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Gay character? Not main character

Sarah Leeves looks for the lesbians in mainstream tv

Tue, 20 Nov 2012 11:59:00 GMT | Updated 4 years today

For three weeks in 2002, you would find the 14 year-old me sneaking around my own house. You see, I had heard about this new lesbian drama called Tipping the Velvet and was completely intrigued. I assumed that it wouldn't have any handy sewing or dressmaking tips, but I decided to give it a bash anyway. The problem was, I didn't want my parents to find out. I wasn't exactly 'out', if I even knew what that meant then, so I devised a cunning plan to ensure they would never find out…


Phase 1: Thursday night; pre-set the VHS recorder downstairs to tape said programme. This could only be done once the parents had gone to bed and after I had worked out which stairs were the creaky ones.


Phase 2: Friday morning before school; remove the video and label as 'Open University programme; marine biology'. To this day, I still have a good knowledge of plankton in the Great Barrier Reef to keep this lie alive.


Phase 3: Saturday morning 8am; I had worked out that my parents would never get up before 9.30am on a weekend, due to hangovers mainly, and that gave me a good hour and a half to settle down under a blanket and watch the unfolding drama of Victorian dance-hall turns and backstreet tuppence blowjobs. Fab.


It's now 2012 and I'm sure that somewhere in Britain, there was a young lesbian setting her Virgin box to record Lip Service and praying that her parents didn't find out. So, what's the problem? Are we ashamed of who we are? Or is lesbian TV too embarrassing for us to admit we watch?


Over the years, lesbians haven't exactly had the monopoly over high-budget televised dramas. Of course we had Showtime's critically-acclaimed The L Word (especially if you lived in America), but other than that it's all been pretty flat. Tipping the Velvet was on BBC2, Sugar Rush didn't have a primetime slot on Channel 4 and Lip Service was screened at obscure times on BBC3. This isn't exactly 'reaching the masses'.


Now, I know people out there that will argue that we have come a long way over the years in terms of gay characters and I agree, we have come a long way, but we have a long way to go. TV is, arguably, the best medium with which to reach national audiences and break down this idea of stereotypes that people are still transfixed on. If more lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender and queer characters are featured as main characters in programmes, without the storyline being centred around their sexual identity, then this will bring gay culture in line with 'normal' culture… eventually.


In simple terms; what I would like to see is lesbians and bisexuals, who are not yet comfortable in their own skin, to feel they can watch programmes like Sugar Rush without needing to hide behind a blanket. For what it's worth, it took me two years to drop into casual conversation during a college lesson that I had bought a copy of Tipping the Velvet on DVD. I had so many people borrow it that I had to keep a book on its whereabouts at all times and there were fees for late returns. Obviously, I'm not saying that straight audiences do not enjoy 'our' TV; I have a plethora of friends who enjoy The L Word and, embarrassingly, know more about it than I do. What I am saying though is that there is plenty more that can be done to ensure us lesbians don't get relegated to the graveyard slot on ITV4.


The campaign for a lesbian Dr Who starts now. Let's see how the daleks cope with Sue Perkins rocking up and fighting battles with witty putdowns instead of relying on some screwdriver. The tardis would be better-decorated for a start and the relationships with female sidekicks may have the potential for the odd peck on the cheek. In fact, I'm in the mood to write a strongly-worded letter.


Dear BBC…


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  • Harriet Jaggs - Tue, 20 Nov 2012 14:34:01 GMT -

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    Sue Perkins would be the best Dr Who ever.