The Diminishing Returns of Faux-Lesbianism

The girls of summer. Photo: Photos: Jackson Lee/Splash News, Getty Images

Faking it for Sappho's sake is nothing new in pop culture, but what was once a winking tease has, in the summer of 2008, hit an obnoxious fever pitch. This is due in no small part to Lindsay Lohan, who has been engaged in a very public relationship with Samantha Ronson; the couple’s every nuance is carefully archived in the annals of celebrity gossip. Then "Page Six" announced the romance between Johnson & Johnson heiress Casey Johnson and Yahoo progeny Courtenay Semel (whose last tabloid appearance was her are-they-or-aren't-they relationship with … Lindsay Lohan). And a strong contender for song of the summer is Katy Perry's "I Kissed a Girl," the lesbian-for-a-night anthem with blunt lyrics ("I kissed a girl, just to try it, I hope my boyfriend don't mind it") and a blunter video (Perry strokes a cat). No room for subtlety on the new isle of Lesbos.

Once upon a time, pop lesbianism was a more coy affair. k.d. lang and Melissa Etheridge were both very much out, but they didn’t tease us with their sex lives. In 1995, folk-pop singer-songwriter Jill Sobule created a sensationalist stir with "I Kissed a Girl," her cutesy confessional tale of suburban girlfriends taking their mutual fondness a step further. But Sobule (who was, in fact, bisexual) was no sexpot, and the song's popularity was largely accredited to its catchy tune and Fabio's starring role in the video.

In 2003, the Russian pop duo t.A.T.u. broke Stateside, bringing with them the video for "All the Things She Said," for which they writhed about in private-schoolgirl regalia in a darkly Slavic rainstorm. But the wet T-shirt sexuality wasn’t enough for t.A.T.u., and rumors floated that the girls had a sapphic connection. Later it came out that the ladies were not, in fact, gay — that was just part of their marketing scheme, but the mere suggestion was enough to make the song a hit. By the end of that summer, faux-lesbianism would hit its watershed moment when Britney and Madonna kissed during their performance at the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards, and what was once limited to undertones entered the realm of overt suggestion. The moment is now so deeply entrenched in our collective pop-culture psyche that it barely elicits a roll of the eye — but at the time, it was monumental.

And now we have Lindsay Lohan practically leaning on Samantha Ronson for all sorts of support. Exploring her lesbian side is the least shocking thing Lohan could do at this point; in fact, for any other young woman, it’d be positively normal. But even if Lohan is truly gay and not just testing the lady-waters, the publicity timing is such that we're inclined to question it. And without that perceived authenticity, LiLo seems less like a burgeoning lesbian and more like a confused young woman. The same applies to Johnson and Semel, and Perry — well, she was an unsuccessful gospel singer before her lesbian-flirtation hit, so it's hard take that as much more than an irritating Girls Gone Wild–style play for Top 40 success (alas, it’s worked).

These moments seem more like a performance for attention than actual sexuality. As far as career moves go, going insta-gay has entered into downright predictable territory (and predictability, in these matters, might as well be a sin). These may, in fact, be the last months in which we even notice lesbian-tinged lyrics. For these women performing for the public gaze, adopting the lesbian pose is as easy a career move as grabbing a bottle of peroxide. —Jessica Coen

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