Autostraddle’s Favorite Lesbian, Bisexual, and Queer TV Couples of 2021

A graphic that reads End Of Year Lists 2021

It’s time for my favorite end of year TV Team list! The one in which I — Heather Hogan, Captain of Team Love Is Not a Lie — make everyone say their favorite fictional couples of the whole year! It’s fun because most of the people on this team keep banging on their pots and pans, marching around yelling about how love IS a lie, but then they actually love love and love to watch love and love to write about love — so what is the truth!

Once again, these are our individual personal preferences, and not a list based on empirical data.

As always, please share your favorite TV couples with us in the comments!


Carmen

Sophie and Ryan, Batwoman

Sophie checks out Ryan in the mirror on Batwoman

Originally I had a different way that I was going to write about the slow burn love affair of Sophie Moore and Ryan Wilder (Wildmoore, for those of you in the know).

I was going to talk about their sweetness, their loyalty, how fun it is to watch the Batwoman writers so openly flirt with gay fanfic tropes on prime-time television (at one point in the second season, Sophie tells her younger sister that she and Ryan will never happen, “not even an ‘enemies-to-lovers’ maybe,” and in the third season they go on a Fake Date undercover). And that is all still true!

But on Monday, Javicia Leslie, the Black bisexual actress who stars as Ryan/Batwoman, responded to yet another one of our End of Year Lists celebrating Sophie and Ryan with a personal love letter of her own:

“As a kid, it was so rare to see romance between 2 black women on screen. A lot of shows tend to pair the person of color with a person of a different race than their own (which is beautiful as well). But to see a reflection of myself, and other women I know… RARE!”

She went on to thank the Batwoman writers and show creator Caroline Dries for “creating characters that showed ‘our’ kind of love.”

That’s when I knew, I had to write the more honest tribute.

Yes, it is great that Sophie and Ryan are a main text slow burn relationship, written with the kind of layered, detailed care — even in the middle of an often over-the-top silly fun superhero show! — that is almost never given to queer romance. But it also matters, so deeply and emphatically in my toes matters, that what we are seeing on Batwoman is a lead romance between two Black women.

It’s just not that it hasn’t been done before (though it hasn’t! Not like this.) — I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what gets lost in conversations when we talk about “representation.” Over the years we’ve used the word so much, I fear we’ve begun to flatten it. Representation still matters, but not all representation is equal. What has happened this fall, where we’ve gone from nearly no Black women being in relationships with other Black women in our television history, to it rapidly becoming something like a norm, is already unparalleled and should be celebrated. Within that, what is quietly developing between Sophie and Ryan on Batwoman — the depth, the authenticity, the learning how to trust and tongue-in-cheek flirtations and always always reaching out for each other’s hands — it is the kind of romance that takes my breath away.

What I’m going to say next will probably seem like a lot to close on, and again I do realize I am talking about A SUPERHERO SHOW ON THE CW as I type this, but there’s a Maya Angelou quote that has always meant so much to me. I’m usually afraid to say out loud in case it’s misunderstood, “I can’t believe my good fortune. I’m so grateful to be a Black woman. I would be so jealous if I were anything else.’’

That’s what Sophie and Ryan have meant this year. Black women finding love, safety, and yes even heroism, in each other.

I’ve never been more grateful.


Shelli

Fran and Emily, Shrill

Fran and Emily laugh on the couch

I love Fran. I’m so sad that we won’t be able to see a more finessed close to her story since Shrill came to somewhat of an abrupt ending, but I am hella grateful to have seen her get into a pretty dope relationship before it did. Mostly, because it was on her own terms. I love Fran and Emily together because Emily took Fran for exactly what she was. I know what you’re thinking (“Damn is the bar on the ground?!”) but how rare is it for someone to take you for who you are in your entirety? For them to see you — loud, silly, direct and autonomous as fuck in Fran’s case — and say “I would like to be with you please, just as you are thanks.”

