2017 was the best of times and the worst of times. LOL JK it was the absolute worst of times. One of the only consistent reprieves from the perpetually horrifying and demoralizing news cycle was queer TV. There was a lot of it this year. Maybe more than ever before. And not just a handful of characters on a handful of teen shows. Lesbian and bisexual characters were everywhere: lighting up prestige TV, anchoring critically acclaimed streaming shows, filling in the cast on broadcast networks. Riese will be breaking the whole thing down soon, but until then, here are our TV writers’ favorite and least favorite lesbian, bisexual, and trans women TV characters of the year.
None of these write-ups are the Official Position of Autostraddle on any of these shows or characters; they are the individual opinions of our TV writers.
Devon, I Love Dick
Everything I knew about the Jill Soloway project “I Love Dick” suggested this was a very heterosexual affair. Like, the premise is this woman who goes to an artists colony in Marfa with her husband and falls so deeply in obsessive love with Dick (Kevin Bacon) that it consumes and nearly destroys her. But! Nobody told me about Devon, the butch Latinx artist and aspiring playwright living in the trailer behind the house where Chris and her husband are staying. Devon is a dreamy romantic, a dedicated artist with a compelling backstory and a unique perspective on the world. Also, she takes her shirt off a lot and I love her.
“[Thing] learns to love” is a trope as old as time — the beast, the android, the hermit — and it’s always heterosexual! But in the second Season of Humans, a sci-fi show that is basically another take on the “what if androids could feel” genre, Niska escapes the brothel where, as a “synth,” she’s been basically imprisoned and forced to work, and eventually lands in Berlin, where she falls in love with a girl. But Niska is so otherwise intriguing, too, and I think Humans is the most underrated show of the year, so there.
Svetlana and Veronica, Shameless
I should’ve done this last year but I wasn’t caught up yet, so this is my late-add, and they’re both still on the show even if they’re not in a thruple anymore, so, it’s still valid. Sometimes I read AV Club recaps and all the commenters are straight cis men who found that whole storyline totally absurd which like, okay thanks STRAIGHT CIS MEN what do you know about poly queers anyhow!?!! But I screamed through the whole entire thing (so did Erin, me and Erin screamed together). It was so fun and hot and fresh! Plus, they’re just incredibly smart hilarious capable alpha bitches who run shit and I’ve always loved that about both of them.
Rachel, Managing Editor
Rosa Diaz, Brooklyn Nine-Nine
In the haze of late 2017, Rosa’s still-recent coming out arc still feels like it was a dream or a maybe light hallucination experienced while staring into the fluorescent lights in line at the DMV. And yet it was, apparently, after months and months of fan daydreaming and Stephanie Beatriz coming out herself, a real thing that occurred! I wrote about this a bit when it happened, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a coming-out storyline that so specifically and authentically engaged with uniquely bisexual experiences; it was heartbreaking and affirming to see my own anxieties and experiences reflected on screen. I also loved how this revelation about Rosa’s identity deepens and complicates the writing of her character — she’s always been incredibly private and reluctant to share anything even remotely personal with others, and when we see how her worst fears of losing the modicum of closeness she has with her parents are realized because she shares something about with herself, Rosa as a person makes so much more sense. It meant so much to get to see two hyper-independent and closed-off characters in Rosa Diaz and Raymond Holt, whose personalities and affect have been heavily informed by their queerness and repercussions for it, get to bond and be a little vulnerable together over identity. I’m so excited for the future of bisexual Rosa Diaz, who will not die on our televisions!!!
Heather Hogan, Senior Editor
Tig, One Mississippi
One Mississippi‘s second season was my second favorite thing on TV this year. I can’t say why any better than Riese did in her review. I love comedies that are rooted in something deeply sad, where the characters we learn and love find reasons to laugh even though they’re trudging through life’s bleakest moments and darkest days. (Which is why my first favorite thing on TV this year was Grace and Frankie which apparently wasn’t canonically gay, so.) Tig Notaro is a masculine-of-center middle-aged lesbian, which is something we never get to see on TV for starters, and we get to see her navigate falling in love and actually getting the girl. The series is so heartbreaking and it’s so sweet and it filled me with so much hope, which was a real feat for any piece of art in 2017.
