Update: Since Karen Frost first wrote up this fabulous list over the summer, Showtime has released the complete DVD box set of The L Word. But will DVD’s be watchable in the future?
A time capsule is a collection of things—objects, recordings, writings, etc.—that is buried so that future (optimistically) archaeologists, anthropologists, historians, or (realistically) elementary school children have something to study that helps them understand the culture, milieu and daily lives of the people who interred the capsule. Driven by the need to be recognized, understood, and acknowledged after their deaths, humans have purposely buried time capsules since at least 1795. In 1979, a time capsule was exhumed in San Francisco that had been buried in 1879. Among the contents of the capsule was a book called The Great Geysers of California, in which was inscribed:
If this little book should see the light after its 100 years of entombment, I would like its readers to know that the author was a lover of her own sex and devoted the best years of her life in striving for the political equality and social and moral elevation of women.
One might reasonably guess the buriers of the time capsule didn’t know that Laura de Force Gordon had stealthily added her own lesbian contribution, a fact that gives it a comically subversive bent. The Detroit Century Box, buried December 31, 1900, contained photographs and letters from 56 Detroit residents describing their lives (a suffragette noted that of the then-44 US states, only four offered full women’s suffrage and 25 had limited suffrage) and making predictions about what Detroit would look like in 2000 (for the record, the Canadian province of Ontario did not become a US state, nor are prisoners sent to police stations in pneumatic tubes or flying machines). Four-time capsules have been “buried” in space for alien life forms to find: two Pioneer Plaques and two Voyager Golden Records, with a fifth, the KEO satellite, intended to launch soon and carry messages to Earth’s inhabitants 52,000 years in the future. If humans still are around then.
The lesbian community has come a long way, particularly in the last 20 years, and marked many milestones worth highlighting to future generations. If we were to create a time capsule for lesbians living 100 or 200 years from now, what would be in it? What items are so key to our history that we would want future generations to know about them? The following are some things that seem to merit inclusion for their significant contributions to the cultural development of the lesbian community as of 2016:
At the end of the episode “Looking Death in the Eye” in Season 5 of Xena: Warrior Princess, Xena and Gabrielle are put in their own ice time capsules. When they wake up in the next episode, 25 years have passed and in that time they’ve become posthumous legends. 100 years from now, the characters of Xena and Gabrielle may still be recognized as TV legends, and Xena acknowledged as one of the foundational cornerstones of lesbian pop culture. The series, although at times corny and low budget, came at a time when the internet was just starting to take off, and Xena fans found a wide, wonderfully welcoming and diverse community online with which to interact and relate. Xena and Gabrielle were the original subtext, the original soulmates, the original OTP. For some lesbians, they are the couple by which all other TV couples shall be judged. A lesbian land in turmoil once upon a time cried out for a hero, and that hero was Xena (and Gabrielle). Update: Showtime released the box set, and you can buy the entire series HERE.
Oh, The L Word. Future generations are unlikely to understand the deep ambivalence the lesbians of today felt for a show that was both groundbreaking and intensely controversial. It was a pivotal moment in the history of lesbians on screen; a show dedicated entirely to lesbians that even straight women watched at popular viewing parties. And yet, it was also unrealistic, frustrating, and inaccurate. Many of the characters were unlikable, everyone hated the theme song, the show kept making things up (just checking, but the “lesbian identified man” isn’t a thing, right? Still not a real thing?), and women 100 years from now will wonder why Shane cut her own hair in the dark with rusty scissors and no mirror. Whatever the show’s failings, people of the future deserve to know that the way that we lived was talking, laughing, loving, breathing, fighting, fucking, crying, drinking, writing, winning, losing, cheating, kissing, thinking, dreaming. In that order.
From the early to late 1990s, out lesbian rockers and folk singers began to gain prominence on the national stage, reaching the height of their commercial success while simultaneously bringing awareness to the LGBT community, and every lesbian listened as though their music was part of a required lesbian educational curriculum. Songs like “Closer to Fine” and “Come to my Window”—listened to on CDs—became national lesbian anthems. While later out artists like Tegan and Sara would also achieve commercial success, no one comes close to the first true lesbian musical trailblazers.
A picture of Ellen DeGeneres wearing a crown, sitting on a throne
Future lesbians should know that we had a queen, and her name was Ellen DeGeneres. In 1997, Ellen came out personally and at the same time her character Ellen Morgan on the show Ellen came out. It was probably the highest profile, most public “lesbian coming out” to date in the US. Although Ellen experienced a brief career dip as a result of coming out, she found her feet again on daytime talk and for the last 13 years and counting she has ruled daytime television, desensitizing millions of American viewers to the idea of a lesbian on TV with her goofy dancing and unassuming persona. She has hosted the Emmys, Oscars, and Grammys twice each, and was a judge for one season on American Idol. In 2015, she was named the 50th most powerful woman in the world by Forbes. Of all famous American lesbians past and present, she arguably has done the most for advancing US society’s acceptance of lesbians just by being in the public eye.
Pictures from Dinah Shore
No words will be necessary to explain The Dinah. Just lots and lots of pictures.
Mementos from decades of lesbian fashion trends
Silver thumb rings. Doc Martins. Flannel shirts. Cargo shorts and a wife beater. A tailored vest and tie. One of the distinguishing qualities of the lesbian community has historically been its non-traditional fashions, which have often challenged gender conformity and acted as visual cues to other lesbians. Although on their own none of these things are the sole domain of the lesbian community, together they represent some of the prevailing fashion trends that have swept the community in the last twenty or so years. Topping off the trip down fashion memory lane would be a small flip book of lesbians who look like Justin Bieber…with an explanation of who Justin Bieber was.
HRC and rainbow sticker bumper stickers
If future lesbians wonder how we found each other like gay needles in a haystack of straight people, the HRC sticker, with its iconic blue square shape and yellow equal sign, and a thin rainbow bumper sticker are the answer. In addition to being a big “Hello!” to other lesbian drivers, putting these stickers on a personal vehicle was often an act of bravery and a political statement because it could attract negative attention and even hate crimes in some places. Although not every lesbian sported one on her car, it made identifying queer women much easier in traffic and many a neck were craned trying to see what the driver of the other car looked like.
A tiny toy U-Haul truck
If we pass but one joke on to posterity, it undoubtedly will be the one about what lesbians bring to the second date. And our successors will understand it because some jokes are funny because they make no sense, and some are funny because they are poignant, insightful observations about human nature and the human condition. Our successors will know which of the two this was.
A suffragette writing in 1900 noted that only four states had full women’s suffrage. As of 2015, two women are allowed to get married in all 50 US states. How times change in just over 100 years. A lesbian time capsule would be incomplete without testifying to the joy and happiness that we found in one another. Without pictures of our waving rainbow flags outside the Supreme Court Building on the day, gay marriage was legalized by Obergefell v. Hodges. Without pictures of women holding hands, saying their vows in front of friends and family. Without “Just Married” cars and children ring bearers. 100 years from now, gay marriage will be passé, but today it is still a proud, hard-fought achievement whose pictures will remain poignant to future generations.
So what else should go in the lesbian time capsule of 2016? What parts of lesbian culture today should be documented for posterity?