Building an Audience
Some of this change has to do with evolving social mores brought on by time, more LGBT people coming out to their friends and neighbors, and more high-profile queer women being included in entertainment, media and news.
But much of it is due to the internet.
The internet is the ultimate testing ground, a massive focus group — or more accurately, thousands of smaller focus groups — that aren’t hand-selected by marketing groups to fit a specific demographic.
On the internet, queer people get a vote, and they use it. The result is a much more accurate picture of what and who has the potential to attract an audience.
This takes much of the guessing out of the equation for the business people, making it easier for them to justify putting money behind potentially controversial (read: gay) content or people.
The internet also allows actors, comedians, musicians, filmmakers and writers to develop a national (and international) following through the strategic use of Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and online video.
Writer, producer, and director Angela Robinson‘s movie version of Girltrash is being made in part because the web series proved there’s an audience for it.
Monique on Girltrash
Comedian Liz Feldman, who already had a successful writing career in television, was able to use the internet to hone her on-camera skills with her popular show This Just Out with Liz Feldman, which probably helped her land her current gig on The Jay Leno Show (NBC). The success of comedian Bridget McManus‘s show Brunch with Bridget on AfterEllen.com is one of the reasons Logo decided to air it on television.
Campy lesbian detective web series B.J. Fletcher, Private Eye is being developed for television because of its success online, and the internet talk show Cherry Bomb was picked up to run on Canada’s OutTV because of it’s large online following.
The online following that AfterEllen.com’s former Managing Editor Malinda Lo developed over the years undoubtedly helped sales of her debut novel Ash.
Out British filmmaker Shamim Sarif‘s two lesbian feature films I Can’t Think Straight and A World Unseen developed large international support even before they were available for viewing outside film festivals, thanks to online editorial and viral promotion.
(Then there’s Tila Tequila, whose popularity on MySpace and professed bisexuality landed her her own reality show — but that arguably falls more into the category of setback than progress.)
It works the other way, too: Straight actress Crystal Chappell is developing the lesbian web series Venice in large part because of the positive online feedback she received from fans of her queer character on the CBS daytime drama Guiding Light.
There are many good web series that were successful online, but aren’t of broad enough interest to be picked up for television or film, (because they’re considered too niche to attract advertiser support or appeal to a wide audience).
There are many musicians, comedians, and novelists whose online following hasn’t translated to offline success, at least not financially.
But there are also musicians like Amanda Palmer, who says she’s made more money through promoting herself online via her blog and Twitter than from sales through traditional retail outlets.
Stories like these are only going to become more common as bandwidth speeds improve, consumer entertainment products all become internet-accessible, and we increasingly turn to the web for entertainment.
While the internet has helped queer women in many ways — providing a safe place to be out, helping us feel less isolated, and even helping some women find girlfriends — the influence the internet has and will continue to have on the visibility of lesbian and bisexual women in entertainment and the media may be one of its most important legacies, because of how entertainment shapes, and is shaped by, the larger world we live in.