The lesbian community is rife with stereotypes and clichés. As much as they may hold true in the actual, real life world, they’re usually not based on solid facts, but rather what sells movies. Often, these movies aren’t even written by actual lesbians, but by the men who think that lesbians are cool.
(Which, we totally are, but that’s not the point.)
If you have yet to come out, and you’ve been relying on lesbian movies to paint a picture of what lesbians are like, here are some things that usually don’t happen in the real world.
1. A coffee shop is the best place to talk about your feelings.
OK, so there’s this cliché amongst lesbians in general that there is going to be a lot of talk about feelings. I guess it’s because we’re women, and women have a lot of overflowing emotions, or something like that. Oh – and we love to talk. If we don’t, are we really women?
Hopefully the sarcasm in that last paragraph was apparent. Not all women love to talk. Sure, many do, but why is a coffee shop the chosen locale to talk about these feelings?
It’s quieter than a bar, so there’s that. There’s less of a chance of messed-up inhibitions than a bar, too, although coffee can definitely have an intoxicating effect if you haven’t had nearly enough sleep. But, realistically speaking, your chats are probably better if kept in the privacy of your home – strangers don’t need to know all your business.
2. If you’d rather dwell on your feelings, a walk through the forest is a good choice.
Maybe I’m a bit cynical on this one, because I grew up in areas where it really wasn’t safe to walk alone. (I mean, I still do a lot of walking by myself to clear my head, so maybe this cliché isn’t so far off.) But in lesbian movies, the pensive protagonist will often go for a walk in the woods or another private-like area to empty her mind from all the stressors and confusion of Lesbian Life.
An important step that’s sometimes skipped when this is portrayed in a movie, however, is that you do actually need to talk about your feelings once you’ve got them narrowed down. Your partner (or prospective partner) isn’t going to automatically know what’s on your mind, and in most cases, she should.
(And also, walking at night by yourself is really not safe some places, especially for lesbians – make sure you’re being careful, please! And at least let someone know where you’ll be, just in case something comes up.)
3. Lesbians like to bathe together while talking about things.
There’s something about two women talking nakedly about their feelings and troubles. We see this a lot in movies, and while it’s a nice change of pace from – say, sex scenes that focus on “nudity means sex”, if you’ve ever actually tried to have a chat in the bath tub, chances are you know it doesn’t work out so well.
If you and the woman you are attracted to are bathing together, it’s almost always got sexual undertones. Plus, it’s sort of awkward in most bath tubs – they’re really only built for one person. The idea of having sex in the bath tub (or a long, intimate talk) are all fine and dandy when there’s a makeup artist there to make sure the actress looks her best at all times – but the steamy nature will mess up your hair. The slippery surfaces will mess up your game. And what could be more distracting than boobs?
If you can actually have a serious talk while naked with your partner, I envy you. I’ve had it happen a few times, but it’s definitely the exception more than the rule. You shouldn’t expect that every naked chat is going to go according to plan – especially if you’ve got a massaging showerhead at your disposal.
4. Lesbians like swimming together – and it usually leads to sexual tension.
This is one of those things that we just know was thought up by a straight man. The idea that two women who are both attracted to women will definitely end up in a body of water, either completely nude or scantily-clad plays on the idea that “wet” automatically means sexy. This isn’t always the case. Have you ever seen a cat stuck out in the rain?
The act of swimming itself is often chosen to represent the metaphorical cleansing that is done by the power of love – or something like that. Truly, it’s usually an excuse to strip down the actresses without making it seem “gratuitous”. After all, sexuality (when expressed non-sexually) is a beautiful thing, and it’s nice to be able to embrace those things.
Really, though, most movies will use this as a segue into sexual tension. After all, a naked (or half-naked woman) who is literally dripping wet will automatically activate the parts of the brain that say she’s ready to go. While it’s important to realize that these two things aren’t mutually exclusive, the connection is easy to understand – but you shouldn’t expect it to be a part of lesbianism in a broad sense. But if you can talk your new boo into skinnydipping with you, it is a lot of fun – just make sure you don’t get arrested!
5. If the girl doesn’t get the girl, she’s going to die, tragically.
The high-concept death is seen so often in romantic movies that we don’t really associate it with lesbians in particular, but it seems that we are a little more prone to this type of death than other sexualities. This death can’t be something simple, though – it’s got to be much bigger than that.
In a way, this is done as a sort of comfort. If you haven’t found your soul mate, maybe she’s just been hit by a bus. OK, so that’s not the most romantic way to put it, but not every story has a happy ending, and when the not-so-happy ending is tragic and unexpected, it makes for better movie sales.
