So - it has been announced that mid noughties show The L Word is coming back, with some of the original cast involved. I have the whole run on DVD, and although I haven't watched it since it ended in 2009, it was a ground breaking series, featuring openly lesbian performers, writers, musicians, and producers. While the portrayal of lesbians on tv hasn't moved forward as much as The L Word's creator Ilene Chaiken hoped it would have done since the show, the increasing number of online communities and online spaces queer women are part of and occupy has meant conversations about visibility, diversity, intersectionality, gender identity, and accountability of the media are much more audible in public space and in activist and campaigning groups. As many bloggers and articles have acknowledged, the portrayal of lesbians in the show will need to be much more representative of the diversity of LBT+ people than it was before in order to speak to audiences today.
The audience is certainly there! For Pride this year, I took part in the parade through London for the first time, and in some style as part of Parliout. It was fantastic fun to be on the bus and on the streets, cheering along with the crowds that lined the route. Issues around the representation of LGBT+ people in the promotional material produced by Pride in London, and concerns about the corporate take-over of Pride had been widely expressed before the march, particularly as some groups were not initially represented in the parade. While I certainly saw some dissent and protest from individuals over the course of the afternoon, seeing so many marchers from different organisations, unions, institutions and campaign groups was an undeniable joy.
Earlier this week I attended an event in Parliament which explored how the passing of the Sexual Offences Act in 1967 influenced and inspired artists. The speakers were Dr Clare Barlow, the curator of Queer British Art at Tate Britain, and Jez Dolan, creator of the Polari artwork, Wolfenden. We saw examples of gay and queer male artists working before 1967 playfully embracing both ambiguous and overt images of masculinity and the male body, and using a specific verbal and visual language to communicate with each other in public and in private. We also saw the work of some lesbian and queer women, which seemed subtler, quieter, and less sexually charged than that of their male counterparts, and much of the discussion after the event revolved around questions about the definition and visibility of lesbian and queer women from the 1900s to the 1960s. The evening focused mainly on art, photography and language - but my thoughts turned immediately to theatre and the renewed conversations within the LGBT+ theatre community at the moment about the under-representation of LBT+ people and the over-representation of gay men on stage and off.
Amie Taylor, the Editor of the LGBTQ Arts Review, blogged about this recently and also wrote a guest blog post for this site last year. Writer and playwright Stella Duffy has reflected upon the invisibility of gay women recently too. There have been lots of examples on twitter of pictures showing tables in mainstream bookshops laden with books by gay and queer male authors as part of celebrating Pride, with always just one or perhaps two lesbian or queer women writers included. This is hugely frustrating - and deliberately perpetuates the problem. I was at the launch of out comic and presenter on Radio Diva Rosie Wilby's new book Is Monogamy Dead? at Gay's The Word bookshop in London a few weeks ago. Gay's The Word is the bookshop featured in the 2014 film Pride, and there were shelves and shelves of books by lesbian and queer women. I also attended singer and performer Jessica Walker's show at Wilton's Music Hall, All I Want is One Night, about the life of lesbian singer Suzy Solidor, who openly sang about her sexual desire at her Paris club in the 1930s and had several relationships with other women. Tantalising stuff - if you know about it.
I've blogged before about the efforts of feminist and suffragist women in the late 19th century and early 20th century to create more opportunities for women to participate in the business of theatre on equal terms with men. Projects set up by performers and activists, like Bechdel Theatre, ERA: Equal Representation for Actresses, and Act for Change are continuing to challenge artistic directors, theatre makers, casting directors, directors and other performers by asking them to think more carefully about the perpetuation of inequality and the lack of diversity within the industry. I think there's a perception that for the most part the theatre community and the arts world in general in the UK should be a creative space in which the telling of diverse stories to diverse audiences is prioritised, but the work commissioned and produced on our main, subsidised and high profile stages often woefully under-represents not only women's voices and experiences, but also those of LBT+ people and of people of colour. Gay white men are disproportionately represented on and off stage in positions of power and influence, and are also much better represented at queer fringe events and at LGBT festivals. Talking about sexism and bias related to this disproportionate presence and influence can be divisive, unfashionable and tricky, which is absolutely why it needs to be raised again and again. Amie Taylor is holding a Devoted and Disgrunted satellite session about these issues on the evening of Thursday 13th July at the New Diorama Theatre in London - you can find out more about it and how to attend by clicking here.
There is much to be proud of, much to be thankful for, and much still to do. Happy Pride, everyone.
Thoughts, reflections, bits of research