With the lack of lesbian and bisexual characters on TV these days, we’re left with a lot of straight women kissing during sweeps weeks, and the occasional guest lesbian character, or “guestbian.” A phrase Scribegrrrl coined in 2004 when she began recapping The L Word for us, a guestbian is a high-profile woman playing a lesbian or bisexual character.
Mariel Hemingway became one of the first and most well-known guesbians when she played a gay friend of Sandra Bernhard‘s Nancy on Roseanne in 1994, and famously kissed the show’s star on screen (to much controversy off screen).
Since then, many more actresses have signed on to play gay or bi, if only temporarily.
Since we’ve written extensively about the decline of lesbian and bisexual visibility on American TV in the last decade, I thought I’d highlight one of the few positive developments over that time: the growing number of interesting queer roles played by high-profile (or semi-high-profile) actresses.
I chose 11 of the most entertaining here, but there are many good ones to choose from, so please feel free to add your favorites in the comments.
Most of the guestbians on this list are white, unfortunately, since there have been few high-profile guestbians played by women of color, let alone good ones (Kelly Hu played a guestbian recently, for example, and Dawnn Lewis guested as a lesbian on Girlfriends awhile back, but it would be hard to argue that either is among the most memorable guestbians on TV). If you think of any we missed, please let us know in the comments!
11. Sonia Braga on Sex & the City (HBO)
Episode 4.3 – 4.5 (2001)
Among Samantha’s (Kim Cattrall) many sexual conquests on the long-running drama was Maria, played by Sonia Braga (Kiss of the Spider Woman, Páginas da vida), a passionate artist who temporarily managed to convince Samantha to be in a relationship, until Samantha decided she missed men too much, and didn’t want to be tied down.
The storyline itself isn’t great — it reinforces stereotypes about lesbians and lesbian sex, and generally ignored the concept of bisexuality — but Braga makes a great lesbian.
10. Swoosie Kurtz and Blythe Danner on Nurse Jackie (Showtime)
Episode 1.6 “Tiny Bubbles” (2009)
Dr. Cooper’s two moms, Mrs. Cooper (Danner) and Mrs. Scheinhorn (Kurtz), are notable for their lack of notability. They’re a typical older couple played by two very well known actresses. Their relationship was taken seriously by the other characters (and the writers), but incorporated fairly casually into the show.
The way the lesbian couple fussed over each other in this episode is no different than the way other (heterosexual) couples do on medical dramas every week, but that alone made it different, given how starved we are for good representations of lesbians on TV (especially older lesbians). A good job all around.
9. Edie Falco and Chloe Sevigny on Will & Grace (NBC)
Episode 6.17 “East Side Story” (2004)
When Will (Eric McCormack) and Grace (Debra Messing) decide to get into buying and selling real estate, they met Deirdre (Edie Falco) and Monet (Chloe Sevigny), a lesbian couple referred to as “The Flipping Dykes” because of their success at flipping real estate.
The two pairs secretly decide to try and seduce the others in order to convince them to stay out of their territory, but their plans eventually fail, and all is revealed (not before Monet turns out to be genuinely interested in Will, which unfortunately reinforces the annoying stereotype about bisexual women secretly wanting to date men).
In the end, the two couples agreed to divide up New York, and a relieved Deirdre admitted, “I’m tired of dressing to intimidate anyway. I can’t wait ’til being lesbian goes out of style again. I can go back to my sweats and loose neckties.”
There are more funny lines in this episode than most sitcoms have in an entire season. When Will discovers the lesbians know about a purchase they’re trying to make, Karen (Megan Mullally) tells him, “They know everything, Will. Because they don’t sleep with men, their other senses are heightened.”
It was fun to see Falco play against type. She’s the mob boss of this relationship, as we see when Deirdre turns down Will’s offer of food with “we don’t eat” and Sevigny adds “She likes me frail.”
Great casting and great writing, with minimal stereotyping. More please!