Perspectives on contemporary lesbian relationships

This article introduces the special issue on contemporary lesbian relationships. The beginning notes some of the prominent changes that have occurred in the past 15 years in the visibility and positive representation of lesbian couples in our popular U.S. culture. The remainder focuses on identifying and summarizing the primary themes of the special issue, including the implications of changes in marriage rights, the acknowledgment and exploration of the effects of sexual minority stress, and a shift in the framing of research to better reflect the diversity of lesbian relationship experiences.

The Journal of Lesbian Studies published a special issue focusing on “Lesbian Love and Relationships” in 2002. In that issue, Suzanna Rose began her editorial foreword by noting, “A new era of understanding concerning lesbian love and relationships is beginning. Lesbians now, at least occasionally, are portrayed as ‘normal’ by the media” (p. 1). Clearly, it was notable at that time for lesbian couples11. In this foreword, I am using “lesbian” as an umbrella term for all sexual minority female individuals, and “lesbian couple” to refer to same-sex female couples. As highlighted by Lisa Diamond’s contribution in this issue, I recognize the diversity of sexual identities, and that identity can change over time; therefore “lesbian” is used as a convenience here.View all notes to have achieved at least an occasional representation as something other than deviant. Thus, it is all the more astounding to reflect on the progress that has been made since that time, where positive representations of lesbian relationships are increasingly prevalent and are remarkable if for their unremarkableness. Popular U.S. network television shows regularly include same-sex couples (e.g., Grey’s Anatomy, The Good Wife, Glee, Parenthood, and I can go on…) as garden-variety story elements. Ellen Degeneres, Rachel Maddow, Sarah Gilbert, and Jillian Michaels, all in committed lesbian relationships, each host popular television shows and openly recognize their respective partners. When soccer’s most decorated player, Abby Wambach, finally won the World Cup in the summer of 2015, she celebrated by kissing her wife in front of an audience of over 25 million U.S. television viewers.

Yes, a new era of understanding is here, which is why this new special issue is both timely and important. Using a variety of approaches, this collection of articles synthesizes and extends what we know about contemporary lesbian relationships. While each article has its own focus, three overarching themes run throughout them, reflecting the prominent transitions that have occurred within the larger social and academic context: the implications of changes in marriage rights, the acknowledgment and exploration of the effects of sexual minority stress, and a paradigmatic shift in the framing of research on lesbian relationships to reflect the diversity seen within these dyads.


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