Gayle Rubin Meets a Succubus: p.2 Lost Opportunities: Lost Girl & Sex Negativity

This is part 2 of my paper analyzing the portrayal of sexuality of the TV series Lost Girl using Gayle Rubin’s Thinking Sex. This section will fcous on the negative aspects as well as a brief look at it reception in the media. You can read part focused on the positive aspect of the shows portrayal and can be read here.

Lost-Girl.jpeg

Despite the overall positive portrayal, there remain at least five elements of the show that do perpetuate sex negativity and/or undermine its power as a sex positive representation.

1.     Too Protagonist Centered

The first problem with the show as a sex positive representation is that it is overly focused on the protagonist; other characters are generally not seen as sexual unless they are being sexual with Bo. This is problematic for two reasons. The first is that it lessens the sense of the Fae world as a sex positive society. Secondly, it easily allows the viewer to create an individual expectation for Bo (i.e. “well it is ok in her case”) thus easily allowing that viewer to maintain their sex negative worldviews even as they watch a show with clear sex positive messages.

2.     The Light/Dark Prohibition

Although the show, in line with the goals of Thinking Sex, typically avoids needless sexual regulations, the Fae world contains one major legally enforced sexual taboo. The Fae world is divided into two factions, Light and Dark, currently in a guarded truce with each other. Members of one faction are forbidden to engage in sexual relations with members of the other under penalty of death. Bo, choosing to remain unaligned, is the only Fae free to copulate with both sides; while we admire her for being unaligned and see the division negatively little is done to truly challenge this status quo, weakening the show’s sex positive message.

Although the show has had several subplots about the Light and Dark working together and forming alliances, the sexual prohibition has remained firmly in place. Further upholding the status quo is that Trick “The Blood King” that originally created the truce and its sexual prohibitions is a main character and portrayed sympathetically despite creating such sexually draconian laws. For example, the once year celebration where these prohibitions are temporarily rescinded is seen as “scared” and “spiritual” by Trick and not a sign of needless sexual restriction, with Bo and others joining this positive assessment by calling it a “big party” and throughout the episode Trick’s other laws prove valuable to Bo saving the day. Lastly, the only character that seemed truly interested in dismantling this status quo was portrayed as a villain and radical terrorist.

3.     Lack of Gay Men and Other Queer Identities

Although the show has clear positive representations of lesbians and female bisexuality, the show has no recurring gay men or male bisexuals, only a passing case of the week has featured gay men. The show also has not had any characters with sexual identities falling outside of the traditional homo/hetro/bisexual taxonomy. This lessens the scope of the Fae world as a sex positive presentation and as female bisexuality/lesbianism can easily fit inside the dominant male gaze it lessens the threat it as a portrayal possess to the sexual status quo.

4.     Double Standard: Female on Male Rape

Despite clearly defying the traditional female/male, slut/stud double standard, the show perpetuates a double standard in its treatment of female on male rape. In the show’s twelfth episode, Bo’s mother attacks, rapes, and nearly kills Bo’s boyfriend Dyson. Although Dyson is clearly traumatized by this, the rest of the cast plays the incident as if it were an act of seduction. Bo confronts her mother about “seducing” her boyfriend, in a later episode she says her mother “slept” with her boyfriend and the morning after a friend refers to the attack as Bo’s mother having “really, really, really banged Dyson”.

5.     Problematic Representations

Lastly, the show contains at least two problematic sexual portrayals. The first is that the only characters portrayed in BDSM activities are recurring antagonists creating an association, otherwise avoided, between sexual activity and moral peril.

The second is its representation of trans-gendered individuals. The second season premier Caged Fae revolved around a biological male who posed as the female warden of a women’s prison in order to rape the guards and prisoners. A representation that is both trans-phobic as well as gender essentialist as the rapist’s biological sex is uncovered by having their genitals grouped. GLADD in particular spoke out heavily against this episode and eventually got the producers to issue an apology letter (Kane 2013). Although whether or not the individual was actually trans-gender or a cross-dressing cis-man is debatable it nevertheless played into trans-phobic myths; even the ambiguity as to whether the rapist was actually trans-gender, commonly used in the show’s defense[1], plays in to the myth that all trans-gender individuals are ultimately just cross-dressers with nefarious agendas.

