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The Rise of Lesbianism on TV

Less than two decades ago, there were only hints of lesbianism on TV. You had to guess or imagine that the characters were lesbians, as there was nothing overtly lesbian displayed. It would have been considered highly controversial to have even a hint of the fact that a woman fancied another woman! Instead lesbians were treated to the doldrums of heterosexual life, and their needs and programming desires were totally ignored. My how things have changed in the last two decades - we've gone from total ignorance of the fact that lesbians exist, to a full programme series and TV channels dedicated to lesbians!

If we think back long and hard enough to 1991, this is when the first bisexual kiss was aired on L A Law. This was a huge risk to take for the makers of the series as it simply wasn't the "done thing" to display any kind of notion on TV that women would kiss women. You can imagine the huge outcry that ensued; right wing groups and religious groups were up in arms! Gradually things began to improve, and more and more lesbian kisses or relationships started to appear on our screens. It was parts of films or small snippets of programmes though; nothing too major or controversial for our poor little lesbian eyes!

Another huge outcry was made when Ellen outed herself on her show in 1997. Her character also became a lesbian, and, whilst we jumped up and down for joy that there was finally a lesbian programme to watch, the heterosexual world went mad. Eventually the programme was pulled! Today Ellen hosts one of the most popular chat shows on American TV, but at the time a lesbian character and a lesbian actress was just all too much! Although her show now isn't specifically for lesbians, at least we know she is one of us!

The biggest leap in recognizing demand for lesbian TV and programmes has, of course, been the L Word. Showtime took a huge risk in releasing a series (well, in fact, we are coming up to the third series) that was entirely dedicated to the world, loves, lives, and losses of lesbians. Although many dykes complain that they lead unrealistic lives, we're certainly a long ways forward from 1991! The fact that it is still allowed to be aired is a complete miracle. U.K viewers have lapped it up on Living TV, too, and, although 650 complaints were made to the Advertising Standards Agency about posters that were being used to promote the show, the complaints were not upheld and the programme is freely aired! Long live the L Word!

It's probably this programme, and series' like Queer as Folk and Sugar (a UK lesbian teen series) that have made big TV bosses sit up in their seats and finally realize that there is money to be made in gay and lesbian TV channels. Canada has had is own GLBT (Gay; Lesbian; Bisexual; Transgender[ed]) channel since 2001, and the United States is following suit by trialling channels such as LOGO from MTV and Q Television that will air lesbian and gay chat shows; documentaries; reality shows; and movies. In the U.K, FAZE TV did plan to introduce the first gay channel there in late 2005 but this has been shelved at present.

In a way, lesbian relationships have been censored from TV, with heterosexual people preferring to bar them from our screens rather than admitting that we exist. It's fantastic to see that times are changing, and that we are gradually being recognised as a lucrative target market. If new lesbian channels are introduced then they are bound to have a loyal following: after all, as the very idea of lesbianism has been erased from our screens for so long we would sit in front of the box 24-7 if they actually introduced some more programmes that relate to our lifestyle!

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