Bury your Gays, Bury your Butch, Live On Forever.

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By the end of the San Junipero episode, I really wish I could time-hop—to a time when actual lesbians have big budgets and can write and direct shows portraying actual lesbians. I want to travel to a time where we end the constant obsession with repackaging and rebranding ‘the lesbian.’ I want to hop to a time where we stop shaming women who don’t conform to the rigid sexist roles of ‘gender.’

Kelly and Yorkie on Black Mirror, the San Junipero episode

Kelly and Yorkie on Black Mirror, the San Junipero episode

When I hear there’s a lesbian episode of Black Mirror, I decide to give it a shot, although I’ve been warned not to watch the first episode (exact words were-“Don’t watch the first episode. It’s sick. It gave me nightmares”). Since the stories are all separate, the sensitive viewer—anyone who’s not into the popularization of extreme graphic violence against women on TV—can pick and choose which episodes they want to watch.

I go into watching the San Junipero episode of Black Mirror knowing 3 things:

1. The director and writer are more than likely men (and the network is definitely run by men)

2. Both ‘lesbians’ will more than likely be ‘femmes.’

3. One of them is sure to be bisexual.

Shay and Clarise , Chicago Fire

Shay and Clarise , Chicago Fire

Because this is the definitive classic ‘lesbian’ formula that’s been depicted on TV time and time again. A formula that continually denies and inaccurately portrays…well..actual lesbians. Our culture is so much more. And that formula illustrates the very real-life desire to eradicate ‘butch’ women from existence (both on TV and off).

Even The L Word, a show about lesbians, was a show where lesbians were mainly portrayed as a concept—an interpretation of what the masses really really wish lesbians would be—pliable. And although it was created by a woman, it catered to the taste of a mainstream male-dominated network. Katherine Moennig (playing the role of Shane) was the only butch-adjacent character.

Shane, the LWord’s only andro character, has major chemistry in all of her scenes (even when she’s just scratching her own head)

Shane, The L Word’s only andro(ish) character, has major chemistry in all of her scenes (even when she’s just scratching her own head)

In 2017, the Annalise-Eves of How to Get Away With Murder are the best representation we can hope for… and that’s kind of sad. The Cali-Arizonas of Grey’s Anatomy. *please note: I worship and binge watch anything by Shonda Rhimes.

The lesbian formula though… Santana-Brittany (Glee) Maya-Emily and Emily-Paige (Pretty Little Liars). Lexa-Clarke (The 100). Alex-Piper and Lorna-Nicky and Poussey-Brooke (OITNB)…Why is Poussey, of all characters, killed off in a such traumatizing way? Stef-Lena (The Fosters).

Carol-Susan (Friends). Nic-Jules (The Kids Are Alright)…And why were ‘lesbians’ watching gay man porn? Is that what people think actual lesbians do in their spare time? And then, an affair with the sperm donor? Formulaaa. Cosima-Delphine (Orphan Black). Wendy-Lana, Ramona-Countess, Alice-Countess, Natasha-Countess and Zoe-Madison (American Horror Story). Anyone see some patterns? Shay-Clarice (Chicago Fire). Alisha-Tara (Walking Dead). Gail-Holly (Rookie Blue).

Screenshot 2017-08-19 at 12.25.29 AM

Jenny-Marina, Dana-Lara, Dana-Alice, Bette-Tina, Helena-Tina (The L Word). Jennifer Beals—Yes, please and thank you—Ay, Dios mío! But where were all the butch lesbian hotties? Because there’s a tremendous ‘stud,’ woman of color presence in West Hollywood, with entire events devoted to this demographic. As an Arab-American woman of color, who worked in that circuit, this is the sort of thing that jumps out at me when I’m watching TV. The L Word was accurate to a demographic of WEHO, yes; a group of friends, sure, but it had a major blind spot for butch women, and, more specifically, butch women of color.

“When a butch character was introduced, Moira played by masculine of center actor Daniela Sea, they quickly transitioned to trans leaving the category of butch stranded like a missing link, like a bad memory to be expunged from queer representation.”—AfterEllen

Moira becomes Max, the LWord

Moira becomes Max, The L Word

In a recent People Entertainment video—where The L Word cast reunites to discuss a potential reboot—the lack of lesbian representation is summed up really well: In explaining why the only butch character, Moira, becomes Max—“Moira kind of doesn’t really fit with the rest of the group…she’s not a girlygirl.”

The ‘butch’ lesbian archetype is still somehow only dragged out as a joke, or a punchline, or a punching bag. Something to be reformed, admonished or pondered upon. The hatred is so alive and so well, that the old “Are you a girl, or a boy?” line on shows like Girl Boss are still shaming lesbians who don’t fit the adamant stereotype of what a woman ‘should’ be. It’s damaging. The message is: We should all add eyeliner, disappear, or become something else entirely.

