5 Things I Learned From TV and Film About Lesbian Culture

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4.    False: Pretty much every single lesbian has super long hair and is femme.

The entertainment industry almost exclusively demands long hair of actresses because it views long hair as more feminine and beautiful. But this means that 98% of lesbian characters have flowing, perfectly blow-dried hair past their shoulders, a wildly lopsided depiction of lesbian hairstyling.

Furthermore, because the entertainment industry remains largely gender normative in terms of how female characters are costumed, lesbian characters are almost always femme. One of the most compelling criticisms of The L Word when it first aired was that pretty much all the characters were femme with long, gorgeous hair.

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No one on The L Word actually looked like someone you would know in real life. The trend persists today (Piper Chapman, Alex Vause, Nicky Nichols, etc. on Orange is the New Black all have long hair, for example, although Big Boo is butch, and Poussey had a  more androgynous look).

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In real life, lesbian and bi women come in all shapes and sizes, gender presentations and hairstyles, as both the gay and straight communities know. Because viewers know that the characters they see on screen are not necessarily realistic, it seems safe to say the “pretty lesbian” character is neither positively nor negatively influential—especially because most heterosexuals are more likely to be influenced by the popular culture stereotype of lesbians as flannel wearing tennis instructors.

5.    True and false: Lesbians are sexy seductresses who can turn straight women.

I mean, if the shoe fits. But seriously, as any gay person will tell you, everyone is straight until they’re not. It’s not that a woman is “turned” by a gay woman, but rather that previously unrecognized, latent sexual fluidity is activated by chemistry with someone of the same sex.

Many gay women at one time or another find themselves romantically or sexually entangled with a “straight” woman, but like a choose your own adventure, the interaction can end with the straight woman choosing to change her identification to gay, or bi, or questioning, or confirming that she is, in fact, heterosexual.

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Like heterosexuals, lesbian and bi women vary widely on the “sexy seducer” scale. We can’t all be a Pepa from Los Hombres de Paco, Alex Vause, or Shane McCutcheon from The L Word. As with the idea of lesbians as pretty femmes, this occasional portrayal of gay women probably is neither positive nor negative because viewers recognize it for what it is: entertainment.