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.

Time of the Month: TRACEY GORDON (CHEWING GUM)

Michaela Coel, the mastermind behind one of the UK’s funniest TV shows right now, openly confesses that she really enjoys making people uncomfortable . Well, the truth is that she is extremely good at it. Chewing Gum, as well as being disgustingly funny and refreshingly honest, has moments that made me cringe so much I wanted my sofa to swallow me up.

Tracey Gordon, Coel’s creation, is a naive 24 year old on a mission to leave her religious upbringing behind and get on with discovering her sexuality. With the help of Beyonce (because of course), Tracey gets into many sticky (some quite literally) situations, not limited to accidentally going to a swingers party, trying to lose her virginity at a homeless shelter, rejecting advances from her cousin Boy Tracey and almost modelling for human/dog pornography. So if any of that sounds like something you want to watch, you are going to love Chewing Gum.

We meet Tracey as she is embarking on her new life. Though still living with her fanatically religious mother and sister, Tracey has decided that the #Churchlife is not for her. She’s dating a closeted gay man named Ronald (John MacMillan) who is determined that their relationship not be sullied by sinful desire. Tracey, at the beginning of her sexual revolution, is determined to change that. After a small (read: big) misunderstanding in the bedroom, Ronald and Tracey go their separate ways (not before Ronald is hit by a car) and Tracey realises that the world of men, dating, sex and sin is now open to her.

Due to Tracey’s mega religious upbringing, she’s a bit on the naive side for a 24 year old. She both dresses and behaves a lot like a child who has never had any real experience of the world, because of course she hasn’t. Because of this small quirk, she doesn’t shy away from any scenario, no matter how cringe-worthy or embarrassing. It’s almost like Tracey has been sullied by the realities of life yet. Even in series 2, where Tracey ends up almost dating a man who clearly has a fetish for black women (he asks her to ‘tribal’ dance for him??), she sees an opportunity to get some money out of him. Of course, the entire episode is laced with truths about powerful white men who fetishise women of colour (and are generally racist) but Tracey knows how to roll with the punches and make the most out of an otherwise pretty tragic situation.

Her naivety about life also makes her a phenomenal role model when talking about sexuality. Though inexperienced, Tracey is uninhibited – something that is very rare among young women on TV. She feels that she is entitled to a sex life, most definitely a sex drive, and she isn’t ashamed of her sexual desires. When things get heated with her soon-to-be-boyfriend Connor, Tracey takes charge of the situation despite never having had any kind of intimate contact with anyone before. As she makes the executive decision to sit on his face, talking us through her thought process the whole time, she isn’t sure whether what she is doing is right or wrong, but fuck it – she’s doing it anyway.

Race may not be the sole focus of Chewing Gum, but Tracey’s character definitely pushes the stereotypes of black women out of the water. Black women are usually portrayed as sassy, voluptuous, sexual beings and whilst Tracey is certainly sexually driven – she is also a virgin who doesn’t even really like penises (“pink balloon”). Sidney Fussell at Paste explains it best:

Black women have so long been accepted into pop culture primarily as sexual provocateurs that seeing a Black woman explicit in her failure to be a sexual queenpin is almost revelatory. Tracey leans into and explores a sexuality that’s weird, cartoonish, and ultimately doesn’t even involve penetrative sex…

Tracey, most of the time, has no idea what she is doing. Okay, screw that – all of the time. But it doesn’t deter her. She looks to Beyonce for advice, and dives headfirst into any given situation. I think we could all use a little of Tracey’s faux confidence in our lives!

Though Chewing Gum has intrinsic themes of race, gender, class and sexuality – Coel is keen that she is representing the ‘London that I know’. What we see is a melting pot of different cultures, traditions and ethnicities, rather than a dialogue from someone who has never even lived on a council estate in their lives. Coel has lived it, and understands the communities, so although Chewing Gum sometimes feels surreal, it’s also incredibly authentic. 

Representations of council estates and the working class on British TV are pretty dismal. They are portrayed as depressing places, awash with grey. Coel takes the opposite approach to the estate which Tracey lives on the fictional Pensbourne Estate (somewhere around South East London). She talks about her deliberate use of primary colours throughout the estate, to give the place a warm and inviting feel. Everything is colourful and bright including the characters who Tracey interacts with. The estate is a community who help each other and need one another. There’s a wonderful humanity throughout Chewing Gum, especially in scenes in Candice’s Nan’s flat. There’s a sense that there is always something going on, schemes being hatched, relationships being built. Coel has turned the stereotype of the British Council Estate on it’s head, turning it into a warm, inviting home with a solid community living there. 

Tracey and Candice’s friendship is another interesting dynamic in Chewing Gum. The two girls could not be more dissimilar (Tracey alludes to Candice having the looks and her the brains, so it’s all okay) but they definitely raise the bar as far as on-screen female friendships go. Tracey has a second home at Candice’s, a first home as well when her Mum kicks her out when she finds out about Tracey and Connor’s ‘sinful’ relationship. Though it doesn’t work out living at Candice’s (lesson here is never, ever live with your best friends because you won’t be for long), Candice and Tracey always have each other’s best interests at heart. Candice may be sexually experienced, but she doesn’t judge Tracey for her lack of knowledge in that department. Tracey is also more than happy to give Candice advice on just about anything – whether she is an expert or not.

