[Disclaimer: I don't discuss Kalinda from The Good Wife in this piece because I've just started watching it on DVD and haven't gotten to any of the queer parts yet.]
Following lesbian characters on television can be super-depressing. This hesitant, cynical and often self-destructive hobby requires one to constantly prepare for the worst, and by “the worst” we mean “sweeps week bisexuals” and “lesbians dying in a fire.” This year, however, things got just a little bit brighter… and then, mere moments from getting exactly what we wanted, these storylines hurled us mercilessly back to third base to pick dandelions, write fan-fiction and create an epilepsy-inducing number of animated gifs. This is where I wish there was a better word than “blue balls” for “blue balls” so I could use it right now.
We shared some special moments this year though, that’s for sure. My socks were shocked right off my tender soft feet when the now “label-free” Tara opened True Blood‘s Fourth Season in bed with another lady. We cried during Pretty Little Liars when Paige came out to Emily and Emily’s Mom grew to love and accept her daughter. On Glee, Santana‘s sudden self-realization mirrored mine almost exactly (only ten years younger than I was) and touched me in a way I thought Glee never could. Callie and Arizona finally tied the knot on Grey’s Anatomy and both wore dresses which sufficiently showcased their significant racks.
For the first 40 minutes or so of Tea‘s storyline on Skins US, she actually seemed real and fleshed-out, like the kids in the original Skins. The Fifth Season of Skins introduced us to pansexual genderqueer Franky, the most innovative queer female character I’ve ever written about, who explains to inquiring friends that she just “likes people.” On Coronation Street, Sophie & Sian kicked off the new year by having sex for the first time, and it was sweet and new and unafraid. Degrassi managed to do a trans story AND a lesbian story right in the very same season, a feat never before accomplished (sorry Ilene, yours sucked).
In March, I noted that “this season we were permitted to dream” and that “this season we felt slightly less like Lesbo Bevis & Butthead or desperate superfans because the little things we picked up on — Mini’s attraction to Franky, Santana and Brittany’s chemistry — actually got fleshed out, even just a little.”
So is it the nature of television and storytelling itself, or of queer women on television specifically, that our dreams were always slightly dashed? That every single one of these storylines found a way to fuck or ignore us in the end? Or are we really just expecting too much to happen too soon? What’s the difference between a cliffhanger and a disappointment? Let’s discuss.
Pretty Little Liars‘ Emily Fields rocked our expectations from the get-go, bucking tradition by maintaining the gay rather than discarding it, despite the opposite occurring in the books on which the series was based. Double bonus: Pretty Little Liars is a good fucking show.
Now — we’re not out-of-touch with our controversial nature, nobody’s expecting a graphic lip-lock, passionate sex or partial nudity from a lesbian couple. Clearly Emily and Maya prefer rocking back and forth and hugging in a fire-hazardous den of candles to clam-diving, as is so often the wont of lesbians in prime-time.
But when we returned to Rosewood after Season One hiatus, Paige and her Tender Coming Out Story had VANISHED into the ether. A. psychotically fucked Emily’s “relationship” with Samara before we had a chance to notice that Samara had the personality of a paper bag. Then Maya returned… just to be friends! The series’ last several episodes were killer, as far as teevee episodes go, but Emily’s burning loins were sadly sidelined. Meanwhile, Aria/Ezra, Toby/Spencer and Hannah/Caleb practically got their own romance novels.
A similar fate befell Santana and Brittany on Glee and Tara on True Blood. As True Blood’s awesome season wound down, and by “wound down” I mean “exploded with witchcraft, bloodlust and fairie dust,” Tara’s lezzie lovefest receded into the nether-reaches of story-ville while gay couple Lafayette and Jesus took center stage. The show is undeniably queer and we all have crushes on Pam, and sometimes Lesbian Sex Queen Evan Rachel Wood Bisexuals face the True Death for reasons unrelated to their sexuality. Luckily I don’t watch True Blood for the lesbian action, I watch it ’cause it’s awesome. Oh right, also, Tara might be dead!
