OPINION - Forget the general election, this summer is about one thing only: Big Lesbian Energy

Katy O’Brian and Kristen Stewart (Film Handout)
Katy O’Brian and Kristen Stewart (Film Handout)

At a dinner this week in honour of the 15th anniversary of the handsome and enduring music paper, Beat, I noticed the prevalent subject of conversation turned out to be lesbians. Moving table to table, most seemed to be in thrall to the charming reality TV dating show, I Kissed a Girl. The BBC hit is something of a curio, a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It looks slight but has surprisingly sharp lessons to teach, slipped in with minimum fuss and maximum efficacy. At least one fellow diner confessed to having been moved to tears by it.

Outposted to a luxurious Italian villa, under the presenting stewardship of a Minogue sister in full eveningwear drag, five exemplary twentysomething lesbian couples are introduced to one another with a smooch. Will that one kiss lead to them going the distance? Or will someone else catch their eye under the pressure cooker lens of distracting reality TV hijinks?

You may not know the old joke: “What does a lesbian bring on her second date? Her furniture. And what does a gay man bring on his second date? His second what?” It’s always been an old favourite. I love humour that is sent from the LGBT+ world out, invented by our own observations of ourselves. Anyway, I Kissed a Girl is very much that, in TV format. One of the original five couples, cute professional footballer Georgia and tattooed Irish goddess Cara, were identified as “very wife” by their fellow contestants within five minutes of meeting.

The best material on the show is inevitably self-generated. As early as episode two, Georgia, by now my favourite of the girls, had thrown a lightning rod into conversation with one simple question. “How do you guys feel about the word lesbian?” she asked. The responses were touching, sweet and distressing all at once.

The big pop anthem for the hot months is Billie Eilish’s Lunch, a fabulously brazen earworm about lesbian sex

“I just say I’m gay,” says Naee, the least vocal and most intriguing of the housemates. “I don’t like using the word lesbian.” “I just say I’m into girls,” agrees Abbie, “because in my head, lesbian has been used in quite a negative way.” Everyone sat around the pool nods. Somebody mentions that the first time she heard the word lesbian, it was because a boy at school fancied her. When she told him she wasn’t interested, he snapped back, “Ugh, you a lesbian then?” This sounded depressingly familiar from my own school days, a thousand years ago. Surely times have changed?

In some ways, yes. For summer 2024, it feels like Big Lesbian Energy is everywhere. I left the cinema after watching Love Lies Bleeding, the Kristen Stewart film directed by the incredible young British director Rose Glass, seething with excitable jealousy that lesbians had a properly terrifying noir piece of art to gawp at this season.

Stewart is one half of a Bonnie and Clyde (Bonnie and Bonnie?) type couple who meet at her gym. She sports a mullet, for extra Eighties lesbian power points. Her paramour is a preposterously hot bodybuilder who can break a jaw with one swipe of her fist. For a commercial mainstream film release, it takes no prisoners.

This summer’s big pop anthem is Billie Eilish’s Lunch, a fabulously brazen earworm about lesbian sex, delivered by a generationally defining young pop idol. If you want something more reflective, one of last year’s best received albums was MidAir, the debut album of Romy, of The xx indie group, crafted as a graceful and frequently banging elegy to her wife, Vic. These are gorgeous, bold, unapologetic statements of intent, forming a conclusive riposte and elegant middle finger to schoolboys who’ve been taught that it’s OK to use the word “lesbian” as an insult to girls who don’t want to date them.

Georgia continued an impromptu, angry digression into this question poolside on I Kissed a Girl. Did the others know, for instance, why the L had been positioned first in the ongoing and ever-expanding LGBT+ acronym? Everyone looked blank, as she explained her version of events, that it was because lesbians stepped in selflessly to offer the most help to gay men during the HIV/Aids pandemic.

By now, the girls of the villa were visibly moved. “Why don’t we know this?” asked one. “Lesbian is such a good word,” another concluded. Looking around the cultural landscape as the sun finally shines on 2024, as Pride month hoves into view, one can only nod in agreement. Prepare yourselves, this could and should be the summer of Big Lesbian Energy, for numerous redemptive reasons.

Paul Flynn is an Evening Standard columnist