Every Plot Of Every Lesbian Movie, Ever

I.

Two girls fall in love. One will be slightly prettier or more feminine than the other or she’ll be cooler in an untouchable way. She will inspire a certain type of awe in the first girl. For the first girl, this love — the first tentative kiss they both gave into right away, followed by a ravenous sexual encounter a few days later — changes everything! Everything is brand new! She’s a brand new girl in the world and she likes girls. It’s scary but it’s also reassuring to know a thing, finally, and to feel like somebody else is in on it. Maybe she expects too much from the second girl. Maybe somebody catches them together. In this story there is no such thing as bisexual. You are one thing or another. There’s a boy, then: there’s always a boy. He likes the second girl. He offers her a way out of this other, more confusing thing. Maybe he’s the first girl’s brother or friend. Maybe he’s popular but kind. Maybe he’s rough and in a band and wants his new girlfriend as far away from that dyke as possible because she looks at her funny. I don’t like the way she looks at you, he’ll say, his face like a truck of meat. Or maybe he’s the son of some friends of her parents, somebody they’d like her to marry, maybe it’s that kind of story. Maybe the second girl kisses the boy and it’s okay and she gets used to it. She decides to like him or she really does like him. She pushes the first girl away, forcefully or by avoiding her, which means “leaving without saying so.” The first girl does or does not confess her feelings. Either way, it goes poorly. The second girl says things like: You know I’m not like that or I can’t be what you want me to be. Or I’m not brave like you. I care what people think. Sometimes she’ll say I’m sorry. The first girl cries about her for minutes, hours, or years. Maybe the first girl finds another girl, one who isn’t ashamed to be with her, maybe somebody with pink hair. Or she goes to the second girl’s wedding and stands there crying like a deb while everybody else is dancing. Or the first girl skips town. Or the first girl decides she is a bird and jumps off the roof.

II.

Two girls fall in love. One is younger and one is older. The older one is her teacher, her coach, her friend’s mother or a woman she met online, or somebody who hired the younger one to do something related to sex or betrayal. One will ask the other have you done this before? Maybe she has, maybe she hasn’t. Sometimes the younger one is much, much younger, and sometimes the older one is married. The older one feels alive for the first time in so many years. She confides in a close female friend. Somebody finds out, sees them, tells somebody. Heads will roll! The husband is furious and says something terrible and cutting towards his wife! The teacher is fired! She doesn’t see you as anything but a client! Stop being ridiculous! You are too old for this and she is too young! If it doesn’t end well, and it probably won’t, everybody involved remains forever changed. Women are like that. They take your clothes off and everything changes.

III.

Two girls fall in love. Not right away, but eventually. When they first meet it’s not supposed to be that kind of meeting because the second girl is engaged to her brother, or her friend, or a man she knows very well or not very well at all. Or maybe she’s married, or spoken for in some other way, by a man. But these two girls — they are drawn to each other! They cannot resist each other. One of them already knew she was gay or neither of them did. Maybe the first girl is clumsy and the second is rebellious and free-spiritied. Still, nothing like this has ever happened to them before but now there is this and this changes everything. It wasn’t Mr. Right I was looking for, it was Mrs. Right. They paw at each other like cats. You make me feel something I cannot feel. They confide in a very close friend. I told you to be nice to her, not fall in love with her! Or they confide in an old person or a co-worker who tells them to follow their heart. The man will be mean about it or else strangely okay with it in a way that reminds you that this is movie. The two girls will leave a trail of broken hearts behind but they’ll be happy together. They’ll have long shiny hair. They’ll laugh just thinking about it — this twist! Falling in love is like tumbling out of a stereo playing world’s sweetest song! This life, it’s so full of surprises!

IV.

Two girls fall in love, but they can’t be in love because of the time, the culture, their families, religion. They can’t tell their parents, they can’t tell the other students. Everything has to be a secret and it’s awful. They whisper and have sleepovers and nobody knows what happens at the sleepovers. Maybe they get caught, maybe there are cameras, maybe somebody tells on them, somebody forbids one to see the other. There is a boy or a parent who takes one of them away. She is dying inside and nobody knows why. If there are four parents involved, one will feel okay about it, but one is not enough. Also: girls are not enough. Nothing is enough. This love is everything which means love is a lie and we all die alone.

V.

The first girl is a serial killer or a standard-issue murderer or a succubus or an undiagnosable psychopath or a housekeeper/murderer. Maybe she’s possessed by the devil? Perhaps she is a vampire. Perhaps she is bisexual and the film is offensive from start to finish, You know I don’t like to wear underwear, don’t you? Maybe she manipulates boys and girls, playing with their feelings, and when you watch it you don’t care about the boy but you project a lot of your own feelings onto the second girl and feel very badly for her. The second girl is being framed, or lied to, or set up. The first girl is working against the second or she is working with her. Maybe they’re in on it together and have always been, or they bring out the worst in each other. Together they’ll kill her boyfriend or husband, or they’ll steal money from the mafia or they’ll kill her mother with a sock full of rocks or they’ll kill johns. Or one will kiss the other and it may have just been a dream, but it’s hard to say. Nobody will drive a car off a cliff but maybe somebody should.

