Kim’s
sexual desire than questioning her sexual identity. Although Sugar largely does
not reciprocate Kim’s desires, they do steal a car and then sleep together in
the final episode. Interestingly, it is Sugar who is punished for these
trangressions, while Kim is not.

During
the second season, Kim becomes involved in the lesbian scene in Brighton and is more sexually active. Kim also finds
herself a steady girlfriend, Saint, a DJ and sex store owner. But despite being
popular and winning an international Emmy for children’s programming, the series was cancelled after its second season,
ostensibly because Channel 4 couldn’t find a timeslot for it.

Also in
2005, South of Nowhere debuted on The
N in the United States.
South of Nowhere‘s Spencer Carlin
(Gabrielle Christian), a new student at a Los
Angeles school, is from the outset clearly attracted
to new friend Ashley Davies (Mandy Musgrave), the bisexual daughter of a rock star.
Spencer does have a brief romance with Ashley’s ex-boyfriend Aiden, but it is quickly
made clear that she is not truly attracted to him, and she embarks on an
on-again, off-again relationship with Ashley for the majority of the series.

Spencer and Ashley in South of Nowhere

What was
particularly significant about this representation is that unlike in such shows
as Degrassi, where Alex, a significant
though relatively minor character, carries the burden of queer representation,
Spencer is one of the central characters in the series. In addition, South of Nowhere‘s explicit
youth-oriented nature (it airs on tween network The N) differentiates it from
shows such as The O.C. or Once and Again, which were pitched at a
slightly older demographic.

South of Nowhere did,
however, disappoint lesbian viewers with its significant double standard during
Season 2 in terms of how physically the romance between Spencer and Ashley was
presented on-screen, in comparison to the various other heterosexual pairings on
the show.

In the Season
2 finale, Ashley is depicted as torn between her feelings for Spencer and her
feelings for Aiden, and Spencer and Ashley break up early in the third season.
The writers, however, didn’t utilize this as an opportunity to remove lesbian
sexuality from the show. Instead, they gave Spencer a new girlfriend (Carmen)
for a number of episodes, and a clearly sexual reunion with Ashley in the final
episode of the first half of the third season.

Although
the series has now been cancelled and the second half of the third season (to
air in the U.S. this fall) constitutes the show’s final episodes, the series has made
significant breakthroughs in representing teen lesbian sexuality on a series
directed at young viewers.

Making
queer teen girl characters central to the narratives of these shows has played
an important part not only in raising visibility, but ensuring that young viewers
have these kinds of characters to connect to. Perhaps watching and connecting
with characters like Spencer, Ashley and Kim will allow young queer women to
feel that they are not alone in their sexual orientation, while knowing these
characters and relating to them week by week will make their heterosexual
schoolmates more accepting of young queer women.

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