Last year, when I was putting together our first March Madness, I noticed some comments from readers on one of our weekly Boobs on Your Tube columns alerting us to a surprise coming out story on an episode of a relatively new British sitcom called Derry Girls. It was long before the show would show up on Netflix and capitivate us all but it really got me thinking about the representation more globally. So I decided I’d add an International region to March Madness…both as a tribute to our international readers and as a way to expand the conversation about LGBT representation on television. I set off to find 16 competitors for the International region and was shocked by what I found.
I found Las Estrellas, an Argentinian telenovela that afforded its lesbian couple every bit as much depth and screentime as its straight couples. I found shows like Vis a vis which, though comparable to Orange is the New Black in terms of subject matter, was doing what OITNB did but on network television. I found shows like Perdona nuestros pecados and Jugo Duplo that featured some of the most provocative lesbian scenes I’d ever seen on television. I found communities of queer women sharing these stories on widely on the Internet — on twitter, Tumblr and Youtube — and even translating the scenes so that language wouldn’t be a barrier to seeing our love showcased.
That’s not to say it’s all amazing: after all, Coronation Street did just kill one of the few lesbian Muslim characters on television (RIP Rana Habeeb) and I’m pretty sure Neighbours is engaged in some of the worst queerbaiting I’ve seen in a while. But still, there’s plenty of good stuff out there…and, perhaps, one of this year’s International regional competitors will pique your interest.
As always, you have 48 hours to vote for your favorites in the International region. If you’ve seen the episodes, vote accordingly. If not, check out my descriptions or links to video of those scenes (where available). We’ll be back on Monday to review which 32 characters have advanced past the first round and will compete for a shot at the Sweet 16.
#1. Mercedes Möller – Perdona nuestros pecados
Just before Mercedes Möller comes out to her father, the fictional Chilean town in which the show is set, Villa Ruiseñor, is struck by an earthquake. Left alone in the living room while her girlfriend, Bárbara, looks for candles, Mercedes’ home is broken into my two thugs looking for money and jewels. They try to assault her but before things can get to far, Bárbara swoops in and saves her. She clings to Barbara like a life raft after that, drawing the suspicions of her father, and is heartbroken when he pushes Bárbara out the door to go check on her husband. Later when her father confronts her about Bárbara, Mercedes tries to paint their relationship as purely friendship but, eventually, she can’t abide the lies anymore.
“I am a woman and I love her. I love Bárbara Román,” Mercedes says, adding later, “Don’t you think it’s hard for me to admit? But I don’t want to lie to you anymore. I don’t want any more lies.”
Mercedes’ father reacts angrily to having his long-held suspicions confirmed and slaps Mercedes twice but it only makes her more resolved to stand in her truth.
#16. Sophie Webster – Coronation Street
Before Sophie Webster comes out to her father, she, her girlfriend, Sian, and her family attend the wedding of Roy Cropper to Hayley Patteson (who was, coincidentally, the first trans character on a British soap and the first trans character to be a series regular worldwide). At the wedding, Claire Peacock outed Sophie and Sian to the entire congregration but Sophie’s overbearing mother, Sally, called Claire a liar and assures Sophie and Sian that no one thinks they aren’t “normal.”
Later, alone with her father, Sophie confesses the truth: “Me and Sian — what Claire said — it’s true, we’re together.”
#2. Nasreen Paracha – Ackley Bridge
Just before Nasreen comes out to her mother, she’s agreed to get married, to a man, at the behest of her absolute bum of a father. Nas’ mom, Kaneez, is totally opposed to the marriage, worried that her daughter will fall into the same trap that she did. It’s not her dad that convinces her to do it, though…nor is it the money that marrying into this well-off Pakistani family might provide; she agrees to marry a man because a woman’s broken her heart.
Once Nas affirms that getting married is really what she wants, her mother acquiesces and they begin to make arrangements. But when Nas is forced to look at herself in the mirror with her mother’s wedding jewelry strung across her hair, she realizes she can’t do it. Her mother assumes that she’s reluctant because she likes and English boy but Nasreen tearfully admits that’s not the reason.
“I love a girl,” she says, “I love…I love another woman, Mum. I’m a lesbian.”
Nas’ mother doesn’t respond well in the moment but her journey to accepting her daughter is best coming out arcs I’ve seen on television.
