Three Television Shows that Are Quietly Revolutionary about Queerness


The last few years have been banner years for queer female visibility on TV. So many shows have introduced complex, diverse queer characters that push the envelope for queer representation that it’s hard to single out just a few for acclaim. The following three current or recent TV couples each have unique qualities worth celebrating, but one thing that makes them stand out is the casualness with which their relationship is treated by the shows on which they appear. When Ellen Morgan came out on The Ellen Show in 1997, it was a huge deal. By 2015, these couples didn’t have to “come out;” their sexuality is treated not as an abnormality, but as a feature of who they are, like hair color or height. This revolution will be televised.        

Clarke and Lexa (The 100)tumblr_static_tumblr_static_c8wq8p458bkk40oow804g0c0k_640Oh so THAT’S what you meant by an “alliance” between the “clans.”

Earlier this month, we asked, “Isn’t it time for a queer female protagonist?”) Well, The 100 (and How to Get Away With Murder…) may be an ensemble cast, but we’re not going to complain. If you haven’t been watching, get binge watching right now. There aren’t enough good things to say about the show, which has a JJ Abrams vibe in a postapocalyptic Earth. To start with, the show is revolutionary in its gender equality: men and women are treated equally in terms of screentime, character visibility, and even in numbers of fighters. It is also racially diverse. But when it comes to the treatment of its two queer characters, The 100 is, as we previously mentioned, mindboggling in its…lack of fanfare.

Clarke, the leader of the 100 (now the 13th clan, the “skaikru”), and Lexa, the Commander of the 12-now-13-Clans, are well-written, strong female protagonists. Both are brave and willing to make tough decisions even when it costs lives. Together, they’re like the fantasy show you always wanted to watch; finally, women are presented as powerful leaders not defined by their relationships with men. And they’re both casually queer. Lexa mentions her deceased female lover Costia and Clarke doesn’t blink. Lexa kisses Clarke…and Clarke kisses back. Clarke has a one night stand with Niylah. No one has to stop and worry about what this means for her sense of identity, no one has to face the anguish of coming out to friends and family. Two of the most powerful characters in the world of The 100 are queer and no one bats an eye. 

Clarke and Lexa—Clexa—are popular characters on a popular show. The casual inclusion of their queerness hopefully is a harbinger of the direction major network TV will go in the future. Long live Clexa!

Sapphire and Ruby (Steven Universe)tumblr_nrkngkbSbJ1up4talo4_540New bar pickup line: “Want to fuse with me to become a Crystal Gem?”

Steven Universe is a Cartoon Network show about a young boy named Steven who grows up with three magical, humanoid aliens—the “Crystal Gems” Garnet, Amethyst and Pearl—with whom he goes on adventures. The show is radically subversive—the “superheroes” are female, characters can be gender fluid, and the core of the show is the relationship between a young boy and his female mentors/caregiver figures. Oh, and Garnet is actually a physical combination of two gems: Ruby and Sapphire.

Although Princess Bubblegum and Marceline of Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time had an implied, subtextual lesbian past in 2011 (a past that was confirmed in 2014) and Korra and Asami were given a happy ending in the 2014 finale of Nickelodeon’s The Legend of Korra that finally confirmed what had formerly been strong subtext, Ruby and Sapphire are unique because they are “openly queer” (well, as much as alien gem creatures can be) on show with a young audience. (Ruby and Sapphire also seem to fall into a butch-femme paradigm, with Ruby and pants and Sapphire in a dress.)

The genesis of Garnet is a metaphor for queer relationships: Ruby and Sapphire weren’t supposed to merge because it was taboo on their planet, but it sort of “just happened.” They felt confusion at first because of the fusion and what it meant for who they were. They worried what others would think. Now, they feel anxious when separated and happy when together, reuniting with kisses. All this is described, by the way, in the episode “The Answer.” The question was how Garnet came into being, and the answer is “Love.” So gay. Given that children’s shows can help sensitize children to diversity issues and lead them to be more accepting of others, the inclusion of obviously queer characters is a major leap for queer visibility. More of that, please!

Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint (Doctor Who)tumblr_mus5q1oEs41sevohpo6_500Just a homoreptilian and her wife here, nothing to see.

Madame Vastra said it best: “I’m the lizard woman from the dawn of time—and this is my wife.” Wait, what? Madame Vastra is a Silurian, a race of reptile-like humanoids that inhabited Earth before humans. She was awakened from hibernation in the 1880s and married her (human) maid Jenny Flint, who is an accomplished swordsman herself. Together, they solve crime in Victorian London for Scotland Yard. Like you do. This time-traveling, crime-fighting, inter-specials lesbian married couple hasn’t been seen since the first episode of season eight in 2014 (season 10, the next season, starts in early 2017), but there’s still hope they’ll return in future seasons or eventually get their own spin-off because of how popular they were.

Madame Vastra and Jenny might never have gotten a real kiss on the show (the whole “passing a life-saving sustenance from my mouth to yours” is so season six of Xena: Warrior Princess), but they’re revolutionary for being unabashedly inter-species gay married in Victorian England without caring what the people around them think. Sci-fi as a genre is often more sexually fluid and shows have occasionally pushed the boundaries with pansexual aliens, so good on the Beeb (BBC) for showing a committed trans-species relationship. Here’s hoping the Paternoster Gang get their own crime-solving spin-off!

Which couples do you consider revolutionary and what do we still need to see in 2016?

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