Are gay men more acceptable than lesbians on TV?

This year’s GLAAD Network Responsibility Index has been released and the results aren’t all that shocking. HBO, The CW, MTV and ABC Family are all doing quite well when it comes to positive portrayals of LGBT issues and characters and networks like TBS, A&E and USA are failing. 

What’s more interesting this year, however, are the percentages of gay male vs. lesbian representation on these networks. While it’s not so shocking that there are more men playing gay roles than women, it does beg the question of why gay men seem to be more acceptable and longstanding characters on TV shows, while queer women are often portrayed in one-offs or brief storylines that don’t last much more than a few episodes.

Even on the most gay-friendly networks, gay men have much stronger percentages of visibility. The networks on which gay women come out on top (TBS and USA) have in common the fact that both had only one show with a lesbian personality (Ellen DeGeneres‘ special, Bigger, Wider and Longer and White Collar, respectively).

Recently, Ilene Chaiken told Salon:

…I do think that gay male characters have traditionally been represented in comedies because it’s easier to take. The culture at large can handle gay men being funny… Lesbians have been more invisible than gay men, but you’ll notice that The L Word was probably a more successful show than Queer as Folk in a mainstream sense because gay men are more threatening to the culture at large than gay women.

It’s a hard-to-ignore fact, with The CW announcing that one of the regular male characters on 90210 will be coming out on the new season. Entertainment Weekly reports:

"We want to address the issue in a real and relatable way,” says co-EP Jennie Urman, who says the coming-out plot is but one of several “great story lines” fans can look forward to in season 3.

And they seem to be thinking exactly what I’m thinking when they note that this is somehow going to be different from the brief Adrianna/Gia fling:

And this isn’t some sort of angst-fueled, bi-curious sweeps arc à la Adrianna’s season 2 flirtation with Rumer Willis. We will learn that the straight-acting character in question — let the record show that we’re referring to Matt Lanter’s recovering rebel Liam, Michael Steger’s smart and tenderhearted Navid, or Trevor Donovan’s tennis pro Teddy — is actually gay.

"Actually gay" — as in Adrianna’s foray into bisexuality was something less than. The sad part is that this is a trend that has been happening for a long time in television — ever since gays were written into scripts for the screen. Gay men are much more acceptable for TV audiences than lesbians or bisexual women and shows that have both gay male and female characters at one time or another are prime examples of this rationale.

On the ABC Family show Huge, the main character might be a tomboy who refers to herself as Will, but her sexuality comes into question only for an episode (as perceived by a boy she likes). The actual gay person on the show? A boy.

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