To celebrate Bisexuality Day 2017, I am going to talk the moment where I first realised I might like gals and guys (as a teenager in a small town, i had no idea there were any genders other than guys and gals), and the TV show that had the biggest influence on my sexuality to date. Let’s talking bisexuality!!
In 2005, Sugar Rush graced our screens for the first time. I was 14. I felt like I knew everything, as most teenagers do. I’d had crushes on boys and i’d had strange feelings for girls. Of course I now know they were also crushes, but growing up in a very small town with little to no exposure to anything other than heteronormativity meant that I really couldn’t process those feelings until a long time afterwards. I had a weird fluttery feeling when I was around one of my friends, that I just couldn’t place. After watching Sugar Rush, I realised it was an attraction. The show allowed me, and I am sure many other young women in the early 2000s, the vocabulary and space to articulate having feelings for someone of the same gender. It was, something I’ve only recently realised, a seminal show. Nothing quite like it, for women, has graced our screens since.
Sugar Rush, inspired by Julie Birchill’s novel of the same name (but PLEASE don’t it judge it on that*), tells the story of Kim (Olivia Hallinan), a 15 year old girl who has been forced to move with her hapless Dad, irritating stepmother and weird brother to Brighton, away from her school and friends. She befriends and becomes enamoured with Maria ‘Sugar’ Sweet (Lenora Crichlow). Sugar is that girl. You know the one – stunningly good looking, knows how to get booze, has men clamouring to be with her. The girl who never takes anything seriously, who lives life for today. If you haven’t been friends with someone that fits that description, it’s probably because you are her. No cares, no worries, always fun, all the time. This is in total opposition to Kim, who has led a relatively sheltered life in comparison. The series follows Kim’s infatuation with Sugar, and the ‘adventures’ the two of them have. I say adventures, but it’s a lot of sex, drugs and genital crabs. It’s a brilliant show.
Sugar Rush worked so well because it didn’t try to glamorise any part of teenage life. From the awkward masturbation scenes, to drinking vodka and coke from used cans, to drunken misdemeanours. As well as being wildly funny, it was also down to earth and gritty. Unlike Skins, which idealised the drug taking, anorexia and abuse of it’s characters, Sugar Rush always felt realistic. Sometimes things were great, and sometimes things were terrible. Kim’s pain of unrequited love for Sugar is heartbreaking – as we all felt at 15. Sugar’s ‘carefree’ lifestyle leads her to some deeply awful places, and the show doesn’t hold back from showing those.
Of course Sugar Rush employs the gay-girl-falling-in-love-with-her-straight-bestie stereotype, but the developed characters and genuine dialogue manage to move it beyond this pretty quickly. Kim and Sugar’s friendship feels very real, and the happy ending of series 1 felt absolutely deserved. And let’s face it, even today it’s tricky to find a lesbian tv show where everyone doesn’t end up dead or heartbroken (with the exception of San Junipero *heart eyes*). So, in that respect, Sugar Rush was an amazing achievement.
What I really want to talk about though, is just how revolutionary Sugar Rush was for it’s time. It was the first show aimed at young people that involved conversations about sexuality and had a lesbian protagonist. Scrap that, it was the first show I had aimed at anyone which had a lesbian protagonist and opened up conversations about different sexualities.
Never before had I seen anything in my immediate ‘media’ circle (by which I mean, on terrestrial TV or at the cinema) which included lesbian, bi or gay characters. Well, that’s not strictly true. Eastenders had included gay, male characters but there was little out there to be inspired by in terms of female sexuality. Representation is a big thing, and when there isn’t any out there, it’s hard to accept yourself for who you are. Sugar Rush made me feel normal. It made me feel like there were other people in the world who were attracted to women and that I wasn’t a freak. The things Kim and Sugar did were familiar to me (sneaking alcohol out in plastic bottles, avoiding judgemental parental eyes and generally just wishing for more in the world), and so Kim’s infatuation with Sugar felt completely normal too. Which meant maybe I was normal, and there wasn’t nothing weird or perverse about having feelings for other girls.
The addition of Kim’s on again and off again girlfriend Saint in the second season is pretty revolutionary too. Saint and Kim begin dating but hit setbacks (mostly due to Kim’s unfaltering love for Sugar). By the end of the series, they agree to try again, and Kim seems to finally be moving on – which is the best things for her. Saint is a pretty revolutionary character – especially considering this was 2006 – because she dates men and women. I can’t actually remember if the word bisexual is ever said during the series, but Saint makes it pretty clear that she is attracted to both genders and happy in herself.
It took years (literally, 8 or 9 years) for me to become accepting of my sexuality. I’d like to think that if there were just a few more tv show and movies where bisexual characters aren’t portrayed as cheaters, maniacs, confused or non existent – then maybe I could have got there a little sooner. We’ll never know! What I do know is that Sugar Rush was ahead of it’s time, and I am eternally grateful for it.
Amazing news, Sugar Rush is AVAILABLE TO WATCH ON ALL 4!!!! I know what I will be doing for the rest of the weekend.
*Julie Burchill, for those who are unaware, is a horrid journalist TERF who seems to make it her life’s business to be as transphobic as possible.