Ever since I came out as gay at age 24, I learned that lesbian love stories are hard to come by. There’s a short list that every queer woman can immediately recite: “But I’m a Cheerleader,” “Blue is the Warmest Color,” “Disobedience,” “The Miseducation of Cameron Post,” “I Can’t Think Straight,” “Imagine Me & You,” “Carol.” These films are mostly downers, loaded with the struggles of coming out, conversion therapy, adultery, the murmurs of ostracization, and the need to bottle up healthy lust and desire.
Even the recently announced lesbian romantic comedy, “Happiest Season,” starring Kristen Stewart and directed by Clea DuVall, will have an ominous layer: When a young woman plans to propose to her girlfriend at her family’s annual holiday party, she’s surprised to discover her partner has yet to come out to her conservative parents.
Lesbian love stories rarely, if ever, have light storylines with uplifting conclusions. Why can’t a romantic comedy have a plot with characters who happen to be gay? Why is their sexuality always so crucial to the plot?
Because such movies don’t yet exist, I have reluctantly remained loyal to the rom-com formula: Two straight strangers overcome their skeptical distaste for one another, as they are forced into close proximity for some ridiculous reason, eventually realizing this is the true love they have been searching for.
Every December, I think back to my favorite holiday rom-com: “Serendipity.” Jonathan (played by John Cusack) and Sara (Kate Beckinsale) meet when they both reach for the last pair of gloves at a crowded department store. They’re currently in relationships with other people, but because of the undeniable spark between them, they decide to each take one glove from the pair and exchange contact information in a way that defies logic and toys with fate. We follow their journey of near-misses, dodging Santas and nativity scenes. Whenever I rewatch, I believe in love for John and Sara. I believe in it for me.
I always appreciated the total package that Heath Ledger played as a sensitive bad boy in “10 Things I Hate About You” and the patient and affectionate sports doctor Bill Hader played in “Trainwreck.” For my entire upbringing, heteronormative media consumed me, teaching me these charming men should be my endgame.
The meet-cute scenarios I saw on screen convinced me it might actually be possible to meet my person during an everyday activity. True love could be nearby while selecting produce at the grocery store or tripping over an errant dog leash. Back when I thought I was straight, I had the privilege to meet men in passing. Regular errands held a special luster because I never knew when I’d meet a handsome single guy at the bodega.
It took me many disappointments to finally push back and realize that they weren’t right for me. If I’d had more on-screen examples of what other romantic options were out there, maybe I would have come out at a younger age. After coming out, I later discovered the movie “Carol.” I was hopeful a compelling, queer holiday romance would unfold when Carol and Therese — like “Serendipity’s” Jonathan and Sara — also coincidentally meet in a department store. After a rather intimate transaction, Carol accidentally leaves one of her gloves behind, which Therese is eager to return. While I should be satisfied by the beauty of this film, it is set in 1952 and so it is filled with homophobia and repressed sexuality, as so many other movies about two women in love.
As a gay woman, it can be challenging to connect with potential paramours in everyday life. It’s hard to tell if a woman who catches my eye on my morning commute also dates women, so I usually rely on dating apps. One night I successfully asked out a girl at a straight bar (she had mentioned ice hockey, the odds seemed promising). But before that, I had gone 24 years without a woman expressing interest in me beyond friendship.
In the holiday spirit, I’ve been dreaming up the ultimate lesbian meet-cute: 'Twas a snowy night before Christmas when Christine and Ella are each headed to the airport to fly home to their families, when they get into a fender bender. While they wait for help and survey the damage, they bicker, disgruntled with their ruined Christmas plans. When the tow-truck driver overhears, he mentions his wife runs a soup kitchen downtown and tomorrow they will be short on volunteers. The next day, they serve the hungry and see the compassionate sides of one another. When they decide to spend the rest of their Christmas together, sparks fly, and not just from the adjacent fireplace.
It’s time for more films with two female characters that just happen to fall in love with no strings attached. Hallmark, let’s make the yuletide gay. All I want for Christmas in a chipper lesbian rom-com so I can confirm that the world is slowly normalizing, and maybe even fantasizing about happy queer relationships. Recast these Christmas cookie-cutter male leads with the truer flannel experts: soft butches. Let’s catch mommy kissing Mrs. Clause. I’ll trade the love stories full of snags and discomforts for something corny and heartfelt.
When I’m out and about, I love to brainstorm how my own meet-cute might happen. I once recognized a Tinder match on a flight. We agreed the mere coincidence felt fortuitous, igniting a promising fling between us. If there were more examples in the movies, I imagine lesbians would take notes on what to do: Smile at the cute brunette in the work elevator. Inquire if another is enjoying her book on her subway commute. Slip the barista a note that you’d like to spike some peppermint lattes and go for a stroll at the end of her shift. These moments are possible — they just require some bravery and hopeful romanticism.