Hear the phrase “gay culture” and you’ll likely think of gay male culture, and the elements of it that’ve been normalized and celebrated. That’s been the way of things for decades now. From Brokeback Mountain’s Oscar wins to Queer Eye, gay male culture has historically been given a louder and prouder platform than any other letter in the LGBTQ+ acronym. But this year felt different. This year … felt lesbian.
In 2019, there was a paradigm shift in how social media, and pop culture broadly, perceived gay women. It was as if lesbian culture—its memes, language, and stories—was suddenly mainstream. Over the past decade, queer girl culture has been seeping through the cracks of Tumblr, Reddit, and Twitter. But it wasn’t until 2019 that it seemed lesbian culture was lionized and adopted by the masses. To borrow a phrase from Billy Eichner, “Let’s go, lesbians!”
Full disclosure: As the self-identified Overlord of Lesbian Twitter, I may have a skewed vantage point here. It’s difficult for me to distinguish if lesbian culture is mainstream, and that’s why sapphic memes go viral these days, or if there are just a rising number of queer-identifying people who are in on the joke, being loudly lesbian. Based on my very real research (aka Twitter), which was done with the use of science (aka bottomless scrolling), I’d hypothesize that it’s a combination of the two. Regardless, in the last year, it’s felt like queer women’s cultural moments have found popularity far and wide.
The kickoff of 2019’s mainstreaming of lesbian culture happened on January 7, when Twitter user @chastaen tweeted a compilation video of Rachel Weisz “giving gays their rights.” In 2018, Weisz, thanks in part to her roles in Disobedience and The Favourite, emerged as the straight-identifying lesbian icon, engendering a torrent of women asking the actress to “top” them. Soon after, in February, a fan—now a local legend/hero—attended the BAFTA red carpet and asked Weisz to say “gay rights” on-camera. That—plus her Favourite co-star Olivia Colman echoing the same sentiment—became the year’s first major viral lesbian moment. The trend of celebrities saying “gay rights” on red carpets continued, but the inaugural one mattered; it was a joke for queer women that became a part of the internet’s vernacular. The floodgates were open.
Queer women’s love stories went viral, too. US soccer star Megan Rapinoe and her girlfriend Sue Bird became one of the internet’s beloved couples. The duo covered ESPN’s body issue this year, the first out queer couple to do so, and Bird’s essay, “So the President F*cking Hates My Girlfriend,” about Rapinoe being dissed by Donald Trump, was shared far and wide. Rapinoe herself was hailed as an American hero, not just for helping the US Women’s National Soccer Team nab the FIFA Women’s World Cup, but for her sick burn of Trump in her now-infamous “I’m not going to the fucking White House” interview. By the end of 2019, Twitter had deemed her the most-tweeted-about female athlete of the year.
Rapinoe wasn’t the only member of the USWNT to enjoy the adoration of the internet either. Defender Kelley O’Hara’s sideline kiss with her girlfriend was shared ‘round the world, a bit of visibility that felt like part of one of the strongest pushes to elevate queer female athletes in modern history.
Queer stars were extolled elsewhere, too. Like Hunter Schafer from Euphoria, a trans girl who sparked a makeup revolution, and did an official tutorial for Cosmopolitan.
Even lesbian drama went viral. NASA investigated whether one of its astronauts committed the first-ever crime in space by accessing her estranged wife’s bank account from the International Space Station. (I tweeted “LESBIAN SPACE CRIME”—simple—and it swept.) Miley Cyrus and Kaitlynn Carter’s relationship became the only thing pop culture fans had to live for, for like a week. Everyone became personally invested in a—and we can’t stress this enough—rumored love triangle between Tessa Thompson, Janelle Monáe, and Lupita Nyong’o, because we’re only human, and who wouldn’t be obsessed with that? Likely the most standout moment of the year came in May when Cara Delevingne and Ashley Benson were papped carrying a sex bench, which sent the internet into an irreversible horny tizzy. What mattered about 2019 wasn’t just the content of these alleged sapphic moments or the way the internet devoured them, but also how they were received and discussed in the media. That has changed, even nearly 180-ed, in the last decade.