In the last episode of season 2, Candice and her boyfriend Aaron go through a pretty tumultuous  break-up which climaxes in Aaron cutting off Candice’s hair as she sleeps. Candice, someone who prides herself on her hair, make-up and general aesthetic, is understandably devastated. It’s one of those comedic yet sensitive moments that Chewing Gum manages to pull off so well.  In the final scene of the series, Tracey shows up to a christening on the Estate having chopped her hair off too, in an attempt to make Candice feel better. The two of them embrace each other, short hair on show to the world. This is about as sentimental as Chewing Gum gets, but it shows Tracey for the kind, loving person she is. 

Coel bases much of Tracey’s character on her own life, Chewing Gum actually came from a semi autobiographical stage play written and performed by Coel. It gets a bit hard to know where one ends and the other begins with Coel and Tracey as so many of the outrageous things that happen to Tracey really did happen to Coel. Yes, even accidentally going to a swingers party. Wherever the line is drawn, though, we should be eternally grateful to Coel for bringing Tracey and Chewing Gum into our lives.

Tracey is the feminist hero we both deserve and need.

‘Vagina: A New Biography’ (Naomi Wolf) – Book Review

I can’t decide whether Naomi Wolf is legit insane or a secret genius. That’s probably not the most eloquent or informative way to begin a book review, but it’s honestly how I feel. Continue reading “‘Vagina: A New Biography’ (Naomi Wolf) – Book Review”

Diary of a Teenage Girl (Marielle Heller, 2015): Real Talk

Writer/Director Marielle Heller’s debut feature film Diary of a Teenage Girl will, I hope, be regarded as a significant coming of age film for girls everywhere for a very long time. It also happens to be the first in a long list of 52 films, one a week, by women directors that I watched. I could not have picked a better film to begin with. Continue reading “Diary of a Teenage Girl (Marielle Heller, 2015): Real Talk”

The Falling: Being a Teenage Girl Sucks

1. Do you want to watch a film that deals with the inherent emotional and physical issues of being a teenage girl, suppression of emotion, feminism and female friendship whilst simultaneously channeling David Lynch, Nicholas Roeg and Carrie in terms of aesthetic, atmosphere and creepiness. Continue reading “The Falling: Being a Teenage Girl Sucks”

“I Want to Slap His Hideous, Beautiful Face”: Sexual Awakenings and First Crushes in ‘Bob’s Burgers’

Cross posted at Bitch Flicks for Sex Positivity Theme Week!

 

Society, education, media and film all contribute to the shame that young girls feel as they approach their teenage years. The shame of sexuality, the humiliation and disgust that goes hand in hand with newfound desires and feelings – most of which teenage girls are not equipped to handle due to the constant stigmatizing of female desire. Whilst this shaming is apparent within schooling (especially religious influenced education), it is also reinforced in countless forms of media which children are reading, watching, or reacting to on a day to day basis. Young girls are subtly, and sometimes not so subtly, reminded that their sexuality is a sin and should be silenced.

We see this trend in many television shows. My Wife & Kids, Fresh Prince8 Simple Rules, and even the “progressive” Modern Family use the tired old protective father trope. The teenage daughter of the family is portrayed as promiscuous and/or less than intelligent, and protecting her virginity becomes another day to day task for her father. Any sign of her sexuality is alarming to her family, especially the male relations. Shows like American Dad and Family Guy go the other way, and depend on routine jokes centered around ridiculing their teenage girls. Meg Griffith, for example, is constantly the butt of every joke in her family and this is only worsened as she gets older and becomes interested in boys. The “Meg Griffin” problem, as we’ve come to know it, is more symptomatic of writers being too lazy or uncomfortable with writing half-decent storylines for teenage girls. Especially as it means they may have to write about sexuality, sexual fantasies or just a silly little crush from the perspective of a fourteen year old girl. Scary stuff, right?

So many television shows, animated or otherwise, like to poke fun or ridicule their young teenage girls, especially when those girls start that painful and mostly awkward transition into “womanhood.” It’s an outdated concept, and one that seems to apply exclusively to women. Teenage girls must not show any sign of outward sexuality, they mustn’t be open about their sexual awakening, and the boy must make the first move. If you break any of these rules, you’re a slut.

This is where Bob’s Burgers comes into its own. I’m sure you are all aware that the character of Tina Belcher was originally intended to be a teenage boy, until the writers realised that it was much more exciting and interesting to have a young girl who is so confident of herself, her sexuality and her fantasies. We rarely see this in films or on television, especially as Tina receives full support from her parents in everything she does; from writing erotic friend fiction to dating two boys at once. Honestly, Tina Belcher is the role model young girls have been waiting for, and I’m so glad she’s finally arrived. However, “Boys 4 Now” – the episode that made me really believe Bob’s Burgers is *probably* the best show I’ve ever watched – deals with Louise getting her first crush. Rage-filled, insane, absolute genius Louise gets a crush on a boy. Unsurprisingly, she does not take this news well.