The ‘butch’ lesbian archetype is still somehow only dragged out as a joke, or a punchline, or a punching bag. Something to be reformed, admonished or pondered upon.

Butch character Big Boo, OITNB

Butch character Big Boo, OITNB

So, I’m aware of these 3 things, when I sit down to watch “San Junipero,” and I’m also certain that no one will care if lesbians complain about needing actual lesbians to play lesbian characters. There will be no headlining stories to that effect, because mainstream headlines are also controlled by men—and there are very few actual lesbians writing for the mainstream, or LGBT shows. When penis-wielders dominate the media, female creators, writers and directors have to be the cool lady in order to land that next season—The kind of cool lady that not only knows how to share her toys in the sandbox, but is willing to hand over the shovel and the bucket to the boys (till the handle is ripped off the bucket, and half the shovel has been chewed into a long pointed shiv).

I try not to notice these 3 things. But I do notice. I can’t help it. I’m a lesssssbian. I don’t feel obligated to play nice in the sandbox and I don’t have trouble bruising the male ego (It’s a wonder I have so many bestie guy friends). Spoiler alerts abound!

Yorkie, Black Mirror, the San Junipero episode

Yorkie, Black Mirror, the San Junipero episode

Two women meet at a bar in San Junipero. One of them wears glasses and is named Yorkie (sounds like Corky—the pre-Shane Shane—of Corky-Violet in the movie Bound). The other one wears sequins, a bisexual named Kelly, who uses Yorkie to get her latest fling to leave her alone—And when he begrudgingly takes off, the ladies grab a drink and hit the dance floor in a scene that makes me feel like I’ve just been thrust into a Paula Abdul music video. Yes!

The soundtrack of San Junipero is particularly awesome—especially during the next scene—a montage in which Yorkie finally removes her glasses, at long last unleashing her feminine beauty, switching from one outfit, to the next, and the next. It’s the cliche She’s All That moment, wherein removing one’s glasses has the power to completely transform you into the beauty the home-viewing audience couldn’t see before (what with the glasses and all). The outfits match the corresponding retro music video—Pretty neat!

Kelly, Black Mirror, the San Junipero episode

Kelly, Black Mirror, the San Junipero episode

San Junipero is an afterlife community, a simulated reality, where the minds of the elderly can be uploaded to live as their younger selves—also pretty neat! While they’re still alive they can only go to San Junipero once a week, to any time period, but after they die they can stay there permanently.

Next time Yorkie finds Kelly she’s with a new guy, and Yorkie watches the couple from across the room. When Kelly gets up to use the bathroom, she leaves her Jack and Coke on the table and Yorkie follows. Don’t leave your drinks with strange men ladies—I’ve been told this episode is safe to watch, but after seeing Ryan Murphy’s vision of lesbians (raped, strapped to tables, amputated and crawling out of basements) everything is suspect.

Lesbian on American Horror Story

Lesbian on American Horror Story

*Just to clarify, Ryan Murphy did not direct this episode—But, as I’ll later discover in the credits, San Junipero was directed and written by men. The chemistry between the characters is lukewarm, and after they sleep together, Kelly explains her bisexuality with the phrase “Equal Rights” and a fist-pump—Yup, the script was definitely written by a man.

Every week, Yorkie looks for Kelly in different time periods—When she finally finds her in 2002, Kelly rejects her. But when Kelly sees Yorkie sitting atop a tall building she has a change of heart—”Don’t jump,” I think, flashing back to the horrible fate of the jilted young lesbian in the movie Lost and Delirious.

Kelly and Yorkie

Kelly and Yorkie

When Kelly convinces Yorkie they should meet in real life, an elderly real-time Kelly visits an elderly real-time Yorkie and we discover Yorkie has spent several decades bedridden—Because after coming out to her parents at the age of 21, their bad reaction led her to race off in a car, causing an accident, leaving her quadriplegic. Kelly refuses to stay in San Junipero out of loyalty to a husband she truly loved and their 39 year old daughter who aren’t in the San Junipero afterlife. But in the final moments of the show, Kelly decides to stay in San Junipero with Yorkie.

San Junipero gets two gold stars—one for Yorkie (wink, wink)—and one for avoiding the typical “Bury your gays” theme. Okay well technically they both die, and technically Yorkie suffers a horrific fate, living out her real-life bedridden and miserable. So technically they do bury the gays. But then they get to go to San Junipero—A place where a lesbian can die and still live on. They deliver on that. But what mainstream still doesn’t deliver on: Breaking the standard ‘lesbian’ formula—two femmes (one of which is a bisexual) written for male approval…Two puffy white wedding dresses and long flowing locks. Quelle surprise.

Once again I’m left wondering: Why do we still get the same tired sexist perspective of lesbians time and time again? 

