Film Lists

The 10 Best Lesbian and Queer Movies of All Time

WLW deserve to see their lives represented onscreen

Photo by Shingi Rice on Unsplash

Unless you're white, cis-gendered, and heterosexual, it can be hard to tough to find films that reflect your lived experience.

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Satire

The Only Problem with "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker" Is the Lesbian Kiss at the End

And this has nothing to do with my personal hang-ups, so stop thinking that

Horrifying

Photo by Mathieu Stern on Unsplash

People will tell you a lot of bad things about Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker.

They'll say things like, "The pacing is jarring. It spends too much time undoing the events of the last movie, and has to cram its own action into rushed exposition that dominates the dialogue, and the sandwiching of multiple connected MacGuffins does not provide enough of a framework for a satisfying plot." Wrong.

The people who tell you this are allowing themselves to be distracted from the real issue. Yes, when I was watching the movie I thought many of the same things that you will read in these foolish reviews. What they are overlooking is that all of these problems—even the way J.J. Abrams erases death, undermining the stakes of the film entirely—could have been easily resolved in the mind of the audience if only we had not been distracted, in the film's final moments, by the lingering site of two women lovingly sharing a kiss. Disgusting.

This is what is ruining Star Wars! I've been saying it since 2015, along with every other cool guy on the internet. Not the way insane new force powers are magically introduced so that none of the strictures of storytelling apply anymore; the problem is the feminist SJW culture wars.

Imagine what amazing insights I would have had to come up with in order to reconcile the confusing mess I just watched with the conviction that it all actually makes sense and is a great movie. I probably would have uncovered hidden significance in the endless mundanity of moments that comprised The Rise of Skywalker's runtime. But instead I spent my whole night distracted and obsessing over the sight of two mouths mashing into each other, with a lady attached to each end. The horror of it kept me up all night, researching on dark corners of the internet.



If it had just been a flash on the screen, perhaps I could have chalked it up to a figment of my overactive imagination. I could have told myself that they had kissed each other by mistake, while attempting to walk past each other, toward their strong important husbands. Or maybe it was just a slender man with long hair kissing his teenage son. But no, they lingered on the shot of this lesbonic couple's physical manifestation of unholy lust for a full three seconds. That's longer than even Tom Brady kisses his children on the mouth.

How am I supposed to remove this image from where it's seared in my memory. Each time I close my eyes in the shower, I see it again. These are images too graphically sinful to watch in a room with the lights on or the door unlocked, yet I was watching them in a theater with children who probably intend to one day engage in kissing of their own. How are their parents supposed to explain what they witnessed?

And if they're fixated on that formidable task, how are they supposed to also explain why beads and helmets can teleport through space? How the force can heal all wounds and conjure spaceships from nothing? Or why normal people now have very convenient force hunches that arrive just in time to save the entire galaxy? If it weren't for that kiss, we all could have done it. But now we all have no choice but to be swallowed up by the hideous sarlacc mouth of two women's lips smooshing all over each other. Cruel fate.

Photo by Jas Min on Unsplash

It's difficult to overstate the importance that The L Word held for the lesbian community after it originally premiered in 2004.

Never before had there been a show featuring a full cast of lesbian and bisexual characters. In fact, there'd been very few gay women (in this article the word "woman/women" denotes anyone who identifies with the term) on TV at all. In 2004, America had barely become comfortable with the "gay best friend," which, as problematic as that trope is, at least worked to familiarize the public with the concept of homosexuality in men. But female-on-female sex and romantic relationships, though sometimes culturally less maligned than male-on-male relationships, were still firmly taboo, seen as a mere waypoint on the road to settling down with a man or fetishized by the male gaze. Then, at last, The L Word showed a mainstream audience a community of women who loved women without shame. It also helped define a vocabulary of words for LGBTQ+ people. It was important, but it certainly wasn't perfect.



Many of the cast members were notably feminine and played by straight women, which in and of itself isn't necessarily an issue, but it did often serve to make the frequent sex scenes feel absolutely sodden with the male gaze. Between the lacy lingerie, liberally applied makeup, and pornographic noises, a lot of gay women felt that the show didn't reflect the less picturesque realities of lesbian identity and sexuality. Even worse, the endless dramatics of the soap opera-esque show sometimes seemed to imply that lesbians are compulsively promiscuous, prone to extreme drama in their relationships, and even likely to come unhinged (as seen in the truly bonkers storyline of Jenny Shecter). And while we're at it, it's worth mentioning that the characters were almost exclusively upper-middle class, white cis-gendered women (not to mention the deeply problematic portrayal of transgender individuals when they did try to broach that topic). Still, flawed representation is often better than no representation, and despite all the show's faults, a generation of both budding and seasoned gay women watched The L Word with devotion and gratitude.

