When Will Sexuality Stop Being the Focal Point of Movies and Novels with Queer Female Protagonists?

If you know anything about “queer” and movies and novels, it’s that there are not a lot of them. Or rather, not as many as there should be. If an LGBT+ character is included in a work of fiction as anything more than the “sassy gay best friend” or any other such stereotype, you can guarantee that novel or movie will be categorized as LGBT+, and filed under its respective place in the Netflix dropdown menu (or shelf at Barnes & Noble). Many of the more famous movies featuring non-heterosexual female protagonists–namely, Blue is the Warmest Color or Imagine Me & You–circle around a common theme: a previously supposed “straight” ingenue discovering her love for women the moment she locks eyes with the mysterious (and often stereotypical) lesbian across the room. And even if the storyline deviates from this cliché, the “unforeseen and often traumatic discovery of sexuality” by one or both female protagonists is still very often the focal point of the entire plot.

This is problematic in the sense that it makes it seem as if an LGBT+ person’s sexual orientation is the most interesting part about them. Also, it’s the same story told time and again, with very little character development that is unrelated to the character’s sexuality. Additionally, there’s often a heavy emphasis on excessively graphic sex scenes, which makes me think…who are these movies for? The general public, or the heterosexual males who produced them? And by including these (basically pornographic) scenes, is it furthering the fetichism of female relationships by straight men? Take the Korean film The Handmaiden for example. Beautifully filmed and acted, I would recommend anyone to watch it (probably not with your parents though). However, the film features a very long and very explicit sex scene that could rival even Blue is the Warmest Color (if you’re LGBT+ and unsure which scene I am referring to here, get out from under your rock), and I couldn’t help but speculate at its purpose in the movie–especially given that it was included as a flashback and the viewers already know that this scene has happened through prior implication. Taking into further consideration that this movie was directed and produced by a man, who I assume has never had lesbian sex himself, I couldn’t help but feel that this scene was incorporated simply to give it an erotic edge.

This is why I find it particularly exciting when I come across a novel or film with LGBT+ characters that doesn’t feel the need to explicitly spell out for you that THESE CHARACTERS ARE GAY AND ARE DOING GAY THINGS. Most recently, I read a book called The Girls by Emma Cline, and fell in love with the artful way in which Cline characterizes the protagonist Evie’s attraction towards captivating foil Suzanne. Clearly Evie’s attraction extends beyond platonic, yet Cline never underestimates the reader’s ability to deduce this for themselves. So instead of becoming the focal point of the novel, Evie’s sexuality is merely a facet of an otherwise compelling storyline. Along the same vein is one of my favorite movies, Breathe, a French film about a toxic relationship between two teenage girls that ultimately destroys both of their lives. The film doesn’t make itself into a story about “sexual discovery” the way most films about young queer women do, and instead focuses on the actual relationship and all its complexities, completely disregarding the fact that yes, these are two girls we’re talking about.

As I said in my last blog post about Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, I understand that movies and novels are meant largely to entertain, and I have no expectations for producers to take on the responsibility of social morality. And that being said, I believe there is a larger demographic of people who would rather see the superficial (mostly physical) portrayal of lesbian relationships, as opposed to the simple integration of them into the mainstream of horrible rom-coms that pollute the box-office yearly. This, in my opinion, is due to the feeling of disconnect experienced by primarily straight viewers upon seeing an LGBT+ relationship represented on-screen. It’s just easier to connect with characters with whom you share similar feelings of attraction, and as long as queer people remain the minority in media, portrayals of female relationships on-screen will continue to be an anomaly that is filmed majorly through a straight (often male) lens.

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