2012 was a remarkable year for LGBT people in the United States. We re-elected a president who spoke out in favor of same-sex marriage, who refused to continue defending DOMA, and who overturned “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” We elected our first openly gay senator. And all four states that put marriage equality on their ballots in November voted in favor of gay rights. It should come as no surprise, then, that 2012 was also a revolutionary year for lesbian and bisexual women in terms of positive representation on TV. After all, if there’s one thing we’ve learned about queer visibility over the years, it’s that social change and television are locked in a perpetual symbiosis.
Including guest appearances, there were over 50 lesbian and bisexual characters on American TV in 2012 — a record-breaking number. Even during the heyday of The L Word, gay lady visibility never came close to those heights, and even if it had, the lesbian and bisexual characters would have been clumped together on one show on a premium channel. But this year’s 50+ queer female characters were spread across broadcast and cable, daytime and primetime, shows aimed at tweens and shows aimed at middle-age-ers.
And the characters were as diverse as the networks on which they appeared: a bisexual succubi for the fantasy nerds among us, a lesbian EMT for the heroes in the crowd, a lezzy-married couple for the procedural crew, a Canadian Rosie the Riveter for the queer feminist historian, a tortured lesbian journalist for horror buffs, an hilarious grieving widow for poignant comedy fans, a private detective, a late-in-life come-er out-er, two soldiers, two singers, two vampires, and one Little Liar — just to name a few.
Equally as encouraging were the positive portrayals of lesbian and bisexual women on reality TV. It wasn’t that long ago, when “lesbian” and “reality TV” were synonymous with fame-whoring hijinks and drunken Cherry Chapstick make-outs of Katy Perry proportions. It also wasn’t that long ago when Fox producers forced Adam Lambert to keep his dude lovin’ to himself because they didn’t think the world was ready for a gay American Idol. But this year we saw several out-and-proud lesbian and bisexual contenders on vocal competitions, like The Voice and The Glee Project. We were also given queer female contestants on fashion shows like Project Runway and America’s Next Top Model. 2012 gave us lesbian Sasquatch hunters and lesbian makeup artists. And that, my fellow homos, is what we call diversity.
But perhaps nothing is as indicative of the changing TV tide as the real-life gay ladies who ruled the airwaves from atop their televisual thrones this year. Yes, I’m talking about Ellen DeGeneres, who kicked off the tenth season of her talk show with the best ratings since its inaugural season. But I’m also talking about Rachel Maddow and Sally Kohn and Stephanie Miller and Kate McKinnon and Fortune Feimster and Sara Gilbert and Suze Orman and Jane Valez-Mitchell and the openly gay ladies of the London Olympics.
LESBIAN AND BISEXUAL CHARACTERS ON SCRIPTED TV
Plenty of AfterEllen favorites made the return to our small screens this year. Among them were Callie Torres and Arizona Robbins, Grey’s Anatomy‘s resident lesbian couple. Last year, they boasted the first ever lesbian wedding on primetime TV between two lead characters. A happy day indeed! But anyone familiar with showrunner Shonda Rhimes knows that adversity always follows triumph for her characters, and this year it took the form of a catastrophic wilderness plane crash that left us wondering if Arizona was even going to survive between seasons. She did, but she lost a leg during the hiatus. On the downside, well, no leg. But on the upside, we’ve seen her relationship with Callie and their daughter grow even stronger as they’ve learned to face the adversity together.
Also returning in 2012 was Rosewood, PA’s resident lesbian super-sleuth Emily Fields. It was a rough year for our favorite Pretty Little Liar. She lost another girlfriend to death when Maya St. Germain was murdered by her drug camp stalker in the season two finale. Season three saw Emily mourning the loss of Maya, investigating her murder, and falling — re-falling? — in love with Paige McCullers, her former swim team nemesis whose coming out story was explored in further detail this season through flashbacks. Paige’s struggles in coming to terms with her sexuality, her social clumsiness, and her battle to beat down her insecurities endeared her to scores of lesbian fans. In fact, she is the only non-lead character to ever be nominated for an AfterEllen Visibility Award for Best Lesbian/Bi TV Character.
Brittany S. Pierce and Santana Lopez made their way back to us in 2012, and despite the somewhat antagonistic relationship between Glee‘s creators and its lesbian fan base, they remain one of the most beloved lesbian couples of all time. This year, the two shared their first onscreen kiss in the Valentine’s Day episode. It wasn’t all canoodles at Breadstix, though. They broke up after Santana graduated and moved to college, because “scissor Skype-ing” wasn’t fulfilling either of them emotionally. Unfortunately, Glee‘s long-bemoaned double standard reared its ugly head shortly after their breakup. While it took Santana and Brittany over 30 episodes to share an onscreen kiss after they announced that they were sleeping together in season one, it took Brittany and Sam half an episode to share an onscreen kiss after they admitted their romantic feelings this season. In the next episode, they agreed to get married. According to rumors from Glee‘s creators, Sanatana will soon be joining Kurt and Rachel in New York, which should lead to more screentime for her and more smiles for us.
Our favorite bisexual PI and perpetual Emmy-generator, Kalinda Sharma (The Good Wife), was back in a big way this year. During the back half of season three, she finally brought her relationship with Lana out from behind that pesky garage door. The two shared a steamy sex scene that earned them a place on our Hottest Hookup poll. Season four, however, has been more complicated with Kalinda. She found herself tangled up in an unhealthy relationship with her former husband that — by opinion of lesbian recappers and many mainstream TV critics alike — went on way too long for comfort. The polarizing story finally gave us some answers about Kalinda’s past, but it also made Kalinda a bit unsympathetic to a many viewers. That is, until her ex-husband threatened BFF Alicia, and Kalinda got rid of him for good.
During 2011’s TV review, I wrote off True Blood‘s Tara Thornton as another lesbian casualty, which was a real bummer as she was just settling into a real relationship with Naomi. But 2011 didn’t actually end in Tara’s demise; it only resulted in her genesis as a vampire. Not only did she survive; she thrived with her new heightened senses and superhuman abilities. She also took her flirtatiousness with Pam De Beaufort to entirely new heights. The two engaged in wickedly hilarious leather-clad banter all season before finally making out in the finale when Tara rescued Pam from captivity. Sookie responded with a bewildered, “Oh. OK” while Jessica shouted, “I knew it!” We knew it too, Jessica. Well, we hoped it.
And finally, Teen Nick continued to give young viewers queer characters to believe in. Bisxual Imogen Moreno and lesbian Fiona Coyne kicked off a sweet and timid relationship last year on Degrassi, but 2012 found them moving full steam ahead as Imogen worked to come to terms with a public declaration of love for her Sapphic sweetheart and Fiona worked to fit in with Imogen’s family. As Degrassi sails past its 300th episode — an impressive feat for any type of TV show — it shows no signs of fatigue in exploring the diverse lives of this generation of teenagers. The show also features the much beloved Adam Torres, a female-to-male transgender student whose story has been handled with more nuance and maturity than most “adult” shows that boast transgender characters.