I am aware (mostly because I’ve been told) that in some ways I’m probably not a very good lesbian. I’m rock solid in the basics: attraction to women, ability to identify lady-parts by taste, touch and sight, expertise in the function and operation of said parts, attention to detail and excellence in performance, delivery and results. But apparently I fall short in the whole FALAGABATATA (Federal Agency of Lesbian and Gay and Bisexual and Transgender and Transsexual Americans) political/community involvement/cultural awareness area. It’s not that I don’t care about issues that affect us, I do care. It’s just that the issues tend to fall on the serious side of the spectrum while the basics are winking at me from the other end. And that’s distracting. Really, really distracting.
I’d also like to add that although it’s no excuse for failing to keep abreast of current events, my neurologist has diagnosed me with an over-active pleasure center which can make focus and concentration difficult. And I know that on the surface it might seem really great to have your brain release ten, twenty, thirty or even a hundred times more endorphins than the average brain whenever something pleasurable happens, but the truth is it is really fucking great!!
However, in the interest of better and more informative blogging (I did choose Wisdom and Nonsense from The Baroness Lesbiana Von Lichtenclit as my tagline after all), I decided to go for a little surfage on the old webbernet and do some research to help me appear become more politically savvy, community involved and culturally aware.
I figured the GLAAD website would be as a good place as any to start gathering tasty tidbits of information to randomly place in my posts, and after a little clicking around I found the Where We Are On TV Report for the 2011-2012 television season. I’m not one of those pretentious douchetards who brags that they don’t watch or even own a TV when you’re all excited that it’s Shark Week (Seriously, who doesn’t get excited about Shark Week? It’s Shark.FUCKING.Week!), I just never remember to program my DVR and being home on a specific night at a specific time to watch a show with any regularity is way too much of a commitment for me. So imagine my surprise when I began counting the characters on various television shows who are either gay, lesbian or bisexual and found that there are eighty-three of them. And thirty are lesbians or bisexual women! Thirty!! When I was a teenager the total number of lesbians on TV was Jo Polniaczek. And she wasn’t even gay!
Ah yes! Jo Polniaczek. For those lesbians coming of age in the 1980s the name Jo Polniaczek rolls off the tongue like … well, like we fantasized about rolling off Jo Polniaczek’s tongue. Jo was a character on the sitcom Facts Of Life which was set in an all girls boarding school in upstate New York. When she made her first appearance at the start of the second season, cruising up on her motorcycle and strutting into the school cafeteria decked out head-to-toe in denim, we held our collective breath. I’m sure that at that moment, had texting been in existence, in addition to attending the first Renaissance Faire in Los Angeles as a wee tot, watching the first episode of Sesame Street and seeing the debut of MTV, I would have remembered where I was the day the very first OMG!! was ever sent.
Jo had a swagger, a defensive “what the fuck are you looking at” attitude, she could beat people up, she could fix things … and you were pretty sure if you were alone with her in the locker room she might push you up against the shower wall and kiss you. And you knew you’d let her. I also think there are more than a few of us who would still let her, because thirty-two years after Jo Polniaczek first walked through the doors at The Eastland School, there are women making videos like this one dedicated to her and others featuring her and Blair (the snobby, rich girl played by Lisa Welchel, who was initially put off by Jo but eventually surrendered to her boyish charms and became her BFF).
I’m just making assumptions here, but although the character was written as straight I think the producers may have realized that Jo was still a little too gay. Maybe Nancy McKeon, who played her, was receiving a more than a few thinly veiled (or not veiled at all) love letters from young girls, maybe it was the obvious sexual tension between Jo and Blair or maybe too many parents complained about their daughters’ sudden and strange obsession with the character. But whatever the reason, by the middle of the season Jo was engaged and ready to marry her boyfriend Eddie. Again, had texting been around, I believe I might have witnessed the world’s first WTF?! when that episode aired.
When I watched videos above I couldn’t help but smile, they took me back. But they also broke my heart a little. Because even after three decades we’re still out there pouring over the old episodes, searching for the perfect look, glance or grin; clipping, editing, adding music; molding her into what we wanted her to be, what we needed her to be. Not an outspoken voice, not a role model, that wasn’t even an option. Just a reflection, a glimpse, a whisper. Just the slightest indication that we weren’t alone.
When Jo Polniaczek took off that motorcycle helmet and shook out her braids, many of us dared to dream … and in the end we were disappointed. But, I guess those are just the facts of life.
**Many thanks to 40 is the new 13 who sent me in a time machine back to the ’80s where I found the inspiration for this post.**