5 Relationship Lessons from Lesbian Movies Past and Present

Although we have more movies about lesbian and bisexual women than ever before (and more of them are actually good!), they are not necessarily realistic or reflective of our real day to day relationships. Which is fine! Does anyone really want to eat that much spaghetti, even over a timeline of several years? Even so, they can still bring us meaningful and constructive relationship truths, regardless of how far removed from our real lives their plots are, or how many falcons they contain.

You Can Still Get Something from a “Failed” Relationship

Kissing Jessica Stein


I’m aware that along with Sarah Sarwar I am one of maybe a dozen people on earth who like this movie, but hear me out. Did Helen and Jessica end up together happily? No. Is it fair to question whether there was a reciprocal sexual attraction there at all in the first place? Perhaps. Is the “returning to men” trope less than ideal and potentially reinforcing of harmful mistrust of bisexual women? Definitely. However! The relationship also represents a real growth experience and turning point for Helen, and arguably also for Jessica? It didn’t work out, but wasn’t a mistake for either of them. Something can be ultimately wrong for you without being bad for you! A relationship that doesn’t last forever isn’t a failure! She learned about the lipstick layering thing, and also the life lessons sort of heavy-handedly implied by it!

Opposites Can Make It Work

D.E.B.S.


One of the many! I would argue! Underappreciated aspects of D.E.B.S. is its thoughtful depiction of an opposites-attract situation. Outside the sort of literal enemies-to-lovers fanfiction trope (not a dig! love it! big fan!), many of us have wondered whether it’s a fool’s errand to try to make something real with the girl who listens to the RENT score on repeat while you’re playing astrophysics lectures and German death metal at the gym. Aside from the many strong points it makes about Jordana Brewster’s shiny hair, D.E.B.S. shows us that it’s totally possible! As long as both parties can respect and value the importance of other’s priorities even if they don’t share them, and as long as some core values are overlapping — Lucy and Amy are both ambitious, hardworking, and independent! — you’ve got at least as good a chance as the rest of us.

Conflicts and Misunderstandings Can Be Moved Past with Communication and Demonstration of Trust

The Handmaiden

Betrayals of trust, whether something obvious like cheating or something personal and particular, like plotting with a nefarious villain to have your girlfriend committed against her will in order to steal her inheritance, can be difficult to move past even if both parties agree they want to stay together. Although not all of us can relate to meeting our girlfriend through a complicated double-bind inheritance scam, the way Hideko and Sook-hee work through it is exemplary: they committed to total honesty and transparency after the fact, and renewed their trust in each other by working together to run a scam within their scam, a high-tension activity that requires absolute faith in the other person. Couples’ therapy is also an option, but they’re probably going to tell you basically the same thing.

Appearances Aren’t Everything! You’re Fine.

Suicide Kale

As a people, we’ve been on the roller coaster ride of watching the current community darling of lesbian coupledom fall in love, buy a sex bench together and then tragically break up so many times. Whether it’s a celeb couple or just Brynn and Bree who met their freshman year of college and finish each other’s sentences and just started fostering dogs and they get adopted really quickly now because they feature them on their super popular instagram!, Suicide Kale is a good reminder that even the people we idolize most for having their shit together don’t, not really. Which is not to glory in their dysfunction, of course, but just to say – you’re fine! You’re doing totally fine, or at least as fine as the next couple, which is maybe not really fine at all but that’s ok; we’re in this together, etc. At least you guys don’t have to worry about what to do with all those dogs you’re fostering.

Maybe Just Let It Go!

Lost and Delirious 🙁

What can be said about Lost and Delirious that isn’t “Oh, gosh“? Consider this: what if Paulie had just, you know, not? To detour briefly into my own personal organizing principles, I think it’s important to maintain a strong awareness that You Can Just Not. There are so many points at which people in this movie could have Just Not! Imagine an alternate version of this movie where Paulie decides to let this one go, and writes in her journal a lot for the rest of the semester and lets Tori live with the quiet self-loathing that will surely follow her for years to come. That movie is about 40 minutes long and doesn’t have any falcons in it! We could all live in that world, to the extent that we could all make a collective decision to, you know, let it go when possible. Get off the ride before the falcons get involved.

Rachel is Autostraddle's Managing Editor and the editor who presides over news & politics coverage. Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy." You can follow her on twitter and instagram.

Rachel has written 1094 articles for us.

11 Comments

  1. DEBS is absolutely one of my favorite movies, for the reasons listed here and for so many others. Holland Taylor teleporting places? Plaid forcefields? Continuity errors so frequent that you start to wonder if they’re actually intentional? So bad. So very, very good, because underneath all of that Marie Kondo certified Mess, Amy and Lucy literally could not be cuter and more in love.

    Thanks Rachel for making me emotional about DEBS on this fine Tuesday pre-afternoon

  2. Excellent choices Rachel!
    And it’s not jus you who is still find of kissing Jessica stein. I watched it on a plane, a few weeks after realising I was attracted to women, looking over my shoulder to see if anyone was watching me. To me, despite the ending, it signalled hope that I could be me and be happy. And 15 years later, I’m blissfully married to a wonderful woman. So yay!

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