Pop Culture Fix: The Handmaiden’s Explicit Lesbian Sex Scenes, Am I Right? Ladies?

+ “The explicit lesbian sex scenes in The Handmaiden rival those of Blue Is the Warmest Color (translation: they’d probably give my dear Korean grandparents a heart attack), but if it did scandalize, it didn’t hurt box office sales in Korea.” Meanwhile, Pajiba describes the film as “the lesbian gothic psychosexual romantic thriller of our dreams.” Here’s the trailer:

+ Christine Friar saw Kristen Stewart’s new movie Certain Women and it inspired her to cut her hamburger in half. Also, Armond White saw Certain Women and says its “most effective moments” ‘have a push-pull expression of womanly — even lesbian — loneliness.”

+ “Fish Without Bicycles,” a comedy/drama about a lesbian couple who are both pregnant under different circumstances, will star Lucy Punch, Faye Marsay and David Tennant.

FINALLY here’s that lesbian vampire story that came before Dracula that you’ve been looking for!

+ Madeline West, a fictional mother of six fictional children on British TV show The Wrong Girl, will be coming out as a lesbian in tonight’s episode, which The Daily Mail says is “part of a dramatic plot twist.”

+ S.E. Hinton insists that The Outsiders are not gay lovers. This is fair, because they are actually genderqueer & lesbian lovers.

+ Check out these hot pics from the Gilmore Girls reboot.

+ Chely Wright talks to People Magazine about reconciling with her estranged Mom in hospice care, which inspired her new album.

Regarding “Keeping Up With The Jonses”: “The movie’s use of lesbian “tension” to titillate and amuse, culminating in an especially depressing girl-on-girl kiss, feels dated and desperate.”

+ Valerie Anne recaps ALL THE SUPERHERO SHOWS for you.

+ “Masters of Sex” killed a lesbian character, surprise!

We liked “The First Girl I Loved” and now, today, THIS VERY DAY, it can be yours! On iTunes!

21 Fall TV Shows that are giving queer women some screen time.

+ Regarding speculation as to whether Will on Stranger Things is gay or not, the actor who plays Will on Stranger Things says “Will being gay or not is besides the point.”

+ Betsy Wolfe and Tracie Thoms (who played Joanne in the movie version of RENT) are playing “the lesbians next door” in the Broadway revival of Falsettos and well they are just FABULOUS at it. They are just knocking it out of the park, those two.

+ Hannah Hart’s Buffering sounds really good and you know what, one of these days Heather is gonna hear back from Hannah’s publicist and you’ll be able to read about it right here on Autostraddle dot com. PRAY TO THE BIRDS FOR US.

+ Idina Menzel talks to The Georgia Voice almost entirely about gay stuff. Apparently she’s playing CC Bloom in a Lifetime remake of Beaches? I hope you do me right, Lifetime!

+ Le Tigre made a music video for Hillary Clinton, I think that’s who they’re all voting for. HERE WATCH:

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Riese is the 41-year-old Co-Founder of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, video-maker, LGBTQ+ Marketing consultant and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and now lives in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in nine books, 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. She's Jewish and has a cute dog named Carol. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 3200 articles for us.


  1. S.E. Hinton got entirely too in her feelings about people thinking her characters are gay and some of her responses on twitter came off very dismissive and homophobic though she swears otherwise because she “has gay friends”.

    • “I have gay friends” is literally the most idiotic excuse for homophobia that ever existed. I have heard it SO MANY TIMES.

    • I am not really aware of the novel, and it sounds like this author+twitter sounds like a PR mess,

      but do I think “I didn’t set out to make anyone feel safe” is a really really interesting thing for a fiction writer to say.

      I think that a lot of fiction makes people feel seen, and that often in itself affords a kind of safety (the safety of like minds, the safety of representation, kinda the safety of home). If, as a writer, she doesn’t want to make anyone feel safe, I guess that means she has no interest in making anyone feel seen, and it follows that she therefore has no interest in writing compelling characters that readers identify with.

      I don’t think that’s what she really means, surely – then what’s the point of being a writer? So I think basically maybe she’s just homophobic and backed herself into a rhetorical corner.

      • I’m not sure about this. I write, and intentionally making the reader feel uncomfortable or even outright disturbed is a valuable tool for a writer to use, including when it comes to themes that are closely linked with making people feel seen. One of the stories I’m most proud of writing involves a deliberately visceral scene of homophobic child abuse after everything seemed like it was going to be okay. It was extremely upsetting to write, and none of the friends who peer edit with me can even look at it again, knowing what it’s going to be. This is not going to be a story for everyone, and I feel that it’s my responsibility as a writer to include at least some kind of warning that it’s going to contain disturbing content. But I wrote it that way for a reason, and that reason was to portray the reality of living with homophobic child abuse – things suddenly can drop into hell at any minute, and that’s just your life (and was my life personally for many years). If someone told me that I didn’t have the right to create disturbing content because it made them feel unsafe, I’d probably feel like saying that I never agreed to be responsible for their safety.