VI.

If the movie is an older movie, say from before 1980 (although it still happens now, too), then the plot will be something like those other plots except that at the end, a woman will die. She’ll hang herself, shoot herself, get hit by a car or crushed by a tree. Her house will burn down, she’ll be shot in the front or the back. That’s what you get!

VII.

This woman from history — that model, that queen, that poet, that Yorkshire landowner, that suicidal writer — she was a little bit gay, maybe altogether gay. It’s sort of a sidenote, but you should know, that this woman liked women, and sometimes they kissed with tongue. Don’t believe everything you read.

VIII.

What are you talking about? That’s not a lesbian movie! Gosh, you read so much lesbianism into everything. You think there’s this big conspiracy against you and all your stories aren’t being told. Well, too bad, this isn’t your story. Can’t two women drive off a cliff together? Run the Whistle Stop Cafe? Play baseball while the men are at war? Be a tomboy performing séances in a graveyard? Can’t Celie just look up to Shug? Why do you have to sexualize everything?

IX.

Two girls fall in love. The second girl introduces the first girl to something new and fantastic, like aerial gymnastics or intense military-style workouts. The second girl teaches the first to ride horses, makes her dance, gives her drugs, moves into the guest house, takes her someplace she’s never been before that will still work for the film’s small budget. She will laugh, sweating, like look at me! When did I become so silly! Look at me, riding horses and driving backwards on the highway! Who knew girls were so much like drugs or like aerial gymnastics?

X.

These women, all of them, these women at the bar, these women at the wedding, these women at the lake house — they came out a long time ago. This is not that kind of story. This is a story about what happens much later, when you have your gay friends and girls leave each other for other girls. The ending to this movie is happy. The budget is small, the jokes are stale, the story is slow but sweet and well-intentioned. Maybe it was shot in a condo or somebody’s backyard. But hey, they tried. They did try, they did do that.

XI.

Sometimes, something else. More and more these days: something else altogether. Something with a budget or a spirit. The first plot, but with a happy ending, where the two girls fall in love and it’s okay. We must be out of our damned minds but we are so f-cking cool! Or a whole new story. Like a camp where the children dress in shades of undiluted gender, bright pinks and blues, where colors pop like jokes and the girls steal furtive kisses in the near-darkness, and in the end, they fall in love so loudly they cheer about it. Like a kid who knows about drywall and tire rotations and her lover is dying but has a tireless faith in a tired system, and in the end they beat the system, and they win. Like the dancer teaches the surgeon to let go of her limbs and in the end they fall in love and kiss in public. Like a movie about Bessie Smith, a movie based on The Price of Salt, a movie where a 71-year-old lesbian plays a 71-year-old lesbian, a movie about a bisexual trans girl where nobody gets killed, including her.

Will it ever be different? Will we get a lesbian superhero, a sprawling action-adventure movie with a bisexual heroine who blows things up and comes home to her wife? A movie based on an Eileen Myles book, on Audre Lorde’s life, on your life or mine. Historical dramas set in working-class butch/femme bars during World War II, stories about suffragettes that don’t erase everybody you could relate to. Big-budget movies starring women who aren’t white or skinny or femme or straight.

We have stories, you see, we have so many more stories than the stories you’ve been telling about us. 


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Riese is the 35-year-old CEO, CFO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and then headed West. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 2435 articles for us.

77 Comments

  1. Oh this is fantastic and so damn accurate Riese. Reading this I realized that a big part of why I think Saving Face is one of the best lesbian movies ever is because it avoids entirely or references and then sidesteps almost all of the tropes here. Such a great film!

  2. This line might be most hard hitting to women loving women vegetarians… it home for me.

    “Maybe he’s rough and in a band and wants his new girlfriend as far away from that dyke as possible because she looks at her funny. I don’t like the way she looks at you, he’ll say, his face like a truck of meat”.

    Homorun, Riese, Homorun.

  3. “Like the dancer teaches the surgeon to let go of her limbs and in the end they fall in love and kiss in public.”

    This is my favorite movie of all time. *wipes away a tear* But Saving Face was made over a decade ago, and it’s past due for more great lesbian movies like this.

  4. I amused at how the woes of Lesbian movie media revolve around bad ends, bad ends, bad ends, (and bad production quality) while over in yuri land the griping is about how we’re drowning in the pleasant blandness of Story A. (and bad production quality)

    There’s also something to be said for how the place where these movies fail is in putting singular focus on the romance. Those that stand out use the romance as a supplement to character and thematic exploration. Genre stories, especially, have world-building and fantastical plots happening besides the romance, and so the burden isn’t on the romance to carry the entire thing. This is also how TV’s longform storytelling can so consistently do better than films, as well.

