Hello and welcome. We are gathered here today to look back on the journey of queer* female fictional characters on television in 2015. And if you thought last year’s was a long post, get comfy, because this year, even more shows stepped up and added queer women to their roster.
*I’m going to use the word “queer” throughout this post to encompass anyone on the LGBTQ+ spectrum, including for characters whose sexuality was never specifically stated, and just as a general term, even though I know it can also be an identity of its own, mostly because it’s easier to type than LGBTQ+ and flows better in sentences.
That being said, I have to warn you: I’m POSITIVE there are some shows I missed. I tried keeping a spreadsheet at the beginning of the year, but even though I watch something like 80 active shows, even I couldn’t keep up with all the queer women popping up. Granted, some were only for an episode or two, and some representation was better than others, but times they are a changing. I think the fact that the sheer number of queer women on television has grown is a huge step in the right direction. We’re even tiptoeing the right way as far as queer women of color, as that number has been creeping up as well. Positive trans* representation has gone from like zero to three in the past few years, so television needs some desperate help there, but, at least the number still isn’t zero.
What’s great about the growing quantity of queer women on television, is now we can demand quality. We don’t have to watch a show just because it has a queer female character in order to support the show’s decision to add one. We can quit a show when it kills their only lesbian (*cough* Chicago Fire *cough*), we can shout from the rooftops in anger when a bisexual character’s history with another main character goes unmentioned for episodes at a time (*cough* Arrow *cough*), and we can hold even our favorite shows accountable for poor judgement when it makes questionable (and sometimes dangerous) choices for its queer characters (looking at you, Pretty Little Liars).
I decided to format this post the same way I formatted last year’s—imagining all the shows go to AfterEllen Academy, and sorting them the way they might appear in a yearbook. I know that some of these shows could fall into multiple categories, but breaking it down like this is just for fun so I didn’t present you just a list of a billion shows.
(I apologize in advance for any bias I show in this post, and, in case it wasn’t obvious, this list will include major spoilers for multiple shows, so proceed with caution.)
CLASS OF ’15
Let’s start with this year’s graduating class, the shows (or characters) we saw the last of this year who had enough notice to say a proper goodbye.
I’m starting with Glee because Glee is that smug valedictorian who wreaked havoc its final semester but still had the grades from earlier years to have a stupidly high GPA. At the reunion in a few years, it’ll be preening around all proud of itself, touting about how great it was, and everyone else will be like, “Yeah, okay, sure you were the best and the brightest for a while there, but you were a real prick toward the end and it kind of ruined all the good things you did.”
Saying goodbye to Glee was bittersweet for a lot of reasons. Without a doubt, Glee helped change the entire landscape of television. Over the course of its six seasons, it had characters that were bisexual, lesbian, gay, trans* and Quinn. It tackled the subjects of coming out, being bullied for your sexuality, unsupportive families, catfishing (??) and more. And even though certain things were weird or annoying (Unique disappearing off the face of the planet even though she had one of the best voices on the show, criminal underuse of Demi Lovato’s lesbian rock star character—and more importantly, her voice), by the end of the series, it had its two same-sex couples married and living happily ever after.
Brittany and Santana was one of the first times the power of fandom was truly reflected in a show. And though there were rough patches for the feisty Lebanese Latina and bisexual bicorn, they got their happy ending. The Lesbian Blogging Community was called out and we answered. With the growth of social media, the show’s actors took it upon themselves to support the ship, and the #gaysharks community never stopped tweeting their love of the duo.
Brittana took on a life of its own, it grew bigger than the show, and even now that the show is over, exists in a constant flow of fanfics, tumblr gifsets, fanvids—there’s even a BrittanaCon that happens every year. Maybe it wasn’t the very first, but it was the first time I ever witnessed fans demand something of a show, and right the show’s wrongs themselves when something didn’t go their way. It was a weird and wonderful thing.
So, even though by the end we were all begging Glee to quit before they embarrassed all of us who had supported them for so long, the show did a lot for our community in terms of representation.
While The Good Wife still trucks along show-wise, this year we said goodbye to Kalinda, after a season of watching her character go from badass bisexual to occasional character. Luckily, the actor was the one who decided to leave, not the other way around, and Kalinda strutted out the door in her power suit on her own accord instead of being brutally murdered. While this would normally mean the door was open for her to return someday, rumors of behind-the-scenes drama (made more confusing by the faked final scene between Kalinda and Alicia) seem to point to Archie Panjabi not being particularly keen to sign back on to reprise her role. And since most of her ex-lady-lovers are in shows of their own now, it looks like The Good Wife will have to get creative in order to re-up their queer female representation in coming years.