        Hinton’s attitude seems pretty homophobic to me – it’s not just that she’s saying she didn’t intend that interpretation of her characters, but how disdainful she seems to be toward anyone who does prefer to read them that way – and her bizarre “being gay in the sixties wasn’t cute” tweet reads like a man telling women not to enjoy historical romance novels because the past was actually super sexist and bad, while assuming that the women he’s talking to are actually other men. But I don’t think she’s wrong to not want to be guilted into taking responsibility for other people’s safety over their interpretations of a book she wrote as a teenager. She’s being a homophobic asshole to children, and everyone sort of has the responsibility not to be a homophobic asshole to children, but that’s all I think she really did wrong.

  2. I like that watching the end of the trailer for The Handmaiden taught me that the voice actors for Minnie and Mickey Mouse got married in real life. I want to watch that movie! (The Handmaiden, not Mickey Mouse.)

  3. Ok ok but!!! From the Pajiba link above:

    “The Handmaiden is based on Sarah Waters’ novel Fingersmith, though the movie makes many substantial changes to its source material, including but not limited to moving the action from Victorian England to 1930s Korea, during Japanese occupation.”

    Excuse me, I’ll be in the corner hyperventilating.

  4. On will from stranger things being gay. I dont care who but someone should be gay considering all the gay slurs they use without blinking. They even had to point out that the damn geeky science teacher wasnt gay by showing him on a date with a hot asain lady. Ugh.

    Honestly i would prefer it to be Jonathan then will because i think it would be more interesting. Him giving will silly vauge “its okay to be who you are” speeches when he is projecting his own shit on his oblivoius little bro. Heck if the show had some balls they would make him bi so it doesnt kill the love triangle with nancy. Make her bi too while you are at it but thats never going to happen.

    Actually better idea. Give that random asian lady a name and a gf. They can adopt eleven and let her be as gender nonconforming as she wants. No more shitth wigs

  5. Uh, The Handmaiden’s lesbian sex scenes don’t “rival” Blue Is The Warmest Color, they EXCEED then. Seriously my favorite non rom com lesbian film of all time. Based on its description I thought no way Handmaiden would be able to live up to a lesbian Gothic psychological suspense thriller – especially since Park Chan Wook’s other films have been too disturbing to finish. But The Handmaiden did. And it was magnificent.

  6. Oh, I’m so glad that you included that Broadway.com feature on Betsy and Tracie in Falsettos! Betsy has been a great mentor to me these past several years, and when I found out she was going to be playing Cordelia (a neurotic, know-it-all, loudmouth femme lesbian–arguably the character that is most like me in the whole musical theatre canon) in this show that has been so close to my heart for many years, I FLIPPED. We talk a lot about how representation matters on this website…I have to say that it’s really an extraordinary feeling when you get the chance to watch someone who has made such a direct impact on your life play someone so close to who you are (and in my chosen field, to boot, as I’m a theatre artist).

    I think it’s time for this story to be told again. I can’t wait to see this show next month with this brilliant cast. If you don’t know much about Falsettos, even if you’re not a musical theatre person… I’d implore you to look into the show. See it if you can make it to NYC before the limited engagement is over, but if you can’t, the script can be found online, and both cast recordings (for March of the Falsettos, which is Act I of the piece, and Falsettoland, which is Act II of the piece) are on Spotify. Hopefully this revival will get a new cast recording to preserve this incredible cast, but I digress… What this show has to say about the AIDS crisis, about family, about growing up, and about love is REALLY something spectacular. And here, to see Betsy and Tracie talking so intelligently about the purpose their characters serve and how much they were ahead of their time is just wonderful.

    • ugh I was so ready to buy tickets and hop on the next bus to New York but most of what I’ve read folks saying about it has been mixed-to-negative and I’ve loved this show since I was 16 and I’m worried it will only disappoint me so I’m holding off until reviews come out but it’s been so difficult :(

  7. The Handmaiden is brilliant and entertaining! but the Blue is the Warmest Colour sex scenes comparison is extremely apt in my opinion, in all the fantasy male gaze-y not so good ways.
    having said that the rest of the movie is great enough that I want to watch it again ASAP in spite of that.

  8. S.E. Hinton insists The Outsiders isn’t gay, all I can do now is think about how gay it is.
    Johnny kills a snobby rich guy because they were trying to drown Ponyboy.
    When Johnny dies, Dallas is so upset he commits suicide by cop.
    At one point I think Ponyboy and Johnny are sleeping in a park together? Like???
    Seems p gay to me.

