That's not what a lesbian looks like

One of the most rewarding aspects of making Starting From … Now! has been the overwhelmingly positive response we’ve had from the audience. Our audience has, for the most part, been supportive, engaged and emotionally invested in the characters and storylines, many since the release of the very first episode. There has, however, also been some criticism of the series and it’s one of those criticisms that I’d like to address today.

This criticism has come from a small number of viewers and also, I have no doubt, a small number of people who haven’t even watched the show. They’re quite passionate in their assertion that Starting From … Now! isn’t diverse enough in its representation, that the women are all “straight-looking girls” and are portraying lesbians in an unrealistic way. Some also argue that because the actors have long hair and are thin this contributes to body image issues among lesbians and has “a serious effect on our perceptions of ourselves as “normal” or acceptable people”. And, finally, Starting From … Now! has also been accused of having no lesbians in a lesbian drama. 

Let me address each of these in turn.

I’ll begin by saying, Starting From … Now! isn’t a documentary. It’s a scripted drama that uses actors to take on the role of characters and bring those characters to life on screen. The purpose of the show is to entertain and, hopefully, in the process, touch on issues that affect viewers in some way and, as a result, connect with them on an emotional level. You can’t do this by casting your friends, or people who have a passing interest in acting. You do this by casting trained, quality, professional actors. In the whole time the show has been running, not once has the acting been criticized. In fact, it’s commonly believed to be one of the strongest aspects of the series.

When auditioning, I’m looking for the best actor I can find. The person, I believe, will bring depth to the character, who will embody the essence of who this person is and bring her to life on screen. Once I’ve found that person, I can’t expect her to cut her hair so we can “better represent the lesbian community”, especially when I’m not paying her and, as a result, have the actor miss out on revenue from advertisements or roles for which she would normally be cast.

Does this mean we’re portraying lesbians in an unrealistic way? Maybe, but I’d sacrifice short hair for quality acting any day of the week.

The assertion that because the actors have long hair and are thin this then contributes to body image issues among lesbians and has “a serious effect on our perceptions of ourselves as “normal” or acceptable people” is a much more complex issue. The media has a lot to answer for in regards to body image and the representation of women. This is an ongoing problem that needs to be addressed. However, the assertion that this particular web series affects lesbians’ perceptions of themselves as “normal” or acceptable people, I think is somewhat overstated. I would like to think that the majority of people can differentiate between fact and fiction, that seeing an actor on screen playing a lesbian doesn’t have a significant impact on their sense of self because they don’t look exactly like them. What, I believe, has more of an impact is not seeing lesbian characters on screen at all. No series can be everything to everybody. The more screen content we have that centres around lesbian characters, the less this becomes an issue. I would love for Starting From … Now! to speak to everybody. I would love for it to represent all aspects of the lesbian community and I would love for it to address and solve all the problems we’re facing as individuals and as a group, but that’s not going to happen.

And, finally, the accusation that there are no lesbians in this lesbian drama is actually just incorrect. The fact that this assertion has been made says more about the prejudices and propensity to stereotype of the people making the accusation than it does about the series itself. What does a lesbian look like? I’m not here to out people, no-one has the right to do that, but I am here to argue that just because a woman doesn’t look like a lesbian is traditionally believed to look, doesn’t mean she isn’t one. Talk about lack of diversity.

And just in case you don’t believe me, check out this blog entry by Clementine Mills. Clem plays Bec in Seasons 2 and 3 and will be expanding her role in Season 4 of Starting From … Now!

 By Julie Kalceff