A brief synopsis of the episode: Linda and Bob have to take Gene to the Table Laying Finals (yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like), so Louise is stuck tagging along to a Boys 4 Now concert with Tina. At first Louise is distinctly disinterested, perplexed and annoyed by all the pubescent girls who are crying and screaming at the boy-band onstage. That is until Louise lays eyes on Boo Boo – the band’s youngest member. She is transfixed–partly consumed by love, partly horrified at herself. She can’t help but look at him, enchanted by his singing and his youthful face. “Who the frick am I!?” she exclaims to herself in the toilets, trying to force the crush out of her system. It’s no good. Louise has been bitten by the love-bug.

 

Louise, as a character, largely regards Tina with both disinterest and derision. Louise doesn’t understand her sister’s obsession with boys and butts, and often the two of them have very little in common. However, in “Boyz 4 Now,” Louise confronts her crush head on by revealing it to Tina, as she already has an acute awareness that Tina has been through these feelings before. There is no judgement, no mockery – just the simple understanding that this is perfectly normal, and that Louise has got it bad. Louise turning to Tina is a sign of respect, showing that Louise sees Tina’s own crushes as legitimate issues and that Tina is the expert to be consulted. It’s a moment of bonding between the two sisters who, before this moment, never really had anything to connect over.

Frequently, in other television shows, our young female character will change beyond recognition as they start to become sexually aware, or to have sexual desires. Physically, and in their personality, girls are expected to become “a woman” as opposed to “a girl.” There are many phrases associated with this phase–brink of womanhood, blossoming, flowering… I could go on. What they all serve to mean, is that our young girl is now becoming a woman, and will change completely and forever. But in Bob’s Burgers, Louise manages to retain her own personality, despite having gone through an apparently life changing transition. She is still full of rage (“I want to slap his hideous face!”) and she still overreacts to the given situation (“I’m infected, pull it out!”). Louise proves that girls and women simply do not change as a result of becoming sexually aware and actually the experience of your first crush/losing your virginity doesn’t make any difference to who you are as a person. Despite popular culture claiming otherwise. Also, Louise is pretty on the money about how having a crush feels!

The affirmation of “Boyz 4 Now,” however, has got to be at the very end, after the girls have been kicked off the tour bus and Louise has succeeded in slapping Boo Boo in the face. Louise tells Tina that she is a strong woman, and questions how Tina can be alive if her life is just one long string of crushes. As Louise says, “It’s exhausting.” There is a clear moment of understanding between the two of them. Tina is a departure from the stereotypical female daughter on television. She’s a geek who masters her own sexuality and refuses to change for anyone. This context allows us to see how hard it is for Louise to express her own sexual desire, but that this expression is made so much easier by having Tina as an older sister. An unapologetic girl who wants to date the entire softball team and doesn’t see anything wrong with that. Why should she? Louise, when battling her next crush as is inevitable, will be in safe hands.

Whilst most TV shows try and shame young girls for having completely natural and human desires, Bob’s Burgers positively adores them for it. Praises them, relishes them and above all reminds them that it’s normal. The feelings, the sexy feelings, are all normal. And awesome. Tina and Louise’s crushes are never portrayed as gross or indecent. They are never downplayed, and the girls do not end up as the butt of some joke about how stupid teenage girls are or how funny it is that they obsess over a boy-and. It preaches that girls should never be ashamed of their fantasies or of that awkward phase that sits uncomfortably between girl and woman. It’s hard to negotiate, and mainstream TV often makes it even harder. Thankfully Bob’s Burgers is here to put it right.

Catherine Breillat’s Female Gaze in ‘Abuse of Weakness’

Cross posted at Bitch Flicks as part of The Female Gaze theme week

The name Catherine Breillat is almost synonymous with the concept of the female gaze. Continue reading “Catherine Breillat’s Female Gaze in ‘Abuse of Weakness’”

How RuPaul’s Drag Race Taught Me To Embrace Femininity (amongst other things)

Okay, so this title may be slightly deceiving but I maintain there is some truth in it. Today, amidst writing out invoices, cleaning my flat and generally feeling a bit unenthusiastic about life – I decided to watch ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ for the first time. Continue reading “How RuPaul’s Drag Race Taught Me To Embrace Femininity (amongst other things)”

Shameful Sexuality in ‘Under The Skin’

I definitely should have seen this film before last week. I bought it (on a DVD no less!) over a month ago, and finally sat down to watch it last week. First things first, ‘Under The Skin’ (Jonathan Glazer, 2014) is proof that the U.K. film industry has not breathed its last breath. Continue reading “Shameful Sexuality in ‘Under The Skin’”