Here is Your 2015 Queer Lady TV Epic Infographic!

During the final season of The L Word, all the way back in 2009, I spent half my life responding to emails from other lesbian bloggers talking about, “What in the world are we going to write about when this show ends?” I did not know. No one knew. Probably we would be recapping international TV shows from YouTube clips with fan-made subtitles.

We clung to flashes of hope because that’s all we had. The guy who executive produced Sex and the City was creating a new show for broadcast TV called Cashmere Mafia and one of the main ladies was going to be gay! There were no leading queer women on broadcast primetime TV! It was a big deal! But it barely lasted half a season. Same with a handful of other shows you probably don’t even remember. FlashForward, for example. HawthoRNe. Stargate Universe. The 90210 remake was going to feature a bisexual lady-teen! But they only trotted out her queerness for a three-episode arc during a Sweeps Week/The O.C.-style ratings stunt. Same with the bi character on the remake of Melrose Place.

Around that time, I started a spreadsheet to keep tabs on all the queer female characters on TV. It was an easy task because there were only a handful of new ones every year, and they fit neatly into black-and-white categories. They were lesbians or they were bisexual. They had girlfriends (which meant their queerness was visible) or they did not (which meant their queerness was not a factor). They were alive or they’d fallen victim to the second-oldest trope in the Big Book of Lesbian Storytelling. (No. 1: Sleeps with a man. No. 2: Is killed to advance the plot of someone else’s story.) The representation on the show was Good or it was Bad. It was a simple as that: a numbers game and everyone gets a pass/fail grade.

But this year, y’all, things are different. It’s not just the number of queer female characters that showed up on TV in 2014 (over 120! that’s 300% more than just two years ago!); it’s also:

+ Trope-realigning representation. In years past, if a queer female characters was killed, I just wrote it off as more hackneyed, lazy storytelling. And certainly that was true at times in 2014 (Looking at you, Chicago Fire and Arrow), but then there was Lev on Defiance, who died but not really because she was already dead; her ghost existed to color in the lines of Doc Yewll, her widowed wife. Or Stahma Tarr and Kenya Rosewater’s queer relationship on that same show; it existed in clone form after Stahma murdered Kenya in the season one finale. It was weird stuff, sometimes, but it was innovative stuff. Not all the dead lesbians this year are your Tara Maclays, your Dana Fairbankses.

+ The continued on-screen growth of trans women. Glee certainly dropped the ball on Unique (and the rumor is that they’re opting not to finish telling her story in the final season but will tell the story of Coach Bieste coming out as transgender and beginning to transition). And while Orange Is the New Black didn’t give us nearly enough Sophia, her story did continue to grow in the second season, and Laverne Cox became the first openly transgender person to be nominated for an acting Emmy. And, of course, Amazon launched Transparent, which is certainly not without its problems, but is the first show to feature a trans female character in the leading role, and the show employed dozens of trans people as cast and crew. These are all baby steps, but they’ve taken us miles in a matter of minutes.

+ The spectrum of queerness. My original Master List of Queer Female TV Characters had an L/B column for years because queer characters either came out as lesbian or bisexual. But, like I said above, we’re adding a growing number of trans characters to the list. And we’re seeing more and more characters who are exploring their sexuality without labels. Brenna on Chasing Life fell in love with a lesbian character and rebuffed labels for half a season before finally identifying (out loud) as bisexual on the Christmas special. Alison on Pretty Little Liars made out (at the very least) with Emily after telling her she reciprocated her crush back before she was buried alive, and the audience is still split on whether or not she was being sincere or manipulative. Stella on The Fall, who — as Kate said in our roundtable on 2014 queer TV characters — “sees your trope and she walks right on by, honey” made out with Archie Panjabi‘s character with nary an explanation or an apology. A few years ago, queer characters without labels only meant a show/network wasn’t willing to commit to keeping them queer. That’s just not the case any more.

+ Grades beyond As and Fs. For most of my career, there has never been much color in the way we grade shows with queer female characters. If a series had them and allowed them be on-screen (alive), it was basically an A. If a series didn’t have them or made them sleep with men them or murdered them, it was basically an F. But there’s so much more nuance than that right now. Faking It is a great example of this; it was rage-inducing trope city for a hot second, and then it opened itself up and started exploring teenage sexuality for questioning girls in a shockingly authentic way. (On MTV!) Marry Me is a sitcom that hits nearly every tired beat in ’90s-era gender roles comedy, but it features a pair of interracial gay dads and a black lesbian character named Kay who is the funniest person on the show. Jane the Virgin sent its lesbian character, Dr. Luisa, off to an asylum, but only because the show is a riff on wild, implausible telenova melodrama. I have no doubt that she’ll be back. At first glance, so many of this season’s gay lady storylines seemed destined to veer toward offensive and cliched, but they zigged instead of zagged, and it shocked me every single time.

