Television’s Queer Teen Girls

on

From Gossip Girl to Degrassi, South of Nowhere to

the just-announced return to Beverly Hills, 90210, teens are more of a fixture on

television than ever before. And as more teen characters have become prime-time

regulars, there have also been more opportunities to find lesbian, bi and

questioning teens on TV as well.

Throughout

the history of queer teen girls on television, it has often been the case that

their sexual orientation has not been taken seriously (The Box, Degrassi Junior

High,
The O.C.), they are only

included as an issue rather than as ongoing characters (Neighbours, One Tree Hill),

or they face a double standard in comparison to heterosexual characters when it

comes to romantic relationships (Picket

Fences
).

However,

in recent years, story lines about queer teen girls have developed from

stand-alone “issue of the week” episodes to multi-episode

arcs that are integral to a series, such as on South of Nowhere and Sugar

Rush
.

The first

same-sex kiss on television involving a teenage girl occurred in 1974 on

Australian series The Box, when grown-up

bisexual character Vicki Stafford kissed 15-year-old Felicity in a stand-alone

episode. While this moment in many ways was used as a sensationalist tool to

grab ratings and position The Box from

its very first episode as raunchy and controversial, it did pave the way for

more to come.

In 1987,

Canadian teen series Degrassi Junior High

— known for its controversial story lines about issues such as teen sex and pregnancy

— took quite a different approach when it brought up the issue of lesbianism in

the episode “Rumour Has It.”

In the

episode, rumours circulate that popular teacher Ms. Avery (Michelle Goodeve) may

be a lesbian. Recurring character Caitlin (Stacie Mistysyn), Ms. Avery’s pet

student, initially defends her teacher against the rumours, but when she starts

having dreams about Ms. Avery, Caitlin begins to question her own sexual

orientation.

When

Caitlin confronts Ms. Avery about the rumours, the teacher insists that Caitlin’s

dreams are normal and do not mean anything in terms of sexuality. In other

words, they do not mean that Caitlin is attracted to women. It is then quickly

revealed that Ms. Avery is dating a male teacher, thereby confirming her

heterosexuality. Caitlin’s questioning of her own sexuality is dismissed with Ms.

Avery’s assertions that “of course” she must be heterosexual.

Caitlin in DeGrassi Junior High

The next

significant moment occurred on American television with the 1993 Picket Fences episode “Sugar and

Spice,” written by the king of the one-off lesbian kiss, David E. Kelley (Ally McBeal). During this episode, teen

character Kimberley Brock (Holly Marie Combs) is attracted to her

friend Lisa (Alexondra Lee), and the two kiss. (The possibility of this having further significance

to the sexual orientations of either character is not explored past this

episode.)

Kimberley and Lisa in Picket Fences

The

episode had some positive moments, particularly when Kimberley’s parents are openly chastised for

their homophobic “bigotry.” However, the network (CBS) was not

impressed by the scripted kiss scene between the two girls and insisted on a

reshoot. The new version of the scene was so dark that the kiss itself was not

visible, and this retake was used in the screening of the episode. The network

did, however, release the original take of the kiss scene to the media, and

this was then played in a decontextualized and sensationalized way in order to

promote the series.

With the

exception of a few other stand-alone episodes, television’s representation of

lesbians through the 1990s was largely focused on adult women, and it was not

until after the millennium that a significant number of queer teen girl

characters started to emerge on the small screen.

ABC’s All My Children has the distinction of

being the first daytime soap opera to introduce a teen lesbian character,

Bianca Montgomery (Eden Riegel), a longstanding character who came out on the show in 2000 at

age 16. Despite its initial promise, however, the series has been disappointing

in its representation of Bianca. Although All

My Children
‘s heterosexual characters frequently have romances and relationships,

Bianca has largely been prevented from exploring her lesbian sexuality.