It’s been a groundbreaking and occasionally disappointing year of television for the queer lady contingent. On the one hand, we were gifted with Netflix’s Orange is The New Black, which features more LGBT women than any American program since The L Word, as well as the most racially and generationally diverse cast of women in recent memory. We got The Fosters, a triumphant departure from traditional coming-of-age lesbian narratives with its nuanced portrayal of lesbian parenthood. We got a bunch of queers on non-US programs like Lost Girl, Orphan Black and Wentworth. We were surprised to get some minor lesbian characters on shows like The Killing, The Walking Dead and Masters of Sex, as well as on misogynistic horrific programs like Ray Donovan and Two and a Half Men. Meanwhile, shows like True Blood and Grey’s Anatomy basically maintained their queer lady characters’ status quo. But we also saw queer female characters mistreated, ignored, killed or written out on Mistresses, Under the Dome, Defiance, Once Upon a Time, Chicago Fire, The Good Wife and Skins Fire. Prominent lesbian storylines on Glee and Pretty Little Liars had their moments but often took an unfortunate backseat to hetero necking.
It was a year of many ups and downs! So we gathered some of our most prolific teevee watchers to share their personal favorite characters of the season.
Kate, Contributing Editor
Recaps: Orange is the New Black and Once Upon a Time, formerly Bomb Girls
Betty McCrae (Ali Liebert), Bomb Girls
Betty McCrae of Bomb Girls is number one lesbian of my heart, top of the tops, my gay sister from another mister, etc. I think she’s the best lesbian on television but psh who am I to talk? My bias is already showing. I have such strong and intense feelings for her that it often caused my recaps to devolve into keyboard smashing and gifs of children crying. 2013 was the year of Betty McCrae finally getting laid and going to jail so the woman she loves has a shot at a normal and happy life. We all cried about it, we’re probably still crying about it. What I love about Betty is everything, but if I had to give concrete reasons, I’d probably talk about her unapologetic confidence, how she thinks with her heart and her gut and rarely anything else, and the fact that she appears in a period drama where the hard truth of her sexuality is handled realistically and endearingly. I will root for her no matter what. I am her cheerleader now and forever. I wish she was real and lived in my time period so I could be her co-conspirator in everything she does. I wish she wasn’t going to probably die early and miserably as a result of all the hazardous chemicals she and the other characters are constantly being exposed to in the factory. I have a lot of feelings about Betty McCrae. I think she’s the best, I really do.
Franky Doyle (Nicole da Silva), Wentworth
Franky Fucking Doyle, ladies and gentlehomos. Oh, Wentworth, you pushed all my buttons this year and oh man were those buttons ever right. If you thought Shane was too soft and easy-going, let me introduce you to Nicole da Silva’s portrayal of the inmate who could beat the shit out of Alex Vause any day of the week. Franky’s far from perfect, and she’s all kinds of trouble, but the sexual tension between her and the warden is maddeningly thick. I’m so stupidly into it and Franky is so stupidly amazing.
The entire cast of Orange Is The New Black
Everyone on Orange is The New Black, basically. I couldn’t pick one, so I just picked everyone. You have your favorites, I’m sure, because maybe you were like me and your little butch heart felt just a little more validated every time Big Boo was onscreen. Or maybe you’re obsessed with Poussey because you have a pulse, or maybe it was all about Nicky or maybe “Crazy Eyes” is crazy amazing or maybe you just want Alex to sex you up, I don’t know. But the queer ladies of Orange is the New Black were a huge deal this year for a lot of reasons, and I know a heck of a lot of you have a special place in your heart for this show and its cast.
Riese, Television Editor
Recaps: Glee, formerly The L Word franchise, Pretty Little Liars and Skins
Betty DiMello (Annaleigh Ashford), Masters of Sex
I came for the lesbian sex worker and Janis Ian, I stayed for Margaret Scully and Dr. Lillian DePaul, and I gouged out my own eyeballs in honor of William Masters. Although she vanished into the Lesbian Netherworld after Episode Three, I had high hopes and great affections for Betty and her friends at the brothel — let’s just say I have a special relationship with that whole universe and it was so cool to see it portrayed on screen in a different era. The show seems relatively committed to exploring the different ways in which women of the era accessed (or didn’t) independence and mobility in, and that’s an investigation that, in my opinion, benefits greatly from the inclusion of female sex workers. Here’s hoping that Season Two features a lot more Betty and hopefully William Masters dying of some terrible plague so I never have to listen to his boring egotistical nonsense or look at his stupid weasel face again.