Two and a half words for this show: “F***ing bye, Felicia.” I was actually kind of pissed when this show cast the wonderful Amber Tamblyn as a lesbian on this show because it meant I’d actually have to tune in for a few episodes of the penultimate season. It pissed me off, even more, when they had a dozen or so episodes that were actually kind of great, with Tamblyn’s character Jenny being a playboy like her biological father until she fell for the very sexy Brooke (Aly Michalka) and they were adorable girlfriends, and then NADA. Jenny was all but absent for most of the final season, without much of an explanation. She was in the second and third episode, then gone until the finale. As awesome as it was to see Amber and Aly in love, nothing could get me to re-watch a single episode of this show. Good riddance to this insensitive-joke-riddled mess of a show.
It is with a heavy heart that I hand a graduation cap and gown to Rookie Blue. Arguably I could have put this down in the “expelled” category, as it was cancelled after season six ended, but the way the season ended felt very much like a series finale, so while they could have easily picked up and gone on had they gotten renewed, it didn’t feel like the plug was pulled mid-sentence. I’ll admit that I have an extra special place in my heart for Rookie Blue, partly because all the shows I recap do, but also because Charlotte Sullivan was my first and still one of my best interviews. She cared so much about getting Gail’s storyline right, about having Gail’s sexuality be an integral part of her without it being A Thing. We knew that would be put to the test when the end of Season 5 also saw the end of Gail’s relationship with Holly, especially since Gail’s Season 6 arc began with a heavy focus on her trying to adopt a child.
But Gail’s sexuality didn’t get ignored, nor was it a big deal—I think the show found a good balance. Plus, by the end, Gail went head-to-head with Frankie, a woman who could match her snark in kind, and eventually ended up mouth-to-mouth (and then some). Though an eighth season would have held the promise of Gail torturing some poor new Rookie and possibly having more women standing in their underwear in her kitchen the morning after some shenanigans, at least she went out on top. (Pun intended.)
After a whopping 14 seasons, where it really ran the gamut as far as LGBTQ+ storylines, Degrassi: TNG aired its final episode this year. From Paige and Alex to Imogen and Fiona to the newest duo, Zoe and Grace, hardly a season has passed without some lady-loving to get us through the (very dramatic) school year. Even though Zoe and Grace didn’t lock lips until the movie-length finale of the most recent season, you haven’t seen the last of them. Degrassi is really only crossing the stage at graduation; from now on, it’s being homeschooled (aka released as a Netflix series), and re-enrolling in AfterEllen Academy under a new name. Degrassi: Next Class will almost definitely give us something to talk about in 2016.
Like Rookie Blue, technically Defiance was canceled, but the season three finale felt so much like a series finale, I honestly don’t know how they could have gone on if they did get picked up for a fourth season. I really loved Defiance the first two seasons, and the last season had promise when they opened with a massacre of like half of the ensemble cast (meaning maybe the ones who were left would get to be fleshed out more) but the once-fierce and unstoppable Stahma Tarr was watered down, all but simpering after her loser husband, Doc Yewll’s hallucinated dead wife was nowhere to be found, nor was a new love interest for her, and even Amanda’s Braid of Justice seemed more like just a ponytail in disguise. Plus, Kenya stayed dead. It was a show with a lot of promise that lost its way, so maybe it’s for the best it “graduated” this year.
Y’all, the queer women survived this one. The one show I would have probably given a pass to if they had axed everyone because everyone dies actually let Alana, Margot and their baby run off together in the end, as close to a happily ever after as anyone was going to get on a show about Hannibal Lecter. Not to mention, the actress who played Margot, Katharine Isabelle, also played Gail’s final fling, Frankie Anderson, in Rookie Blue.
This is another show that could have fallen under the “expelled” category because of its cancelation, but that also ended in a way that felt final. Brenna Carver was a character ABC Family (soon to be called Freeform, in case you hadn’t heard) desperately needed: A bisexual teenager who was sure of her sexuality and who spoke out against the stereotypes the label is too often tacked with. Over the course of its two seasons, Brenna had meaningful relationships with Kieran, Greer, Margot, and Finn (though lezbehonest, #Grenna was endgame) and even in the episodes she wasn’t dating anyone, her bisexuality was always mentioned. Brenna went to an LGBTQIA+ support group, where she didn’t find much support at all and had conversations that (unfortunately) happen in real life within our community but I have never seen happen on a show not specifically aimed at us (like The L Word). She even bookslapped a biphobe right in the face! It was great.
Greer had just returned to us in the last few episodes, seeming ready to rekindle her romance with Brenna. A third season might have seen “present tense” turn to “future tense” but alas. Apparently Freeform, a word the channel made up, is going to be aimed at Becomers from now on, another word they made up, and since technically the show was focused around 20-something April Carver and not Brenna, the show didn’t fit the new not-so-free-after-all form.