2015 was the first year history that one critic could not possibly watch every hour of every TV show featuring a queer female character — a far cry from the zero hours it took to watch all the queer female characters on primetime broadcast TV when I started doing this job back in 2008. Thanks to streaming services like Netflix and Amazon, and a generation of voting-aged humans who started watching Glee out-gay itself week-after-week when they were in the sixth grade, the landscape of TV has been changed forever over the last few years.
The two most remarkable things about queer women on TV in 2015 were: 1) How unremarkable it was for a show to include a main character who was a lesbian or bisexual woman. Lesbian/bi women were dynamic main characters and boring supporting characters, they were virtuous heroes and they were dubious antiheroes, they were on broadcast TV and they were on cable TV. They were everywhere and it was no big deal. 2) How many of the very best queer characters were women of color, particularly black women. In fact, when we asked our TV writers to weigh in on their favorite TV characters of the year, women of color dominated our roundtable for the first time ever. It’s an exciting trend I hope continues to grow in exponential ways.
Things weren’t quite as universally revolutionary, however, for trans women on TV this year. Later today, we’ll look back at the year in trans TV, specifically, and parse out how the most trans women ever appeared on TV in the same year the most trans women ever were murdered in the United States. We’ve still got a long way to go with queer representation on TV, especially for trans characters.
Riese captured the state of queer TV perfectly earlier this year in her piece about GLAAD’s decision to drop its Network Responsibility Index.
Now the focus has shifted to misrepresentation and underrepresentation. Outside of ABC Family, we rarely see a lesbian or bisexual female character at the forefront of any particular cast (which is part of why Faking It is so precious to us), especially not on broadcast television. We don’t have our Jamal on Empire, Mitchell and Cameron on Modern Family or our Cyrus on Scandal. Also, when it comes to lesbian representation: why must so many lesbian characters sleep with men? Will we ever see a diversity of gender presentation amongst female queer TV characters, or just a bunch of thin femmes? WHY SO MANY WHITE PEOPLE?
But mostly these days it’s not the simple existence of queer characters that we’re fighting for, it’s for screen time for those characters and their romances. It’s so tiring, this back-and-forth we play with the people who tell the loudest stories. This is what we want to look like! Stop making us look like [other thing]! Straight white men save so much time not worrying about that shit.
With that in mind, we’ve ranked every storyline on American TV this year featuring a queer female character. (We’re pretty sure we got them all, but if we missed any, let us know.) For the first time in a long time, I’m really excited about what the future of TV holds.
WARNING: Spoilers for every single TV show featuring a queer TV character this year, including major character deaths.
83. Big A is Charlotte DiLaurentis, Pretty Little Liars
I have confirmed with multiple sources that this story was three years in the making, which makes the egregious missteps even worse than I thought when I first watched the Big Reveal back in August. Every damaging trans trope you can imagine (topes that people in real life use to justify committing horrific violence against trans women) rolled into a single episode and amplified retroactively over five seasons of what was once my favorite show on TV. I’m still heartbroken about it.
82. Another Ryan Murphy shitshow, American Horror Story: Hotel
81. Sara Harvey is the ultimate deus ex machina, Pretty Little Liars
Pretty Little Liars brought on Sara Harvey at the last second to be the answer to a dozen questions, and tried to shoehorn her into a relationship with Emily to lend emotional impact to the reveal that she was every single faceless bad guy we’ve wondered about over the past five years. It was cheap and lazy, and her presence robbed us of Emily exploring a relationship that had the same emotional resonance as the other main (straight) characters. I’m mad at myself for how happy I was when Emily punched her in the face.
80. Rene Montoya disappears, Gotham
The fanboys couldn’t handle that a queer woman of color (and one of two most beloved lesbians in DC’s entire universe) was a legitimate romantic foil for Jim Gordon, so they canned her without explanation or apology.
79. Charlie gets stuffed in a refrigerator, Supernatural
This was some straight up ’90s-style bullshit storytelling: Violently killing one of the only women on the show (and definitely the only queer person on the show) to advance the plot of the straight white men. If I never see this trope again, it will be too soon.
