The thing I keep coming back to in my mind, over and over and over, as I try to comfort myself this week is the memory of what happened in pop culture in the wake of California passing Proposition 8 in 2008. The referendum, which was ratified by a slim majority of California voters, eliminated the right of same-sex couples to get married. It passed seven months after marriage equality had become legal in California, and it was an enormous blow to the gay rights movement. The biggest blow in my lifetime (up until this week), for sure. Because it came at a time when it felt like we were making progress, slowly moving forward, and surviving every major backlash. Everyone was devastated.
But something truly revolutionary happened in the months and first few years after Prop. 8: We saw an explosion of lesbian, gay, and bisexual TV characters that we never could have dreamed of before then. The culture took a huge step back, politically, and TV answered with a dramatic, purposeful push in the opposite direction. And it was TV, ultimately, that shaped America’s growing acceptance of gay people. I say this all the time but it always bears repeating: The approval rating for marriage equality in the United States rose in direct proportion with the number of gay characters on TV.
As we saw again and again in this presidential election, most straight white Christian Americans never leave their home towns, which means they never interact with anyone other than straight white Christians, and it becomes a breeding ground for bigotry, intolerance, and echo chamber hate. TV characters expose people to other kinds of people they don’t know, and when those characters show up week after week in living rooms across the country, they change perceptions. Kurt Hummel did more for gay marriage than we could ever measure.
Hollywood has become complacent in recent years, and after DOMA was overturned and marriage equality became the law of the land, we saw gay women start dropping exponentially from our screens. GLAAD finally had to put its foot down about it.
The one hope I am holding onto in my deepest heart is that TV will respond to Trump’s election with an equal and ferocious backlash of diversity. I am going to keep using my voice to call for it in myriad ways, I promise you that. I’ve received some good feedback so far as I’ve started reaching out to writers and showrunners and directors I know. And I’m planning to go to the Television Critics Association press tour in January for the first time and I’ll make my voice loud there too.
It’s the best promise I have to offer you today. I love y’all an awful lot.
Hey, let’s check in with the few queer women who showed up on TV this week, and one who didn’t:
Jane the Virgin
Mondays on The CW
My main quibble with Jane the Virgin, The Best Show On TV Period, is the cycle of Luisa’s storyline. She gets put into an absurd and hilarious gay situation, pulls out of it and has a moment of real character development and truth and authenticity, goes away to rehab for like ten episodes, and then comes back to start the cycle over again. And I mean, I know it’s tough. She’s a guest character who only really has ties to Jane through Rafael. “Chapter Forty-Eight” did a really cool thing with her by locking Rafael and Rogelio into a storyline and then pulling Luisa into that orbit to spend time with Rogelio. He keeps an eye on her because she’s thinking about drinking again, and so Rafael can go on a date with the author whose movie Rogelio wants to star in.
Rogelio and Luisa make a great match.
Rogelio, of course, knows all about being an addict because he played a recovering flight attendant in the novela Addicted to Love. He shows the film to Luisa and riiiiight about the time it’s getting to the threesome with him and two other women flight attendents, Luisa puts the breaks on. She really wants to talk to a therapist. Well, and lucky for her Rogelio studied under an acting coach which is kind of like being a therapist and so he walks Luisa through these mirroring emotion exercises and she finally does have a breakthrough! She wants to be a good sister to Rafael; she’s the only family he has left, after all. And she hates herself for constantly needing him but never being able to give back to him. Rogelio has the solution. He learned it when he was starring in Addicted to Love: You have to put the oxygen mask on yourself before you can put it on anyone else.
This show is full of so many kickass women, but also: Rogelio is one of the best TV characters ever.
So Luisa is off to preventative rehab. I hope we see her again soon.
Best line of the episode: “You’ll remember that Luisa recently returned from a submarine with another homicidal maniac.”
Thursdays on Fox
Nothing gay to report on Rosewood this week, but it was nice to see Pippy and TMI out with a group of women enjoying themselves. They’ve hardly been chained up in the lab all season! A fun fact is that TMI drinks Fresca.
