Kana Comes to Coronation Street

I have a dream…and that dream is that one day, actresses taking on gay roles will always conduct thorough background research that involves both academic and anecdotal approaches to the portrayal of lesbian and bisexual women on screen. I dream of the day I interview an actress and ask her to contextualize her role in the fabric of LGBT representation and she is able to string together a comparative between “The L Word,” “Wentworth/Bad Girls/Orange is the New Black” and ”The 100” while also effectively using buzzwords like “trope.” And here’s the thing: my dream isn’t that far off from becoming reality. The cast of “Wynonna Earp,” for example, have displayed an amazing grasp of just this type of context.

It is because of this dream that I’m super excited about Faye Brookes and Bhavna Limbachia taking on a new lesbian storyline on the long-running British soap opera “Coronation Street.” Take this quote from Limbachia:

“I did a lot of research online and found some organisations…I went looking further into the LGBT community and how it affects them and I realised that over half of the younger LGBT community had self harmed and 44% considered suicide – that’s when I realised that these people need a voice. I’ve also been speaking to young Pakistani, Muslim gay women – in secret because they’re still afraid to come out to their parents. That’s when I realised that there is a lot of truth in this. It still is a taboo subject within the Asian community so if we could even be a voice for them then that would be half the battle.’    

And from Brookes:

“We just want to get it right, not just for the LGBT community but for the sake of Corrie, for the fans for the young viewers and those girls who are looking up to us.”

Since “Kana”—the relationship between Kate Connor (Brookes) and Rana Nazir (nee Habeeb, Limbachia)—started, Limbachia’s Twitter is like one giant rainbow party, and she clearly is a huge Kana shipper. (That’s not a tear of pride at how far actresses have come in the last five years, it’s seasonal allergies).

“Coronation Street,” which has been on since 1960, has an excellent track record of LGBT representation, so it’s a good place for Kana to be. To date there have been 16 LGBT characters on the soap, and although I vowed to never watch again after “Corrie” broke my heart with the tragic breakup of teenage lesbians Sophie Webster (Brooke Vincent) and Sian Powers (Sacha Parkinson) (for Amber? Really?), I was lured back again by the potential in Kana.    

The set-up is not unusual: formerly heterosexual woman unexpectedly discovers she has The Feelings for her lesbian friend. This causes great angst for her because to act on those feelings would be a betrayal of her husband. Where Kana diverges from most other tellings of this tale as old as time, however, is that Rana is of South Asian descent and Muslim, which means that she faces both cultural and religious obstacles to engaging in a relationship with Kate. 

#Kana began with a fake-out: Kate assumed Rana’s antipathy towards her new girlfriend Imogen was caused by previously latent homophobia on Rana’s part, which caused a massive rift between the two friends. As Imogen sussed out, however, it was in fact because Rana was jealous of Imogen. While Kate was single, Rana could monopolize her time and attention, but Imogen’s presence forced Rana to confront previously unrecognized feelings of attraction towards Kate. This led to Rana confessing her feelings to a bewildered Kate, but Rana was out of time: she was set to legally marry her husband Zeedan, with whom she’d already been religiously married, just as Kate seemed to be warming to the idea of a mutual attraction. On the day of the wedding, Kate called to tell Rana not to marry Zeedan, that she had feelings for Rana, too, but Kate deleted the message without listening. The whole imbroglio left Kate heartbroken and both with defensive walls up.

The first week of December, Kana as an eventual couple took a giant leap for lesbiankind, with Rana explaining that while she cared for Kate, in her family, to be with a woman would be unthinkable and would result in complete excommunication. This was one reason she felt so overwhelmed by her situation and had married Zeedan despite her feelings for Kate. The two ended up snogging their faces off in the back of Zeedan’s food truck before being caught by their mutual friend Luke, who now also bears the burden of knowing about Rana’s infidelity to his mate Zeedan. As we head into December, Rana told Luke she’s pregnant to stop him from telling Zeedan about the affair, an impetuous move that is likely to end badly.   

Kana as a couple is just starting, but it has interesting potential. Brookes does a particularly good job at playing all of Kate’s various emotions through the start of the affair, and Limbachia plays desperate, confused and afraid well. Particular props for the scenes in which Rana explains she’s never felt so lonely in her life because she has no one to talk to about her feelings and in which Kate cries out that it’s not fair for Rana to put the burden of breaking off a marriage on her. The storyline is likely to find its true strength, however, as it plays out the consequences of Rana’s decision to be with Kate. How does she tell her fiercely conservative family that she’s leaving her nice Muslim husband for a woman? What does it feel like for Rana to be shut out by her South Asian family and probably many friends, with only this newly romantic partner to buoy her? This examination of culture and family is likely what will differentiate Kana from similar storylines.

At the same time, for all Kana’s good points, it’s only fair to point out some of the areas where the storyline could have withstood some improvement. First, while we see Kate’s side of the story as much as Rana’s, some of the connective tissue feels like it’s missing. For example, how do Kate’s feelings for Rana develop, and when? (They feel a bit out of the blue and Kate’s subsequent staunch dedication to Rana still feels a bit much) Second, Rana and Kate became a couple so quickly #Kana should be sponsored by U-Haul. In the space of weeks, the storyline goes from Rana professing an attraction to Kate to Kate telling Rana she loves her. While this may be realistic for two friends who have known each other a while, it nevertheless feels a bit rushed. Corrie could have spared a few episodes to draw it out a bit longer.

Depending on how conservative your views on monogamy, there is a glaring fact about Kana that must be acknowledged: Rana is a married woman, and she is cheating on her husband. In a situation reversal in which Rana was cheating on her wife with a man, we would likely hardly be cheering the affair. Our desire to see Kana as a couple shouldn’t blind us to the fact that it is, at the end of the day, an affair, so hopefully Rana will quickly end her marriage and set both Zeedan and herself free. (Viewers who want to see how a similar storyline—married woman falls for lesbian—avoided a physical affair while still allowing the two women in love a robust, emotionally intimate relationship should check out “Clarina” on the Brazilian telenovela “Em Familia.” In this pairing, although Clara openly told her husband that she was in love with both him and a woman, Marina, she did not kiss Marina until after her marriage officially ended. In this way, Clara’s actions never feel like cheating because all parties were aware of the situation and Clara maintained a boundary on her behavior.)

As a final note, cheers to Corrie for having three non-heterosexual women on the show at the same time…and not as part of a love triangle. For now, Sophie remains happily single. Vincent put it very sagely when she said, “Not everything I do should be about me being a lesbian…It should not be brought every time I do a scene…I think there is more to people than their sexuality so for me I would prefer to do a storyline about my job or about my family. Not just straight down ‘you are a lesbian and this is what lesbians face’.”

 I think we’ve started to move to the next phase of  representation when lesbian characters can exist in tandem with other lesbian storylines and not be all part of the same storyline, but rather have subplots of their own that aren’t just based on them dating. But Corrie, if you mess Kana up as well I am so not watching again!