Bisexual & Proud: Discovering myself through Sugar Rush

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.

Raised by Wolves: on the cancellation of one of the greatest shows ever

Channel 4 has announced a few weeks ago that they won’t be renewing the utterly hilarious Raised by Wolves and I am mad as hell.

Fortunately, it’s not just me who is mad as hell – the show has a beloved following – and Caitlin Moran (the show’s writer and creator) has already drummed up a lot of noise online to try and save it. Raised by Wolves is Caitlin Moran’s , along with her sister Caroline Moran, TV comedy of their childhood lives. More specifically, their teenage years living in a run down in house in Wolverhampton, being home schooled by their mother. Both Caroline and Caitlin have admitted that aspects of their lives have been embellished (as is the nature of television) but if you’ve read Caitlin’s ‘How to Be a Woman’ or ‘How to Raise a Girl’, you’ll know that despite the differences, a lot of Raised by Wolves is true in essence to Caitlin’s memoirs. The biggest alteration is the present day setting (Caroline and Caitlin grew up in the 1970s), but it’s hard to imagine bringing in audiences if Raised by Wolves hadn’t been modernised slightly.

Caitlin and Caroline also adopt different names for their onscreen characters – Caitlin’s likeness is Germaine (played by the incredible Helen Monks) and Caroline’s is Aretha (the equally incredible Alexa Davies). In the fictional world of Raised by Wolves, matriarch of the family,Della (Rebekah Staton), has named all of her daughters after influential women. We have Germaine, Aretha, Yoko, Mariah and baby Cher. Della is a hard working, DIY, do-not-cross-me mum who single handedly does absolutely everything for her six children (she also has a son named Wyatt). She’s a beer drinking, cigarette smoking whirlwind who has complete and utter control over her kingdom. In short, she is almost definitely the best mother I have ever seen on a television show. We’ll delve into just why a bit later on. Also in the Garry household, on most occasions, is Grampy – unsurprisingly, the kid’s grandfather. 

Raised by Wolves is a perfect mix of feminist rhetoric, conversations about masturbation and sibling wonderfulness that we so desperately need in the UK comedy scene. It’s a complete travesty that it has been cancelled, but it isn’t that hard to see why. It’s about powerful young women striking out in the world, taking control of their situations and expressing their deepest desires outwardly. Well, for Germaine anyway. If this is the last hurrah, let us delve into the things we love best about those Garrys. #upthewolves

 

Sex Positive

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Though our Germaine is named after a Germaine who was very prominent in second wave feminism, her values and ideas about femininity and sex are very, very different. In fact, it’s probably better that we don’t talk too much about the car crash that is Germaine Greer, and focus more on the wonderful young woman whom Germaine. She’s confident, sexual, curious and maybe a tiny bit batshit crazy, but she always has her heart in the right place. The greatest thing about Germaine is that she knows she is something special, and doesn’t let anyone forget it.

To see such confidence in a young teenager is comic, yes, and also slightly unnerving. We are so used to seeing teenage girls upset and horrified by their bodies and sexuality, but our Germaine bucks this trend with style. Self confident, sexual and ready for some action of the male variety – Germaine doesn’t care what anyone else thinks of her. It’s super refreshing.

In ‘The Dorchester’, we get to witness Germaine’s first throes of passion – making out with any boy available in the nightclub. Germaine’s realisation that she has something they want, and she can get what she wants by giving it to them (kissing) leads her to snog her way around the club, pretty much. In a subversion of the very typical image of a horny teenage boy working his way round all of the girls – it is Germaine who uses the boys to satisfy her newly discovered sexual desires.

It is unsurprising that Germaine has such a sex positive attitude when she has Della as her mother. Della, whilst balancing both the roles of mother, father, DIY maestro, life-coach and  teacher to all of her children, also has a very healthy and liberating sex life. In season 1, Della meets and dates a breakdown vehicle driver, and she isn’t afraid to tell him what she really wants. Layered in innuendo, the two of them eat scotch eggs in Tesco car park and spin doughnuts in the middle of the street. Della knows what she wants and isn’t at all afraid to get it. Despite their extreme difference, you can see where Germaine gets it from.

 

Working Class Women

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Where are the working class women on British TV? I’ve tried looking, but there’s a distinct lack nowadays. We had Shameless, and we had the Royale Family, and Raised by Wolves filled the gap in the market for a short time (at least for being as wonderfully rude as the other two contenders). One of the saddest things about the cancellation of Raised by Wolves is the loss of a television show which is made by and is about working class women. Not just that, but regional working class women. The Garry’s are proud of their midlands identity (“we’re not southern twats, we’re not northern twats, we’re midlands twats”), and there is very little else on British television that even comes close.

 

Body Image

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Another wonderful moment from ‘The Dorch’ will, if you’ve ever been a teenage girl, l have you in stitches about your first time underage clubbing.  If you haven’t been an underage teenage girl, you’ll still probably laugh a lot, so it is totally worth watching. To get ready for their Big Night Out, Germaine decides to hack away at Yoko’s full length skirt, turning into a new and improved (and very short) miniskirt. Germaine tells Yoko to embrace her legs – because it turns out she does have incredible pins. The three girls enter the club, Yoko with her legs out, Germaine in her faux Victorian lace garb and Aretha in her oversized jumper and they have the time of their lives.

Though the three Garry girls are of very different sizes, and have very different interests and ideas about fashion – there is an overwhelmingly positive message about body image in Raised by Wolves. Germaine, not what we would typically view as ‘model material’ (thanks internalised misogyny) is an uber confident teenager – a rarity on television.

As confident as Germaine is, Aretha is quite the opposite. However, her own sense of style and her reservations about her own body (“I haven’t even seen myself naked”) are respected. There is an understanding that, although Aretha may not be entirely comfortable in her own skin, this is perfectly normal and many teenagers go through it.

 

The rituals of growing up female

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The entire show is rooted in feminine milestones. Yoko’s first period, a first bra fitting, first kisses and first crushes. Events that are (in society’s patriarchal brain) life changing and life defining for women. I mean, everyone knows that your first time changes you forever, right? (wrong. So wrong, incase anyone didn’t get the sarcasm).

Raised by Wolves takes these seemingly important milestones and makes them seem not quite as traumatic. The trauma comes from having Germaine as your sister (if you are Aretha) or your mum making you go out and forage for food. Or, god forbid, having to work in the pound shop to earn your keep. It’s true that Yoko starting her periods is terrifying for her, and not everything goes to plan, but ultimately the realisation is that every woman goes through this. That it is going to be okay and there’s nothing to be worried about. As Germaine says about tampons, ‘I just put it in my lady mouse hole’.

There’s also the exploration of first loves and first heartbreaks. In the final episode of the second season (and potentially ever, sob), both Aretha and Germaine are dealing with their first heartbreaks… in two very different ways. Though the two sisters are unlike in many, many ways, they reconcile at the end of the episode and help each other get through the pain of being dumped, and that of unrequited love. It’s touching and sweet, and just another reason why this show is just so damn good.

 

 

The cancellation of Raised by Wolves is a fucking tragedy. It’s funny, feminist and unique in every way. Still, Caitlyn Moran has launched a facebook page to save the show, so if you are still grieving like me – so go on, join the rebel alliance, bab. 
Also – both seasons are still available to view on 4OD at the moment…