I found sweetness in Emily’s introduction to Fran’s mum and how they bonded, I loved how Fran stood up for Emily when meeting their family and I loved how cute they were — laughing and giggling — when watching their sex tape gone wrong. The ending would have us believe that maybe, in a lapse of communication, they split — but I don’t think they did. In my mind, after Fran chats and has a moment on the park bench with Annie, they took a few days apart and then talked to realize that they can make their own steps. That there is no relationship rule book and that maybe they don’t have to live together to be in love.

But then again, the show is canceled and I am wildly optimistic about everything, so maybe they had fantastic break up sex and Emily went back to being Fran’s dealer — but that’s a good relationship too, so win/win?


Heather

Sophie and Ryan, Batwoman

Sophie and Ryan smile shyly at each other

We went ’round and ’round on the TV Team when we were trying to decide if Ryan and Sophie qualify as a couple, and we ultimately decided yes because: 1) If it was a cishet pairing, everyone would consider them an inevitable pairing. 2) Even the actors talk about them as a sexy forgone conclusion. And 3) We’re obsessed with them IT’S FINE.

Ryan and Sophie are exceptional for so many reasons. There are hardly ever relationships between two queer Black woman on-screen, especially on a network show like this. There are hardly ever relationships where both queer characters are in the main cast because that would mean multiple queers on the same show. There are also hardly ever will-they/won’t-they relationships with two queers because there’s hardly ever that many queers and so there’s not much suspense about who’s gonna smooch whomst. And, finally, there’s hardly ever queer relationships where both characters have their own storylines, their own growth arcs, their own relationships, where they have to work to become right for each other and are full of angst and longing glances along the way. All of which is to say that Sophie and Ryan are exceptional both because we’ve really never seen their relationship on TV before, and also because it’s being treated with the same kind of normalcy as straight relationships.

Watching them makes me feel like my actual heart is ON FIRE.

Luz and Amity, The Owl House

Luz and Amity accidentally hug and blush

Most LGBTQ+ characters on animated TV are on shows that are geared toward older audiences. Older for kids, I mean. Shows like Legend of Korra, Adventure Time, Steven Universe, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. And so most of them are also on platforms like Netflix or on Cartoon Network.

Luz and Amity, though? They’re aimed at younger kids! Disney Channel kids! Kids who think a house made out of a literal owl is the funniest thing in the world. Er, the kids and few amazing adults who think a house made out of a literal owl is the funniest thing in the world. (“Hoot hoot. I don’t need a babysitter, I’m a big boy house!”) What makes Luz and Amity so special is that when they start developing feelings for each other, it doesn’t freak them out that the feelings are for another girl, it freaks them out that their feelings are feelings. This is first crush stuff. Baby gay stuff! It’s funny and adorable and cringey in the most relatable ways. It makes me remember how nervous and ecstatic I was the first time I even held a girl’s hand! It makes me feel that way again! And I’ve been with my wife now for over a decade!

Amity and Luz are that kind of relationship that stays with you for the rest of your whole entire life, because it came at you during your most formative years. How amazing that they’re both cool being queer, and how amazing that the kids watching at home have the chance to feel that way too.

Emily and Sue, Dickinson

Sue and Emily in top hats

Sometimes I still can’t believe we got three full seasons of a show basically dedicated to the relationship that history tried to erase from Emily Dickinson’s legacy. In so many ways, her whole life and so much of her poetry was shaped by her relationship with Sue Gilbert, and Dickinson takes that truth and explodes it on-screen in the most sweepingly romantic, wholly dramatic, purely delightful ways. Emily and Sue are the reason words like “epic” were actually invented, and it’s a damn delight to see that play out on prestige TV.

That their relationship also colors in the lines of Dickinson’s ghost, showing how playful and ambitious and lusty she really was? Well, that’s just a bonus. Dickinson‘s tagline could always have been “Sue — forevermore!” and I think real-life Emily Dickinson would have loved that.


Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya

Gigi and Emotional Processing, The L Word: Generation Q

Gigi drinks a cup of coffee while making a sultry face

This season of The L Word: Generation Q made a lot of missteps, but one thing it got absolutely right was playing to the strengths of Sepideh Moafi. The fact that it was canonically established that Gigi simply LOVES to process things? Incredible. Especially since Gigi’s main romantic entanglements of the season (Bette and Dani) are notoriously anti-processing. It was such a joy to watch a hot, chaotic dyke essentially ask and how does that make you feel to everyone and everything.