#15. Bernadette Taylor – Eastenders
After the death of one of their friends last May, Bernadette and her friends sneak into a local nightclub to celebrate the way their friend would have wanted with a good party. The teens get drunk and play the requisite drinking games: first truth or dare and then spin the bottle. The first time Bernie’s best friend, Tiff, spins the bottle, it lands on her and, after some prodding from the boys, the two girls kiss…which leads to confusion from Bernie about her feelings. Then, when it’s time for Tiff the spin the bottle again, it lands on her brother, and Bernie watches with jealously as Tiff kisses him. Seven months later, less confused about her feelings about Tiffany, Bernie comes out to her mother during a New Year’s celebration.
“I think I’m in love…with a girl,” Bernie admits pensively. “Do you hate me?”
“How could I ever hate you?” her mom replies, beaming at her daughter like she just hung the moon. “You are who you are, Darling. I’m so proud of you.”
#3. Valentina Carvajal – Amar a Muerte
Coming out is difficult for anyone but coming out when you’ve got the whole world watching? That’s a pressure that most people can’t even fathom. But Valentina does it, for herself, for Juliana and for all the people who’d try to shame them for the love they share.
Valentina is part of a prominent family: until his murder, her father, Leon Carvajal, was a successful, rich and powerful media mogul. Some paparazzi are out to cash in on the details of her personal life — revelations that they think will cause harm and embarrassment to her family — and, before they tell her story for her, Valentina decides to do it on her own terms. In a television interview, she admits to falling into a depression after her father’s death and turning to alcohol to help her cope. She was finally able to escape the darkness thanks to an incredible person…an incredible woman.
“Valentina, so you came to this show to reveal that you’re openly gay?” the interviewer asks.
She takes a moment and then answers the question directly, “I’m not a fan of labels to be honest but the truth is that I’m in love with a woman and her name is Juliana Valdes.”
#14. Vanessa Woodfield – Emmerdale
Vanessa Woodfield’s history with Charity Dingle is fraught (though, in fairness, that can pretty much be said for nearly everyone in Emmerdale). Charity once worked with Vanessa’s father, Frank, to steal some diamonds and in the post-heist haze, the pair share a kiss and it leads to a one-night stand. When word gets back to Frank’s fiancée, Megan, she joins forces with Charity and sets abaout to have Frank arrested on a trumped up fraud charge. So, like I said…the history is fraught…
As a result, there’s no one more surprised than Vanessa when a drunken kiss with Charity just a few months later re-awakens an interest in women. Fearful that the word will get out — or, at the very least, that Charity will continue to torment her with their secret — Vanessa tells her father and the entire town about her burgeoning sexuality.
“To save you from gossiping and for anyone she hasn’t yet announced it to, I slept with Charity,” Vanessa announces in the town pub. “Right now I don’t know if I’m gay, straight, bi, curious, I’m just having fun finding out. So, no labels, no gossip and no laughing.”
#4. Juliana Valdés – Amar a Muerte
In a lot of ways, Juliana’s coming out feels reminscient of Spencer Carlin’s on South of Nowhere: mother finds her daughter kissing her girlfriend and angrily tries to separate them. But what makes what happens on Amar a Muerte a thousand times better — and what makes Juliana’s coming out scene feel really triumphant — is Juliana’s willingness to stand up to her mother and take a firm stand for her love for Valentina.
When her mother tries to grab Valentina, Juliana pushes her away and plants herself between her girlfriend and the danger. When her mother argues that what they’re doing is wrong, Juliana confidentally asserts that there’s nothing wrong about the love between her and Valentina. No one took advantage of her, she says when her mother suggests otherwise, and reminds her of Valentina’s generosity to them both. Juliana is willing to fight for her love.
“This is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever felt in my whole life,” Juliana proclaims, as she slips her hand into Valentina’s.
#13. Liv Flaherty – Emmerdale
Television has not been kind to asexual characters and, in particular, asexual women. Of the limited number of portrayals of asexuality in pop culture, most of the characters have skewed male with the exception of Poppy on the short-lived Huge and Val on Sirens. I’m grateful that asexual women, especially asexual teens, now have representation again in the form of Liv Flaherty on Emmerdale.
Two things struck me about Liv coming out to her brother: first, it does a good job at explaining asexuality in an organic and conversational way. Emmerdale balances representation of underrepresented communities with education as well as any show I’ve seen. Second, it’s notable that Liv’s this conversation with her brother, Aaron, who is gay…because being part of the LGBTQIA community doesn’t always mean we don’t need educating on other facets of sexuality.
