2009 Update: Since this article was written six years ago, little has changed for queer women on American TV — the storylines of virtually all adult lesbian/bi couples (and most adult lesbian/bi characters) have revolved around getting pregnant, having a baby, or parenting, except on The L Word. For recent examples, see ABC’s Cashmere Mafia, Logo’s Exes & Ohs, and CBS’s daytime drama Guiding Light. The sole exception — for now, anyway — is ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy.
In 1993, Meredith Baxter received an Emmy nomination for her role
in the CBS afterschool special Other Mothers, a controversial episode
about a teenage boy with lesbian parents. At the time, it was a unique and bold
initiative, as it was extremely rare to see lesbians on television, let alone
lesbian parents; most people thought "lesbian" and "mother"
In the ten years since then, the number of lesbian characters on TV whose storylines revolve around their role as a mother (or desire to be a mother) has grown to such epidemic proportions, it now appears that all lesbians do is have and raise children — when they're not losing custody of them and fighting to get them back.
COMING OUT, CONCEPTION, AND CUSTODY BATTLES
Some TV series lesbian characters are clearly positioned as mothers
from the beginning, such as Carol and Susan on Friends
(1994), Laurie Manning on Ellen (1997), and Melanie and Lindsay on
Queer as Folk (1999). Motherhood is introduced early on as defining characteristics of these characters, and most of their storylines revolve around parenting in some way.
A more recent trend in ensemble series is the lesbian-insemination
storyline. While it was unique when Norma Lear on Sisters first did
it in 1993, it's now such an oft-used plot device it’s downright boring.
Det. Abby Sullivan and her partner on NYPD Blue in 1996 to Dr.
Kerry Weaver's decision to have a child with her girlfriend on ER
to Sharon Stone and Ellen DeGeneres' wacky insemination antics in the 2000
Showtime movie If These Walls Could Talk 2, it's a trend that will
Kathy Najimy, Ellen DeGeneres, and Sharon Stone
in If These Walls Could Talk 2
Even Showtime's new lesbian series The L Word, premiering next summer, includes a couple trying to get pregnant.
Another popular plot device in recent years is to make the mother
of a main character gay, such as Roseanne's mother on Roseanne
(1996), Steve's mother on Beverly Hills 90210 (1999), Harrison's
mother on Popular (1999) or Raina's
mothers (played by Sally Struthers and Debbie Allen) on The Division.
There have also been numerous television movies about revolve around lesbian parents. Some focus on lesbian parents fighting for custody of their children, beginning with 1978's A Question of Love, then Two Mothers for Zachary (1996) and What Makes a Family (2001), or coping with unexpected parenthood, as in Bobbie's Girl (2002), or dealing with the implications on your children of coming out, as in Serving in Silence: The Margarethe Cammerymeyer Story (1994) and the upcoming movie An Unexpected Love (2003), which Lifetime describes as a movie about "a mother dealing with divorce and her sexuality."
The only broadcast or cable television movie in recent years about a lesbian who isn't a mother is The Truth About Jane (2000), and that’s only because the gay character is a teenager.
In fact, teenage lesbians are about the only other kind of lesbian character you will find on television besides the Lesbian Mother.
WHAT’S WRONG WITH LESBIAN MOMS?
Obviously, there's nothing inherently wrong with storylines about lesbian mothers.
In fact, they would be welcome if they were well written (which
they usually aren't) and just one of a variety of different storylines about lesbians on TV — but they’re not.
Trying to conceive, adopt, get custody, or otherwise deal
with children are virtually the only stories adult lesbians get on TV anymore
(besides coming out), and the reason TV writers fall back on this storyline
is less about exploring the joys of motherhood than it is about desexualizing
lesbians and making them more palatable for straight viewers.
Although television has always been about finding a good idea and beating it to death, the lesbian-as-mother trend has lasted longer than most because it is rooted in deep-seated stereotypes about women and lesbians.