5 Things I Learned From TV and Film About Lesbian Culture

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2.    True: Your first love tends to be a close friend.

Amy and Karma of Faking It. Spencer Carlin and Ashley Davies from South of Nowhere. Santana and Brittany from Glee. Sophie Webster and Sian Powers on Coronation Street. Claude and Ellen from All Over Me. For many young women, their best friend (or at least a very good friend) was their first real crush. Their best friend was someone they were emotionally close to and with whom they spent a lot of time, and naturally, the lines between platonic and romantic love blurred…or disappeared altogether.

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The entertainment industry does a pretty good job of depicting what it’s like to develop that crush, but it may also give young people a false hope: in most cases on screen, the crush is reciprocated. In real life, however, it probably is most often not. What if Naomi Campbell had never gotten together with Emily Fitch on Skins and Emily had pined hopelessly for Naomi? In that sense, Faking It might be the best representation of what happens when you try to continue being besties with your best friend even when both of you know that the crush will never go both ways.

3.   True and false: Coming out to yourself is the hardest part of being gay because pretty much everyone will be accepting.

TV loves the drama of characters grappling with their sexuality, but these days, after they come out, it’s often all rainbows and sunshine. Worried about coming out? Why? All your friends are secretly super supportive and accepting! A character struggling with her sexual orientation is good TV because it’s emotionally powerful and lasts multiple episodes, but TV—at least, American TV—doesn’t often seem interested in depicting all the negative things that can happen to a character after coming out.

Instead, American TV prefers to show a generally accepting society, or else one that quickly comes around. Emily Fields of Pretty Little Liars, for example, had an accepting social net—the other Liars—that made it easier when her mom was initially unsupportive, for example. Although South of Nowhere did an excellent job of showing an unsupportive parent.

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TV now depicts these situations instead of a character struggling with negative post-coming out experiences such as a long-term unsupportive family, being fired or denied access to housing for being gay. It may be a conscious decision by the entertainment industry to portray families, friends, and coworkers as accepting in an attempt to influence society to mirror that behavior, but the downside is that it creates an unrealistic impression among heterosexuals of how widespread that support is.

The industry’s portrayal of coming out is mixed. While it generally does a good job of portraying the individual’s angst when first coming out to friends and family, and this has positive effects for teaching straight viewers about this singular experience shared by everyone in the gay and lesbian community, the portrayal is less realistic in the depiction of the reactions of others. Characters are generally not kicked out of the house, or have their college tuition cut off, or spend decades isolated from their families. Because this is not shown, many heterosexual viewers are not exposed to the extent of the backlash to which some individuals are exposed after coming out, and therefore they may conclude that the experience of being gay is less arduous than it is for some individuals.