In the past few months, women loving women (wlw) storylines in popular television and movies have seemingly sent a message to lesbians (and bisexual women) to go back into the closet. First, Holby City’s rather cruel and hateful ending of the love affair between Serena Campbell and Bernie Wolfe, one of the most beautiful relationships on TV. Only to be topped by the death of Rana, on her wedding day, on Coronation Street. Then, the news hit that the ending of the movie Tell It To The Bees, with the lesbian couple admitting love but parting ways, was altered from the book ending.Responses ranged from outrage to acceptance.
In the name of full disclosure, I didn’t watch Coronation Street and I never read Tell it To The Bees, although I will now. I will not, however, pay to see or watch the movie. Further, let me clear, I respect the fact that the creatives at Holby City are the masters of their own story. That is, it is their story to tell, not mine. As the viewer, I own my reaction to their choices. In the case of Holby City and the way they represented a wlw relationship, I respectfully am offended.
For those of us who are outraged by these outcomes, we have been receiving messages that essentially raise the arguments that wlw relationships should be treated equally with heterosexual relationships and rather than looking at comparative ratios regarding representation, we ought to look at context. Additionally, those of us who are outraged were told that wanting a “happy” ending for wlw relationships depicted on TV is unrealistic. I respect these messages and viewpoints. Perhaps, I even wish I could adopt them but I can’t.
I thought about this. And, I thought about why seeing wlw “happy” endings are so important to me, because they are. To explain where this yearning comes from, my path took me to my childhood. Turning 56 in a few weeks, trust me, dusting off these memories wasn’t easy.
My mother and grandmother were firm believers that my sisters and I should concentrate on our academics. There were books everywhere in the house. I have a vivid memory of four hardbound Disney Fairytale Books that took occupancy in a special section of the bookshelf. They were on the bottom shelf, so in easy reach. Remember, when I was younger, Disney movies were few and far between, so my induction to the wonderful world of Disney came through books. Until I was able to read myself, my older sister would read to me every night. (I really should thank her for that!) I knew all the fairytales with their happy endings. I never related to the princess. My eye was being the prince who puts his life on the line to save his eternal love and live happily everafter.
Fast forward to the age of seven, when my oldest sister, who attended an all female boarding school for high school, brings a classmate home for the weekend. Catherine (**sigh**). Her schoolmate’s name was Catherine. To this day, I think about her, and my heart drops. Her long brown hair, parted in the middle. Her soft eyes, her smooth skin, and a smile that could light up a room. The poor girl had to put up with me basically sitting next to her, our thighs touching, for the entire weekend. (It was a move that worked that weekend. As an adult, not so much.) In retrospect, as a seven year old, I didn’t realise that I was a lesbian. Also in retrospect, that was a turning point knowing I preferred being with Catherine rather than doing anything else. I had the object of my affection with me. That weekend was perfect.
As I grew-up my love for reading never left me. I would stay up past my parent imposed bed time, with a flash light, reading until I could not keep my eyes open. In the morning, I would awake to a very obvious indentation on my cheek from the book. I am, even today, an ardent Jane Austen fan. I have lost track on how many times I have read Pride & Prejudice. Each time I learn something new. Yet, the one feeling that remains constant is my identification with Mr. Darcy. As an adolescent I thought someday I will find my Elizabeth. I would have my love’s back, whether she knew it or not. We would be equals. Her happiness would be my happiness.
So, fifty years later, I can say that I don’t believe in fairytales. Yet, when I ask for “happy” endings-which usually means the wlw couple leaving the show together-I am reminded that I was never given that as I was growing up. I want Ms. Darcy to find her Elizabeth. I want a fairytale to have a princess rescuing another princess. I want it now, as a 55 year old women, because I never had it as a child.
When programmers decide to depict a wlw relationship, and they do so with negative tropes or imagery, they need to keep in mind that there is a young girl out there watching, trying to find some storyline that says, “You’re ok to love another girl. Be brave. It isn’t something that is bad.” It’s a great deal of responsibility these programmers assume when they depict underrepresented groups. They need to make their storyline decisions wisely.
I don’t have any statistics to show the number of wlw storylines on TV shows compared to heterosexual relationship storylines. Nor do I have any statistics that show the percentage of wlw storylines that have “happy” endings compared to heterosexual relationships. We’ve jumped from no visibility to some visibility to visibility but poor representation, hiding behind the shadow of equality. On any given evening, turn on your TV and tally how many TV shows depict heterosexual couples and how many depict wlw couples. Unequivocally and without hesitation, I can safely say, we are far from being represented equally. Until we are, I want my “happy” endings.