Do lesbians still exist? It’s a question raised in the current issue of Diva, the 200th issue of the magazine which was first launched in 1994. The article outlines how identity has changed over the last eighteen years and how the lesbian community has widened out, now being much more welcoming to bi women for example.
The article is positive about the diversity which now exists, whilst acknowledging that it has taken some time to come about, and on one level that is fair. However, before we start celebrating it is worth noting the article itself finishes with a Stonewall advert saying ‘Some people are bi. Get over it!’ And the OU Bisexuality Report: Bisexual inclusion in LGBT equality and diversity highlighted how “invisibility” is still a problem for bisexual people.
Similarly whilst the article goes on to talk about the way that transgender people are now much more accepted within the lesbian community, citing the Gingerbeer membership agreement as an example, the reality is there is still a way to go with the inclusion of trans women, as recent debates amongst feminists in the media and beyond have highlighted.
Additionally, it depends upon where you live in the UK as to how inclusive the wider community actually is of bi and trans people. Stonewall Scotland is highly inclusive whilst in England and Wales the charity excludes transgender people, for example.
All that said the reality is, as the article claims, that the whole situation is far different to where it was eighteen years ago and is continuing to evolve. We have moved from the days of clause 28 to the recent vote on the second reading of the equal marriage legislation. On Saturday the Guardian had Sophie Ward and her partner on the front page of the family section and the Terrance Higgins Trust has recently launched a new section on their website for trans men and women.
I began my coming out journey a few years after Diva launched but it was a part of that journey, particularly in the early naughties, when I used to buy it in the WH Smith in Canterbury. I have seen it change over the last decade or so and for a while stopped buying it because it got so focused on sex it was little more than a lads mag for dykes but now it has emerged from that part of its history and is a decent magazine again. Part of the reason for that is the way it has had to become more inclusive but also there is now more content for them to include. Civil Partnerships gave a whole new set of articles to include from 2005 onwards. Parenting is now much more of an accepted part of LGBT experience in the way it wasn’t in the past, (although due to the number of people who had often been married at one point and so had children there have always been more LGBT parents than acknowledge). There is also now much less of a focus on youth than there was in the past too. Shows like the L Word and Lip Service have, I think, played an important part in this too. They have shown a variety of characters within them and given specific celebrities to be covered but beyond that I think the fact there are now more out public figures in than in the past has a key influence. This article on the DIVA 200th issue photo shoot has a range of people involved and Clare Balding was interviewed and featured on the cover of another recent issue.
But is it time to move on from specific lesbian media like Diva? My answer is no, to answer the original question whatever we may wish to call ourselves lesbians do still exist. Whilst the culture and experience between different people does differ and our media needs to reflect that the truth is that if we don’t have magazines like Diva and shows like Lip Service, (which has sadly not been commissioned for a third series), we will be people searching around for odd articles and characters who reflect that part of our experience and identity. What we need, as most other identity groups do, is a mix of media to choose from including but not exclusively lesbian media. So happy anniversary Diva, here’s to 200+ more.