Visibility Matters: Life After “The L Word”


Visibility Matters is a column by Founder Sarah Warn about larger trends affecting lesbian/bi women in entertainment and the media.

Consider this sobering fact: The average 20-year-old doesn’t remember a time when The L Word didn’t exist. Which means they’ve always known a time when there was at least one TV series that, love it or hate it (or loved it and hated it, especially at the end), put storylines about queer women front and center.

But The L Word is over. Lesbian teen drama South of Nowhere is also over. Gimme Sugar (Logo) is finishing its very short second season, and Dante’s Cove (here tv) is supposedly returning for a fourth season but there’s been no date set yet for its return.

American primetime TV is currently devoid of lesbian or bi characters, except barely there supporting or recurring characters on Mental (Fox), The Closer (TNT), and Nurse Jackie (Showtime), and the sole daytime drama with a lesbian relationship, Guiding Light, is squandering its remaining months on a clichéd, desexualized lesbian storyline.

Next month will see the return of a handful of lesbian and bi characters on U.S. television (Grey’s Anatomy, Bones, House M.D.), but most of them will get minimal screen time (and, except for Callie and Arizona on Grey‘s, they’re all dating men). 

There is a prominent lesbian character on Syfy’s new series Stargate: Universe, beginning in October, but there are no other leading lesbian or bi characters on the fall primetime ’09 schedule that we know of (with the possible exception of Claire on Heroes, but it remains to be seen whether that’s more than just a ratings ploy). 

The situation’s not much better internationally. There are a handful of shows with prominent, ongoing queer female characters on shows outside the U.S., but one-half of Spain’s most popular couple was just killed off on Los Hombres de Paco, and one-half of Australia’s popular lesbian couple was recently written off on Home and Away (in both cases, the actresses did not want to return).  Queer-inclusive series Husifim (Israel), Infidels (Spain), and Skins (U.K.) are all between seasons.

As we’ve written about extensively, it’s the lowest point in a decade for lesbian/bi visibility in fictional film and TV, and it’s not likely to get better any time soon.

For those of us over 25, this feels very familiar &#8212 a return to the days when we had to seek out scraps of images of ourselves in mainstream entertainment because we either weren’t represented at all, limited to minor supporting characters, or confined to boring, negative, and/or predictable stereotypes (i.e. the 1990s).

But there is one significant difference between then and now: Thanks to the internet, film festivals, DVD players, and reality TV, there are more ways than ever before to find queer content — as long as you’re willing to do a little work.

Here’s a guide to help you get started.

1. Tune in to talk shows

Queer reality show contestants come and go. But there are many political and entertainment shows hosted regularly by out lesbians. 

If you’re not already watching The Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC), The Suze Orman Show (CNBC), or Issues with Jane Valez-Mitchell (CNN), now might be a good time to start. You can also find Cat Cora regularly on Iron Chef (Food Network), and begining in November, you can see The Wanda Sykes Show weekly on Fox. 

Then of course, there’s The Ellen DeGeneres Show (NBC). But you’ve probably heard of that one already.

Ellen DeGeneres with Barack Obama

If you live in Germany, you can watch Anne WillKölner Treff, and Heute-Journal, all hosted by out women. In Norway, you can catch TV presenter Else Kåss Furuseth, and in the Netherlands, you can watch out Dutch artist Claudia de Breij‘s new talk show beginning in September. 

Germany’s Dunja Hayali of Heute-Journal

These are just a few examples of women hosting talk shows around the world. You can find more suggestions from readers in our forum.

2. Watch indie LGBT films at festivals, and on DVD

There are not many queer women in current American theatrical releases, and those that exist are mostly minor characters there to serve as comic relief (Year One). There are several star-powered theatrical releases in the works featuring prominent lesbian characters (Cherry Bomb, Les Passages, The Kids are Alright, Cloudburst), but they’re still months if not years away from hitting the theaters.

There are a good crop of lesbian/bi-inclusive movies and documentaries this year, however, like Mississippi Damned, Society, Lady Trojans, and And Then Came Lola. Although the major LGBT film festivals are already over for 2009, there are smaller, local festivals held all over the world throughout the year. 

A scene from Mississippi Damned

Even more importantly, buy these movies when they come out on DVD! It’s important to financially support independent movies with lesbian/bi characters and themes, so there’s funding for filmmakers to keep making them.

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