Don’t believe me? Ask a group of Titanic fans whether they think Jack would have fit on the raft or not. There are going to be worlds of assumptions here, ranging from people who think that he definitely would have fit (he and Rose were both thin, after all) to those who think that he had to die (two people on the raft, shivering and what have you, would definitely have sunk it). Which one is right? Only the director knows for sure.
In any gay-or-lesbian themed movies, there are implied methods of offing one of your main characters. Things such as the suicide rate for in-the-closet homosexuals give way for an easy method of killing off a character that everyone fell in love with. And since we usually love sad, sappy endings (and have since the dawn of time – or at least the dawn of the theater), sales are better if the audience cries. True story.
6. Two women who hate each other will eventually have sex.
I don’t know why this is the case in so many lesbian movies. It seems like the more the women are at each other’s throats, the more likely they’re going to have sex later on. This can lead some of us to mistakenly think that we’re falling for the women we really do hate – and hate-sex is usually a bad choice.
This is especially true since the brain releases oxytocin, a bonding chemical, during orgasm. This means that if you have sex with someone you hate, you probably will start to fall for them – which isn’t usually a healthy step. Try to remember the reasons you hate them, and maybe just picture them naked when you’re pleasuring yourself.
If you do find yourself having sex with someone you don’t get along with, you’re not totally doomed. Usually, we can rationalize better a little while after an orgasm than we can when we’re sexually frustrated, so it’s possible that the sex will actually work to remind you why they’re wrong for you. If that’s not the case, maybe some self-persuasion is in order. Hate plus sex does not equal love.
7. When in the presence of an Ultimate Lesbian, straight girls will magically become gay.
In most lesbian movies, the protagonist will identify as heterosexual for her whole life. Often she will be in a committed relationship with a man, sometimes even engaged to be married (Imagine Me & You immediately comes to mind). Then, suddenly, a super-hot lesbian will come along and BAM, the straight protagonist will suddenly be gay – or at the very least, she’ll cheat on her man with this new woman.
When bi-curious women watch these movies, they get the impression that cheating on their husband or boyfriend is OK, as long as it’s with a girl. Sometimes, the men they’re with will even agree to these terms, but it really needs to be discussed beforehand. Cheating is bad, regardless of the gender you cheat with, and if you don’t have explicit permission from your partner, you are cheating.
When young lesbians watch these movies, they might get the idea that sexuality is always to be questioned. The truth is, it is meant to be questioned – but not by outsiders. It’s important to question your own sexuality, but questioning someone else’s is no different than questioning their overall identity. It’s rude, and presumes that you know more about them than they know about themselves. Even if it’s true, just stop before you do something ridiculous.
8. Retro and indie music are the only things you need for a good soundtrack.
OK, this isn’t a bad cliché, because often indie and retro music is a great choice. But why is it that all lesbian movies seem to follow this rule? Maybe it has something to do with the lack of good lesbian music out there. (Note: There’s not actually a lack of it – it just gets less mainstream attention than heterosexual love songs. We’re working to collect lists of the best lesbian-themed-and-produced songs, but that’s still a work in progress, for now.)
I get it, though. Really, I do. Music is really important for a lot of people, myself included, and often we can feel slighted if our lesbian movies have totally heterosexual soundtracks. Most of us “adopt” straight songs and use them for our own benefit (I had an ex who used Usher as a reference for her pick-up game), but it’s always a joy to find a song that suits your exact specifications – without having to swap genders in the song.
(For what it’s worth, I really want someone to “gay up” the songs I heard in my childhood. If we could get a lesbian covering *NSYNC and a gay man covering early Britney Spears, my heart would be so happy. If this already exists, I would be eternally grateful to the first person to slap a link in the comments!)
9. Lesbian movies are, generally, horrible.
Lesbian movies don’t often get the mainstream attention they deserve. It was briefly addressed in the final season of The L Word – making “too gay” of a movie will alienate many of the straight viewers. Thankfully, I think that’s starting to turn around a bit, but if you inject too much gayness into a movie, it’s likely to lose a lot of its potential following.
So, we end up settling for movies directed by new directors with little experience, or by those who never wanted to direct in the first place, but were disappointed in the lack of good lesbian movies… So they tried their hand at making it better. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. When will someone finally appeal to the leaders of Hollywood and demand a blockbuster lesbian film?!
OK, so this is changing a bit these days, thankfully. Most queer movies don’t win awards, at least not outside of the independent circuits. This is fine, because most lesbians are going to watch them anyway, but wouldn’t it be great if we had a gay Academy Award year – one where gay movies were actually honored for their true value? Sigh. A girl can dream.
Are there any stereotypes and cliches that we forgot? Drop them in the comments!