78. A Very Special Trans Murder Episode, Law & Order: SVU
This episode had more problems than I can count. Mey Rude did the hard work and listed them for us.
77. Maya is every damaging trans trope, Bold & the Beautiful
She’s been lying about being trans her whole life to trick a rich man into marrying her. Every character misgenders her and misnames her repeatedly when they start to find out. Violence against her is justified because she’s deceitful and duplicitous. To make it even worse, Maya is the only trans character on daytime TV.
76. Mimi Whiteman takes over Empire, has horrible threesome, Empire
Come on, Ilene.
75. Barbara is a bisexual psychopath, Gotham
After writing off Rene Montoya, Gotham turned Barbara into a full-on sociopath. She had her own family murdered, tortured Jim’s new girlfriend, stalked Jim, was a co-conspirator in a plan to murder every police officer in Gotham city, and continued to be addicted to every pill known to man. It’s time to retire this played cliche too.
74. Kalinda exits on a green screen, The Good Wife
CGI? What CGI? There was a time when Kalinda Sharma was the most nuanced, exciting bisexual character on TV. Her last two seasons were rubbish, and her last episode was a joke.
73. Amy lies to sidestep Reagan’s biphobic ire, Faking It
Faking It really struggled with the biphobia this year, and Reagan was the original perpetrator, refusing to entertain the idea that she could be in a relationship with a woman who’d had sex with a man. And so, in typical Amy fashion, she just lied about it over and over until she and Reagan broke up about it. With Amy’s sexual orientation up in the air, Reagan became the only bona-fide lesbian character on the show, which made her biphobia even more egregious as it played into the stereotype that all lesbians are biphobic.
72. Nicky spends the whole season in max, Orange Is the New Black
We hardly got to see her knowing smirk at all this season!
71. Tamsin dies, Lost Girl
After being raped by Bo’s dad masquerading as Bo and having his baby, Tamisn died. And sure, she was never going to be Bo’s forever love, but she deserved so much better. She was one of the best queer sci-fi characters in TV history.
70. Sam is a “predatory lez,” Scream Queens
Just stop writing women, please, Ryan Murphy. Thank you.
69. Mulan comes back, Once Upon a Time
Mulan stopped by for her yearly five minutes of screentime on Once Upon a Time, and despite the producers’ promises that a gay relationship is going to happen this season for absolute sure no question don’t even worry about it, the only action Mulan got was Red sitting near her on the ground, breathlessly heaving her bosom for 15 seconds.
68. Mary and Nora have been together a thousand years, Vampire Diaries
It’s always nice to have a new couple to add to the canon of lesbian vampires.
67. Ellen and Liz Feldman get trapped in the ’90s, One Big Happy
Siiiigh. We wanted so much from this show. It wasn’t offensive or anything; it was just 15 years behind its time.
66. Lesbian directors are everywhere, BoJack Horseman
Lesbian director Kelsey Jannings, (most famous for her critically acclaimed indie drama Women Who Love Women Who Love Recycling) came back for a bigger role in season two; she was the director of BoJack’s Secretariat film, which paid her exactly one thousand dollars per minute.
65. Bird and Madison kiss, Finding Carter
Mandatory queer kiss on an MTV scripted show.
64. Jane directs Valerie’s new reality show, The Comeback
She is to Valerie what Kelsey Jennings is to BoJack Horseman: super talented, thirsty, misanthropic, and secretly shielding a marshmallow heart.
63. Cricket gets a girlfriend, Hart of Dixie
When Cricket came out at her wedding on Hart of Dixie, it was a truly shocking moment. Not because it was her wedding, but because everyone had always assumed her fiance was gay. The show didn’t do much with her before it was canned, but it did send her off with a girlfriend, even though they never did more than hold hands on-screen.
