Lessons from the Actress Panels at ClexaCon

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I didn’t go to ClexaCon. Y’all, what was I thinking? A convention dedicated entirely to fictional lesbian and queer female characters, the actresses who played them, and pretty much all things queer ladies in entertainment? That’s like…pretty much my life. But since I didn’t go, luckily the Internet has my back. Here are a few things I learned from watching uploads of the actress panels at ClexaCon:

1. Actresses who have played lesbian roles tend to have a high degree of self-awareness

Conceding that: 1) the actresses who take on lesbian/bi roles are more likely to have positive views of the queer community and 2) the ones who came to ClexaCon self-selected, meaning that they had already had a probably higher than normal degree of social awareness, the extent to which the actresses at ClexaCon understood the importance of their roles to the lesbian and queer community is both heartening and gratifying. The actresses were proud to have been able to positively represent lesbian/bi women on screen and tended to be able to contextualize their roles within the wider history of LGBT representation after playing the role, even if they often did not understand this context when they took the role (for example, Lynn Chen related that she didn’t know “Saving Face” was the first feature film with Asian lesbian protagonists until AfterEllen told her in an interview at Sundance ). Actresses who have played lesbian or bi roles in the last few years seem particularly conscious of the push to move beyond longstanding gay tropes–Katherine Barrell (Officer Nicole Haught) and Dominique Provost-Chalkley (Waverly Earp) of “Wynonna Earp,” who have made proactive efforts to seek out information about LGBT issues in the course of connecting with their fans and with their roles, typify this new mindset.

Photo by Gabe Ginsberg/Getty Images

Photo by Gabe Ginsberg/Getty Images

 

2. Social media has improved how actresses and show producers interact with fans

Mandy Musgrave and Gabrielle Christian of “South of Nowhere” joked about MySpace being the Facebook of their era and Eden Riegel and Elizabeth Hendrickson of “All My Children” laughed about BAM clips on YouTube in YouTube’s early days, but their point is valid: whatever role social media played while their shows aired in the mid-2000s has been dwarfed by social media’s role today (As a side note, Zoie Palmer’s confusion about the Inception-like idea of fans watching other fans react to watching “Lost Girl” is perhaps the pinnacle of going down the social media rabbit hole). By 2016, a decade later, the cast and crew of “Wynonna Earp” were talking with fans on a daily basis and “Person of Interest” based the Shoot relationship largely on fan reactions on social media. Although the producers of “The 100” certainly came to regret the show’s fan engagement on Twitter immediately following Lexa’s death because of the firestorm of anger from fans who felt they’d been betrayed, most shows and actresses find that fan engagement on social media adds an additional level of contact with fans that is fulfilling to the fan base and helps the actresses understand LGBT issues. Social media enables immediate, two-way communication between fans and actresses that replaces or builds on traditional fan letters. Many of the ClexaCon panelists were even able to point to members of the audience and say, “I know you from Twitter!”

 Photo by Gabe Ginsberg/Getty Images

Photo by Gabe Ginsberg/Getty Images

3. Most panelists did not expect their show/couple to become as popular with the LGBT community as it ultimately did

Emily Andras spent years (writing, showrunning, producing, etc.) on “Lost Girl,” so lesbian logic would dictate that she would have anticipated and in fact counted on the popularity of #WayHaught. After all, she had already seen the diehard Doccubus fan base and should have known that the lesbian community latches on to most (but not all) lesbian pairings. And yet she admitted she didn’t expect the following—which she largely credits for getting “Wynonna Earp” a season two—to be as large or as enthusiastic as it is. Similarly, Musgrave initially viewed her show as being on a rather minor network with a small viewer base. Then again, a few of the actresses were able to see the popularity building: Elisa Bauman of “Carmilla” noted they knew they would have a committed fan base after fans began making fan art after only the second day of filming.

Photo: Getty Images

Photo: Getty Images

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