Identity / Life / Sex & relationships

The Media and the Erasure of Queer Sexuality

Read celebrity news on any given day, and you are likely to see media references to “gal pals” or “close friends” any time two women spend time together. Maybe the two women in the story are just friends, and maybe they’re not. I searched the news for “gal pals” today and found several articles that use the phrase including ones about Miley Cyrus and Stella Maxwell, Ellen Page and Samantha Thomas, and Naomi Watts and Nicole Kidman. Miley Cyrus and Ellen Page are both out, and Nicole Kidman has had plenty of rumors to make people wonder, and yet the media rarely suggests that any of these “gal pals” might be more than that. Put any woman, even a queer one, in a photo with a good looking guy and people will speculate that they are dating because there is a double standard in terms of the way the media deals with queer sexuality, especially when it comes to women.

Using “gal pals” and “friend” is also a way to erase queer sexuality. There are pictures of Miley Cyrus and Stella Maxwell making out (and more) and yet they still get called “gal pals.” Such language effectively trivializes the relationships in question and strips the women involved of their sexuality. Some women love women. Some women have sex with women. Yet the media continues to pretend that queer women are asexual friendship machines.

This was particularly evident on Sunday night after the U.S. beat Japan in the Women’s World Cup final. After the match, Abby Wambach ran to the stands and kissed her wife, Sarah Huffman. I sat watching with my family, and my son said, “I didn’t know Abby Wambach was a lesbian!” just as the announcer said, “Abby Wambach is celebrating with a fan.” While I am sure that Sarah Huffman is one of Abby Wambach’s biggest fans, she is also her wife. Furthermore, have you ever seen a professional athlete run to the stands and make out with a random? No. Because it doesn’t happen. The comment was ridiculous, and you could even give the guy the benefit of the doubt and say it was a slip.

But look at the caption of this photo from Getty Images of that moment:

Abby Wambach

PHOTO CREDIT: STUART FRANKLIN – FIFA
SCREENCAPS VIA TUMBLR

Abby Wambach of USA celebrates with a friend after winning the FIFA Women’s World Cup Final between USA and Japan at BC Place Stadium on July 5, 2015 in Vancouver, Canada.

And then take a look at the photo of Erin McLeod, starting goalie for Canada, after a Canadian win in the round of 16 and the caption:

Erin McLeod

PHOTO CREDIT: MIKE HEWITT – FIFA
SCREENCAPS VIA TUMBLR

And then look at the picture of U.S. forward, Syndey Leroux, kissing Dom Dwyer:

sydney

PHOTO CREDIT: FRANCK FIFE
SCREENCAPS VIA TUMBLR

In case you can’t read the caption, I’ll spell it out:

USA forward Sydney Leroux gets a kiss from husband Dom Dwyer after winning the final football match between USA and Japan during their 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup at BC Place Stadium in Vancouver on July 5, 1015.

But marriage equality means that all relationships are all equal now, right? Right. There is so much more work to be done.

FEATURE PHOTO CREDIT: BOB FRID/EPA

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23 Comments

  1. I noticed during the broadcast and thought “what’s up with that?” No way the support crew didn’t know who she was with. Especially given the comments she’s made about sexism in FIFA.

    FOX really dropped the ball

    • Vikki Reich says:

      I try to give the benefit of the doubt but she was one of the highest profile players in the tournament so it seems that everyone would know.

  2. they’re more employable now!

  3. I was watching the game with my son. He said “oh look, she’s giving a fan a hug.” I immediately corrected him and said “I think that is her wife or her girlfriend.”

    We do what we can in our home, but the media should know better and do better.

    • Vikki Reich says:

      I agree. And what of the kids in households where no one corrected the statement? I think of queer kids who want and need to see themselves represented and then watch as people erase it without challenge.

  4. I loathed “gal pal” before I ever identified as queer. Now I loathe it even more.

    I can’t wait to win the world cup so I can randomly make out with my friends and even strangers in the stands.

  5. Dylan Flunker says:

    Hold up, Miguel didn’t guess Abby Wombach tipped the velvet?

    • Vikki Reich says:

      I know, right? I said, “The hair should have clued you in.” He said he just never really thought about it. He loves her so much. When she went in when we watched the game in Winnipeg, I thought he was going to lose his mind. I told him that the coach, Abby, Ali Krieger and Megan Rapinoe (his other fave) were all queer and he said, “Woo hoo! LESBIAN PARTY!” ha ha

      • Deborah Goldstein says:

        There’s hope for the next generation that her hair style did not equate to muff diving as it does for most of us of a certain age, and I LOVE his celebratory reaction! He wins Most Valuable Viewer in my book.

  6. Thank you for making me see things I might not have noticed before. I don’t remember where I heard it (and I’m not a fan of soccer so I don’t know who any of them are), but the coverage I heard said she kissed her wife after the win. I noted it because I was happy they said wife and not friend.

    Thanks for keeping my eyes open!

    • Vikki Reich says:

      It’s important to pay attention to language and I’m glad that some people did get it right!

  7. It’s ridiculous – I was so happy they didn’t pan the camera away or something, but I guess it’s because they were just pretending she was a “friend.”

  8. I see a village q interview with the team

  9. Agreed on “gal pal,” I cringe when I see it – because you know what? I’m not a lesbian and I NEVER call my girlfriends that. What the hell? Where did that come from, the 1950s? Seriously.

    But on a somewhat (I hope) positive note – I didn’t actually watch the connecting of partners and spouses in the stands or half in them/half on the field, but I did read about it and whatever I read was 100% clear on who they were celebrating with.

    So what you have here? It sucks. It’s ridiculous. A fan? What? No, seriously. I’d do that all the time if I were a celeb or athlete. *eyeroll* But I’m hoping that more of the reporters and sites out there did have the correct info, with the proper wording of spouse, wife, partner, girlfriend, whomever they were with. Because it needs to change all the way in that direction. So my hope is that what I did see is going to be the norm. (Sorry, lonnng comment!)

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  12. Liana pinter says:

    Why would you use the term Queer? Disgraceful

  13. Rachel Wahl says:

    It’s articles like this that show me more and more how society is controlled by these pre-existing norms, created from religion or opinions from the past. My parents raised me to believe love is between a man and a woman only, so when I was exposed to queerness later in my life, my first initial reaction was disgust. As I’ve gotten older my opinions have done a 360, but if I had been raised without learning these norms I would have been more accepting and I would have come to terms with my sexuality so much sooner.

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