Menesis is the Lesbian ‘Bend it Like Beckham’

Lesbian viewers often complain that they don’t see themselves reflected on screen. And it’s true: why does Hollywood seem to think that there are about five lesbian high school students in the entire United States and that they all grow up to be cops or doctors? That’s one reason I love “Menesis”—the couple Megan and Genesis from Telemundo’s telenovela “Mi Familia Perfecta”: because it finally tells a story that I, personally, can relate to: being a soccer player.

In the annals of gay TV and film, there have been surprisingly few lesbian characters who played a sport, much less were teammates in a same-sex romantic relationship. The first time was almost certainly the 1982 movie “Personal Best,” about two track and field athletes training for the 1980 Olympics.

Then in 2007, the Australian TV show “Kick” included Lebanese-Australian Layla Salim falling in love with fellow fencer Jackie. Brittany Pierce and Santana Lopez on “Glee” were both “Cheerios,” and Emily Fields and Paige McCullers on “Pretty Little Liars” started out as swim team rivals.

And of course, who can forget the smash hit “Bend it Like Beckham,” which any lesbian with eyes could see was clearly supposed to be a lesbian love story about Jess Bhamra finding her own agency as a woman in a British-Punjabi Sikh family, playing soccer and falling in love with her teammate Jules Paxton (not with their male coach!).

Although in the US basketball is the most popular sport, when it comes to sports globally, soccer (or football, for everyone who’s not American) is king. With an estimated 3.5 billion fans worldwide, it’s amazing that there aren’t way more movies and TV shows featuring soccer in one way or another.

Clearly, there’s a market for “Bend it Like Beckham”-style content, but until we get more big screen representation (wait, why don’t we have more kid or teenage sports movies anymore? Whatever happened to greats like “Little Giants”?), Menesis is a good example of love in a sports setting.

Génesis Pérez (Michelle De Andrade) is the best friend of Marisol Guerrero, a soccer phenom and one of the show’s main protagonists. The two friends make it onto a competitive soccer team in Houston, Texas, with dreams that Marisol will make it big as a soccer player (Génesis plays goalie and true to “Bend it Like Beckham,” Marisol starts a relationship with their male coach).

One of the players on the team is Megan Summers (Estefany Oliveira), a boldly out, high femme lesbian with fantastic hair and cute fashion sense who becomes their supporter and defender on the team. In time, the friendship between Génesis and Megan takes a turn for the romantic and the two quietly start dating in the background of the show.

I love everything about Menesis but for one thing: all the Megan and Génesis scenes pieced together form barely over 30 minutes of screen time. Menesis is a minor side story to the main storylines of “Mi Familia Perfecta,” and as a result Menesis gets massively shortchanged.

In addition, Telemundo, fearful of viewer reaction to showing *gasp* lesbian kissing in 2018, pans away from the one kiss they actually get (shame on Telemundo). Even though the Menesis storyline is woefully shortchanged, there is a sweetness and a sincerity to it that is utterly heartwarming. It’s just cute. Megan, a strong leader and loyal friend, is just the sort of person I wish had played on my soccer team growing up, or perhaps that I, myself, had been.

Génesis, on the other hand, represents very well the confusion of falling in love for the first time with someone of the same sex and learning to be comfortable with the new normal. And in the background of it all: cleats, ponytails, and shinguards. For anyone who plays or played soccer, it’s nostalgic.

One of the peculiarities of Mexican telenovelas is that since the 1970s, they have openly tried to influence their (frequently conservative) audiences to be more socially progressive. This sociocultural messaging seems to sometimes take the form of a respected older woman lecturing her younger associates about the need to be accepting of others. In “Mi Familia Perfecta,” the need for acceptance of all sexual orientations is repeated over and over again, through multiple characters and in multiple situations that raise common fears about homosexuality only to knock them down.

For example, although Génesis’ parents express initial concern that their daughter will be “converted to homosexuality” by Megan, they immediately agree to love and support her no matter what. In fact, Génesis’ father is selected specifically to reinforce this message of unconditional love, direct messaging to parents about parental love needing to transcend knee-jerk, culturally-influenced reactions to homosexuality. When Génesis tells Marisol about her feelings for Megan, Marisol is immediately supportive, telling her to fight for her relationship, a clear prod by the show to teach young viewers to be accepting of the sexual orientation of their friends.

Then the camera pans away. Darn it, Telemundo!

Teammate Sandy is used as a straw man for homophobia, creating a teaching moment about sexual orientation in the 2010s when team HBIC Penélope announces that her use of “homophobic comments” in a fight with Megan is inappropriate and makes her seem ignorant and antiquated. Later, when corporate sponsors plan to use Megan for an ad campaign and Sandy argues that she is an unfit spokeswoman because she’s gay, Sandy is rebuked by the corporate representatives and reminded that many gay youth commit suicide as a consequence of homophobia.

Megan herself calls out homophobic beliefs directly several times, for example by challenging the fear some straight girls may have that lesbians will inherently be attracted to them and hit on them, dismissing it as an archaic belief not befitting people living in the 21st century.

Finally, the persistent parental belief that homosexuality is a phase or mental illness is challenged by Génesis, who tells her mom, “If you want to support me, first you have to understand that gay people aren’t crazy and don’t need to see a psychologist.” Subtle, telenovelas are not.

Overall, De Andrade and Oliveira have great chemistry and they do a wonderful job in their roles. It’s a pity that like all telenovelas, “Mi Familia Perfecta” had only one season, because I’d have liked to have seen a lot more of Menesis. In an ideal world, Telemundo could have done a supporting webseries that told more of their story (the way “Wynonna Earp” did with WayHaught), but a station that won’t even show them kissing clearly is not at the point of considering giving them more screen time.

Instead, viewers are left with glimpses of what could have been: a super cute story about two soccer players falling in love and dating. Maybe another show in the future can pick up the idea and do it more justice.