Once again I’m left wondering: Why do we still get the same tired sexist perspective of lesbians time and time again? Why no ‘andro’ lesbians? Because Equating ‘femininity’ with ‘womanhood’ is as sexist as it it gets… yet this sort of sexism is something that the mainstream media seems intent on perpetuating. The total rebrand of dykes, putting things back to how they’re ‘supposed’ to be: Women should be ‘feminine.’ Men should be ‘masculine.’ Period. Repackage and sell sell sell! And it’s done some real-life damage to a community that’s faced unimaginable psychological warfare over the years—It’s a wonder any of us are still left intact.

“Feminine queer women, after all, are much easier to sell to mainstream audiences…there are basically no masculine women on television… the typical cool, femme queer character we’ve come to know is rarely ever a Lesbian with a capital L…she’s just like everybody else.” —BuzzFeed

Emily and Alison, Pretty Little Liars

Emily and Alison, Pretty Little Liars

Something so beautiful is lost in mainstream portrayal. Characters often fall flat. Mainstream media is like the great grandma who shows up at your lesbian wedding and says “So, do I call her your husband?” Let’s clear this up, right here and now. Throw away the old formula—Here’s a NEW list of 3:

1. Andro lesbians do not want to be men—colors, clothes and hairstyles do not have a ‘gender.’

2. Stud lesbians are hot, the confidence is sexy, but the appeal is in the unwrapping and what’s underneath.

3. Same-sex attraction can’t somehow be tricked—when femmes go for androgynous women it’s not because they really want a man—it’s an innate biological magnetic same-sex attraction that’s unapologetic and unstoppable.

Andro character Shane with Carmen on The L Word

Andro character Shane with Carmen on The L Word

So I officially offer myself up as a consulting expert on the next show that attempts to portray lesbian characters. I’ll demand the authenticity of lesbian swagger—the swagger and intensity that—yes—even femme lesbian characters can possess. I’ll demand ties and scruffy short hair. I’ll demand that even women sporting ponytails and red lipstick know how to convey the -isms of our culture. Because as of yet there have been very few characters that realistically depict the driving innate animal force of lesbian attraction.

Same-sex attraction can’t somehow be tricked—when femmes go for androgynous women it’s not because they really want a man—it’s an innate biological magnetic same-sex attraction that’s unapologetic and unstoppable.

I want to see the same level of accuracy, passion, and same-sex attraction as I see depicted between two gay men (who are not bisexual) on screen. Because gay men on TV are just that—GAY men. I want the sizzle conveyed by Connor and Oliver (How to Get Away with Murder), the heart-melting chemistry of Kurt and Blaine (Glee), the lesbian equivalent of Lito and Hernando (Sense 8). I WANT LESBIANS WHO ARE LESSSSBIANS.

By the end of the San Junipero episode, I really wish I could time-hop—to a time when actual lesbians have big budgets and can write and direct shows portraying actual lesbians. I want to travel to a time where we end the constant obsession with repackaging and rebranding ‘the lesbian.’ I want to hop to a time where we stop shaming women who don’t conform to the rigid sexist roles of ‘gender’.

Poussey falls for a straight woman Brooke, OITNB…then Poussey is killed off.

Poussey falls for a straight woman Brooke, in OITNB…then Poussey is killed off.

A time where butch-phobia and andro-phobia and stud-phobia and all the other lesbo-dyke-phobias are a thing of the past. Because Women never needed men to tell us what was sexy—we already knew. Because, as of yet, it appears we’re so threatening, so disturbing to the mainstream, that molding us into something else has become a compulsion.

 It appears we’re so threatening, so disturbing to the mainstream, that molding us into something else has become a compulsion.

So yeah… by the end of this episode, I want to time-hop forward, but another part of me wants to time-hop back. Back to a time when the Vagina Monologues aren’t being cancelled. A time when there are more than a handful of lesbian bars left remaining open in the entire United States. A time when my first fake ID would open the gates of heaven and subways led to soooo many lesbian playgrounds. And the music—Oh the music!

I want to transport myself back to a time when our culture was still our culture, and the mainstream hasn’t yet applied lip gloss, smokey eye shadow, and heels to every single lesbian in sight.

The female pheromones swirling around you in the hip hop room, at Clit Club—2002—in NYC, on a hot summer night. The days where you could lock eyes with a stud across the room, undress her in the privacy of your own home, and know that beneath it all, the clit you found in the club was all the female heaven you were hoping for and more (dial up the Uhaul). I want to transport myself back to a time when our culture was still our culture, and the mainstream hasn’t yet applied lip gloss, smokey eye shadow, and heels to every single lesbian in sight.

 

Photo by Lindsey Byrnes

Photo by Lindsey Byrnes

The days where you could lock eyes with a stud across the room, undress her in the privacy of your own home, and know that beneath it all, the clit you found in the club was all the female heaven you were hoping for and more.

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