62. Mayfair’s ex is a lady, Blindspot
Mayfair’s storyline on Blindspot was indicative of how so many supporting queer storylines were treated this year: It added a layer to her characterization, made her more relatable to the audience, and ultimately was a non-issue.
61. Gail tries to adopt a kid, Rookie Blue
She also made out with her archnemesis at work; sadly, it happened off-screen.
60. Betty bakes a bun in her oven, Masters of Sex
I had higher hopes for Betty after she was made a series regular, but this season of Masters of Sex, overall, paled in comparison to the previous two seasons. Betty’s weak storyline was par for the course for all characters in season three.
59. Tituba has lesbian leanings, Salem
If you read my weekly TV round-ups in Boob(s In Your) Tube, you know I cannot watch gory shows, and Salem earns top marks in both of that area. Tituba did smooch on another lady this season, but I couldn’t bring myself to look for a screencap because it’s always so bloody. Luckily, this photo existed in WordPress when I searched “Salem.”
58. Lucy Lawless does it again and again, Salem and Ash vs. Evil Dead
Lucy Lawless has kissed more women on-screen now than I have ever (or will ever) kiss in my entire life. Four for you, Xena. You go, Xena.
57. Alex and Piper’s whole toxic deal, Orange Is the New Black
It’s not even sexy anymore, y’all. It’s time to move on to orange-er pastures.
56. Kay is a soft butch flannel queen, Marry Me
Marry Me had all the makings of a great comedy, but NBC pulled the plug on it before it really found its footing. The biggest travesty was that we lost Kay, one of a the very few main lesbian characters in broadcast TV sitcoms, and my favorite part of the show. And she’d just started dating Anna Ortiz!
55. Transphobia lands Sophia in max, Orange Is the New Black
Here’s the thing, though: the Sophia we’ve followed through 2.5 seasons would’ve apologized to Gloria when she found out it was Michael’s fault the kids got in trouble, not Benny’s. Orange wants to tell a story about violence against trans women in prison, and so here it is, but the thing about violence against trans women in prison is that it doesn’t need a reason, it happens all the time for no reason. Trans women get beat up and raped in prison just for being trans women.
54. Callie moves on with Penny, Grey’s Anatomy
We hates Penny. WE HATES HER PRECIOUS.
53. STELLLAAAA, Orange Is the New Black
It’s always good on a queer woman’s eyeballs to see Ruby Rose on-screen, but that’s as deep as my interest in Stella went. I’d trade ten Stellas for one Nicky, coming home from max.
52. Pippy and TMI exist, Rosewood
The most boring lesbian couple on television, which is pretty damn revolutionary.
51. Another Annalise, Grandfathered
John Stamons’ right hand woman is a lesbian restaurant manager named Annalise. She doesn’t have much to do, and hasn’t had a love interest yet, but she’s the only woman of color on the show and easily one of the best and funniest parts.
50. Dr. Pineda has a living girlfriend and dying ex-girlfriend, Code Black
Another casual mention of lesbianism and no protests or bloodshed or trigger warnings before the episode aired. It’s like networks have finally figured out that if you’ve got a group of five super smart women hanging out together, at least one of them is going to be gay.
49. Tara lives, scores a lady kiss, The Walking Dead
Not all lesbians die in the zombie apocalypse!
48. Audrey is a final girl, Scream
She’s also maybe the ultimate bad guy; only time will tell! At least she’s an interesting queer killer on a show about killers. The lesbians are always the first to go in horror stories.
47. Karma and Amy stay trapped in their kissing-confusion loop, Faking It
After which Amy finally drove away.
46. Ben’s sister comes out as a trans woman, Grey’s Anatomy
The story was handled with a lot of heart, and definitely came down on the side of Rosalind and not Ben, but it had the trappings of: a cis man playing a trans woman, Bailey outing a trans woman to her family, and focusing on Ben’s feelings about the whole thing and not his sister’s. I hope Rosalind comes back around this season. She needs more!