  9. I saw it at Sundance so that was a while ago, and I just remember Certain Women making me really depressed.

  10. Okay. I literally finished reading Fingersmith today, bought my tickets to see the stage version this December, found out about The Handmaiden AND I still need to see the BBC version. I know there’s no such thing as too many historical lesbians but I this is SO MUCH.

    Also I have so many feelings about Falsettos I can’t even start.

  11. Yo not at all important but the Wrong Girl is an Australian show… it’s pretty bad though. Also so psyched for the Handmaiden.

  12. Re: The Outsiders

    An all queer and less white Outsiders remake would be the best. I’m thinking Samira Wiley as Ponyboy and maybe Kristen Stewart as Johnny.

    I think S.E. Hinton is arguably more of an asshole to millennials than she is homophobic. My interpretation was that she took issue with the younger tweeter calling Johnny and Dally ‘cute’, because she saw that comment as ignorant of the difficulty faced by gay/bi people in the 60s. I could also see her being offended that her portrayal of tenderness and care between teenage boys is seen as beyond the realm of hetero boys’ experience, because it is sadly reductive to think that those boys can’t have such rich relationships. And I wonder if people made homophobic comments to her when her book came out about those characters being gay because their friendships were so intimate.

    • I agree–I think the original questioner offended her with patronizing language, and then they all drove straight into the wall of crazy that is very young and very old people interacting on the internet without the same frame of reference. I make the same point (but longer, with more reference to class) below.

  13. Re S.E. Hinton and The Outsiders, I don’t actually see her tweets as expressing homophobia. Someone asks her if characters are gay; she says no, she didn’t write it that way. But she also says she doesn’t mind other people interpreting the characters as gay or gay kids identifying with them; it’s just important to her to distinguish between her authorial intent and those interpretations.

    I can understand people who think that their interpretation must be validated by the author not liking that, but it’s legit position for an author to take. It’s worlds away from “I as the author am the only authority here” or “Don’t get gay cooties on my characters.”

    I think this actually has a lot to do with class, and the long history of the LGBT community, which is mixed-class but includes A LOT of people with class privilege, appropriating working-class culture in offensive ways. (See also the gentrification of tattoos, a deeply working-class art form in the 2000s.)

    The Outsiders is primarily about the humanity and emotional depth of working class men, and I think Hinton is trying to defend that idea that working-class men can have deep emotional friendship from someone she sees as sexualizing them and reinforcing the idea that men can only have or express sexual emotions.

    The thing is, she seems to have no idea that there’s a vigorous debate online about exactly this topic–whether the sexualizing of male/male friendships in slash culture is built on and reinforces homophobia–and a lot of the people she’s engaged seem to be well-versed in that debate (and very defensive about it). So she walks into a minefield.

    I think she is someone who wouldn’t ever support homophobia as she perceives it in real life, but knows nothing about online cultures, especially slash, and the weird complicated ways that both queer people and homophobia intersect in that space.

    She shouldn’t have said “I have gay friends” and is rightly called out for it. But we as a community (I mean online LGBTQ communities, which skew heavily toward people with class privilege because of computer access and leisure time) have to be better about recognizing when we’re trampling on other people’s rights, especially when their experiences are nothing like ours.

    • Very good points regarding class appropriation, and the point about slash culture is so true. It is really easy for people to get drawn into online discourse that is far removed from their experience.
      I also think people feel a certain sense of entitlement with YA authors, especially women, and her grumpiness really surprised everyone. The ‘gay friends’ line was unfortunate, but I really didn’t interpret her comments as disrespectful of my adolescent identification with her book.

  14. Crossing my fingers hoping that the actresses in Handmaiden didn’t go through the same behind-the-sex-scenes bullshit Blue’s girls did. Also hoping that revenge-for-whitewashing-movies-ing this movie kicked ass so they’ll do it some more! QUAKING IN MY DOCS I’M SO EXCITED TO SEE IT, THOUGH

    • You’ll be happy to hear that Park Chan-Wook was 100000x better than Blue’s director.

      In multiple interviews/articles about the film it’s explained how they cleared the room for filming the sex scenes except for booms/mics (which they made sure were all female crew members!). Also, Park did the camera-work for those scenes via remote-control from another room, and went to extra efforts to make the actresses more comfortable, e.g. turning the room next to the bedroom set into a lounge with candles & wine so the they could chill between takes.

  15. The only thing I took from reading this article and the comments, is that I really need to read more books so I don’t feel left out. The good thing is that I found something to watch that doesn’t envolve school. I will take lesbian sex scenes over videos on interest rates any day.

  16. ” S.E. Hinton insists that The Outsiders are not gay lovers. This is fair, because they are actually genderqueer & lesbian lovers.”

    Awesome comment :D

  17. Madeline West is a real mother of six real children. Also, in the Australian show she’s in, I believe the character she plays is seen as vapid and chirpy,and yet obviously behind the scenes her life is very different. Could be of interest to some readers on this site.

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