2005 Year in Review: Lesbian and Bisexual Women on TV

Queer Eye for the Straight GalThe OC

When considering the race and ethnicity of these 27 lesbians and bisexual women on television, trends emerge which are both positive and disturbing: 20 were white, four were multiracial (Bette on The L Word, Lynn on Girlfriends, Shakima Greggs on The Wire, Honey Labrador on Queer Eye for the Straight Girl), and three were Latina (Carmen on The L Word, Anna on One Tree Hill, Ivette on Big Brother). This indicates that 35 percent of regular or recurring lesbians and bisexual women on television in 2005 were women of color, a very positive figure.

Indeed, the fact that three women were Latina marks something of an explosion in visibility for Latina lesbians, who were previously only represented by Iyari Limon in the role of Kennedy on Buffy: The Vampire Slayer.

But Asian-American lesbians continue to be nearly invisible on television, which is particularly disappointing but not unexpected given the general dearth of Asian Americans on television in general.

In addition, diversity in gender expression is almost nonexistent, though significant strides have been made over the past year in representing women who are not traditionally feminine in appearance. Among regular or recurring characters on television, only Shane (The L Word), Kim Stolz (America’s Next Top Model), and Jessica Cabo (Hell’s Kitchen) stretch the boundaries of what is feminine in gender expression, and Cabo had little opportunity to do so since she was typically wearing a chef’s uniform. (Though The L Word did push gender boundaries with the character of Ivan in Season 2, Ivan never clearly identified as either a lesbian or a transgender person, and thus has not been included in these statistics.)

Three additional programs included one-time lesbian characters who were not traditionally feminine in 2005: Pam on a January 2005 episode of Las Vegas, Ricky on HBO’s Lackawanna Blues, and a butch murder victim on a May 2005 episode of Cold Case. The fact that all three characters were African American as well as butch in appearance indicates a longstanding interrelation between race, non-normative sexuality, and class. This is a problematic relationship that reveals longstanding stereotypes about African-American hypersexuality and masculinity, as well as stereotypes about butches and the working class.

More simplistically, it would be nice if the politically charged triad of butch, African American, and working-class could be separated on television in the future.

One Tree HillSouth of Nowhere

Queer Teens on TV

One of the most significant developments in 2005 was the growth in representation of teen lesbians and bisexual girls on television. In early 2005, both The O.C. (Fox) and One Tree Hill (UPN) featured storylines in which teen characters explored their sexuality. On The O.C., Marissa (Mischa Barton) fell for bisexual bad girl Alex (Olivia Wilde) in storyline that began well–garnering praise as one of the best lesbian storylines on TV since Buffy–but ended badly, when Marissa went back to dating boys without much explanation.

On One Tree Hill, Anna (Daniella Alonso) came out as bisexual, making her the first openly bisexual Latina character on television, but she also disappeared quietly into the night at the end of the season.

And in November, cable channel The N introduced a lesbian storyline on its new program South of Nowhere, a show geared toward younger teenagers. On South of Nowhere, 16-year-old Spencer Carlin (Gabrielle Christian) befriends openly queer classmate Ashley (Mandy Musgrave) soon after she moves to Los Angeles with her family. Their developing friendship and Spencer’s gradual realization that she might be gay has been the most significant teen coming-out storyline since Once and Again.

More importantly, it is the first show geared toward ‘tweens to deal frankly and acceptingly with coming-out, and hopefully represents the more open attitude that younger people have toward sexual orientation today.