So, below you will find an infographic I spent three thousand hours making. It’s the 2015 State of the Queer Lady Television Union. It’s fun and it’s true, but the best thing is — for the first time in history — the numbers don’t tell the whole story. Queer female characters are becoming more than just vanilla statistics. We still have a long, uphill climb ahead of us as we advocate for more queer women of color, more trans characters, more trope-smashing, and more leading characters who are queer. My six-year-old spreadsheet still matters, but in my lifetime, I am convinced it will become irrelevant. And that makes me really, really happy.


tv-2015-tv-union-3


Are you following us on Facebook?

Profile gravatar of Heather Hogan

Heather Hogan is an Autostraddle senior editor who lives in New York City with her partner, Stacy, and their cackle of rescued pets. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr.

Heather has written 536 articles for us.

30 Comments

  1. 0

    Heather! This is amazing. Thank you so much for your work on this. I can’t believe the increase in the number of characters from 2012 to 2014, that’s so huge. This is all so comprehensive and hopeful, WOW. Also the design of this infographic is amazing.

  2. 0

    I’m about to finish season 4 of Lost Girl and I still love it. So. Much. I love how many of the women are queer while still respecting that queer identity is a thing by making not *all* of them queer (Kenzi says she’s straight in the first episode and they never mess with that). I love the respect of putting Bo’s relationships with Lauren and Dyson on the same level. I love the way the show has moved more and more away from venerating monogamy. I love the way both Bo’s promiscuity and Kenzi’s choice to move slowly with dating and sexuality are presented positively. At this point the only thing the show hasn’t done for me that I’d like to see is a good fae character who’s trans, to make us forget about that horrible transphobic episode in season 3.

    • 0

      I don’t get why people always say Bo’s relationships with Lauren and Dyson are on the same level. Dyson can always give Bo her life-saving sex and handle it and when they were most involved casually in season 1 she seemed to have no problem using just him to heal. Lauren is literally not enough for Bo sexually, and has to agree to Bo also getting chi from other people.
      Does nobody else find it troubling that the fae/sexually satisfying and strong character is a man and the human/sexually not quite enough character is a woman? It’s just another version of the same story we see all the time where a woman has to cheat on her girlfriend with a man because she just wants *more* – and in season 3 she actually had to do so to stay alive. How forward is this, really?

  3. 0

    I sent this to my fiancée with the comment “Heather Hogan is a national treasure.” You and your writing and your infographics have been making me smile since I started reading your Skins recaps at work just to get through the day. Your recaps are the reason I started watching Pretty Little Liars (and sometimes they’re the only reason I still watch Pretty Little Liars).

    Basically, Heather, you’re awesome.

    … >1% Lizard Woman from the Dawn of Time. Heh.

  4. 0

    Also, huge steps in Australia in 2014 with Janet King, the first main-actually-the-main-chararcter who’s a queer woman. Even more awesome is that it was a spin off from another show Crownies because her character was deemed the most worthy of a spin off! It might be a one off and not come back in 2015 but I’d kind of be okay with that because I’m too terrified they would ruin it if it came back and take away all the positive impact.

    Plus Wentworth where the second-main character is a queer woman and a couple of others.

    Both such fantastic shows.

  5. 0

    “But there’s so much more nuance than that right now. Faking It is a great example of this; it was rage-inducing trope city for a hot second, and then it opened itself up and started exploring teenage sexuality for questioning girls in a shockingly authentic way.”

    Really? IMO they only made it worse. I have to agree with Riese on this:

    “I feel like bisexual men and lesbian women should have a special support group devoted to why every not-straight guy on Television has to be only into men and why every not-straight woman on Television has to be into women and men. /…/ Seriously I wanna see a showrunner at the f**king upfronts talk about how the male lead on his show isn’t sure about his identity yet or doesn’t believe in labels. Sometimes it feels like the message is: women are never enough. /…/
    this whole situation [Amy suddenly craving men sexually in episode 3] just feels really uninspired. Boring. Unnecessary? Also: it doesn’t really fit in with everything else we’ve seen from Amy so far. It feels forced.”

    BTW, there was such a nuance about lesbian having sex with a man this year in TV shows. Like in Hannibal, which showrunner showed so much respect for lesbians on Twitter. Or Waterloo Road, where lesbian was chased by a man who wanted to turn her and he managed to have sex (very enjoyable for her as it seemed) with her indeed. Or Dracula, for which the creator himself apologized and admitted it encouraged homophobic myths. Or Hell on Wheels. I believe EastEnders managed to do that with 2 separated lesbian characters during one year.
    Maybe we will see even more improved quality of representation of lesbians who f**k men in The Humbling this year.

Contribute to the conversation...

You must be logged in to post a comment.