Drew

Greta and Riley, Genera+ion

Greta and Riley smile at each other

I’m still sad about the cancellation of Genera+ion and the premature end of one of the best couples on TV. Greta and Riley may not have been great at communicating, but what else do you expect from teenage queers? Their chemistry and care for one another never faltered and by the end of the season when they did communicate it was all the more satisfying. Haley Sanchez and Chase Sui Wonders gave each other gazes of longing to rival any period piece that emphasized the will-they of their season-long will-they won’t-they. This is also one of the rare relationships on screen to include a character who is homoromantic and asexual and I really wish we got to see how Greta and Riley navigated their relationship! Alas HBO Max giveth and HBO Max taketh away — at least we got to spend sixteen episodes with two of the best realized teens I’ve ever seen on TV.

Kirt and Shelby, Betty

Kirt and Shelby stand with their hair stuck together with gum

Favorite couple does NOT have to mean healthiest. Nor does it even have to mean an official couple. Shimbo Kirt falls head over skateboard for her friend’s girlfriend Shelby and things go about as well as one might expect. Shelby has that whole “I’m a straight girl, I’m not leaving my boyfriend, this is just fun and doesn’t count as cheating” thing going and Kirt just can’t resist. Betty was one of the casually queerest shows on TV, letting its young queer cast be themselves as they navigated the show’s lowkey storylines. I think that’s why this trope we’ve seen so often feels so unique here. It feels like the real version of this dynamic when we’ve seen a fake version again and again.


Valerie Anne

Ava and Sara (aka Avalance), Legends of Tomorrow

Sara and Ava dance in 20s outfits

Sometimes when I’m watching Sara Lance confer with her partner in life and in work, leading a team of misfits across time and space with her wife by her side, open to others’ opinions, and quickly apologizing and course-correcting when she’s wrong, and I think of how far she’s come from the hot-tempered, icy assassin we once knew. No longer with beaus in different area codes (or decade), no longer fighting her feelings like she did with Nyssa, just being honest and open and vulnerable with the love of her life. It’s amazing! And Ava! Defying the odds, defying her literal code, being the master of her fate and, quite literally, the captain of her soul. Their conflicts never lie in petty arguments or jealousy, or really anything regarding the integrity of their relationship; any tension between them usually comes from their co-parenting co-captaining decisions and their differences in approach to problem-solving. They manage to have such a grounding and inspirational relationship despite being in one of the most unhinged and wacky shows that has ever existed, and I love them for it.

Maya and Carina (aka Delishop if you’re me, Marina if you’re everyone else), Station 19

Maya kisses Carina's shoulder

This one was hard because I’m so, so mad at this show right now, but the truth is, for the vast majority of this year, I was head over heels for this show, so I don’t think I can deny Maya and Carina this spot. I love watching their interactions, their chemistry feels so palpable to me, and even when the writing makes me quirk an eyebrow, the little glances, the subtle hand placement, all of it feels so right and so gay that I can’t help but smile like an idiot when they’re on screen. I knew the honeymoon phase wasn’t going to last forever, though I did think it would last a LITTLE longer after the literal honeymoon, but I still love watching them, and also love watching Danielle and Stefania support the ship on Instagram, showing off their off-screen chemistry and making their on-screen relationship almost TOO convincing.


Natalie

Maya and Carina, Station 19 (Season 4)

Maya bites Carnia's finger

Like Valerie, I’m not thrilled about the recent developments with Maya and Carina — namely Maya’s 180 about having children (continuining a loathed Shondaland tradition) — but this couple continues to astound. This year, they were severely challenged — with COVID, Carina losing her brother, Carina’s immigration status and a temporary move back to Italy, Maya coming out to her parents and their impromptu wedding — but they’ve faced all of it together and come out of it stronger than ever. The chemistry between their portrayers, Danielle Savre and Stefania Spampinato, hasn’t wained a bit… it remains palpable.