#5. Sara Millán (Óscar Ruiz) – Las Chicas Del Cable
Carlota becomes suspicious of her girlfriend, Sara, when she discovers that she’s meeting in hotel room with a man named Óscar Ruiz. She follows her, discovers Sara dressed in men’s clothing and confronts her about it. Sara admits that she is Óscar Ruiz. She recounts a part of her childhood — her dressing up in her brother’s clothes — and how, initially, her father though nothing of it. But after a while, she’d done it so often that people started to talk and her father threatened her to get her to stop.
“One day, I stood up to him. I told him how I felt: a man trapped in a woman’s body,” she admits to Carlota. “He gave me a terrible beating. He told me I was sick, and he made me swear I’d never do it again. I managed to control my impulses out of fear of my father, but now he isn’t here.”
#12. Hailey Yarner – The Bletchley Circle: San Francisco
When Hailey Yarner comes out to her mentor, Iris Bearden, they’re using their code-breaking skills to thwart a drug-smuggling ring and some corrupt police officers. The drug-smuggling ring has been using the codes of the Mattachine Society — one of the first gay rights activist groups — to cover their elicit activity. As they work, Hailey comes out to Iris in a whisper and Iris doesn’t mince words when she tells her to keep it quiet…it’s still the 1950s after all. Her reaction infuriate Hailey until finally
“I like women,” Hailey tells Iris in “Iron in War.” “In ways that I shouldn’t, but so much so, I stopped giving a damn. And I know you’re worried about me saying it out loud, worried the truth’ll go and wreck everything. But not saying it, that’s wrecking me worse, in a million different ways.”
Eventually, Iris realizes her folly and accepts her apprentice for who she is.
#6. Sydney Katz – Saving Hope
It’s been nearly two years since the Canadian medical drama Saving Hope went off the air but I wanted to highlight this storyline which illuminates the challenges of coming out in the Orthodox Jewish community. Plus, I’m happy to celebrate any time Stacey Farber plays gay as a way to console myself over the fact that Ellie Nash wasn’t gay on Degrassi (#stillmad)…but I digress…
Before she comes out to Maggie officially — the pair had already shared a kiss before this conversation so it wasn’t exactly a secret — they get a patient who’s having baby with her partner. The patient recognizes Sydney immediately and orders her to stay far away from her. Sydney explains later, that the patient, Neshema, was her first crush and, as a child, when she saw her kissing another girl, she ran and told Neshema’s mother…not because of what the Bible says but because she was so heartbroken. As Sydney grieves over all the pain she caused, Maggie reminds her that Neshema is happy today.
Later, Sydney comes back to Maggie and admits, “I like girls. There. I said it,” before they kiss again.
#11. Clare Devlin – Derry Girls
Short on material for the new issue of The Habit, Erin decides to steal an essay from the school’s “Searching For Myself” writing competition and pass it off as actual journalism. She stumbles on an entry entitled, “Suffocation: the secret life of a gay teenager” and knows right away that it’s the one they want to print. Clare objects and Erin asks, “You’re not afraid of a bit of controversy, are you?”
At which point, I yell, “have you even met her?” at my television. Because, of course, Clare is afraid of controversy. No one even suspects her of being the “wee lesbian” because Clare hyperventilating over getting in trouble is a given in almost every circumstance. But Erin doesn’t need Clare’s approval and opts to publish it anyway. Clare Devlin comes out, anonymously, in the pages of the school magazine. The experience helps her realize that the fears that she’s been carrying about coming out weren’t legitimate.
“I’m the wee lesbian,” she admits. “I’ve never been brave enough to say it out loud before, but I think that’s why I wrote the story, and then it all got too real, I got too scared, but now, well, you’ve made me realize it’s all OK.”
#7. Luisita Gómez – Amar es para siempre
There’s a moment, just after Luisita Gomez comes out to her mother, Manolita, on Amar es para siempre where her mother’s discussing Luisita’s revelation with her other daughter, Maria. Despite Luisita’s unequivocal admission of love for Amelia, Manolita’s skeptical. Luisita is prone to impulsiveness and Manolita’s convinced that this is just another example of it. She doubts that her daughter has really thought this through.
“But you always told us about Teresa and Ana, and you told us they were really happy,” Maria points out. The mere mention of Teresa and Ana gives me a bout of “Bury Your Gays” PTSD but later Maria adds, “I think, step by step, things are changing…we are not in the same situation as when Teresa and Ana fell in love.”