Nicole, Fresh Off the Boat
Last summer The Hollywood Reporter talked to openly gay Fresh Off the Boat showrunner Nahnatchka Khan about telling stories networks usually shy away from. She said, “You want to do the material justice and the area justice but you also want to make it funny, you always want to not be preachy.” I thought about that a lot as I was watching Nicole’s coming out story unfold this season because Khan just kept doing it such justice in exactly the way she wanted. I know a lot of my attachment to this story comes from the fact that I was actually Nicole’s age in 1997, so all the callbacks to the gay stuff going on at the time, and the pop culture touchstones, make me nostalgic and allow me to imagine a world where I could have come out to my friends and family and plotted a date with the cute barista when I was in high school. But also it’s just really great TV. All of Nicole’s coming out moments are cute and hilarious, and her coming out episode — which takes place when she joins the local lesbian bar’s softball team — is one of the best I’ve ever seen. But it didn’t stop there! In last week’s Titanic-themed Christmas episode she fell for a girl and her friends helped her get the girl’s number. When they smiled their tender gayby smiles at each while Jessica crooned “My Heart Will Go On” my heart grew three sizes, and also I choke-laughed.
Denise, Master of None
“Thanksgiving” was my favorite episode of TV in 2017. It’s smart and it’s romantic and, of course, the whole thing is just revolutionary. To see a black masculine-of-center lesbian character played by the black masculine-of-center lesbian who wrote the episode and know she ended up accepting an Emmy Award in a full tux for it is — well, it’s basically the opposite of how nearly everything else in 2017 made me feel. I’ve probably watched “Thanksgiving” ten times, and I’ll keep going back to it for years to come. It will become go-to holiday viewing for me, and I’ll always remember the way it launched Lena Waithe into superstardom. And how she turned around and proposed to her IRL girlfriend on Thanksgiving!
Alex Danvers, Supergirl
Alex Danvers is the only character on my best-of list who wasn’t conceived and written by a queer woman, but I’m choosing her because she’s cultural progress personified. Five years ago, there’s no way a network superhero TV show would’ve written Alex as a lesbian. At best they would have given her three episodes to fall for and kiss another girl and then never mention it again and GLAAD would have been forced to keep counting her on their Where We Are on TV report. Two years ago, if the actress who was playing Alex’s love interested decided to leave the show, she’d have been dead on-screen faster than you can say Schechter (and probably Alex would have gone back to dating men or not dating at all). Supergirl‘s writers have taken such care with Alex. They didn’t just tell a coming out story. Or a falling in love story. They’re telling a queer life story, and it feels more real to me than anything that ever happened on The L Word. Alex and Maggie’s break-up was heartbreaking, for sure, but it was written tenderly and without tripping over any tropes or creating any unnecessary villains. Alex’s drunken leap into the bed with Sara Lance in the Crisis of Infinite Earth crossover was also legit, and so was the part where Alex woke up heartsick over Maggie, still, but with a new queer pal to lean on.
Natalie, Staff Writer
Elena Alvarez,One Day at a Time
Television has a habit of linking coming out with romance, as if your identity isn’t your own without someone else there to affirm it, and while that might make for great TV — who doesn’t love a love story, after all — the conflation of those two things has always struck me as a bit problematic. I didn’t expect One Day at a Time, the reboot of the 1970s Norman Lear multi-cam sitcom, to be the show challenged that convention, but it did.
When Elena comes out to her family, it’s about her. It’s not about some girl that’s waiting in the wings, equally smitten with her — though, in Season Two, that should totally happen because she’s adorable — it’s about Elena and this realization she’s come to about herself. Coming out is the moment we turn quiet revelations — borne, in Elena’s case, from countless hours of binge watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer, staring longingly at Kristen Stewart and kissing the wrong people — into public pronouncements and One Day at a Time gives Elena the space to own that moment.
The show, guided in part by two queer writers, allows Elena’s coming out to be a season-long triumph, not a byproduct of feelings she has for someone else, but a product of her fully accepting and loving herself. That version of coming out is the reality of so many people — there’s no Maya or Maggie or Adena spurning them towards acceptance and admission, there’s only them, owning their truth — and I was so grateful to see that version of the story told.
Cameron Wirth, Doubt
In and of itself, there is nothing remarkable about the love story, Doubt crafts for Cameron Wirth. Gorgeous defense attorney falls in love with a charming prosecutor with boyish good looks? Been there, done that.