    Maybe that’s why certain subtext ships have created fervent fandoms much larger than canon romances. The multitude of stories touched upon in the former inspire the mind more than the single avenue explored in the latter, and the latter of which we are content to devour in droves, so long as they are fanfictions for our ships, and not original fiction. We want a little more substance for the canon stuff.

    (Who would watch an actual Coffeeshop Romcom movie filled with characters they don’t know? But then again, people do do that, in droves, what with that Story A yuri manga glut.)

  5. This is my explanation for why i haven’t seen that many lesbian movies- esp. type I. Now whenever someone asks me if I’ve seen new type I i say, “no, but I’ve seen old type I and I assume its the same.” Except my summary is girl meets girl, girl goes gay for girl, girl takes everything back and realizes she is only into boys.

    • precisely. it really pisses me off that queer films feel at such liberty to be so reductive, dismissive, and insulting to bisexuals. it seems to me that the entire foundation of lesbian film is that bisexual women are always cheating and/or betraying bitches. she’s always gonna break someone’s heart. either it’s the heart of the faithful lesbian that the audience is expected to identify with (which then encourages lesbians to identify bisexual women as shallow/cruel heartbreakers) or it’s the bf/fiance/husband she’s been cheating on with the lesbian, who the audience is supposed to identify with (which actually says lots of really shitty things about what kind of morals lesbians have) and cheer her winning of the “girl” (where the bisexual woman is now reduced to a sexualized, misandrist trophy to be won).

      what’s bothered me the most, as a bisexual, is that not only has this scared me away from queer film altogether, but that it has made me think much less of lesbians. they’re the ones making these movies, watching them, telling me how awesome they are…and in the meantime, i’m thinking–oh, so that’s what you really think about me, huh? even mainstream cinema isn’t as insulting to bisexual women as lesbian cinema.

      • I was actually thinking more along the lines of movies like Kissing Jessica Stein, which seem to be more about reassuring their male audience. The protaganist experiments, but isn’t gay enough that its threatening to men because ultimately, women cannot replace men and eventually she comes back to them. But yes, films that involve the bisexual character cheating seem awful. Because it perpetuates the whole bisexual people can never be satisfied with having sex with just one gender and thus cannot be trusted. But having not seen that many queer movies, the only one that i know of with the lead character in the gay relationship cheating with a man is the Kids Are Alright, again, obviously catering to their straight male audience because how the fuck do you end up with a “lesbian” movie that has only one sex scene involving two women and 100% of the sex scenes involving a man with a penis. Because even the two lesbians by themselves need male gay porn to get off. I got tired of “lesbian” movies very quickly.

  6. A devil’s advocate kind of cuestión, but how many really original movies of any kind were released in the last years?

    Nowadays all you get are comic-based movies, remakes all over the place (most cases are the “how dare you?!” style), crappy biopics and whitewashed history and the never-ending invasion of 3D movies.

      • I think that in the US you can find the same problem I have in my country: multiplex movie theaters, which means a lot of Hollywood blockbusters pieces of crap movies and maybe some indie movie on the side (you know, the smallest theater around and the closest to the bathroom).

        And in my country you have and additional problem: not enough films festivals.

    • yeah no movies in general are the worst these days, which i’ve written about. nobody wants to gamble on anything, indie cinema isn’t what it used to be, movies about women are few and far between… things seem to have gotten SLIGHTLY better within the past year or two, but we saw a lot more diverse stuff coming out in the ’90s.

      • I can take the ’90s, but I have this dream when I can go back on time, to the late ’70s and early ’80s, when you can find some amazing movies like Ordinary People or Dog Day Afternoon.

        Fantasy, I know, because those days are gone, never to return.

        Come on, Hollywood, take a fucking risk.

  7. You know what movie I wanna see, an action/military movie where instead of the hero being a tall muscular white dude it’s a tall muscular butch lesbian who happens to be BROWN (cuz us white people are everywhere), doing all the white dude’s stuff like kicking ass and getting ass kicked while saving the world with her (not helpless/useless) feminine female sidekick. Why can’t somebody make that movie? I’d watch the shit out of that movie.

  8. RIESE!!!! Thank you for this!

    also, I’m still forever crying/laughing over: “Or the first girl decides she is a bird and jumps off the roof.” that movie had so much potential and it was just a hot mess…oh, our stories.

  9. More than anything, I want a lesbian feel-good movie. No going back to men just to “test it out”, no questioning identity, nothing convoluted… on the days when being gay feels complicated and heavy and I don’t even know how to be a human, I just want a movie to normalize my gayness. A chick-flick, with all its cliches, but in gay form. Two women meet, maybe one just broke up (with a man or a woman, doesn’t matter) and they fall for each other, and it doesn’t really say much about their identity, they just start being really cute and adorable together and maybe they fight because one woman won’t sacrifice her career for the other but then she realizes she’s been using her job to push people away all along so she proposes to the other in the cutest way ever like maybe leaving the ring in her shoe. And you know it’s never gonna happen in real life like that but the movies make it so SIMPLE. That’s my fantasy.

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