“Saying Sorry”… And having Sex?

I first came across this charming little story in the form of a short script that was submitted to me as part of our, London based, Whipped Cream Productions, women’s film making group.

From the moment I read the story, I absolutely loved it, and so we immediately embraced the challenge of making it into a lesbian short film. Back then, that took us a while, since we were all newbie filmmakers and had a minuscule budget, a fact that will prove most relevant, as I explain further.

Luckily, what we lacked in film-making experience and skill, this little story made up for three-fold and once it was ‘in the can’ we knew we had created something special. This was confirmed the moment the film started its film festival tour and it ended up being screened and even winning awards at a number of LGBTQ film festivals around the world.

However, even back then, I knew my time with this little story wasn’t over. Ever since watching the first debut screening in a cinema in Long Beach, California, something started gnawing at me. Something was missing. It felt like going to a wedding and no one cutting the wedding cake or going to a sparkly new fairground and missing out the Big Dipper.

As time went by, and “Saying Sorry” screened at more festivals, and I was exposed to more and more lesbian films and more conversations were had with fellow filmmakers and enthusiastic viewers, the answer came to me.

Saying Sorry” was not alone.

It became obvious that very often, particularly lesbian films, even “the great ones”, neglected a key area of lesbian lives and loves — namely the physical, sexual aspects.

Now, for reasons I really could not, and would not wish to, deliberate here (perhaps a topic for a different occasion), it has become urban myth/legend that lesbians tend towards a limited sex drive. (As an aside, I wonder whether this is a matter of cause or effect. What I mean by this will be come clear momentarily.)

When questioned about their lack of sexual appetite on the big screen, or elsewhere, some lesbians often argue that “sex is not everything” or “there is more to sex in a relationship”.

Yes, it might be true that sex is not “everything” nor indeed “the only thing”, but it is, as a matter of definition, also arguably, the aspect of our relationships that makes us lesbian – as opposed to members of a knitting circle or book club, or cooking club, or simply platonic friends.

Also, gone are the days that women chose to be “political lesbians”. That might have been a big thing in the seventies, but less so today. In the current, arguably more accepting climate (in the West at least), it isn’t often one’s political persuasion that defines one’s sexuality. It is more urgently a question of whether one wants to “sleep with” another woman — or rather, stay awake with her, all night, and usually all of the next day… or weekend… or week…

And this is precisely my point.

We do stay awake, with the lights on even, sometimes. Sometimes, we even get adventurous and do more than just kiss and cuddle in ambient dim light. Sometimes sex between women can be passionate, raw, assertive …and sometimes we even venture outside of the bedroom, although having said that, perhaps less so in the cold climate of the UK. But it has been known to happen.

“Wow, really?” you say.

But then, reader, I don’t blame you for not knowing any of this, since how would you? It is THE best kept secret about being a lesbian: We. Do. Actually. Have. Sex. Though it is clearly one of the cardinal rules of this secret club: Never to let on! – or risk losing the middle, second and fourth fingers of your dominant hand.

But, I digress.

My point is: luckily, there are quite a fair (not exclusively fare 😉) few warm blooded lesbians out there who believe in and aspire to an active and healthy sex life.

Yet filmmakers, or auteurs of lesbian films, treat the sex scenes in their films either very superficially, with such a “light touch”, trying to be “more tasteful” by “invoking the language of suggestion”, or very often to the extreme of omitting any depiction of intimacy entirely – with a classic “kiss-cut-to-the-morning-after”, thereby “leaving everything to the audience’s imagination.

After all, the imagination is where it all happens. Isn’t it?”

Yes, the imagination might be the powerhouse, but it still needs a spark and, if the imagination is not given a chance to even go there, then nothing is going to happen for anyone! In most cases, come three quarters or five eighths of the way through the film, the poor audience have been led down a winding and often agonising garden path, watching and living vicariously through the two protagonists while they make a good fist of, so to speak, their romantic quest. By that stage, the audience is utterly wrung out and tense with frustration, if the film has been a good one, and they are gagging for the climax, the relief, the triumph they have been rooting for and building up to all that torturous time.

Then, they kiss… YES! Now we’re talking… The audience draws a collective breath…


…and the cock crows, as the boyfriend arrives back from his weekend away, and we are once again off on the final straight of more troubles and tension — leaving the audience completely frustrated, or worse – leaving those not in the know, thinking lesbians never have sex! (Never mind baffled about what lesbians really do in bed!!)

When I enquired how this could possibly be a desirable approach, I was most often met with a curious explanation: They (the filmmakers, and I dare say that this happens even in the mainstream big budget films) have chosen a more subtle approach to “avoid the male gaze”.

Well, hello! This also seems to avoid the female gaze!

And yes, here is another little-known fact. Women also have eyes and ears they do get turned on by what they see and hear. Yes, we are a tougher audience, because unlike teenage boys who merely need the slightest glimpse of a mammary gland to pop their stoppers, it does take a little more imagination in the presentation to get us going. But get going – and coming – we can do too. So why deny us that pleasure too?

When pressed a little harder, filmmakers do raise two very valid practical reasons for the omission of sexually revealing content in their films:

1) On a low budget one cannot usually afford to pay an actor enough to take their clothes off and any attempt to persuade actors, sometimes results in a rather surreal conversation, along the lines of: “So that is £XXXX for exposing one breast, minus a nipple, but with nipple, it will cost £XXXXXX, a body double and a week’s bronzing in the Bahamas?” …Director scratches her head. “Okay, well I think we need to make this a lesbian film – so we can cut from the first kiss straight to the moving-in-scene.”

2) As an inexperienced film-maker, shooting a sex scene is very daunting! Never mind getting your lefts and rights and nomenclature sorted, there is nothing quite as exposing, difficult and ironically un-sexy, as trying to instruct two (or more) people you’ve only just met a few days before in an audition, who don’t know each-other from Eve, on how to make love – in front of a clock watching, jobbing crew of at least six other people. Lofty, creative and artistic ideas of doing your job as a director – to help the actors look sexy, seem sexy, never mind “feel sexy” under such clinical scrutiny – never get a look in.

At least we can all agree that these are fair points, both of which I have experienced first hand.

But, as a writer, I am lucky not to be bound by these practical limitations. Don’t get me wrong, writing one’s first few sex scenes can be difficult, exposing, even harrowing, sometimes. But it is nothing like trying to direct a real scene. …Ask anyone who has dabbled in a threesome!

Back to the point… and I do have one.

So, I decided to conduct a little experiment. Having been guilty of these same film-making shortcomings in the making of “Saying Sorry”, I decided to write the same wonderful little story as a narrative, but this time include the scenes that I think could or should have been included in the film. My aim was to see for myself, analyse and encourage a debate about whether those scenes are in fact gratuitous (as so many claim about sex scenes in general) or whether this additional material actually provides a greater depth and a better or fuller understanding of the story and the characters.

Read it here: http://SamSkyborne.com/Saying-Sorry and discuss: http://SamSkyborne.com/Review-Saying-Sorry

PS… I decided to do the same (and so start the L.E.S COMBO Collection) with “Cat Sitting” – another of my early lesbian short films about a classical lesbian dilemma: To do or, not to do, the cat-sitting when your ex goes on holiday with her new squeeze. Read the short story of that film here: http://SamSkyborne.com/Cat-Sitting