But then, you add the fact that Cameron Wirth is a trans woman, that she’s a trans woman being played by an actual trans woman, that she’s a black trans woman, that she’s a black trans woman with trans girlfriends also played by actual trans women, and all of a sudden, the mundane becomes extraordinary. And the fact that all of this is happening in primetime on the most watched and (arguably) most conservative and least diverse network on television? Well, that’s a damn miracle.
When the first season (and only) season of Doubt concluded, I described Cameron Wirth’s story as a fairytale, a beacon of hope for trans women — and trans women of color, in particular — at a time when hope was in short supply.
Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya, Staff Writer
Adena El Amin, The Bold Type
The Bold Type allowed Adena’s life as a Muslim, lesbian, feminist artist be complicated without making it tragic. She challenges Kat in really beautiful ways, but she stands on her own as a character, too. And as a mere surface-level detail: Nikohl Boosheri and Aisha Dee are just really good at on-screen kissing.
Rosa Diaz, Brooklyn Nine-Nine
We’re only at the beginning of Rosa’s bisexual journey, but I can’t wait to see how it all plays out throughout the rest of the season. I couldn’t not say something about her in this list, because it truly feels like we have all been not-so-patiently waiting for the moment when she says “I’m bi” for the entirety of the show’s existence. I’m so happy she says it outright. Sometimes, there’s power in naming something.
Valerie Anne, TV Writer and Social Media Co-Editor
Waverly Earp, Wynonna Earp
Waverly Earp was my favorite new character last year, and this year in Wynonna Earp’s second season, my love for her continued to grow. She is the perfect combination of strength and kindness, fear and passion, brains and heart. She went through Some Shit™ this year but it’s been such a gift to watch her fight and cheer and sing and make mistakes and learn and grow and love. (Shout out to Nicole, Rosita, and Shae, the other badass queer women in Waverly’s life.)
Alex Danvers, Supergirl
Speaking of people who have been through Some Shit™…I know the show itself has had its ups and downs, but I have loved watching Alex’s journey. She came out last year, and this year she fell in love, got engaged, got her whole heart broken, fell into bed with Sara Lance, and started to put the pieces of her heart back together in one of those relatable and honest storylines I’ve seen on TV in my adult life. I look forward to seeing where Alex’s journey takes us.
Sara Lance, Legends of Tomorrow
When Legends of Tomorrow started, I thought it would be this throwaway show I watched for the rare glimpse of Caity Lotz punching a dude. And during Season 1, it mostly was. But this year, the back half of Season 2 and the first half of Season 3, this wonderful shift happened. They realized Sara Lance should be in charge, and the whole tone of the show changed. Caity Lotz has grown as an actor so much since she started back in Season 2 of Arrow, and Sara Lance has gone from preppy rich girl to traumatized assassin to badass vigilante to feral zombie to the captain of a time-traveling band of weirdos hell-bent on saving the world. It’s so wonderful to watch, and the show itself is so fun and wonderful and never ever shies away from Sara’s bisexuality.
Cosima Niehaus, Orphan Black
I loved a lot of TV this year, but I would be remiss if I didn’t take this final opportunity to give love to Orphan Black for giving me what will probably remain one of my all-time favorite queer characters for the rest of my life. Cosima once said, “My sexuality isn’t the most interesting thing about me,” and she continued to prove that time and time again. Her relationship with Delphine is the only romantic pairing that survived the series, and hell, SHE survived the series, against all odds.
Carmen, Staff Writer
Mary Charles “M-Chuck” Calloway, Survivor’s Remorse
I’m including M-Chuck, but this is basically a “Lifetime Achievement” award. Survivor’s Remorse was cancelled this fall, making 2017 her last opportunity to be included in a year-end list. That’s incredibly unfair! M-Chuck is hilarious, and in full ownership of herself, and a joy who brightens up the screen. Survivor’s Remorse aired in relatively short seasons; it’s hard to pinpoint a singular one as her “best” work. But taken collectively, they created a multi-layered character who uses sex and comedy as her armor, but also had her own haunting traumas and the world’s biggest, deepest heart. I’d sincerely argue that M-Chuck is one of the most well-rounded, best written lesbian characters in television history. Actress Erica Ash’s embodiment of her was a sight to behold. I’m going to miss her dearly.
Elena Alvarez, One Day at a Time
Looking around this roundup, Elena is definitely (and deservedly) the MVP of this year’s list; I won’t take up your time once again explaining her brilliance. I will say that as a former teen Latina feminist, raised by my Latina single mother, in a Caribbean Latinx household (though Puerto Rican, not Cuban)- watching Elena and her family last season was a singular experience not like any other I’ve had.