It’s as much an admission about the times that Amar es para siempre depicts as it, seemingly, is about the show itself and its commitment not to repeat the mistakes of the past. But, I digress…
Manolita’s worry about Luisita is unfounded because her love for Amelia has put everything into perspective for her. She’s thinking as clearly as she ever has…a fact made abundantly clear when she contemplates coming out to her father.
“Love exists,” Luisita tells her father, as sure as she’s ever been about anything. “And I’ve found it and I have also found that special person. Dad, the person who I’ve falled in love with — the love of my life — that person is Amelia.”
#10. Manuela “Manu” Gandia – Like, la leyenda
The best way I can think to describe Like, la leyenda is as a cross between Degrassi and GLEE…or, if you’re a fan of Mexican telenovelas, consider Like a modern Rebelde reboot. The show centers around the happenings of a large cast of young people at a prestigious prep school (LIKE stands for “Life Institute of Knowledge Evolution”) and, of those students, eight kids perform as part of the school’s band. Almost immediately, the show cements Manuela “Manu” Gandia as an someone that’s unapologetically herself and who doesn’t hesistate to speak her mind and push the limits of everyone else around her. It’s fitting then that when she comes out, about a third of the way through the telenovela’s run, it’s not really about her. Manuela’s always been sure of who she is; instead, she comes out to defy some else’s homophobic father.
Manuela’s classmate, Pablo, brings her home to meet his parents and participate in the family’s annual awards show competition. Pablo’s father is relieved that his son has finally brought home a girlfriend, as he was starting to worry. She and Pablo quickly set his parents straight about the nature of their relationship — they’re just friends, obviously — and his mother assures Manuela that she’ll find a guy one day.
“Or a girl,” Manuela quickly adds, revealing her bisexuality to these parents whom she’s just met. Pablo’s father doesn’t take the revelation well and chastises Manu for her choices but she stays firm. Unbeknownst to her, by standing in her truth, she’s given other people the power and permission to do the same and, in the very next episode, Pablo comes out to her as gay.
#8. Umang Singh – Four More Shots Please
There’s something familiar — and slightly derivative, if I’m being honest — about Four More Shots Please, the original Indian series from Amazon. It’s a more modern take on Sex and the City, complete with its own Carrie (Sayani Gupta’s Damini), Miranda (Kirti Kulhari’s Anjana), Charlotte (Maanvi Gagroo’s Siddhi) and Samantha (Bani J’s Umang). Of course, telling those stories through the eyes of four Indian women — Four More Shots Please is groundbreaking in its foregrounding of those stories — makes it a very different show than SATC or its contemporaries, Girls and Insecure.
In FMSP, Bani J plays Umang Singh, a 20-something woman from a Punjabi village who escapes to Mumbai to lives as an out bisexual woman and advance her career as an in-demand personal trainer. The most relatable thing about Umang? She falls in love with Lisa Ray’s Samara Kapoor. Yes, that’s Lisa Ray of I Can’t Think Straight and The World Unseen fame. Queer women have been falling in love Lisa Ray for years…totally relatable content.
I don’t want to give too much of the plot away — FMSP is still relatively new content, after all — but it’s Umang’s love for Samara compels her to finally come out to her family….even as they’re trying to introduce her to the man they want her to marry and her closeted ex-girlfriend sits nearby.
#9. Morgane Guého – Demain nous appartient
When Sandrine meets Morgane, the connection between them is almost instanteous…Sandrine literally starts seeing stars after Morgane walks through the door. But when Sandrine’s son feels unsettled by his mom’s new relationship, she puts the breaks on their budding relationship. Morgane’s reluctantly acquiesces, saying that she’s never had a connection like this with anyone so she’s willing to wait.
It takes just a couple of weeks for Sandrine to change her mind and rather than take things slowly, she moves fullsteam ahead: renting a hotel room for the two of them. Morgane never shows. The next day, she tries to apologize but her apologies are full vague platitudes and Sandrine has zero interest in hearing her excuses. If Morgane can’t be honest about the complicated things in her life, Sandrine asks, what’s the point of continuing their relationship? That’s when Morgane decides to come out to Sandrine as trans.
“All my life, I felt like I was stuck in the wrong body and I kept this for myself. I was scared to be rejected so I didn’t say anything. But I started to hate myself, I couldn’t love anyone or love myself,” Morgane admits. “It took a few years but I became myself.”