Now, the beloved show is getting a 2019 style makeover in the form of eight new episodes called The L Word: Generation Q. A lot has changed in the gay community since The L Word's final episode premiered in 2009—perhaps most notably, the language LGBTQ+ people use to describe themselves. While many wonder if this new reboot can atone for the sins of the original series while still capturing its particular magic, one thing is clear after the first two episodes: Things are a lot less black and white than they were in the early aughts of Dana and Alice drama.

Already, the series has introduced two openly transgender characters played by actual trans actors, Leo Sheng as Micah Lee and Brian Michael Smith as Pierce Williams, a refreshing change from the at times downright offensive transgender character of Max from the original. Additionally, while we have a femme gay couple (Dani and Sophia) at the center of the story, we also have Finley, a self-described "traditional lesbian when it comes to tools," complete with an affinity for short sleeve button ups and using the word "dude."

But even with these more inclusive identities, we get much less anxiety over labeling, which the original series could never escape. Within the first few episodes, the 2004 series made it clear who saw themselves as a butch lesbian, a femme lesbian, a top, a bottom, bisexual, and who was still on their way to one of these concrete identities. Besides Finley's single mention of being a "traditional lesbian," we see less of this need for definition in the new series. Instead, we simply see who each character is attracted to in a given situation, placing them all in a vague space of queerness—which is a much more realistic depiction of fluid sexual identity.

Indeed, regardless of what your feelings about the show are, comparing the reboot with the original is a fascinating study in the changing nature of LGBTQ+ language. We learn that Micah is Dani's ex, making it clear that, despite his amorous connection to a gay man in the first two episodes, he does not exclusively date men. This plot point is never harped on but merely accepted, something that would have been an impossibility in the original series, which spent ample time parsing out the exact nature of each character's sexuality. Even the adjusted title, "Generation Q," obviously denotes this major difference, as today's gay community is composed of people who feel less pressure than their forebearers did to claim a single term to define their sexuality. Instead they reclaim previously derogatory terms like "queer," which Merriam Webster defines as, "Use of the word queer as referring and relating to sexual orientation, and, more recently, to gender identity, has changed dramatically since the 1980s. Formerly used only as a strongly pejorative term, queer is now commonly used by some as a positive self-descriptor. The word is also prominent as a neutral term in academic contexts that deal with gender and sexuality."

But reclaiming previously derogatory words isn't actually new. The reboot highlights the changing nature of the titular "L" word itself. As Lit Hub points out, "Lesbian and tribad and invert and sapphist were all still being used relatively interchangeably at the turn of the twentieth century; in some literature, lesbian was the female equivalent of sodomite, itself a negatively charged legal term." So in the same way that "queer" is no longer a slur, the word "lesbian" was reclaimed by previous generations of women who loved women. As such, the original series took the word to mean women who loved and slept with other women, regardless of the strictness of this preference.

But now, LGBTQ+ individuals have a much larger vocabulary at hand to describe their sexuality. While one might think this means that labeling is becoming even more important for this generation, it actually has the exact opposite effect. In fact, there is so much language available to define one's sexual identity that words are actually becoming less important and more inclusive. Words like "queer," "pansexual," "bisexual," "asexual," "aromantic," and "fluid" all offer a sense of validity to those who may identify with them, but they also offer an openness to interperpretation, which is highlighted by the fact that the new generation of The L Word isn't harping on terminology at all. While characters like Dana, Alice, Shane, and Jenny all clung to "lesbian" as an identifier of their sexual preference and often as a sort of membership card in a counterculture, the new cast of Generation Q exists in a much more amorphous, queer space. It's just understood that the characters are not exclusively attracted to cis-gender people of the opposite gender, and beyond that distinction, they are all comfortable existing in the malleable, ever-changing, identifier of "non-straight," each presumably ascribing to various words within the LGBTQ+ identifier.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that few LGBTQ+ femme individuals who are attracted to other female-identifying individuals use the term "lesbian" anymore. As Christina Cauterucci puts it in Slate, "In other words, we shared a common sexual orientation [with lesbians], but little, if any, cultural affiliation. In the space between "lesbian" and "queer," my friend and I located a world of difference in politics, gender presentation, and cosmopolitanism." In fact, Cauterucci isn't the only one who feels this way, and the use of the word "lesbian" online has decreased notably since 2015, as shown in the graph from Nexis Unis below.