Bo (Anna Silk), Lost Girl
There’s lots to hate about Lost Girl, but its portrayal of bisexuality isn’t one of them — and I’d argue it’s the best portrayal of a bisexual female in the history of television. It’s amazing, episode after episode, to see no privileging of male-female relationships over female-female ones, no wrought-out discussions of which gender she prefers, and no shying away from serious girl-on-girl action. That being said, as I wrote in I Just Now Saw, I was devastated to see the Lauren-Bo union in Season Three transform from the sexually electrifying and emotionally complex coupling we’d fallen for and replaced by the standard media depiction of lesbian relationships as tedious, passionless and high on emotional processing. They got off to a good start — those early-season sex scenes, for example — but as Season Three prodded on I was repeatedly frustrated by how intensely it seemed the show wanted us to favor Bo and Dyson.
But then Season Four happened, and Bo and Lauren reunited, The Morrigan made a scissoring joke, and Bo got drugged by Vex and said ten million adorable things about getting back together with Lauren. This “getting back together” situation turned out to be short-lived, but at least the lesbian sex train hasn’t slowed down this season (thank you Ali Liebert, Professional Gay) and last week we were treated to Bo and Lauren hooking up in period costumes! Bo makes the best Robin Hood EVER, y’all.
But honestly my favorite think about this character isn’t who she sleeps with: it’s who she doesn’t. The most important relationship in Bo’s life is, undoubtedly, her relationship with her best friend Kenzi. I imagine they’ve got passionate ‘shippers out there, but I prefer them as besties. I think it really speaks to the concept of “chosen family’ and an increasing cultural trend amongst young women to privilege their female friendships above boyfriends, girlfriends, and even blood relations, and we don’t see enough of that on television.
Suzanne Warren (Uzo Aduba), Orange is The New Black
Orange is The New Black is awesome for so many reasons and Suzanne manages to encompass just about all of them:
- Woman of color.
- Evolves far beyond the initial stereotype she seems to be.
- She’s more than just her background/circumstances— she’s determined to independently manage her mental illness within an unfriendly institutional system.
- Her storyline consistently surprises the audience and bucks expectations.
- FUNNY AS HELL
Also I cheated the system and got my hands on some sides for Season Two, and I’m super-excited for all the fleshing out of her character we’re gonna see next year! But really can we just see Sue do Shakespeare forever? I would really appreciate that.
Mey, Contributing Editor
Sophia Burset (Laverne Cox), Orange is The New Black
In a lot of ways I feel like Sophia Burset is the TV character I’ve been waiting for my entire life. She’s a trans woman of color who’s in a relationship with another woman, she’s played by an actual trans actress (and a super talented one at that), she’s on a show all about women, and in a cast filled with powerful performances and brilliant characters she stands out as the breakout star. Before Sophia, the only place I could regularly watch a trans woman of color on a fictional TV show was Glee, and I think we all know how absurdly problematic their treatment of Unique is.
With Sophia it’s different. Laverne Cox fills her performance with so much reality and life that Sophia is instantly one of the most sympathetic and likable characters on a show filled with women that you can’t help but feel for and root for. Although we do see some of the regular tropes, for instance other characters misgender her and a lot of jokes are made about her genitals, she is anything but a one dimensional character. She has complicated relationships with her wife, her son, Piper and later on Sister Ingalls, and these relationships are filled with moments that range from being hilarious, to touching, to downright intense. She sends the viewer on a trip through every imaginable emotion. Seeing what happens when she bumps into an old coworker when out shopping with her son devastated me. Watching her cleverly figure out a way to get a visit to the doctor so that she can get her much need hormones made me laugh and cheer.
One of my favorite moments comes when Sophia is early in her transition and she’s still getting a hang on the way she wants to dress. Her first outfit is a bit immature for her, to say the least, but when her wife picks out a dress for her and Sophia gets a look at herself in the mirror, a shift takes place. She says, “Holy shit, I look hot,” and you can tell that for the first time she really feels it. As a trans woman I don’t think I’ve ever related to a TV moment more than that one. Sophia is gorgeous, smart, funny, driven and strong. She knows what she wants and what she deserves, and she’s willing to fight to get it.
She’s not a there to be comic relief, but she has some of the funniest lines in the show. Aside from all of this, her character points out a very real issue that trans women (mainly trans women of color) face. The American prison system is impossibly stacked against trans women. Whether it’s access to hormones, safe living environments, protection from harassment or even just getting to stay in a women’s prison as opposed to a men’s one, trans women are struggling. Thanks to Sophia Burset (and Laverne Cox who has appeared many times outside the show advocating for trans women’s rights) people are starting to pay attention to a group of women who are often forgotten and ignored. This is a a character who isn’t just changing TV, she’s helping to change the lives and livelihoods of women in the real world.
