Pop Theory: Are Lesbian Talk Show Hosts Speaking “as” Lesbians?

Speaking “as a” plunges the speaker into new questions of reliable representativity and identity…. If I tried to “speak as a lesbian,” wouldn’t I be processing my understanding of myself through media-induced images of what a lesbian is or through my own idealizations of what a lesbian should be?

The above quotation is extracted from Barbara Johnson’s essay, “Lesbian Spectacles” (1993), in which she tries to “catch [herself] in the act of reading as a lesbian.” Her point is that to catch herself reading “as a lesbian” is to already reaffirm both “lesbian” identity and the (stereotypical, “media-induced”) desire structure of a “lesbian” (and we all know that lesbians have a diverse range of libidinal desires — for instance, I, a Gold Star Lesbian, will happily admit my preference for gay male porn).

What conjured BJ’s essay to mind were the initial thoughts about the abundance of lesbian talk show hosts on TV today — just counting the ones who are “out,” and not closeted ones (because I can name a handful of those, too).

Let’s name them, shall we?

Rosie O’Donnell
Ellen DeGeneres
Jane Velez-Mitchell
Rachel Maddow
Sara Gilbert
Wanda Sykes (whose show was canceled)

And, I’d be remiss if I forgot to mention Brittany S. Pierce, even though her Fondue for Two has only “aired” (via webisode) once (and, even though she’s arguably not a lesbian.)


Or, how about the most famous lesbian talk show host of all time — Alice Pieszecki.

Thinking about the above list of homolabians, I began to wonder how BJ’s idea about “speaking as a lesbian,” and the seeming impossibility of doing so (because the question comes to preclude the possibility), manifests through the daily, nationally-broadcasted performances of these women.

From the vantage point of the viewer, to determine whether, say, Ellen “speaks as a lesbian” automatically entails the elision between sexuality and gender. Why? Because unless I see Ellen get all makey-outey with her wife Portia on camera, I cannot read her sexuality. (Why, yes, you are right to infer some hints of Judith Butler, here!) What I inevitably read, via the visual image projected onto my media screen, is her gendered body. This reading implies two things: 1) it is impossible to read sexuality (unless I’m watching the sexual act unfold) and 2) gender is often (mis)construed as portraying or “revealing” someone’s sexuality. (Gaydar, you’re doing it wrong!)

Here, I’m at a loss, and so I want to ask you, my reader: Can someone speak “as a” lesbian? If yes, how? Furthermore, do you think any of the aforementioned homolabian talk show hosts effectively speak “as a” lesbian? Or, is the impossibility of speaking “as a” lesbian kind of wonderful, in the sense that there isn’t one type of lesbian (gender)?

Dr. Marcie Bianco is gloriously unemployed and homeless — as only one with a handful of useless degrees could be. She currently serves at the Editorial Director of VelvetPark.