In many ways, the term is becoming antiquated, particularly as our perception of gender changes. And isn't that a good thing? Isn't the ultimate goal of expanding our understanding and acceptance of various sexualities to make specifying language obsolete, leaving people to love who they love, without question or stipulation? For all of the ways The L Word has let us down in the past and may continue to do so in the future, at least it serves as an accurate portrait of the changing language of LGBTQ+ people.

MUSIC

King Princess's "Cheap Queen" Is Performative Queerness

Mikaela Straus's debut LP raises questions about the boundary between using queerness as a brand and using one's power to create an inclusive community.

King Princess is a different kind of gay icon.

While many stars have indoctrinated themeslves into the gay community by becoming beloved by mostly gay men, it's rare to see a star become beloved specifically by the lesbian and bisexual/pansexual femme community.

King Princess (whose real name is Mikaela Straus) burst onto the scene at a cultural moment that seemed overripe for a queer femme-focused star. She was preceded by Hayley Kiyoko, whose openly queer music earned her the moniker "Lesbian Jesus," and she's very far from the only queer femme musician around. But other than Kiyoko, she's one of the few to build a successful pop career off of a specifically lesbian-oriented aesthetic. She's garnered quite a following, and her shows have become safe spaces for queer women looking to express themselves openly and loudly.

Strangely, in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Straus implied that she's not well-versed in the queer female community that loves her so much. "My shows are [filled with] very queer females, which is interesting because I cannot tell you a community that I have been less apart of in my life than that," she said. "It makes me interested in what's happening with them." Presumably, Straus is saying that as she identifies more with drag and nonbinary communities than the queer female sphere, but it's still a confounding statement, delivered without context in an article called "The Unapologetic Queerness of King Princess."

This raises the question: Could all this be an act, a well-timed and excellently executed branding technique? In all likelihood, it probably is, at least in part. King Princess's authenticity (a generally meaningless term) has been criticized extensively, and for good reason—she grew up in the music industry, as her father was a recording engineer and owned Mission Sound Studios, and her great-great-grandfather was a co-owner of Macy's. All of this meant she was offered a record deal at age 11 (which she turned down), but it allowed her to release an extremely successful EP in 2017; "1950" rests at a cool 300 million streams on Spotify.

Probably at least a thousand of those streams are this writer's, as "1950" is a gem of a song. Fortunately, her debut LP Cheap Queen continues in that song's vein, keeping with the lush harmonies, hefty beats, and glossy 80s pop and rock influences that made that song such a standout.

In contrast to that song and much of her earlier work, Cheap Queen moves away from explicit references to queer culture and focuses on the dissolution of a relationship; take a step back, and it's largely about performance, curation, and fame. The songs are confident and forthcoming, buoyed by modern beats and rich, warm mixes. In some ways, the album's glistening, glittery finish is anti-DIY, totally committed to its own poshness and self-seriousness.

King Princess - King Princess: Deep Inside Cheap Queenwww.youtube.com

In that way, you could see it either as the product of someone born with a silver spoon who's successfully capitalized on queer aesthetics and popular music's most familiar and trustworthy sounds and images—or you could view it as the passion project of someone who truly understands the meaning of drag and camp, and who is, as the Entertainment Weekly article states, "queering queerness, whether she knows it or not."

Ironically, in terms of its subject matter, Cheap Queen actually isn't that explicitly queer. It's more of a discussion of relationships, free from gender and sexuality; its lyrics are pure pop, cut through with a thread of Gen-Z angst but without becoming brooding. Sonically, it's relatively subdued and mellow, avoiding controversy or extremes, perfect for chill playlists or summer nights (perhaps it should've been released in June instead of October).

Cheap Queen is at its most out and proud when Straus sings about drag. The cover photo features King Princess clad in light drag makeup, armpit hair showing, casting a disdainful glare at the camera. King Princess identifies as genderqueer, still uses she/her pronouns, and drag has been a huge influence on her life and work. "Drag for me is just such an extension of my queerness because it was how I learned to become comfortable with myself," she told Entertainment Weekly. "I feel so grateful to drag because…RuPaul and everything that has made drag mainstreamed it in a way where a girl from Brooklyn, who didn't feel like a girl, saw drag, and learned how to become a woman."

King Princess - Playboy School Of Popwww.youtube.com

Drag, of course, began as a way for queer people to express themselves and their sexuality in a creative and liberating medium. Like its aesthetic sibling, camp, it originated largely in black queer communities, working as a subversive form of expression that existed outside of and in opposition to established hierarchies.

