“Glee,” “Hand aufs Herz” fans demand more from lesbian TV storylines and get it

A couple of days ago, SAT1 — the German network that airs Hand aufs Herz — planned to host a live chat with Lucy Scherer and Kasia Borek, the actors who play lesbian couple Jenny and Emma. The chat never happened. Half an hour before it was set to begin, so many excited Jemma fans crowded together online that they crashed SAT1’s server. My Twitter exploded: “We crashed their server! We crashed their server!” SAT1 says nothing like that has ever happened to them before.

I started writing for AfterEllen.com in the summer of 2008, six months before the final season of The L Word was set to air. The unspoken worry back then was: “What are we going to do now?” Not just: “What are we, the staff, going to write about?” But: “What are we, queer women, going to focus on in the world of entertainment?”

Four years ago, we saved up all of our lesbian news and ran it in our weekly Best. Lesbian. Week. Ever. column. A whole week’s worth of lesbian entertainment news in one column — and, honestly, some weeks we had trouble filling it up. These days we have two daily columns and a dozen daily blog posts and articles bursting with lesbian entertainment news. It’s a full-time job just to keep up with the queer news cycle — and that’s only in the world of entertainment!

There has never been a better time — in America, at least — to be a gay person. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is on its way to becoming a page in bigoted history, and it won’t be long before the Defense of Marriage Act shares a place in the same chapter. And, for the first time ever, the majority of Americans support marriage equality.

It’s getting better — in large part because you’re making it better.

Let’s hop back to Hand aufs Herz. Many months ago, the German telenova introduced a secondary lesbian storyline. In years past, I would have never heard of Jenny and Emma, and most of you wouldn’t have heard of them either. The Jemma Revolution — as my friend Clare Lawlor of Canada’s CBC calls it — started when a handful of German fans began posting clips online. Benevolent German viewers offered translations in comments sections, but pretty soon the interest in Jemma was so intense that teams of translators from around the world were working day and night to offer subtitled clips in a dozen languages.

Teams of translators, mind you, that weren’t getting paid. Just fans of a lesbian TV couple trying to share their love around the world.

As always with places like YouTube, a copyright scuffle occurred and most of the Jemma clips were pulled down. The immediate response from the international community was wailing and teeth-gnashing, but after some well-organized fan campaigns and fan mediation, SAT1 came up with an unprecedented plan: They set up a place on their official website where Jemma fans could watch every Jemma scene from the very beginning. And not just German fans — SAT1 decided not to geoblock the Jemma clips. Viewers from around the world are welcome to watch all Jemma scenes, and the last five full episodes.

When SAT1 launched the test phase of their viewing plan, fan sites got back to business. Jemma International set up a website offering translations for Jemma clips and for whole episodes. And Jenny and Emma International utilized the GreenFish Subtitle Player. You just load their translations into the program, and a semi-transparent subtitle window plays over the official Hand aufs Herz clips.

SAT1 didn’t come up with their radical plan because the largest lesbian entertainment website in the world — that’s us! — asked them to. They didn’t do it because advertisers recommended it, either. They did it because you — the fans! — worked humbly and earnestly and tirelessly to make it happen.

But it’s not just German TV that you made better. You also made the most popular show in the world better.

When Glee’s writers made their throwaway joke about Brittany and Santana sleeping together in season one, there’s no way they could have predicted a future where every lesbian viewer in the world — and, if my calculations are correct, that’s about one bajillion lesbian viewers — would become Brittana shippers. And, of even more significance, they could never have predicted that Santana would eventually come out as the highest profile lesbian character on network television.