I made the commitment to watch One Day At A Time with my now 60-year-old mom, so I didn’t get to binge it like many others in the Autostraddle community. We went at her pace. And we went through so many boxes of tissues. We’d take breaks, talk, laugh, and then cry some more. It was intimate, but also gave us perspective. We saw ourselves, and I think we saw bits of each other, too. That’s probably a strange endorsement for a sitcom, but there you have it. Spending that time with my mother, watching this story unfold, is one of my most cherished memories of 2017. It reached beyond television.
Anyway, Elena Alvarez is a freakin’ superhero among teenagers. Get ready, she’ll be back on our screens when the new season of One Day At A Time drops on January 26th!
Cotton Brown, Star
Cotton is a trans woman on television like few that I’ve had the pleasure of seeing — particularly on network tv. Yes, she’s poor and she’s black and in many ways disenfranchised, but she’s also self-determined, ruthless, unapologetic, and lets no man stand in her way. Star is a chaotic love letter to young women, especially young women of color, who are unafraid to do the ugly work required to make their dreams come to life. I sometimes think I’m the only one watching, but I don’t mind banging the drums! The first season in particular was delightfully juicy hot mess of a soap opera and Cotton is an antihero I love rooting for. She’ll do whatever it takes to survive. I admire her strength, her steely resolve, her bravery, her grit. When it comes to peeling back those layers, actress Amiyah Scott puts in hard character work and really shines. Cotton hasn’t been utilized as much as I’d like in Star’s second season. But we’re less than halfway through, and I’m hopeful that her arc is ramping up for a strong finish! She deserves it.
Ofglen, The Handmaid’s Tale
Ofglen is the resistance. The Handmaid’s Tale was a nightmare of a television show to watch. I don’t mean that in terms of quality — the show is obviously exquisite — I mean it’s literally made up of the stuff from my nightmares. I am still surprised that I made it through to the end. But amidst all of the horror, Ofglen was a beacon. She was not merely placeholder for the torture that these women, and particularly queer women, were put through (though Oh My God there was also that). She was also a bright reminder the feral strength of women’s spirit. I had no idea that Alexis Bledel had this in her. When I look back at 2017 in television, it’s Ofglen’s wild, defiant eyes that burn back it me. She reminds me that I am no one’s property other than my own. It’s better rather go down fighting — always fighting — then lay down at all.
Mey, Trans Editor
Each year Transparent has done a great job of highlighting some of its trans characters played by trans actors. In past seasons we’ve seen Hari Nef and Trace Lysette shine, and this year, like in Season One, it was Davina’s turn. Davina is an HIV-positive Latina played by legendary trans actor Alexandra Billings. We got to see her deal with her abusive boyfriend, reminisce about her past in the ballroom scene, talk about her regrets and she had a groundbreaking nude scene. She’s one of the best actors in a show full of great actors and we got to see her really shine this year.
Waverly Earp, Wynonna Earp
I had gotten behind on this show, but thanks to my girlfriends I got back into it. Waverly is amazing. She’s so precious and tender and bright and fun and wonderful and she looks amazing in a cheerleader uniform, she looks great waving some sticks around, she looks great even when she’s messing up the whole universe by helping an evil witch just in order to save her girlfriend. I wanna be like Waverly.
Rosa Diaz, Brooklyn 99
I started watching this show when it first premiered and since way back then, every queer woman in the fandom has wanted for Rosa Diaz to be bi. This call from the fandom only got a thousand times louder when Stephanie Beatriz, who plays Rosa, came out as bi. Rosa is a beautiful, badass, leather-clad Latina who manages to be eternally charming even when she’s speaking in a monotone voice about how she hates everything. And recently she came out to fellow detective Charles Boyles as bi, and told him that she’s dating a woman. This was what we were waiting for. This is what we were hoping for. This is what we were cheering for.
Elena, One Day at a Time
This was such a freaking great Latina-specific coming out story. It’s not just about “how do I tell my family I’m dating a girl, what if they reject me?” it’s also about “how will my die-hard Catholic abuela react?” “what do I do about my date for my quinceañera?” “what do I do about the dress I’m supposed to wear for my quinceañera?” This was the type of coming out narrative that queer Latinx teens can relate to, and that they need to have in order to be able to see this kind of possibility for themselves. When she walks out in that suit, I cried. Plus, I love the Autostraddle shoutout.
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