Women and lesbians have always dressed as men in drag, but of late, increasing numbers of women and nonbinary femmes have been using drag as a way to subvert expectations of femininity. In an article from The Guardian, Rebecca Nicholson writes, "It's a deliciously complicated web to untangle: these are women, performing as what would have been (historically, at least) a man performing as a woman. These female queens are traversing gender boundaries as well as putting on outrageously entertaining performances, often in the face of prejudice and misogyny, even within queer culture."

The fact that cis women have begun performing femme drag has been met with some discomfort and accusations of cultural appropriation and fetishization, though these arguments have also been criticized. In Dazed, Jake Hall writes, "The irony is that drag is designed to disrupt gender norms – anyone can bind, stuff, pad and 'perform' gender to an exaggerated extent." Many have also argued that criticizing female drag performers places too much emphasis on genitalia and bodies themselves, when drag is supposed to be an inclusive space, one dedicated to the deconstruction of gender and exclusivity, and one that can be liberating for nonbinary people or anyone struggling to come to terms with their gender identity. Plus, queer women and nonbinary people have always been around, and trans women like Silvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson were at the forefront of early battles for LGBTQ+ rights.

In the midst of this sacred tradition enters King Princess, who has largely avoided mainstream controversy thus far. Most publications have branded her as a victorious new kind of queer icon. It's hard to say how her legacy will hold up, but for now, she seems to have hit a sweet spot between ingenious branding and a genuinely meaningful message.

Whatever you think of King Princess and the way she uses queerness, she is creating an inclusive space where queer people can congregate and celebrate their identities, with all their inherent fluidity, confusion, and contradictions. And in a way, wasn't that always the point of queer activities like drag, which are inherently, beautifully performative? Aren't they supposed to be about the presentation, the artifice, and the show, highlighting the cracks in the idea that anyone has a fixed gender identity and shattering the idea that anyone is exempt from performing their gender, style, and selfhood all the time?

Maybe King Princess should have the final word on this. "Growing up, I thought it was much more simple," she told Vice. "I was just like, 'I'm gay.' But now that I have the words to describe how I've always felt, it makes it complicated." She's quick to clarify that this is a good thing. "I like that complication, because we are all walking dichotomies of some sort. We are all just walking contradictions. I don't think any of these identities are mutually exclusive."


CULTURE

Raven-Symoné and 5 Other Stars Who Were Told Being Gay Would Hurt Their Careers

"I'm labeling myself, but in the way that I want to," says the former Disney star.

With celebrities coming out left and right and queer storylines gaining big-screen prominence in Hollywood, it seems hard to imagine that some of our favorite gay stars were encouraged not to come out for the sake of their careers.

One such star is Raven-Symoné. In a video for "It Gets Better," she discussed how difficult it was for her to come out as queer due to pressure from the media and fear that her sexuality would affect her personal brand. "I never thought I would come out because my personal life didn't matter," she said. "It was only supposed to be sold as, you know, a Raven-Symoné record."

She was afraid to come out because, as she said in the video, being gay "was always negative. So, if you don't see other people going through it in a positive way, why would you say anything? There was nothing that would have made me want to deal with my own issue at that time."

The pressure to remain in the closet didn't end as the years went on. She recently told Variety that she received criticism for her appearance during her years starring on That's So Raven. "I remember that I wore Abercrombie and Fitch jeans, a stereotypical lesbian vest, a tie," she said, "and one of the members of my team went up to my mom and was like, 'She looks too much like a lesbian. Can you tell her to put on a skirt and makeup? Because then they'll accept her and come to her concert.' I could not! It always happened when I was on tour, because I've always been myself in hip-hop clothes and not necessarily super feminine... So seeing the reaction of people in my own camp who were trying to mold and publicize me in the way that they think girls should look like just blew my mind."

Since she came out in college, Raven-Symoné has never been one to defer to others' expectations. After the comment about her looking too much like a lesbian, she ended up going onstage in a tutu, just to spite her managers.

Later in the interview, she said, "I do not like labels because labels have certain historic connotations that don't describe who I am fully. If I use a certain label, our world view of that word or image will go right to the negative, every single time. I think as my generation and the generations after me continue to grow, we're changing certain labels, but it's still a part of the fabric of society. I'm labeling myself, but in the way that I want to. I know that I am a 'human of the world.'"

In honor of her bravery and generally inspiring outlook on life and the media (read the whole interview here), here are 5 other contemporary gay icons who were encouraged to remain in the closet for the sake of their careers.