Reception & Discourse Analysis

Overall, the show has been well received for it portrayal of sexuality, although individual episodes have been criticized for their portrayals of BDSM and trans-gendered individuals as discussed above. Lesbian oriented media especially has had a positive reaction to the show, the popular lesbian site After Ellen alone has over 100 article tagged “Lost Girl” (After Ellen); the show won four of their 2012 Viability Awards (After Ellen Staff 2013); and a Lost Girl character won their March Madness Best Lesbian/Bi Character Tournament (Hogan 2013). The show’s lesbian pairings have also revived acceptance outside of lesbian orientated media with one of the shows lesbian relationships wining E! Online’s 2013’s TV’s Top Couples Tournament (Mullins 2013). Lastly, the actors during a season 2 pre-show episode have said that they received feedback from fans saying that the show has helped them come out to their families and friends, demonstrating that the show is having an impact on our ongoing discourse about queer acceptance, even if the focus seems to be primarily on lesbian acceptance.

However, the show has also faced criticism for its level of sexual content, one reviewer on AV Club reviewing the controversial Caged Fae episode called it “every misogynistic, male-gaze hyper-sexualized cliché” (McFarland 2013). However, others have appreciated the show’s sexual explicitness After Ellen complimented the show for letting “lesbian couples have sex with the lights on!” (After Ellen Staff 2013) and an article on Think Progress wished to see Lost Girl’s approach to sexuality “tacked up in a lot of writers’ rooms” (Rosenberg 2013). This question about objectification versus appreciation is highly relevant as the show’s creator listed “both genders are to be (adoringly!) objectified — equal opportunity eye candy FTW” (Rosenberg 2012) as one of her writing goals. This raises the question does this represent an achievable goal or is it an impossible and problematic oxymoron. This remains an open question but an important one going forward not just discussing this particular cultural object but for the questions of sex positivity and representations of sexuality in general.


[1] See the comments section to Kane 2013 for examples.

Works Cited

After Ellen Staff. After Ellen, “2012 Visibility Awards: Results!.” Last modified 01 03, 2013. Accessed April 20, 2013. http://www.afterellen.com/content/2013/01/2012-visibility-awards-results?page=0,0.

After Ellen, “Tagged: Lost Girl.” Accessed April 20, 2013. http://www.afterellen.com/tags/lost-girl

Hogan, Heather. After Ellen, “And the winner of the AfterEllen March Madness Best Lesbian/Bi Character Tournament is ….” Last modified 12 12, 2013. Accessed April 20, 2013. http://www.afterellen.com/2013/04/and-winner-afterellen-march-madness-best-lesbian-bi-character-tournament.

Kane, Matt. GLAAD, “Lost Girl Producers Release Statement Following Outrage Over Offensive Scene.” Last modified 01 17, 2013. Accessed April 20, 2013. http://www.glaad.org/blog/lost-girl-producers-release-statement-following-outrage-over-offensive-scene.

McFarland, Kevin. A.V Club, “Lost Girl “Caged Fae” S3/E1.” Last modified 01 14, 2013. Accessed April 20, 2013. http://www.avclub.com/articles/caged-fae,90869/.

Mullins, Jenna. E! Online, “2013 TV’s Top Couples: Thousands Voted! And the Winner Is….” Last modified 02 14, 2013. Accessed April 22, 2013. http://www.eonline.com/news/388262/2013-tv-s-top-couples-thousands-voted-and-the-winner-is.

Prodigy Pictures (2009) (Canada) Showcase Television (2010-) (Canada) Syfy (2011-) (USA). “Lost Girl”.

Rosenberg, Alyssa. Think Progress, “‘Lost Girl’ Creator Michelle Lovretta On Rules for Sex-Positive TV.” Last modified 05 30, 2012. Accessed April 20, 2013. http://thinkprogress.org/alyssa/2012/05/30/492328/lost-girl-creator-michelle-lovretta-on-rules-for-sex-positive-tv/.

Rubin, Gayle. Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality. Pleasure and Danger. Edited by Carole Vance. Routledge & Kegan, Paul, 1984

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namelesschaos: Liberal Ex-Catholic. Sex Toy & Anal Play Junkie, Sex Blogging Newbie. Pro-choice, Anti-censorship, Militant anti-tobacco. Ready to join the chaos? E-mail at: namedbychaos @ aol.com
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One Response to Gayle Rubin Meets a Succubus: p.2 Lost Opportunities: Lost Girl & Sex Negativity

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