Did you silently realize you were gay while watching a queer movie?
For a lot of queer women, the film that changed them or prompted their gay awakening isn’t explicitly gay. Our stories in media are so often relegated to platonic friendships with light hand-touching and long glances from across the room. Nevertheless, they are part of our journeys. They’re also a reminder of how much media shapes us, especially as marginalized people in society. Whether or not we’re aware of it, the way film and television characterize queer women is reflected in how we talk about ourselves, how we contextualize our own existence.
We’re all aware of how lacking that representation is, so when you find a film that truly, deeply makes you feel seen, you hold onto it, whether or not it ages well, whether or not it accurately portrays the lives of queer women. It’s why we all still love The L Word. These are some of those films that are by no means perfect, but in some manner, changed queer women’s lives.
We need and want a lot from the films we see. Even when we don’t get exactly everything we expect, like a perfect ending or a moment of triumph, the journey of watching the queer woman end up with a man (yet again) can still change your self-perception and make you realize that those endings aren’t ones you want for yourself.
“When I was in eighth grade I saw Kissing Jessica Stein. The whole time I kept rooting for Jessica to be with the girl instead of the guy. I went on a road trip with my family and kept fake-sleeping so I could meditate on why exactly I wanted the girls to be together. By the time I came home to LA I knew I liked girls. Looking back, what a horrible movie to so greatly affect my life—but, hey, thank god it came along so I didn’t have to think I was straight for a second longer.” — Nance Messineo
Isolation comes hand-in-hand with queerness. Especially at the beginning, it always feels like you’re facing all these giant existential questions on your own. Finding solidarity, even if it’s in a fictional character, can be a lifeline.
“Pariah came out around when I was 19 and I’m a late bloomer so that was around the age I came out to myself both in sexuality and gender identity. I’d never seen a movie nor character that represented black, female masculinity as unapologetically as Pariah had. Every representation I’d seen of female masculinity up to that point had been through the lens of a white woman or had been a POC but always aggressive and never unpacked. So it was nice to see a complete character that represented how I saw myself.” — Tiffany Patterson
The tumultuous nature of first love with a bonus of discovering your queerness only enhances the chaos. It’s one that we wouldn’t take back because it’s so vital to our understanding of ourselves. When all of this is depicted in an honest and real way, with queerness at the center, you have Blue Is the Warmest Colour.
“I would say the most impactful was, cliché as this is, Blue Is the Warmest Colour. It was the first movie I’d seen whose plot entirely surrounded a lesbian couple. It was moving and brilliant and filled with emotions, and was a very real depiction of what a relationship is like. Moments of beauty, love, jealousy, the explosive argument that ended their relationship, and the love that still remained. It was a roller coaster of emotions, but very beautifully executed.” — Chelsea Barrantes
There isn’t a single universal queer woman experience, and one of the most rewarding parts of being in this community is that it’s a community rooted in understanding and acceptance. Talking to other queer people about identity and how we are similar but also how we are different already feels like a privilege—and to be able to do it through art, even more so.
“Laurence Anyways is about a transgender woman triumphing over society’s confinements through deconstructing and revolutionizing herself fully. I’ve never seen a movie like it before in its portrayal of a queer person; Xavier Dolan captures her in so many personal moments. Laurence’s biggest strength was something that others perceived as a weakness so I found that extremely relatable. Also, the camera work by Yves Belanger is phenomenal and principal to so much symbolism. The presentation of the characters and the audience’s connection to them flows through magically.” — Katy Ramage
We also sometimes just need a good happy ending. We need to be reminded that tragedy and queerness aren’t interchangeable, that a future of happiness is not only possible but inevitable—like watching women just fall in love!
“When I first came out, it was about as poorly received as it could have been. I watched all of the queer movies I could find and they all ended in heartbreak or death or were about wildly inappropriate relationships and I was like, alright, so I guess being queer is just a never-ending lesson in heartbreak! Then I found Imagine Me & You and while I would call it an objectively bad movie, it mirrored a lot of the tropes of the hetero rom-coms I grew up watching and loving—and for once, it had the happy, cheesy ending I was looking for!” — Cristina Keane
The first queer movie I saw as a closeted baby dyke was Angela Robinson’s DEBS. I didn’t know going in that it was gay—I was just excited about spies wearing plaid skirts. To this day, I still believe that the movie is perfect. It neither oversexualizes nor ostracizes female queerness.
The emergence of out queer women in entertainment, their existence in TV and mainstream pop culture, is an important marker of progress. Reflecting on the films that shaped our understanding of our own sexuality should be a reminder to seek content that fully encompasses our experiences in the world as out queer women. Seeing yourself represented in the world isn’t just about being validated, it’s about feeling understood.
What’s your favorite queer girl film? Let us know in the comments!