The Lesbian Teen Formula


Besides being boring and predictable, the overabundance of indistinguishable teenage coming-out plots is unrealistic. TV shows and movies are obviously not meant to be completely true to life, but not every lesbian or bi teen spends their entire adolescence dealing with coming out, just as not all adult lesbian relationships are about getting pregnant and then fighting over the child.

How about instead of a story about a teenage girl coming to terms with her sexuality, we get a story about a teen coming to terms with the fact that her girlfriend cheated on her?

Or, instead of friends and family pulling the couple apart, our teen heroines must overcome a separation caused by college?

But the reasons why this formula is so popular are the same reasons it is not likely to be abandoned anytime soon.

It’s the safest path for writers and filmmakers to choose, since it’s highly relatable: almost all queer women went through some version of the coming-out story, and it allows straight viewers to sympathize with the queer character by experiencing their emotional journey.

And by keeping the focus of the teen lesbian/bisexual squarely on coming out, writers can avoid having to show lesbian teens engaging in sexual relationships beyond a kiss, which is much more controversial than the coming-out storyline.

But most importantly, the coming-out storyline marks lesbian teens as “different”, which is much less threatening to straight viewers than treating queer teens just like all the other (straight) characters.

There is also little incentive for writers to explore this more dangerous post-coming out territory because films and TV shows with teen coming-out narratives remain popular, or at least, popular enough. We like to see movie and TV versions of ourselves succeed in being loved and accepted, especially since many of us felt so isolated during our own adolescence, and we’ll take a well-written queer coming-out storyline on TV or film over no storyline at all.

But these films and shows could be popular simply because they’re all we have.

The best (and arguably only) example so far of a well-developed post-coming out story about queer teens is Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The show’s portrayal of queer college-aged women Willow and Tara focused on the young women’s relationship, not on Willow’s struggle for acceptance or her journey of self discovery (at least not as it pertained to her sexuality). And in the end, Willow and Tara were not pulled apart by friends, but instead by Willow’s addiction to magic, and then by Tara’s death.

As Buffy illustrates, if and when teen storylines begin to go beyond coming out, in fact, it’s likely to be on the small screen, not the big one. There are already signs that some shows are taking small steps in that direction. Despite bungling the storyline overall, Fox’s The O.C. did at least briefly portray a post-coming out relationship by exploring the effect of Alex’s jealousy on her relationship with Marissa.

The long-running storyline for All My Children‘s lesbian teenager Bianca also went beyond the coming out process, but this was mitigated by the fact that Bianca was quickly de-sexualized and saddled with a rape and baby storyline, effectively replacing her teen coming-out storyline with the clichéd adult lesbian-with-baby storyline.

Now that Ashley and Spencer have finally gotten together, South of Nowhere has a golden opportunity in its second season to explore the world of teenage lesbian love beyond coming out. But will they take advantage of it? Or choose a safer route? We’ll have to wait until October to find out.

I’d offer to write a refreshing script for them myself, but I’m too busy plotting how to get my girlfriend back after her friends came between us.

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