Shortly after writing an article discussing the issue of lesbians and other queer women not being properly represented in Hollywood, I received a message about an amazing documentary highlighting that very issue.
The documentary is titled “Feeling Seen” and it showcases the impact of lesbian, bisexual and trans/masculine representation in mainstream television. The director, Beth Ryne, is a graduate of SUNY Purchase and the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts. Ryne has long resume showcasing her dedication to the entertainment industry.
The trailblazing director noted that, as a teenager, everything she saw on television reiterated the belief that being a lesbian was not okay. One show in particular, “Xena: Warrior Princess,” gave her hope. If you’re not familiar with the show, basically, Xena was a badass warrior who was romantic with her friend, Gabrielle.
Fans of the show, especially fans within the LGBT community, loved the relationship between the two women. Xena and Gabrielle never actually became a couple, however, much to fans’ dismay. Fans kept championing Xena and Gabrielle, despite the show not really being able to fully explore the relationship.
“The studio was so concerned that it would be perceived as a lesbian show that they would not allow us to have Xena and Gabrielle in the same frame of the opening titles,” said executive producer and co-creator Rob Tapert.
Xena showrunners had to work within certain guidelines and couldn’t push the envelope very far. “For the LGBT community to see themselves on TV was certainly new in the ’90s,” said Lucy Lawless. “My goodness, how things have changed from ‘Xena’ subtext to ‘I Am Cait.’ That’s an incredible evolution in 20 years, and I think it’s a really healthy one.”
Despite any ambiguity or inability to fully showcase Xena and Gabrielle’s relationship, the show went on to become a cult favorite in the lesbian community. For example, Marilyn and Tiger, a lesbian couple, met at a convention for “Xena: Warrior Princess” and found other people that were like them. Xena made these women, and countless others like them, feel safer and helped them realize that they weren’t some freak of nature.
There was even set to be a lesbian reboot of “Xena: Warrior Princess.” Unfortunately, it was cancelled last year. The revival was going to focus on the lesbian relationship between the two women, but creative differences apparently got in the way of the show coming to fruition.
“Out Magazine” notes that a queer-centric reboot of “Warrior Princess” would have come at a perfect time, not only because we have so many ‘90s TV reboots, but also because we are severely lacking in strong, queer, female characters.
This is exactly the issue that Ryne discusses in “Feeling Seen.” According to Ryne, the need for lesbian representation in TV is dire. The popular images that we see, especially on television, tell us what is socially acceptable.
If you go through life not seeing people like you on television, you’ll begin to believe that what you are is wrong. Critically, it’s also important that these representations remain positive.
“The notion that women who love women will end up alone, miserable or dead are tropes that have been reinforced in plays, literature, films and television for hundreds of years,” said Ryne on her Kickstarter page. “It is no wonder, then, that many lesbian and bisexual women experience shame and self-hatred — society promises a brutally unhappy life.”
“Feeling Seen” already has numerous legendary women supporting the film and telling their stories. In the moving sizzle reel, many of the women interviewed, which includes Sherri Saum from “The Fosters” and comedian Jen Kober, note that they didn’t grow up seeing lesbian relationships depicted on television.
Madin Lopez, a genderqueer hairstylist, even said that she grew up feeling like she would have to go to prison in order to date a woman. Much of this has to do with not seeing healthy, loving female relationships on television. If it’s not seen, then there is no way it can be normalized in society. If you’re not seen, there’s also no way you can be heard.
It’s true that we’ve made improvements. For example, chances are if you’ve watched “Black Mirror,” one of your favorite episodes is the San Junipero episode. Not only does it end on a hopeful note, which is very different from other episodes, it depicts two women who fall in love. The success of the episode proved that queer people don’t have to be reduced to tragedies when their stories are told.
Just because there have been improvements doesn’t mean the LGBT community can’t push for even more representation. It’s clear that the world is in desperate need of accurate interpretations of queer women in film and television. The depictions should showcase the diverse world of queer women which does not only include femme lesbians.
Most of the lesbian characters that are on film and television are part of the “lipstick lesbian” stereotype. Obviously, there’s tons of feminine lesbians out there, but there are also queer women that don’t present themselves in that way. There are many more masculine lesbians that don’t get to see themselves depicted well on the big screen.
To help Ryne out with “Feeling Seen,” you can donate to her Kickstarter campaign by May 24. Any donation will help Ryne hire crews, secure locations, gain permits, secure rights, among many other things to help finish this project. If you can’t donate, you can help spread the word about the documentary.