Lesbians on Television (Book)

New Queer Visibility & The Lesbian Normal

Taking the modern period of significant social change in the LGBTQ+ experience, Lesbians on Television examines their televisual representation and reception, identifying a new ‘lesbian normal’ that has both opened up and closed down possibilities of queer lives. McNicholas Smith works to untangle the multiple strands of new visibility of this period, mobilized in social, political and national imaginaries.


The twenty-first century has seen LGBTQ+ rights emerge at the forefront of public discourse and national politics in ways that would once have been hard to imagine. Focusing on the small screens of Europe and North America, Lesbians on Television maps the contemporary shifts in lesbian visibility within popular media and, from this, extracts a figure of the new 'lesbian normal' that both helps and hinders those it represents. This book offers a unique and layered account of the complex dynamics in the modern moment of social change, drawing together critical social and cultural theory as well empirical research, which includes interviews and multi-platform media analyses. Structured around five central case studies of popular British and American television shows featuring lesbian, bisexual and queer women characters – The L Word, Skins, Glee, Coronation Street and The Fosters – the book develops a detailed analysis of the shaping of a new 'lesbian normal' through representations of lesbian teenagers, cheerleaders, wives and mothers amongst other LGBTQ+ figures. With a focus on television, Kate McNicholas Smith expands to map the lesbian figure through publicity materials, news reports, political speeches, legislative changes, social media, fandoms and audiences. Appearing in highly accessible media forms, such as the soap opera, and extending into the digital media platforms in which they are repeated and remade, new lesbian figures exist at a site of struggle over the possibilities of queer women’s intelligibility, intimacy and futurity. 

Kate McNicholas Smith is lecturer in television theory at the University of Westminster.


'Previously…': Queer women on screen

‘The way that we live and love’: The L Word and the tensions of visibility

‘Homophobia is so old fashioned’: Skins and the lesbian normal

Skins’ truest legacy’: The counterpublics of the Naomily fandom

‘The nation’s favourite lesbian’: Coronation Street and the ‘everyday’ soap lesbian

‘New Directions’: Glee, new queer visibility and post-queer popular culture

‘A new kind of family’: The Fosters and the radical potential of the lesbian normal

Afterword: Reflections on the limits and possibilities of new queer visibility and the lesbian normal

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