Glee‘s Santana Lopez finished Season Two with a fingerbang (not literally, obvs). Her biting sass flourished within her newfound sexuality. She bashed cliche in the face and returned full-fledged lez for Season Three, wherein despite FINALLY hooking up with Brittany S.Pierce and becoming girlfriends, the writers slaughtered her and all of us into angry vadge-radge bits of former human flesh with the abysmal I Kissed a Girl episode. Let’s not even get into Brit-Brit, who’s looked constipated rather than in love for the last several episodes and apparently is adapting notelessly to her new queer identity. The ratio of Brittana Moments to Klaine Moments rests at about 0 : 1567. Straight couples are lip-locking like it’s going out of style, Blaine & Kurt got a “first time sex” episode, and although Santana and Brittany have been sleeping together since Season One, we’ve yet to see them kiss!
Skins US began with an apparently catastrophic disappointment named Tea on a show blasphemously named Skins as it vaguely resembled, insofar as a Beatles Tribute Band resembles The Beatles, the British original. Tea, hyped as a fantastic raygun of Lesbian Character, was indeed a cool chick with cute outfits/hair/voice. She was confident and often immature, but rarely naive. But then she had sex with a boy, thus igniting the kindling of lesbo-vadge-angry-rage boiling in the vagina of every lesbian on the internet. The show itself was so abysmally unwatchable, however, that it was difficult to know where exactly to start when registering complaints about its varied failures.
Then how about those lesbian weddings, eh? This year Arizona and Callie on Grey’s Anatomy finally tied the knot after many episodes of teeny-tiny snatches of screentime! But Grey’s tasteless decision to intercut the Calizona wedding with the Meredith/McDreamybits “let’s adopt a baby and get married today instead of going to our friends’ gay wedding!” ridiculousness was insulting and lame.
Overseas, our queers fared much better, and although the calamitous wedding between Sophie Webster and Sian Powers was devastating, that devastation wasn’t a result of homo-reluctance. 19-year-old actress Sascha Parkinson, who plays Sian, declined to renew her 2012 contract with Coronation Street, and this is how they god rid of her.
I won’t spoil it for you if you’ve yet to catch up, but honestly I wish Sian had just died in a fire, because what happened instead broke my heart into a million little pieces. Sophie & Sian’s story has been, in my opinion, the most tender, realistic, complicated portrayal of a teenage lesbian relationship on television. AND NOW IT’S OVER.
The fifth season of UK Skins ended in a trippy sex-fantasy field-romp wherein we confirmed that Mini has a big fat lesbian crush on Franky. At some point in this colorful season finale, I believe Mini tried to kill Matty but unfortunately for me and my automatic dislike of brooding-emo-boy-characters who can be as dickish as they want because they have so many FEELINGS, she fails. Minky ‘shippers expecting the finale to thrust Franky into Mini’s arms were disappointed, as the season ended with a cliffhanger in Matty’s favor. When the series returns on January 23rd, it’ll stay that way — apparently no Mini/Franky action is in store, and worse, Franky might be losing her genderqueer style. They’ll also be adding a gay male to the cast.
On Degrassi, Fiona‘s coming out was handled with typical Degrassi Finesse, and her friends’ reaction to the news set a good example for high schoolers everywhere. But her relationship with her first potential love interest, Charlie, ends fairly quickly when Fiona decides she’s just not ready for a relationship because of issues relating to still dealing with her alcoholism. A few episodes later, Charlie has a new girlfriend and Fiona is shipping off for rehab.
So yeah, last season gave us hope, and I think we’ll keep on hoping, and I think things are getting better. But ultimately, one can’t help but wonder if the perpetual lack of lesbian follow-through — all the cheap endings and the sidelined relationships — reflects, at this point, any kind of prejudice so much as it reflects the utter lack of women, let alone queer women, in the writer’s room and on production teams. (This is true for many minorities, of course — as the wise Gabby Rivera once tweeted, “why do the writers at #Glee have to write the most ridiculous storylines for mercedes? have they never met any black girls before? #totsmyass.”) Only 15% of the writers of broadcast network television are women and only about ten percent of working television writers are of color.