1. Ellen Page

The Juno star and globally adored lesbian icon (have you seen the photos of her and her wife?) was initially encouraged to stay in the closet. "I was distinctly told, by people in the industry, when I started to become known: 'People cannot know you're gay,' she said. "And I was pressured—forced, in many cases—to always wear dresses and heels for events and photo shoots." She added, "As if lesbians don't wear dresses and heels. But I will never let anyone put me in anything I feel uncomfortable in ever again."

Still, it wasn't easy for her to come out. "I remember being in my early 20s and really believing it was impossible for me to come out," she told Porter. "But, over time, with more representation, hearts and minds have been changed. It doesn't happen quickly enough and it hasn't happened enough, particularly for the most marginalized in the community. But things have got better."

Now, she has said she feels a responsibility to be out and proud, and is committed to creating queer content. She's also just enjoying married life. "I love being married," she said. "I'll be walking my dog, and I start talking to people, and I end up telling them about my wife and making them look at our Instagram. I'm that person."

2. Ezra Miller

Miller is the new star of Justice League, but he solidified a place in many young queers' hearts when he played the queer character Patrick in Perks of Being a Wallflower. Unfortunately, he apparently faced a huge amount of pressure to remain in the closet in order to survive in Hollywood.

"I won't specify [who told me not to come out]," he said. "Folks in the industry, folks outside the industry. People I've never spoken to. They said there's a reason so many gay, queer, gender-fluid people in Hollywood conceal their sexual identity, or their gender identity in their public image. I was told I had done a 'silly' thing in…thwarting my own potential to be a leading man."

3. Hayley Kiyoko

Kiyoko, who has previously stated she knew she was a lesbian since the age of 6, has said that she was told to "tone down" her sexuality after the release of her 2015 single, "Girls Like Girls."

"'Girls Like Girls' was too violent and too sexual for a lot of people to premiere," she said. "When you're in the LGBTQ community and you're open about your sexuality, it's not common for you to hear your music played on the radio. It's more common to be underground and left-of-centre with a selective core that listens to that music. That's why this is an exciting time to really break those barriers of… I wouldn't say judgment, but to break out of that box."

4. Amber Heard

The bisexual actress, who has starred alongside Johnny Depp and Nicholas Cage, was told that coming out as bisexual would ruin her career. "Everyone said, 'You're throwing it all away. You can't do this to your career,'" she said. "And I said, 'I cannot do this any other way. Watch me.'" She later said, "I told myself to describe reality in a truthful way and to offer young people someone to look up to, since those of my generation had grown up without any model of reference. Who knows." She added, "Thanks to me, maybe someone has felt less inadequate."

The outspoken star has also critiqued the LGBTQ community, stating, "I didn't come out. I was never in." She explained, "It's limiting, that LGBTQ thing. It served a function as an umbrella for marginalized people to whom rights were being denied, but it loses its efficacy because of the nuanced nature of humanity. As we become more educated and expand the facts of our nature, we keep adding letters. It was a great shield, but now we're stuck behind it." Food for thought, certainly, but at least it seems that Heard remains committed to speaking her mind and questioning norms.

5. Evan Rachel Wood

The Westworld star has become a feminist force of nature in recent years, due to her honesty about her past as well as her refusal to remain in the closet. Recently, she released a 20-minute confessional video along with the comment, "I recorded a video of myself walking people through my journey of self-realization—abusive relationships, suicide attempts, and finally coming out of the closet."

Still, she wasn't always this open about her sexuality. Because she had few role models growing up, she felt alone. "No one I knew was talking about it," she said in her HRC speech. "I wasn't exposed. So the only thing that I knew was fear, and confusion, and loneliness. How can you be who you are when you don't understand what you're feeling?"

Now, she's become determined to use her platform to spread love and solidarity with other marginalized people. "As an actor, my job is to look at a stranger and find myself in them—to connect the dots, to have such empathy for a character that I can read someone else's words and be moved to tears," Wood said in a 2017 speech at the HRC gala. "Turning empathy into vulnerability... and it wasn't until I saw the effect that it had on other people that I really started to see how powerful really allowing your most vulnerable parts to be seen was. I saw another side to what I did, and it was the power of visibility."

FILM & TV

Lesbians Rejoice: The L Word is Back on Showtime

After a decade off the air, the L Word is coming back, and it promises to be better (and gayer) than ever.

An All New Generation Is Coming | The L Word: Generation Q | SHOWTIME

Showtime has finally announced that The L Word—that iconic early 2000s drama featuring everyone's favorite coterie of sapphic ladies—is returning to the screen.

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