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As a twenty-something lesbian with a (guilty) penchant for reality TV, who keenly followed BBC Three’s groundbreaking I Kissed a Boy when it premiered last year, it is safe to say that the announcement that Dannii Minogue would be returning to our screens this summer to host the original’s sapphic ‘sister-series’, I Kissed a Girl, had me very excited!

The first few episodes have certainly not disappointed. Beyond the beautiful sun-soaked Italian masseria and expected level of romantic chaos, it was a discussion between the cast in the second episode regarding the label ‘lesbian’ that really struck a chord with me.

One of the cast members and fellow northerner, Georgia, spearheaded the conversation by asking the girls – in a faux-whispered tone – how they felt about the word ‘lesbian’.

While one or two reactions were positive, such as Priya’s confident response that she didn’t think people should “shy away” from the word, the majority of the cast replied that they preferred to describe themselves as ‘gay’ or ‘queer’, with one contestant — Naee — stating, “I don’t like using the word lesbian.” I immediately related.

Like many of the cast, I had so frequently heard the label ‘lesbian’ used in a wholly negative way. Like ‘gay’, it was casually thrown around for years by some peers at school as an almost slur — a marker of total difference and rendering any unlucky target as an object of mockery, disgust and gossip. God forbid someone ‘acted’ or ‘looked like a lesbian’. I still wince when thinking about it.

As Georgia went on to say, “growing up, it was used in a way to sort of suggest that there was something wrong with you” — because of this, when I started questioning my sexuality, being a lesbian didn’t even seem like an option to me.

It wasn’t until I left school that I could even admit to myself that I was one, nevermind describe myself in that way. The word didn’t even come out, no pun intended, of my mouth until a long time later while at university.

Even then, and still sometimes now, I frequently struggled to say it — like Naee and many of the I Kissed a Girl cast, preferring ‘gay’ or ‘queer’.

It has been powerful and much-needed positive recent media representations of lesbians, ranging from conversations such as on I Kissed a Girl, to characters including the relatable, anxious ‘wee lesbian’ schoolgirl Clare Devlin in Derry Girls and charismatic high-school couple Tara and Darcy from Heartstopper, that have allowed me to become more comfortable with the word as I have become older.

These empowering representations have highlighted to me that it is sadly still typically within schools that words like lesbian are first imbued with negative associations, and that once this has happened, it is incredibly difficult for many people to separate them. Looking back, my complicated feelings regarding my identity and label would have likely been monumentally different had I had positive LGBTQIA+ education and representation around me at school, supported by teachers willing to actively tackle harmful use of words like ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’.

While impossible to change the past, schools do have great power to shape the future — namely to make a tremendous and positive impact on the lives of their LGBTQIA+ students, and allow them to grow up without an inherent sense of shame attached to their identity.

As Georgia highlighted, she wished she could tell her younger self “you are a lesbian, why would you not want to be a lesbian?” And now I feel the same, too.

Representation is so vital. Derry Girls’ Clare always features in the story that I share when giving school talks as a Just Like Us ambassador. Her journey with the word mirroring my own and demonstrating how difficult it can be for many LGBTQIA+ people to come to terms with both their identity and label. Perhaps now the I Kissed a Girl cast’s bold and raw conversation will feature in my story too.

As I Kissed a Girl continues to prove to the world, ‘lesbian’ is certainly not a dirty word. Rather, it is a beautiful, joyful, and something to be celebrated.

As Georgia stated, lesbian is “such a good” word, ready to be proudly shouted — not whispered — from the rooftops. After all, as she so eloquently told the rest of her castmates, there is a beautiful and ‘badass’ historical reason that the ‘L’ comes first in LGBTQ+ — so why should we be ashamed of saying it?

Lily volunteers as a Just Like Us ambassador – you can sign up to take part too.