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What Watching Lesbian Films Taught Me

What Watching Lesbian Films Taught Me

Acknowledging ones lesbianism is not like smacking yourself on the head and saying, “gee, I could’ve had a V-8”.  For some of us its that gnawing feeling that you know you just aren’t like the rest of the girls who giggled and pined over the high school quarterback.  You pined over the homecoming queen. You may have asked yourself the proverbial question, “What do lesbians do?” With no one to really ask you turned to the movies to help guide you into the world of girl/girl relationships.

If memory serves me, I believe my first strictly lesbian film experience was watching Therese and Isabelle (1968) at a small art film house in Chicago. I was visiting friends at Northwestern University and they thought it would be an adventure to “obtain an altered state of consciousness” via some weed and go see the film.  Everyone was chuckling, feeling awkward, and had the squirming in the seat reaction. It is a highly erotic film. You wiggle especially when this is your first visual experience into lesbian sex.  Remembering this experience started me thinking about what lesbian films teach us about “what do lesbians do?”

I decided to re-watch a handful of wonderful lesbian romance movies. Of course this included Claire of the Moon (1992), Kissing Jessica Stein (2002), Saving Face (2004) and Imagine Me & You (2005).   Didn’t need to re-watch Elena Undone (2010) or A Perfect Ending (2012) because they are imbedded in my brain.  The common denominator and first lesson was that lesbians struggle to just let love and relationship happen. Girl meets girl. Girl is scared to death. Girl runs away and comes back.  There is this longing look of “holy shit” And there is always this frenetic leap into the first kiss. These films taught me that lesbians suffer the pain—and I do mean gut wrenching and confusing pain—of wanting the girl until they literally nearly hurt themselves as they pounce.  This is especially true for the “am I really a lesbian?” person who just cannot hold back any longer.

Therese jumped at the chance to make love to Isabelle.  Claire just had to torturously throw herself nearly head first into a boulder on the beach to kiss Noel in Claire of the Moon.  I mean Jessica Stein needed to read up on lesbian sex to prepare for her foray into a relationship with Helen and fell off the sofa when leaping.  And Rachel.  Really Rachel, who were you kidding? We all wanted Luce. You made me realize that it was not only okay to lust after the girl but it was okay to break all the rules to have her.  Leap and lunge.

Lesbians should break normal dating social rules to get the girl.  Enough of the “do you want to go to a movie with me on Friday night?” Jump directly to shy and coy dancing around the lesbian dance arena and lunge directly into the big kiss.  If you are the one who is dying to have this woman but just can’t leap into the big kiss, face it. The relationship will never happen.  Someone always has to make the first lunge.

As much as I’d heard that lesbians have a standing U-Haul order, I really didn’t find this practice of filling up the moving van when I re-watched these films. I was heartened to know that the four years I spent deciding if SHE really was the one were well spent.  I did not feel guilty that I didn’t rush into anything.  I do recall lunging though so I followed at least one direction the films gave me.

The break up was another big area to tackle. Who remains a BFF with an ex-lover? Well, lesbians do. They share lovers. They share beds. They go on vacations together. They share way too many relationship secrets.  They can’t seem to separate unless a new lover makes it impossible to even pick up the phone to ask the name of the cute B and B they stayed in twelve years ago.  In a sense, lesbians just have one helluva time moving on when a relationship ends.  It was a relationship ladies. It was not Girl Scouts with benefits. We acquire non-sexual lovers for life. Or so it seems.

Films are a reflection of reality. When it comes to what I learned about being a lesbian from lesbian films, it seems that the films do imitate lesbian life as we’ve come to know it. This is why there is an important place for the lesbian film genre. Lesbian writers, directors, actresses, and stories that are relatable hone in on what we know and how we love and live.  The surprise is not in how we live our lives, but rather in how the movies reveal us so well.

Oh, and one more thing I learned from lesbian films.  I love to see our diverse stories on the big screen!

Jan Miller Corran, Ph.D., is CEO/President of More Than Friends Productions (MTF). Dr. Corran is a film producer with numerous films to her credit as Executive Producer, Associate Producer or consultant. For a list of her books and films, visit

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One comment

  • I’m in agreement that seeing our stories on the “silver screen” gives us more credibility than what we’ve had in the past. These days everything arrives on my computer especially since my recent car vs bike, busted-knee, episode here in New Orleans, the land of dreams. I confess I do watch one and only one (I swear) tv show because of the featured lesbian couple; “Grey’s Anatomy”. The way the lesbian doctors are depicted on this “family hour” network show is sometimes enough to make me want to pull out my hair. Currently the couple who used to appear to have the hots for each other have been reduced to an interest in only one thing: making babies. Should I get pregnant and carry our child? Should you get pregnant and carry our child? (a recent and typically short scene which at least took place in their bed as they tossed a coin to answer the question.) Everyone gets that “Grey’s Anatomy” is a very popular show that covers a lot of territory. Lesbians know that it is not “the L Word”. If we want graphic there is always fan-fiction. But I’d like to hear the opinions of others about our relationships and how we are might succeed in getting lesbianism depicted in a more realistic adult fashion in the mainstream media that is network tv.