Year in Queer 2006: Television

The television landscape in 2006 was an uneven one for lesbians and bisexual women. In some areas, such as unscripted programming, lesbians became so commonplace that there almost seemed to be one on every reality show. But on the broadcast network channels, recurring lesbian characters could be counted on one hand. Meanwhile on cable, lesbian characters did show up regularly, but were rarely if ever allowed to have romantic lives unless they were part of a primarily gay show such as The L Word.

In terms of racial diversity, lesbians of color are relatively well-represented, appearing on several programs. Latina lesbian characters appeared on Nip/Tuck, Degrassi: The Next Generation and The L Word, while African-American lesbians were on The L Word and The Wire (Shakima Greggs on The Wire is Korean and African-American). As usual, however, Asian American and Native American lesbians are missing from television, a situation that is expected but continues to be disappointing.

Lesbians on television continue to be predominantly feminine in appearance, a situation that was underscored by The L Word‘s third season transgender story line in which the show’s sole butch character, Moira, quickly transitioned from female to male. Unscripted programs offered the best opportunity for diversity of gender expression, particularly in the Bravo series Work Out. Although Jackie Warner typically wore makeup and was shown enjoying being feminine, her body language, clothing and general attitude did push the envelope — ever so slightly — to make more room for women who are not traditionally feminine to be seen on television.

In addition, Ellen DeGeneres, who has largely silenced herself on all gay issues, has taken a more genderqueer approach to her fashion in the fourth season of her hit talk show. While in previous seasons she underwent uncomfortable on-air makeovers in which she was dressed in feminine outfits that she clearly did not enjoy, this fall her approach to fashion has scaled back the pink sweaters in favor of neckties. While this may not seem like a significant moment in the representation of lesbians on television, gender expression remains the last frontier in terms of how lesbians are portrayed on TV, and DeGeneres’ evolution marks a relatively significant change, especially considering her mainstream popularity.

Unscripted Television

Unscripted or reality television remains the best place to find regular or recurring lesbians or bisexual women on the small screen. In 2006, it seemed as though lesbians were on nearly every reality series other than heterosexual dating shows (although, unfortunately, “bisexual” women did show up on VH1’s Flavor of Love). On Rock Star: Supernova, unapologetically bisexual Patrice Pike was one of seven finalists in the competition to front the rock band featuring Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee. Not only did she hold her own against male contenders in a male-dominated industry, she also spoke openly about the stigma that bisexuals often face in the gay community.

A lesbian was also found on CBS’ The Amazing Race, where Lauren Marcoccio became the show’s first openly lesbian contestant. She and her father, Duke, teamed up to race around the world for $1 million, and although they were eliminated in the fourth episode, the competition gave them the opportunity to work through some issues — in a very positive way — that Duke once had about his daughter being a lesbian.

On Last Comic Standing (NBC), out lesbian comedian Michele Balan took fourth place, and on I’ve Got a Secret (GSN), out lesbian comedian Suzanne Westenhoefer became one member of an all-gay panel. Queer women also participated in both seasons of Bravo’s Top Chef to air in 2006. In the first season, bisexual chef Tiffani Faison became the second-place winner, and in the second season, which is still on the air, out lesbian Josie Smith-Malave made it through the fourth episode. Alexandra Hedison (The L Word) hosted the A&E series Designing Blind, in which blind designer Eric Brun-Sanglard remade people’s homes. Even the ABC show American Inventor featured a lesbian contestant: in-brella inventor Sheryl McDonald.