Before I came out of the closet, I had no idea what a wlw (wlw is shorthand for woman loving woman, a lesbian is any non-man loving non-man, it is not exclusive to wlw) relationship looked like, how it functioned, and whether or not it was supposed to feel the same as a heterosexual relationship. I had watched, But I'm a Cheerleader, a 1999 romantic comedy about a cheerleader sent to a conversion therapy camp, and appreciated The L Word, a 2004 drama about lives and loves of a group of lesbians and bisexuals in Los Angeles. That show was one of the first LGBTQ+ shows I had seen that normalized being gay in a way that made me feel comfortable in my identity. Both of these shows were problematic in their own way, as the late 90s and early 2000s media were, but I clung to the reality they created because I was unsure how to craft my own.
At 18, I am more experienced in terms of understanding wlw relationships. Still, I knew that I was gay at 13, but I did not come out of the closet until I was 17; there is a reason for that. Modern media depicts wlw relationships as toxic and intense; women lie to each other, cheat, and are abusive. The representation I see on television and in film is a stereotype of my sexuality that does not come close to capturing reality. I can only imagine what this means for people who are 13 right now and trying to come to terms with their sexuality in this environment.
Euphoria, the wildly popular HBO drama, is a prominent example that showcases the misconceptions producers hold about wlw relationships. Rue and Jules are toxic, they fight constantly, and Jules unknowingly fuels Rue’s drug abuse. In the last episode of season one, Jules leaves Rue sobbing on a train platform, mourning the departure of the woman she is in love with. In season 2, Jules cheats on Rue with their mutual friend, despite initially accusing Rue of being interested in him. The twists and turns of their relationship are anything but stable. While toxicity is not inherently tied to straight relationships, it is problematic that the only LGBTQ+ representation in this show depicts a violent, abusive co-dependency.
While readers may think that the dark nature of Rue and Jule’s relationship is unique to the Euphoria universe, it is a common theme in LGBTQ+ media. In Duck Butter, a 2018 comedy, two women embark on a 24-hour date to create a new form of intimacy. The romance ultimately collapses when Naima, the feature film's main character, decides she cannot commit. She engages in a screaming match with her romantic interest and ultimately leaves without resolve. There is no happy ending.
In, The Sex Lives of College Girls, each episode follows a group of roommates navigating their first year of college. Leighton, one of the leads in the series, unbeknownst to her friends, is a lesbian. She starts a relationship with another woman on the show, and the pair are happy; they go on coffee dates, share secretive glances, and enjoy the bubble they have created. However, the relationship comes to an untimely end when Leighton decides that she cannot come out. Her love interest does not want to go back into the closet, and because of that, the pair goes their separate ways. While there is no issue in not being able to come out, it is disappointing that, yet again, wlw representation is tainted by heartbreak, grievance, and secrecy.
I will not go too in-depth but foreign movies are my favorite examples of wlw representation. A quick search in the LGBTQ+ genre on Netflix returns hundreds of foreign movies that depict romance and passion between two women in a way I am much more comfortable with watching. American producers struggle to grasp how to create a wlw relationship without making it an entire production. The relationships they create lack the normality that I have often found when dating women.
I implore young people struggling to come to terms with their identity to take the time to look for meaningful representation; I encourage the same for those in adulthood who still have not come to terms with their identity either. At 13, I never imagined I would have a girlfriend I am in love with, who buys me dinner, makes me coffee in the morning and lets me cry into her shirt even if the tears are sticky and wet. She gives me everything I only imagined I could have if I chose to be in a heterosexual relationship. At times we bicker, but we know how to resolve conflict without screaming at each other and leaning into the abusive tendencies that media would suggest are common in wlw relationships. While it is hard to picture from the confines of a bedroom, a dorm room, or a small town, there is an entire world beyond the small wlw narrative media created as an afterthought.