OP ED | Tragic Lesbians And Clunky Love Stories: Does TV Have Trouble With Lesbian Love?
After an episode in Call the Midwife in mid-March there was a clear split between viewers: there were those that praised the strong (though crowded) storyline and viewers from the LGBT community (mainly the L) that were reeling and disappointed by yet another blow to a gay TV couple.
For a long time now gay viewers have complained by the lack of happy gay couples on TV, lesbians, in particular, have felt hard done by with several TV shows killing or “turning straight” lesbian characters. So with hardly any TV representation and coming hot on the heals of Last Tango in Halifax “lesbian hit by car” plot-line, repeating this on Midwife hit hard.
Viewers took to internet and message-boards to express their sadness, grief and anger.
Sad the BBC don't yet have the guts to show a happy, functional, healthy gay relationship without destroying it at the end. #callthemidwife
— Jo Dolby (@jodolby) March 8, 2015
Very disappointed – let's not deal with the lesbian couple let's almost finish one of them off! #callthemidwife
— Jen Powell (@mojitopowell) March 8, 2015
What do the BBC have against lesbian couples?? Stop hitting them with cars already!! #callthemidwife @lydieeee_x
— Lauren Canham (@CanhamLauren) March 8, 2015
— Elaine Harry (@Laneytog) March 8, 2015
“While on The L Chat people said: Lesbians strive to gain greater social acceptance and respect as a minority. But millions of people watch these family oriented Sunday evening dramas (CTM, LTiH) and will come to accept that this is a pattern, that lesbians don’t matter much. It can help to shape viewers’ perceptions, that lesbians are less valuable as people, are dispensable, don’t deserve a happy life together. TV is a powerful medium and can have a huge impact on how people think.”
The fact that it was Call the Midwife, known for its deep and well-researched and often educational storylines presenting this story hurt the most. I, though, am less surprised.
At the end of last year’s Call the Midwife I wrote a column criticising nurse Patsy’s badly written coded coming out. I was told by viewers to wait and see, because they were sure that the story would be handled better in the coming season.
So come January I sat down, and halfway through the series, I begun to feel I might be happily proven wrong in my initial criticism. I watch Patsy blossom, become opener, stand up for her believes and finally find love. Still, though, I felt something missing. Patsy’s love story always seemed written as an afterthought. It was there, the right things were said, but it seemed rushed as if the script had been written and the writer then remembered: “Oh, what about Patsy!!”
Compared to the love stories of Chummy, Trixy and Shelagh where episodes were dedicated to their falling, doubts and other things that lovers do, the two or three minutes we got to spend with Patsy and Delia were crumbs. I had hoped for something stronger, especially after the hart hitting “The Undesirables” (though I found the comparison between LGBT and rats a bit, well … odd). Why not counter this with in the last episode with the girls setting up life together as good as they could. The drama could have come from these girls having to hide their love, while Fred and Vi had their wedding. After a whole years and season of waiting this felt very much like a cop out.
Soon complaints were sent off to head writer Heidi Thomas and the BBC. Some viewers were so disappointed that they might have expressed a bit more strongly then they otherwise would, scaring Heidi. She told followers: “The hate mail has come from people who feel they should only be allowed to be happy. It is very difficult and may well frighten others away from creating gay characters. Never mind – it doesn’t frighten me!”
With this reply she seems to have missed the point. Having a strong, settled gay couple in one of the biggest TV shows in the UK means a lot. Of course not everyone has to be happy, but it seems as if TV writers thrive on having no gay couple happy. This is very damaging to young people, as it tells them gay relationships are unhappy by default.
Supporters of Heidi say that the relationship ending like this is realistic for the time the series is set in. Well, none of my family recalls every lesbian in the 50s or 60s being hit by a car and suffering amnesia, forgetting her sexual orientation. There were thousands of very secret but not less loving relationships out there. In fact there are many lesbian couples from the 1960s still together now.
A storyline focusing on the girls living together and dealing with the difficulties thrown at them while sticking together would have been much more daring and original then throwing a dated cliché at us.
— Beverley Sackville (@bevsackville) March 8, 2015
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Opinions expressed in this article may not reflect those of THEGAYUK, its management or editorial teams. If you'd like to comment or write a comment, opinion or blog piece, please click here.