45. Jessica’s favorite hangout is a lesbian bar, Fresh off the Boat
Jessica not knowing that her favorite place to chill out is a girl bar is one of the funniest gags on one of the funniest shows on TV. The stereotyping is gentle, and played as if lesbian viewers are in on the joke.
44. Sara comes back to life, Arrow
I was excited about this at like a five, and then I found out she’s going to romance Ali “Betty McRae” Liebert on Legends of Tomorrow, and now I’m at like a nine and half.
43. Faith is a secret queer lady, UNreal
This show was the opposite of its name: It was one of the most real things on TV in 2015, and Faith realizing she’s gay but being coaxed into staying silent about it for ratings was a huge part of that realness.
42. Piper becomes Walter White, Orange Is the New Black
Of course Piper would become the white person exploiting women of color to make a buck, and getting off the whole time on how brilliant she is. Of course that’s who she was destined to be. I’m done with her, though. Her story, I mean. I’m ready for Suzanne to become the centerpiece of this show.
41. Talia comes out, kisses Emily, is married to a man, Pretty Little Liars
Emily Fields’ game makes Shane McCuteheon look like she’s a little league rookie. How has she not made the other three Liars completely homosexual by now?
40. Gretchen is the vigilante we deserve, Complications
USA axed Complications after only one summer, which is a real shame; Gretchen was halfway to becoming Batman when the first season ended.
39. Margot and Alana scissor inside a kaleidoscope, Hannibal
They also made the very wise decision to hire armored guards to helicopter them the fuck out of this story universe when they realized they were in danger. Every queer women on television should take note!
38. Sarah and Tammy get married, breakup, Transparent
It was almost too real.
37. Jordan comes out as a trans girl, The Carmichael Show
While this episode isn’t exactly perfect (they misgender Jordan a lot), I do think it was maybe the most slept on piece of trans media of the year. What I really love about it is that it’s pretty real. It doesn’t pretend that Jerrod’s family, or Jerrod himself, are perfect when it comes to understanding trans people. But they do try, and they do learn, and they do accept Jordan. Honestly, this is a really funny episode, and they made a bunch of jokes about trans people, and they made them mostly without putting trans people down or being transphobic.
36. Lena kisses Monty and never tells Stef, The Fosters
Monty was such a fascinating character, and her stupid chemistry with Lena was stupid good, but she needs to take her recently awakened sapphic tendencies to another charter school in another city, far away from Stef and Lena.
35. Pima tries to get into Peggy’s pants, Mad Men
No man on Mad Men was ever good enough for Peggy, and for a hot second, it looked like Pima was going to turn her head. Goodness, she tried. Peggy was flattered, but she turned her down. If she were going to be with a woman, it would have been Joyce anyway.
34. Maggie is TV Land’s first lesbian character, Younger
Holler for a middle aged lesbian for a change!
33. Ilana sleeps with her doppelgänger, Broad City
Obviously she was practing for Abbi, but it was still (very) good fun.
32. Lesley is Eileen Myles, Transparent
This fictional relationship worked out pretty dang well for real life Eileen Myles and Transparent creator Jill Soloway.
31. Clarke and Lexa smooch a little bit, The 100
Juliet and Juliet for the post-apocalyptic Hunger Games crowd.
Next page: The top 30!
30. Arizona finds a new wingman, Grey’s Anatomy
Arizona is extra cute on this season of Grey’s Anatomy, especially when she revealed to Webber that she brought him out to a lesbian bar to help her get over her fear of dating again.
29. Luisa is a beautiful mess, Jane the Virgin
Jane the Virgin was my favorite TV show of 2015, and Luisa was one of the best parts of it. She’s an absolute wreck and has been duped now by two crime lords, but gosh, I love her.
28. Cosima and Shay fall in like, Orphan Black
Bringing on a beloved Canadian sci-fi actor to play Cosima’s new love interest was a brilliant move by Orphan Black‘s writers. Delphine and Cosima will always be my favorite couple on this show, but I don’t mind watching these two flirt and get their smooch on while I wait for Delphine to be resurrected.