Before I go on, I’ll add that I think any good writer, regardless of gender/race/sexual orientation, can write awesome characters of any gender/race/sexual orientation. But when you can’t draw from your own personal experiences, then you’ve gotta either draw from the personal experiences of your friends/peers/family/colleagues or do some research/fieldwork/due-diligence. Unfortunately many TV writers seem to take the lazy way out, which is to base the character on Stereotypes and Tropes.
[Sidenote: Glee did hire a lesbian writer this year, but she seems as woefully misinformed about Brittana's lip-locking past as her male counterparts, so, you know, maybe it's HOPELESS.]
What’s interesting is that there’s a relative abundance of gay men working in Hollywood, which might be why we’ve seen so many fleshed-out gay male characters over the years despite the fact that socially, gay men are no more accepted by the mainstream than gay women are. This year, only 33% of LGBT characters on television are women. Last year it was 30%. Where did all these gay characters come from, I wonder…
Let’s dig a little deeper, shall we?
I think my favorite Gays are David Fisher and Keith from Six Feet Under, created by Alan Ball, a gay man. Alan Ball is also responsible for Lafayette, Jesus and a host of gay and bisexual male vampires on True Blood.
The up-and-coming Kurt Hummel and Blaine Anderson were created by Ryan Murphy, a gay man.
Max Mutchnican, a gay man, co-created and produced the perpetual Emmy Winner Will & Grace, the first sitcom to actually be about a gay man. The Will & Grace production and editing team also included Abraham Higginbotham, a gay man.
Screenwriter Greg Berlanti, a gay man, wrote for Dawson’s Creek, home of gay character Jack McPhee, and was the showrunner for Brothers & Sisters, home of gay character Kevin Walker and his boyfriend Scotty. Brothers & Sisters was created by Jon Robin Baitz, a gay man. Aforementioned Greg Berlanti also wrote Everwood, honored by AfterElton for gay male character Kyle’s excellent coming out scene.
Ugly Betty‘s executive producer/co-showrunner Marco Penette, a gay man, was commended by AfterElton.com in 2007 for the show’s positive portrayal of LGBT issues and its gay male character Marc St. James. In fact, the Colombian telenovela Yo Soy Betty la Fea was adapted into the ABC series Ugly Betty by Silvio Horta, a gay man, who went on to be the head writer and executive producer of Ugly Betty.
Abraham Higginbotham, a gay man, and Oliver Goldstick, a gay man, were also part of Ugly Betty‘s production/writing team. Higginbotham has also worked on Modern Family, a sitcom featuring a gay male couple; and Oliver Goldstick also worked on aforementioned Everwood.
Tony Holland, a gay man, is best known for his work as writer and co-producer of British Soap EastEnders, hailed for its groundbreaking gay male character, gay Syed Masood. Darren Starr, a gay man and a producer/director/writer, created Melrose Place and Sex & The City. Melrose Place, which aired from 1992-1999, broke serious ground with its gay character Matt Fielding. Sex & the City had two major gay male characters. Also involved in Sex & The City was gay writer Michael Patrick King. Michael Patrick King also wrote for Will & Grace.
I could go on, but I won’t, because you’re probably bored. It’s worth pointing out, however, that that’s just what I came up with by checking out the men on Wikipedia’s list of LGBT screenwriters, a list which likely represents about ten percent of what’s actually out there.
It seems like the shows with the most lesbian follow-through tend to be, well, lesbian shows. Ellen Morgan was played by a lesbian actress, Will Truman was played by a straight man. And although Ilene Chaiken is a terrible storyteller in general, her representation of and dedication to so many dynamic lesbian characters on The L Word was (and remains) unprecedented. Finally, we were the majority of a writing/production team, and many fantastic lesbian writers penned L Word episodes, like Cherin Dabis and Angela Robinson.
Regardless, I’m choosing optimism this season. We made a shit-ton of progress last year — the fact that I have so many lesbian characters to write about in the first place is pretty wild to begin with. And hopefully our one million lesbo vadge-angry-rage voices will do something to compensate for any voice we’re lacking inside the writer’s room.
Pretty Little Liars - January 2nd – ABC Family
Glee - January 17th – Fox
Skins – January 23rd – e4