Ms. Hudson (Candis Cayne), Elementary
If you’re not familiar with Elementary it’s sort of like an American version of the BBC’s Sherlock except Watson is played by the incredible Lucy Liu (several other prominent characters are people of color as well), Sherlock isn’t a total jerk and Moriarty is a woman. Oh, and also Miss Hudson, whom Sherlock Holmes fans will recognize from the original books as Holmes’ landlady is a trans woman played by a trans actress. It’s kind of a shame, but instances where trans characters are played by trans actors and actresses are still few and far between. So when I heard that actress Candis Cayne was going to be playing a character on one of my favorite shows I was overjoyed. When her character was treated with respect and had a storyline that didn’t resolve around her transition or her being violently murdered because of her trans status I was elated.
Miss Hudson appeared in just one episode, episode 19 of the first season, titled “Snow Angels,” and wasn’t even necessarily the main focus of the episode. Perhaps that’s part of what makes her so remarkable. She seems like such a casual part of the universe, she’s just another person in Sherlock’s life, not a character whose entire existence revolves around her being trans or who is there to shock viewers and ramp up ratings. Her trans status is brought up only once, by Watson when she’s asking Sherlock who their new temporary roommate is. Unlike most trans characters on TV, Miss Hudson has a surplus of interesting qualities aside from her transness. According to Holmes, she’s an expert in Ancient Greek, an autodidact, someone who’s helped him solve cases in England and a woman who works as a “muse” for powerful men who need inspiration. She’s charming and helpful (she arranges Sherlock’s books in order of “academic rigor”), she has a rich and full love life and she gives Watson a female friend to talk to.
Her first appearance was fun, but altogether too short. Since the episode ends with her being invited to clean Holmes and Watson’s house on a biweekly basis, we’ll hopefully be seeing her again very soon.
Recaps: American Horror Story
Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), Orange is the New Black
Piper Chapman, the over-privileged protagonist of Orange is the New Black, was met with a chorus of eyeball rolls when she first appeared. Many viewers found her unlikeable and uninteresting. Even OINTB creator Jenji Kohan admitted that Piper’s whiteness and blondeness was a Trojan horse she used to sneak in stories of women of color, of queer women… stories she couldn’t get financing for otherwise. But also, in my opinion, Piper Chapman is one of the (fuck it, IS) the most nuanced portrayal of a bisexual woman on television. Ever. Most shows with bisexual characters frame their queer relationships as experimental, a pit stop on the road to eventually “finding the right guy.” In OITNB, Piper has deep, meaningful relationships with both Larry and Alex — neither are a fling or an experiment or a drunken hook-up that is quickly explained away so as not to alienate a mostly straight audience. Each relationship holds tremendous emotional weight for Piper, which is why it is so gut-wrenching when (Spoiler Alert!) she loses them both. Many people take issue with the fact that Piper doesn’t identify herself as bisexual, calling herself a “former lesbian” and describing sex on the Kinsey scale. But if actions speak louder than words, then Piper Chapman is the de facto bisexual character we’ve all been waiting for. Bitches gots to learn indeed.
Pam Swynford De Beaufort (Kristin Bauer van Straten) and Tara Thornton (Rutina Wesley), True Blood
Hey, remember in the summer of 2012 when Tara and Pam hooked up in the True Blood season finale and we all thought, “Finally! A lesbian relationship on what is arguably the gayest show to ever exist?” And then remember last summer when they proceeded to give us NO STORYLINES OR ACKNOWLEDGMENT that they were a couple? What the hot interracial relationship lesbian vampire fuck happened?! So they had time to devote a whole storyline to Andy Bellefleur’s fairy children and give Terry Bellefleur a fucking story arc, but nothing for the two most interesting women on the show? (sorry Sookie) This is almost as bad as the season where Tara became a lesbian cage fighter and then suddenly wasn’t anymore. Can’t wait to tune in this summer, when Pam spends the entire season taking a nap and Arlene’s kids get their own full-fledged storyline.
