Lesbians are always having “firsts”: the first British pre-watershed televised lesbian kiss (Brookside in 1994), the first lesbian in space (Sally Ride in 1983). These debuts are usually met with a fervent yet fleeting “Yeah, go us!” from the lesbian community, before we go out to look for something to get angry about to balance the joy of progress.
Most recently, we’ve been raising our G&Ts to the Disney Channel’s first gay couple, who also happen to be women. In spite of a spirited, troglodytic protest campaign by the US anti-gay group One Million Moms, the channel has aired an episode of the family comedy Good Luck Charlie featuring a pair of lesbian mums. What are the social implications of the Disney-fication of dykes? I’m sure that lesbian mums being given the Mickey-shaped seal of approval has the “traditional values” salesman Walt Disney turning in his grave like a rotisserie chicken. Then again, the Disney philosophy has undergone some (exceptionally slow) modernisation since its originator’s death in 1966. Bear in mind that there was a black US president before there was a black Disney princess.
Since the 1930s, children have been raised on Disney. I was one of the more recent ones. Some of my earliest memories of possible gay references in films are based on the implicit homosexuality of Disney villains, from the superbly camp Captain Hook (what exactly was his relationship with Mr Smee?) to Aladdin’s sexually ambiguous nemesis, Jafar. At times, it felt as if Disney were whispering in children’s ears: “Gay men are evil.” References to lesbianism were seemingly non-existent.
The lesbians in Good Luck Charlie are minor characters, yet in terms of sticking it to Disney’s socially conservative demographic, it was still a bold move to include them. What’s more, the “two mums” thing isn’t treated as an issue. The scene goes roughly as follows:
Dad: Oh, look, little Susie [or whoever] has two mums – that’s cool.
In a sense, it’s rather sad to watch as the subversiveness of lesbianism is diluted by Disney. It induces the same kind of disappointment as when Iggy Pop was in those car insurance ads. Perhaps it’s time to admit that being lesbian isn’t punk any more. We get married, vote for mainstream political parties and appear in Disney comedies. If that’s what it takes for children to learn that being gay is normal, then it’s a worthwhile sacrifice.