Wednesdays on TV Land
Maggie hosts Sapphic Shabbat for Malkie and her friends this week to make up for the disastrous mikvah crashing she engaged in last week. She’s very excited and she goes all out, brisket and lox crostinis and kosher wine and the whole thing. Unfortunately for her, Malkie’s friends are suuuuper lesbians and before dessert they’ve already decided she should host Sapphic Shabbat every week forever and come to their spiritual retreats with them and go on this vacation and come to this party and attend that gala. Maggie excuses herself to go smoke in the bathroom and they all come barging in while the pregnant lesbian friend is peeing right in front of Maggie, just talking all over each other in that tiny little bathroom, and Maggie nearly chokes to death from the commitment of it all. She breaks it off with Malkie at the end of the episode because she’s a lone bird and not really suited to be part of a lesbian flock. Malkie gets it. Her friends are a lot. She and Maggie hug it right out.
It was a fun storyline while it lasted, way more real anything Maggie got to do last season. I feel grateful for it.
Liza: How many sexual partners have you had?
Maggie: You mean like at once?
Conviction this week ended with Hayley Atwell’s lead character mentioning an ex-girlfriend. IMDb says the ex will show up in next week’s episode.
Awesome tip! Thank you!
Thanks for that! Without gay vigilante tv watchers I don’t know what I’d do!
I wasn’t really planning on watching that show..but now I feel I must.
For science, you know?
Too bad it’s the first show of this season to get cancelled :(
Yes!!! I was only half-watching that episode, and I ran in from the kitchen when I heard “ex-girlfriend” but missed all of the context. I was afraid she was talking about herself as the DA’s ex. This is much better!!
What you say about the influence of TV is why I think it’s so important and why I’m so glad that places like Autostraddle take it seriously and review it and critique it and document things like the dead lesbian epidemic. Thanks for going directly to the industry and not just talking with subscribers and friends about this issue. I really do think it makes a huge difference.
I hold Heather Hogan and Dorothy Snarker responsible for a lot of progress that we have seen on TV these past few years
I LOVE Jane the Virgin so much. I I love how camp and over the top it is but it still has so much love and soul. I want to be best friends with everyone, especially Jane and Rogelio, who is just so, so beautiful.
My two issues with it are the treatment of Petra, even though I realise all progress isn’t forward and linear.i hope they work out she’s in the coma really soon because it breaks my heart.
My other issue, as you’ve mentioned is Luisa’s storylines. I know there are reasons for it but I want her more involved with Jane and the general plot somehow. I feel like they never really addressed what happened and Jane can hold a grudge so she’s not really respected by anyone else.
I loved her and Rogelio in this episode. It was so lovely to see. I hope she comes back from rehab and decides she wants to be a better sister and Aunt and spend more time and actually develop a relationship with Petra and Jane and the rest of her family.
Thank you for your words.
I don’t know if anyone else is watching Humans (which is an excellent series that’s airing its second season on Britain’s Channel 4 right now, with its AMC airing to come in 2017), but — MILD SPOILER ALERT HERE — one of the synths, Niska, is in a relationship with a human woman (who doesn’t know Niska’s a synth) this season. The girlfriend has only appeared in the premiere so far, but it looks like she’ll be back in future episodes.
There was a hint early on in episode 2 that Niska was still thinking about her girlfriend.
I love Humans and the season 2 premier made my heart sing. Niska and Astrid! Niska was my favourite character in the first season, she is such a badass.
I definitely think Astrid will be back, as Lilian mentioned, there was a hint she would reappear. Even seeing them together in one episode was beautiful. Definitely worth checking out and if it goes somewhere, worth a spot in this column! So glad to hear others are also watching :)
Ok just because you mentioned a channel 4 show I have to mention one as well.one with one of my top lesbian characters in 2016 it’s called Flowers. It’s on 4od completely free and really damn good.
Sorry for hijacking your thread
I would read the shit out of Stef’s off-tube boobs column.
Me too. I would call it queer limbo. Maybe they cannot interact with each other.
Tara and Luisa hanging out.
Boobs Off-Tube, where we pontificate on what those other boobs doing all the way over there…
Fun fact: I used Rogelio’s extremely cheesy advice about oxygen masks to remind a weeping student of mine to engage in self-care after the election.
I love that.
I love that.
When I’m feeling particularly anxious I repeat “inhala, exhala” in his voice in my head to help control my breathing.
Van Helsing on Syfy got kind of gay on episode 9. Looks like Vanessa Van Helsing is bi? be warned it’s a vampire/zombiesque apocaylase scenerio so lifespans not great.
Thanks for the tip, Tara!
