It truly has gotten better for queer women on television. Although we are still wanting (needing) for more representation in terms of screen time, people of color, gender identities and out leads, there are several shows that have been incredibly progressive for us as lesbian or bisexual women.
This week, we’re talking about which ones we thought have been the most important for us as a community. So group: What show has done the most for lesbian/bisexual representation, ever? Why?
Ali Davis: OK, probably not the best ever, but let’s give a shout to The Facts of Life. Because Jo made a new idea occur to millions of young women.
I have such mixed feelings about The L Word. It did change everything and filmed ladysex in a way that appealed to queer women instead of to straight men, and attention must be paid. But now that I’m spoiled by a wider range of queer women on TV, I feel like The L Word mostly represented Ilene Chaiken‘s immediate circle of friends.
Grace Chu: Most visibility: The L Word. Best representation: Grey’s Anatomy. The worst ever (all tapes should be burned): A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila.
Dana Piccoli: I think we should not underestimate the importance of The L Word on queer representation. Entire show full of queer women? It was completely revolutionary. Not only was the normalcy of our lives depicted (family, love, acceptance, friendship), but we were also able to see our sexuality expressed in a way other than for a male gaze. I know that not everyone identified with the characters or the scene, but it was vital and connected us in ways we couldn’t imagine before.
Anna Pulley: The L Word. Much as it is an embarrassment now, changed everything. Also second Ellen’s comeback.
Jill Guccini: The Ellen Show. Look, I know she doesn’t really shout about gay rights every day, but she’s out, guests regularly talk to her about her life with Portia, and so much of Average Joe Schmo America loves her. Not just likes her, but loves her. Millions of middle-aged people who probably don’t know any gay person in real life watch her, and they love her, to bits and pieces. I know that there are a million other shows that actually represent queer life more accurately, and more diversely, but I don’t know if there’s a single person that has made the idea that you can love gay people more prominent to the people that need to understand it than Ellen DeGeneres.
Bridget McManus: I’m going with Ellen, specifically “The Puppy Episode” because it got the world talking. The fact that some places in the US wouldn’t even air the episode showed that it was an important incident and not just a sitcom. It really started the ball moving in the right direction on LGBT characters in entertainment. Any gay person over 30 should be able to tell you where they were when “The Puppy Episode” aired.
Dara Nai: The Ellen Show has reached the most mainstream people, for the longest time, hands down. The audiences of The L Word, The Fosters, Pretty Little Liars, Orange, et. al., can’t compare to Ellen’s ratings. She’s touched more people than all the others, combined. Someone send her some Purell.
Heather Hogan: I know everyone has had it up to here with me talking about Pretty Little Liars, but I think it’s Pretty Little Liars. Part of it is the many colors of queer experience they offer up on-screen. Part of it is how chill everyone on the show is about all the gay things, and there are A LOT of gay things. By my count, they’ve had nine lesbian/bi characters and a lesbian bar full of homos. Part of it is how engaged the cast is with social media and how they’re on every magazine cover on earth, always talking about lesbian things like they’re just normal things and who even cares. And part of it is the writers are all just super dialed in with the AfterEllen crowd on Twitter, and they’re always winking and nodding at us and listening and responding.
There’s a part of me that wants to say The L Word, but The L Word was a lesbian show on premium cable, and PLL is just an ensemble show chock full of lesbians on ABC Family.
Valerie Anne Liston: Orange is the New Black. I jumped on The L Word train way late, so it could have been similar when it was airing live, I’m not sure. But Orange is the New Black is the first show I’ve been part of the live viewing experience where there are many prominent not-straight characters, but that is widely viewed and loved by straight people. Most of the time, if I try to reference The L Word, my friends have never even heard of it, let alone seen it. But 95% of the people I know watch (and are obsessed with) Orange is the New Black, and love Piper, and love Alex, and love Nicky, and never refer to anyone as “the lesbian character I forget her name” because 1) there are way too many for “the lesbian” to be specific enough and 2) every character on the show is so dynamic that they have a multitude of other traits you can describe them as before resorting to their sexuality. To hear my boss rag on Larry and say she wishes Piper would just get with Alex already, or my coworker tell me Poussey’s backstory was her favorite, or someone telling me how excited they were to get Sophia in a “Which OITNB character are you?” quiz….I don’t know, it just makes me happy. It sort of makes me feel like we’re secretly infiltrating, like OITNB was the next phase of the Gay Agenda, a way to show people that the LGBT community are just people and having queer representation isn’t a chore and can actually opens the door to more unique storylines and can make your show better if you do it right.
Lucy Hallowell: Obviously, I am going to second everything that has already been said. I’m going to go with The Fosters because, while I love and still feel a need for young lesbian stories a la those done so well on PLL, there was a huge gap in grown up lesbians acting like grown ups on our televisions. You know we don’t all kidnap our own kids and leave them “out of town” or wherever Bette and Tina stashed that adorable child so we can stay out to all hours and have crazy sex. Being a parent is tough and I am thrilled that The Fosters has given us our own Coach and Tami Taylor and a more realistic look at what it means to be a couple of old lesbos raising a brood.
Trish Bendix: I think Roseanne was pioneering in that it brought in a lesbian character (played by an out actress) and not in some huge city like L.A. but in small town, lower class Lanford, Illinois. Sandra Bernhard‘s Nancy was the likely the first gay woman that thousands of people ever “met,” just by watching the hit TV show. It’s kind of a miracle she was even allowed to be a lesbian and date the likes of Morgan Fairchild on the show, as censorship was still a huge problem in 1990s network television. Nancy’s sexuality was never treated as anything gross or gratuitous and she was always in on the joke, because everyone on Roseanne was worthy of being poked fun at. Also Darlene (Sara Gilbert) was very queer, despite her relationship with David, and having an angsty art student tomboy on television alongside Roseanne’s gay boss, Leon, and lesbian friend Nancy, made it clear that American families are not what most shows portray them to be. They are much more interesting.
What show has done the most for us in terms of positive visibility?