Every Character on American Horror Story
Coming off of season two of American Horror Story, which gave us the lesbian lead character Lana Winters, I was confident that this season would bring even more queer content. I mean, it’s got queer actresses, boarding school, and witches! Fucking witches, y’all! How could this not be supergay? Well, in classic Ryan Murphy fashion, he built up our expectations so high and then ceased to deliver on anything we wanted to see. Don’t get me wrong, I am loving this season so far; it is a festival of batshittery and nonsense. This will always be remembered as the season that gave us Kathy Bates’s head on a silver platter…LITERALLY. I just wish more ladies were making out with each other’s faces. We did get Zoe and Madison in a zombie threesome with FrankenKyle, so I guess that’s something? Here’s hoping that in the remaining four episodes we get to see Cordelia’s sex life resurrected by Misty Day. And now that the coven is teamed up with Marie Laveau, anything can happen. A girl can dream, right?
Lizz, Fashion/Style Editor
Recaps: Pretty Little Liars
Shana (Aeriél Miranda), Pretty Little Liars
I ship Paige and Emily just as hard as any true Pretty Little Liars fan, but this season was all about Shana. Shana, played by Aériel Miranda, appeared this January during Season 3b and, unlike maybe peripheral lesbians before her, did not disappear into obscurity during Season 4a. Instead she became an integral part of the fucked up ass backwards complexity that is this TV show.
For once Pretty Little Liars brings us a troublemaking dyke with a wicked fun personality. Sure, Samara was nice, Maya was crazy and Paige is both nice and crazy. But Shana? Shana is an evil, calculating, cold naturally born winner. Shana is hard as hell and out to kill. Plus, between crushing on Jenna and her summer fling with Paige, Shana brings the show some much needed dyke drama. Nothing on Pretty Little Liars was quite as unbelievable as the idea that every lesbian in the greater Rosewood area was there to date Emily. Or that they would never stir up drama.
Plus remember that time she met Missy Franklin and in the middle of all the A drama took the time to make sure Emily met her too!
Dani (Demi Lovato), Glee
Is it just me or is Demi Lovato playing a lesbian on Glee a Big Deal?! It’s like one day Demi Lovato woke up and was like, “I guess since I’m not on the Disney Channel anymore I should just go back on TV as a raging lesbotron.” I approve. What can I say? I’m a sucker for a celebrity guest.
It was really disappointing that Dani’s debut came with a truckload of biphobic comments — this is a Ryan Murphy production, after all. But that aside, Dani might be the most realistic depiction of a young lesbian on TV ever. She works a shitty job in New York City, is uncomfortably committed to carrying her guitar everywhere, dyes her hair the most unfortunate colors and has basically already moved into her girlfriend’s apartment in Bushwick. Plus the lesbian bed death of she and Santana’s relationship has already set in hard and fast. The two shared one quick kiss and then seem to have fallen into just playing scrabble and knitting every night.
Anne (Julie White), Go On
I’m one of the few people on the planet who was really crazy about Go On. I don’t know if it was some bizarre unrealized long-term love for Friends or just a general commitment to dark death comedy, but I really really like Go On. Plus I fucking love Anne, the lesbian widow.
Anne gives us curt, humorous picture of a lesbian window in finally recovering from grief. We’re so often subjected to the repeated and prolonged image of two gay people finally finding true love forever and ever (see: Kurt and Blaine) but lately we’ve been missing what happens when that love ends. I hate to break it to you guys, but one person usually has to die first. Then what? What when instead of being the teenage Emily/Santanas of the world — or for that matter the thirty-something Shane/Alex Vause— you’re middled aged, heart broken and you have two kids who just lost their mom.
This year brought us some of Anne’s best moments. Quick-witted as ever, she got a cute young girlfriend and even gets propositioned by Courteney Cox. We finally got to see her make real steps towards reconciling the grief she felt towards her late wife and attracted towards new women. Unfortunately, like all Matthew Perry shows, Go On got canceled and with that, the end of Anne. But she was awesome while it lasted.
Recaps: The Fosters
Stef Foster (Teri Polo) & Lena Foster (Sherri Saum), The Fosters
Once upon a time, ABC Family made a TV show called The Fosters with hot lesbian moms as the main characters and then actually showed them parenting! Stef and Lena are the even-keeled parents every kid would love to have but, more importantly, they are the loving, adorable couple that most lady-lovin’ ladies want to see onscreen. As much as I complained about the lack of sexy times and passion, the relationship between Stef and Lena is shown as deep, beautiful and imperfect. They snap at each other and argue and then tease each other and make jokes and all of that makes it seem so real. They seem like people we might actually know. Sometimes, they seem like people we might be. The honest depiction of family life is a victory for visibility. And the show gets bonus points for Stef and her cop uniform and Lena and her annoyed facial expressions which are always perfect.
In conclusion, we’d like to give an honorable mention to Caleb on Pretty Little Liars, the first lesbian on ABC Family to get their very own spinoff!
Who were your favorite queer TV characters of 2013?