My mom gave me the same advice! I think the metaphor is popular in 12-step groups
I follow a walking dead spoiler site mostly out of my anxiety about wanting to at least know that Tara is alive and well. It’s the spoilingdeadfans on tumblr, so read at your own risk, if you don’t want spoilers you can avoid it. They have it on good authority that Tara won’t appear till episode 6 which IMDB now reports as being a bit of a bottle episode featuring what happened to Tara and Heath while on their supply run.They had that listed far before it showed up on IMDB. I just want Tara to survive the season, I think a lot of us really need that right now.
literally forgot about the supply run or that heath existed! i will be SHOCKED if tara survives the season because they’ve never really bothered to develop her (giving her denise and a friendship with eugene didn’t count at all) so she seems like the most expendable person? but yes, i hope she’s relaxing in a hammock somewhere and she and heath are clinking glasses of frozen margaritas.
Since the election, I’ve been firmly ensconced in this fictional bubble, surrounded by characters who remind me that my family, my friends, my loves, my people are seen. As long as I kept watching TV or movies or reading books or fanfic, the world still made sense…and all those facets of my life still felt valued.
Increasingly, that’s how I see representation: less as opportunity for societal growth and more as a chance for those represented to see themselves as not othered. Will Fresh Off The Boat change the way we see Asian families? Maybe, but if it can make a kid feel less weird about the noodles in their lunch box (for example), then I take that as a victory.
More and more, I think LGBT stories are an exception.
I think Will & Grace forced America to imagine their friends and neighbors differently. Then came the Jack McPhees and Kurt Hummels to compel people to imagine their own children as gay.
But, there’s a reason we celebrate Kurt Hummel instead of Justin Suarez from Ugly Betty…and it’s not just because Kurt’s story is set to catchy music.
America can imagine Kurt Hummel as their child but not Justin Suarez and until that changes, I wonder how much representation can truly change the minds of anyone else.
Not just Justin Suarez, People don’t remember Ricky Vasquez from my so-called life. He came before them all.
Thank you for this, Pecola.
I cried myself to sleep the night proposition 8 passed.
How can the state where San Francisco is, gay capital of the world, vote against gay rights?. It was a gut punch, it was unimaginable rejection
I never even celebrated Obama being elected.
This week feels like prop 8 all over again
I’ll say it. With all of the new canon and non-canon ships, I’m going to miss AfterEllen’s ship contests. An election that even if I lose, we all win.
Jane the Virgin: So, a brief plea to all those tuning into the CW on Monday nights for Supergirl: GIVE JANE THE VIRGIN A TRY. This show is so amazing…exceptionally so…consistently so…and it pains me to see it do so poorly in the ratings.
I share Heather’s love for the scenes between Luisa and Rogelio as well as the general sense of foreboding that accompanies another stint by Luisa in rehab. I hope the writers recognized what incredible potential lies in this pairing and that post-rehab, we’ll get to see their friendship blossom.
But what I loved most about this episode was the fight between Jane and Michael about their finances. We’ve seen that story told so many times, especially with newlyweds, but few of them have at their root the anxiety that a person carries with them from growing up poor. So many of my friends and I carry those scars and struggle to overcome them, despite any success we might achieve…and it left me a little verklempt to see it play it out on-screen.
(This, by the way, is what actual economic anxiety looks like when it’s not an excuse used to plaster over bigotry, as the media did throughout the election.)
Jane knows! Petra will soon be free. To quote the narrator, “about damn time!”
Grey’s Anatomy: I’m so impressed by Shonda Rhimes who, 13 seasons into Grey’s run, continually finds ways to innovate. Thursday’s bottle episode was the best episode of the show in a long time. I feel like I know Webber, Hunt, Edwards and Grey in a way that I didn’t before…which, particularly with Meredith and Richard, seems miraculous.
It was a beautifully written and skillfully acted episode. If you missed it, I highly recommend checking it out.
I’m hoping Maggie finds someone permanantly or at least long term, she seems very much out of the fray. I also want to see a scene with Maggie bumping into Lauren and her doctor boyfriend, I just think it would be funny. I’m also for Liza to reveal she’s 40 already and get together with Charles. Nothing wrong with Josh but Charles will be better for her.
Lovely column all over here.
And this was such a great episode of Jane the Virgin! So many excellent parts, especially Luisa getting real character time; I loved her being paired with Rafael and especially Rogelio, and I hope she gets more interaction with Jane and her family in the future.
And Jane and Michael fighting over money was so real, and Alba and Xo furthering their mother/daughter relationship now that Jane has moved out melted my heart. And I loved that ending! Please bring back Petra!
Is this column no longer a thing?