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There has been a lot of talk about how progressive the Showcase/Syfy show Lost Girl is. What stands out to many is the fact that not only is there a same sex relationship, there is even a same sex love triangle. There is a ton of GLBT erasure in urban fantasy, even when a show is set in a city like San Francisco, (yes I am looking at you Charmed) gay people are erased. When they do appear, they often fall into the trope of a bff, and they are decidedly celibate. Considering this, at first blush, it makes Lost Girl appear to be positively transcendent, and this is specifically why we must take a critical look at the same sex relationships. Just because Lost Girl has one bisexual character, and two lesbians who actually engage in sex, does not make the portrayals perfect. In other words, faulty inclusion does not make up for erasure.
From almost the very beginning of the show it was clear that Bo and Lauren had some pretty heavy chemistry. Because Bo is a Succubus, she was extremely worried about draining her lovers to death, and it was Lauren who taught her to control this. These lessons in control included some extremely sexy kisses, and it wasn’t long before fans were beginning to wonder when and if Lauren and Bo would consummate their relationship. Sadly, it was not to be the great scene we imagined and problems abound. The very first time that they had sex, though Lauren claimed to care about Bo, it was because she was ordered to so by the old Ash as a distraction. The fact that their first sex act was forced, tainted their interaction. It also fed horribly into the meme of women having sex at the behest or benefit of a man, because sex between two women is only acceptable if it benefits a man in someway.
In fact, the foundation for Bo and Lauren’s relationship from the very beginning has been fraught by deception. Bo didn’t even know Nadia existed for a very long time setting the whole relationship up on a very dubious foundation. There has continuously been something deceptive about Lauren and yet we are supposed to be excited every time to the two of them get it on. The second, and last, time Bo and Lauren have sex, is when we learn that Lauren has a girlfriend - yet more deception. Bo and Lauren have not been allowed to have a moment of intimacy without there being something dark and deceitful casting a shadow over it.
When it comes to Bo having sex with women other than Lauren, I can recall 2 incidents. In the first she had a threesome with a man and a Fury. And why does she go have sex with them? Why because Dyson (the real relationship) just turned her down. And it all ends up with everyone but Bo dead.
And then Ryan gets her a woman as a gift (do we even have to say how wrong that is?) for her to perform with in front of him (more on this later). These are what we have for same-sex relationships.
Compare this with her relationship with men. Bo/Dyson has been written in the stars since the very first episode. They have definite attraction - and affection - for each other. Dyson cares so much for Bo he is willing to sacrifice everything for her to the Norn - and from that we have proof of his love - because he cannot love anyone else. From the very beginning their love has been dramatic, epic, star-crossed and based on deep mutual love, mutual desire with nothing bringing them together but their love for each other. In essence, this big dramatic love makes it clear that it is primary and any others are just distractions from the true, real opposite sex relationship.
Even Bo’s relationship with Ryan is based on greater honesty than her relationship with Lauren. Ryan may be irresponsible, selfish, reckless, immoral and deceptive - but he has never been anything but honest with Bo about his intentions. Their relationship may have problems but it has always been honest and based on mutual attraction and desire; not the deception and secrets that Lauren and Bo had. Or, for that matter, that lie between Lauren and Nadia since Lauren cannot tell her about her relationship with Bo or about the fae, working for fae or being owned by the Ash.
There is also a bemusing reluctance to actually use any of the language of GBLT people. In fact, in the Syfy interview the actors are proud that they have deliberately avoided using the words lesbian, gay or bisexual.:
Anna Silk: Yeah. And I love that on the show too, we don't - it's not talked about as a same-sex relationship.
Zoie Palmer: It just is one, yeah.
Anna Silk: It's not one could be - yeah, it's just - it's a relationship, and that's that.
Zoie Palmer: The Coke and gay thing or the - it's just the - there is - yeah, that's cool. It's that there's just in the relationship, whichever - whatever it looks like, however it...
Anna Silk: Yeah.
Zoie Palmer: ...in the way that Dyson and Bo are in one, and it's never discussed on the show...
Anna Silk: Yeah.
Zoie Palmer: ...which I love too. I think that's great.
Why is this praiseworthy? So we can have the woman on woman sex to be appealing without actually invoking the GBLT community at all? It’s like having GBLT characters with as little possible GBLT-ness as possible. It feels appropriative and distancing the show from the GBLT identity while still keeping the sexy actions. To then turn around and give themselves a cookie for daring to portray lesbians only reasserts the fact that this is all pretty window dressing, with absolutely no substance.
The same sentiment is also repeated in the interview with Ksenia Solo and Anna Silk which also contains this very unfortunate wording
Ksenia Solo: No, I was just going to say that I think it’s so great that there’s no judgment on the show. You are who you are, whether you're gay or straight, or blue, or green, or whatever. it’s all about...Oh dear oh dear oh dear. I’m not even going to comment.
Anna Silk: Gay or human.
Ksenia Solo: Yes. Gay or human; it’s really all about the person that you are, and I think there’s something really beautiful.
If that were not enough Bo actually uses her Succubus powers to sexually excite a gay man in Food for Thought. He even openly acknowledges that what is happening should not be occurring, because he is solely attracted to men. I suppose they saw this as unproblematic, due to the fact that it could be explained away by the woo woo, but the fact remains that we live in a culture which constantly pushes GLBT to completely renounce their identity. If that were not the case, there wouldn’t be conversion clinics dotting the landscape.
There is also a strong titillation factor going on. In season two, the episode Table for Fae, Bo is rightfully upset with Ryan’s treatment of Kenzi and Nate, but she is quickly passive when he gives her a woman to sleep with. The women begin to make out and undress each other with Ryan watching with glee, until Bo turns her head and invites him to participate. Yes, here we go again with two women performing sexually for a man. This is nothing but supposed lesbian sex through a patriarchal lens.
The sad thing is that there is a temptation to jump up and down and fawn over any portrayal simply because there are so few out there. The erasure is near total, and to have these portrayals - and a protagonist no less! - it’s very tempting to just declare it awesome and start worshipping and fanpoodling. I feel the temptation myself - but erasure cannot be a justification for low expectations.
We deserve portrayals that are equal to the portrayals of heterosexuals. And while it’s tempting to leap on any portrayal when there are none out there, we should not uncritically accept portrayals that fall sort of that equality. Starvation shouldn’t make us happy with crumbs, especially if those crumbs leave a bad taste in the mouth. This is especially true when Lost Girl does actually participate in a form of erasure by not employing appropriate GLBT language when necessary. Yes, we see that they are attempting to portray no difference between the relationship between Bo and Dyson and Bo and Lauren however the refusal to label does not create equality when socially LGBT language is constructed as vile.