27. Max sets sail with Anne, Black Sails
I’ll always have a soft spot for Eleanor, but Max needs her millions and Anne Bonney is just the pirate to take her where she needs to go to collect that treasure.
26. Root and Shaw smooch with their mouths, Person of Interest
Person of Interest is one of the very few shows in American TV history that decided to focus on the female characters because they’re better, and also let two of them kiss just because their on-screen chemistry is so good. And on CBS, no less!
25. Bo and Lauren are endgame, Lost Girl
Suck it, Dyson.
24. Surprise! Tiana is queer, Empire
Though the storyline didn’t really go anywhere, it was an awesome shock when we found out that Hakeem’s new girlfriend also had a girlfriend. I hear Freda Gatz is in the market for a new love.
23. Real friendship between trans women, Transparent
I feel like this is the kind of trans TV we’ve been waiting for. It’s finally here. From going dancing together, making lasagna, to teaching Maura all about Yaaas Queen and getting cunt, these three showed trans women just being themselves among themselves. And Davina, oh, Davina. There’s this thing she says to Maura in Episode 7 that’s my favorite line in the entire show since “My whole life I’ve been pretending I was a woman.” Davina, you have my whole heart. Ah, and Shea! he’s so wonderful and there’s a really wonderful conversation she has with Maura in Episode 8 that made me just want to hug her. I’m just so in love with these characters and their relationships with each other.
22. Paige McCullers bounces up out of Rosewood, Pretty Little Liars
Paige McCullers: The only human with a functioning brain in Rosewood, PA. You were too good for that town, McCullers. If staying away means staying alive, I’ll miss you forever, but do it, girl. See the world, fingerbang your way up the PCH, get married barefoot on the beach at sunset to a woman who deserves you. We’ll always have coconut cupcakes. I hated to see her go (HATED IT), but her sendoff was a triumph worthy of her character.
21. Nomi and Amanita are so in love, Sense8
It was a year of never-before-seen queer romances on TV, and Nomi and Amanita were one of our favorites. A transgender character played by a transgender actor in an interracial lesbian relationship! It was sweet and sexy and fun, and we really do need more of it.
20. Jeri Hogarth is an evil power lesbian, Jessica Jones
As long as queer characters aren’t evil because they’re queer (a trope as old as time), I am a-okay with them. Take Jeri Hogarth, the ultimate antihero. She was one of the most compelling lesbians on TV this year, on a show with two other marvelously dynamic female characters. There’s no telling how much she’s going to ramp up the bad guy hijinks next season, now that she’s basically started making Horcruxes out of her dead wife’s things.
19. Denise is the best, Master of None
A masculine of center black lesbian character played by a real life masculine of center black lesbian comic? Yes, please. More of that, please.
18. Delphine sacrifices herself for Cosima, Orphan Black
Nobody wants to see a queer character die, but if she’s got to go (because she has signed on to headline her own TV show), let her go out like a Slytherin HBIC who’s doing it all for the love of her life, am I right? (And hey, maybe she’s not dead. We never saw a body.)
17. Stef and Lena get their shit together, The Fosters
It was a rough season for our favorite lesbian moms, but they worked it out in the end, like they always do. It was a relief, I’ll tell ya; I never want to see their lips on other people’s lips as long as I live.
16. Marceline and PB grow old together, Adventure Time
Finally! Bubbeline is canon on-screen!
15. Soso and Poussey hold hands like sea otters, Orange Is the New Black
After battling terrible depression all season long, Poussey and Soso found a moment of comfort and understanding with each other in the show’s final minutes. Much deserved!
14. Shelly and Maura’s relationship, Transparent
I think this is the first time this story has ever been told on TV!
13. M-Chuck visits a plantation, Survivor’s Remorse
Survivor’s Remorse is criminally under-watched (probably because Starz makes it nearly impossible to view its shows). This season, M-Chuck visited a plantation in south Georgia that paid actors to re-create a pre-Civil War atmosphere for tourists. She was outraged, but not outraged enough to keep her from sleeping with one of the actors, the white woman who was playing the plantation owner’s daughter, in the plantation’s master bedroom. Few things on TV surprise me in a delightful way, but this thing sure did.
