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
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…
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