THE INTERNATIONAL SIDE
If 2011 had a TV theme, it was lesbian and bisexual viewers saying to network executives, “You won’t? YouTube!” No longer content with the landscape of American television, innumerable viewers turned to online video services this year to watch lesbian storylines from Spain, Germany, Great Britain and Canada.
British TV has always been a favorite with Americans, and this year was no different as lesbians flocked to Skins and Coronation Street. The latter saw the dissolution of Sophie and Sian’s relationship when Sacha Parkinson decided not to renew her contract for 2012, but the build up to her departure kept fans at rapt attention. Sophie and Sian’s relationship was perfectly indicative of true love, from the tempestuous ups and downs to the promises of forever. The pair even planned to tie the knot before Sian discovered that Sophie had been unfaithful to her. We will forever keep our fingers crossed that Sian returns to Corrie. After all, characters never really leave soap operas.
Skins introduced us to the genderqueer Franky Fitzgerald in series five, and as she took a fascinating journey of self-discovery and self-acceptance, her very femme arch-nemesis-turned-best mate realized that her feelings ran deeper than friendship. Franky refused to define her gender by her fashion and she refused to define her sexuality with labels. She dressed how she wanted to dress, she kissed who she wanted to kiss — and she never apologized for being who she was.
Canada’s Lost Girl was also a favorite of American viewers. The sci-fi show follows the life of Succubus Bo, including her blossoming relationship with human doctor Lauren. The two finally consummated their relationship in two, only to be forced to slam on the brakes when Lauren’s girlfriend awoke from a years-long coma. Their relationship is far from over, and American viewers who watch TV without the benefit of the internet will be able to watch it from the very beginning when Syfy airs the series from the beginning in January.
Two other shows that caught the attention of AfterEllen.com readers this year were Tierra de Lobos and Hand aufs Herz. Even though the majority of non-German and non-Spanish viewers watched the Crisabel and Jemma storylines with the help of fan-made English subtitles, both couples landed a top spot on our 2011 Cutest Couples poll. There was never subtext between Cristina and Isabel or Jenny and Emma; both shows featured full-on, beautifully-acted, main text — some of it so delicious that Americans didn’t even need English translations.
THE REAL SIDE
In recent years, we have seen a growing trend of out and proud gay ladies moving to the top of their entertainment-related fields. With Oprah finishing up her talk show in 2011, Ellen DeGeneres has become the uncontested queen of daytime. With the departure of Keith Olberman from MSNBC, Rachel Maddow has become the go-to voice for liberal politics. Suze Orman continues to rule the world of money advice; Cat Cora continues to dominate the realm of cooking advice; and Sara Gilbert continues to be a voice of queer reason on The Talk. Plus, Rosie O’Donnell returned to television late this year on Oprah’s OWN.
2011 also saw the second season of Ilene Chaiken‘s reality series The Real L Word. The show followed Whitney, Romi, Claire, Francine, Cori, Kacy and Sajdah through the highs and lows endless shenanigans of living, laughing, fighting and f–king in West Hollywood.
THE FUTURE SIDE
2012 is shaping up to be an interesting year for lesbian and bisexual visibility on TV. The losses of 2011 will certainly be felt in the coming year, but the silver lining is that most of the queer characters we lost were recurring or supporting ones. Already we’re excited that Life photographer Joyce Ramsay could be back on our TVs next year when Mad Men returns to AMC. Maya St. Germain promises to be a fixture in the winter season of Pretty Little Liars. Portia de Rossi‘s Lindsey Bluth-Funke will return when Arrested Development kicks off again. With any luck, Carol Leifer‘s My Best Friend is a Lesbo will find its way into the 2012 fall pickup schedule. And Rachel Maddow will no doubt be omnipresent in the election year.
Cautious optimism is almost always the order of the day when it comes to lesbian and bisexual characters on television. The gay rights movement felt a multitude of hard-won victories in 2011, and we hope to see those victories reflected on the small screen in the coming year.