12. Jill is Annalise’s BFF, How to Get Away With Murder
There was no shocking reveal [that Jill is trans], no discussion by the show’s main characters on whether or not they should respect her identity, no tragic end, no tragic beginning. Instead, Jill was treated with respect by all the characters that mattered. The only people who were transphobic jerks were portrayed as transphobic jerks, Jill wasn’t murdered and the show talked about real trans issues like transmisogyny in the police and court system and the way men who sleep with trans women often mistreat the women they’re sleeping with.
11. Unique returns triumphant with an entire trans choir, Glee
Glee never, ever, ever treated Unique right, and this scene had all the makings of the “magical black woman” trope, where she arrives on the scene to guide a white man through his tough times to a place of enlightenment, but damn, it was just so good to see Unique return and SHINE like the star she always was.
10. Brenna will not let her bisexuality be erased, Chasing Life
Brenna was one of the few bisexual characters on TV to actually label her sexuality and say the word “bisexual” every time someone tried to call her gay or straight. She even threw down in a GSA meeting at her new school, addressing all kinds of bi stereotypes in a way we never get to see on TV, and coming out triumphant. I’m still mourning the fact that
ABC Family Freeform cancelled this gem of a show.
9. Raven comes out, Black-ish
One of the best queer standalone episodes of 2015 was Raven playing Dre’s gay sister on Black-ish. It was funny and sweet and so true to life. When she came out and revealed that her live-in mechanic was actually her girlfriend, her family refused to believe her, but they came around by the episode’s end.
8. Lauren comes out to defend Hester High, Faking It
Faking It has 99 problems, but Lauren Cooper ain’t one. After keeping it a secret for a season and a half, she came out as intersex in front of all her peers to save Hester High. She continues to be the highlight of this show, one of our favorite TV characters, and the hero Texas deserves.
7. Freda Gatz arrives to take over the world, Empire
Season two of Empire has caused a lot of frustration among viewers, but one thing we can all agree on is that Freda Gatz is the truth. If only she can stay out from under Lucious’ thumb!
6. Big Boo gets a backstory, Orange Is the New Black
We hardly ever get to see masculine of center women on TV, but OITNB gave us Big Boo’s story from the very beginning and it resonated deeply with us.
5. Ali and Syd fall in love, breakup, Transparent
There were more ladies falling in love with ladies stories on TV than ever before in 2015, but Syd and Ali’s felt the most real to us. Carrie Brownstein crushed it.
4. Brittany and Santana get married, Glee
2009: “Sex isn’t dating. If it were, Santana and I would be dating.”
2015: “I would have suffered it all, just for the tiny chance that I’d be up here, marrying you.”
3. Garnet is really Ruby and Sapphire, Steven Universe
When Garnet revealed that she is actually two gems fused together in a lesbian marriage, my heart nearly exploded out of my chest. It was so romantic and it was the first animated series in America to really, really go there in a way that required no interpretation of subtext. Truly, Steven Universe is one of the best written and most feminist shows on TV; and this moment was revolutionary in ways we’ll be talking about for a long time.
2. Annalise and Eve sitting in a tree (K-I-S-S-I-N-G), How to Get Away With Murder
Oh, you know, just Viola Davis playing a bisexual antihero on the most watched night of TV in the United States for a role that made her the first black woman to ever receive an Emmy for Best Lead Actress in a Drama. No big deal. (Just kidding, this is an ENORMOUS deal.)
1. Suzanne’s genius is finally revealed, Orange Is the New Black
The first two seasons of OITNB were brutal for Suzanne, but she finally got a little bit of respite in season three, as she became a celebrity for of her Time Hump Chronicles novel, and she found love in a very sweet new inmate/super fan. There’s a reason Uzo Aduba keeps getting nominated for every acting award on the planet, and it’s because she breathing life into a character we have never see on our TVs before.