Lauren and Leyla, New Amsterdam

Sometimes you find yourself invested in a couple despite yourself. From the second Lauren Bloom paid a bribe to ensure that her girlfriend, Leyla Shinwari, could remain close, rather than accepting a residency in Washington state (of all places!), I knew they were doomed. Their relationship would implode, for sure, it was just a matter of time. But I found myself hoping nonetheless; hoping that Lauren would realize her misstep and tell Leyla the truth before she found out from someone else or that Leyla would understand the forces that fed into Lauren’s desperation. I realize now — now that everything’s falling apart — that I became so invested because of how much I saw myself in Lauren Bloom.

Before Leyla, Lauren Bloom (like me) was cynical about love. It was a well-earned cynicism… from watching one relationship after the next — including some of her own — fall apart so spectacularly. She wasn’t sure that she believed in love anymore or that if it existed, that she deserved it. But then Leyla Shinwari turns up in Lauren’s ED and they start to build something… a friendship at first, a love second…and Lauren’s cynicism starts to erode. I think some small part of us — people like me who swear that love is a lie — wants something to come along and rid us of our cynicism and give us cause to be optimistic. For a while, Lauren had that with Leyla and it gave me hope for cynics everywhere.


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The TV Team

The Autostraddle TV Team is made up of Riese Bernard, Carmen Phillips, Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya, Valerie Anne, Natalie, Drew Gregory, and Heather Hogan. Follow them on Twitter!

The TV has written 216 articles for us.

11 Comments

  1. Curious why you didn’t include Alex and Kelly from Supergirl. I get it. I’d still prefer Alex and Maggie so I’m good. But it was front and center in the finale.

    Also – could you always include the platforms these shows are on after the name of the show?

    Thanks.

  2. Last year, I reconnected with one of my brothers after not talking for a decade (family is uber-religious and I’m uber-gay) under the condition that I let him and his wife decide when to tell their children about why I’m still estranged from the rest of the family. My nephew (now 12) and I have been inseparable ever since and I’m not a fan of kids other than in very short doses so he’s pretty special.

    Last month, he begged me to watch The Owl House so we could talk about it like we do other shows that he recommends most of which I only watch because his enthusiasm makes me happy. We talked extensively about the magic (his first love) and Gus (who he looks like) then he said pretty enthusiastically, “AND Luz and Amity get together! Can you believe it? Do you have a Amity?” *insert shocked face* Apparently, he’d overheard his parents talking about me, and at that time, he already knew Luz liked Amity so he put 2 and 2 together. I have yet to talk to my brother about the conversation but oh well.

    So yeah…thanks, Heather for hitting me in the feels.

    Also…

    Yes to Gigi all day, every day, and twice on Saturdays, Sundays, and national holidays. And a final hell yes, to Wildmoore (sidenote: I hope Batwoman can pave the way for other queer POCs to see their relationships be represented on a primetime or daytime show as well).

  3. You really came for me with “I think some small part of us — people like me who swear that love is a lie — wants something to come along and rid us of our cynicism and give us cause to be optimistic. For a while, Lauren had that with Leyla and it gave me hope for cynics everywhere.”

    That was truly the beauty of their coming together–both guarded cynics who have been through hell and back letting their walls down for each other and falling in love. It’s the cynics dream that they don’t dare to admit out loud.

    The bribe was heartbreaking because it meant we knew the relationship was over but would still have to sit through months of bittersweet lies before they did. The hopeless romantics turned cynics who came flocking to their journey suddenly had their cynicism confirmed, and left defeated.

    I blame it on the writers. This is a low stakes show where the other leads have pretty good lives by most show standards, and yet they insist on continuing to kick Lauren while she’s down again and again. I really thought it was just finally her time for something good and we wouldn’t have to see her break again. No one wants this.

  4. I so deeply miss Chase Sui Wonders on my screen, and Greta and Riley had such great chemistry and ways of seeing and caring for each other, I’m also sad we didn’t get to see their relationship play out further. side note- Click Whirr is one of the best insomnia episodes of television ever made in my personal opinion (to describe insomnia/sleeplessness not cure it).

  5. currently watching season 3 of shrill and that comment fran’s mom made about ghanaian jollof rice was a very nigerian thing to say. but also as a ghanaian it did very much anger me (in a rivalry way) i love seeing west african culture in media

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