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Lesbians on Television

New Queer Visibility & the Lesbian Normal

A look at the emergence of queer women characters in popular storytelling and the wide-ranging effects of this mainstream representation.

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. In Lesbians on Television, Kate McNicholas Smith maps concurrent contemporary shifts in lesbian visibility within popular media, focusing on the small screens of Europe and North America. Central to these shifts has been a re-imagining of queer lives—or a “new queer visibility”—as LGBTQ+ characters have become increasingly visible within popular culture. Kate McNicholas Smith explores this increased visibility through the lens of television, and in doing so, she identifies a “new lesbian normal”—a normalization of lesbian subjects that both helps and hinders those it represents. 

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 LGBTQ+ figures and examines their televisual representation and reception. Presenting critical queer and feminist theory alongside empirical research that includes interviews and multi-platform media analyses, McNicholas Smith works to untangle the social, political, and cultural implications of new visibility in a period of significant social change in the LGBTQ+ experience.

220 pages | 6 3/4 x 9 1/2

Gay and Lesbian Studies

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Table of Contents


’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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