Today we live in a world with more gay representation on TV than ever before. But alas, the representation of queer intimacy on TV is not directly proportional to the number of gay characters. Look, it’s not a secret that there is kind of a double standard between the portrayal of gay and straight intimacy on television. There are shows where straight characters get full-on love scenes while the gay characters have to wait three seasons for a chaste peck on the lips. And intimacy between women, even when it is portrayed, can be a kind of thorny issue.
Often, sex between women is portrayed in a way that is objectifying and privileging of the male gaze and basically everything I do not want on my television. But there are also, in this day and age, a number of shows that do it well. That portray love and sex between women thoughtfully and empathetically. While none of these shows are without their flaws, I find myself hoping that they represent the future of queer intimacy on television.
This show is kind of the gold standard of queer female intimacy on television. OITNB portrays queer women of all ages, races and body types having all kinds of sex with each other. In fact, hetero intimacy is the exception, not the rule. Looking back over the seasons, I can only remember a handful of straight love scenes. Meanwhile, the queer ladies on this show have shower sex, church sex, angry library sex, strap-on sex, and it is real and raw and human and filmed to appeal to queer ladies rather than men. And as if that weren’t enough, this show educates all of its viewers on one fundamental truth about sex between women: the fact that scissoring is not a thing.
Sense8 does not have as high a density of queer ladies as OITNB. But what it lacks in quantity, it more than makes up for in quality. We are introduced to the show’s lesbian couple while they are in flagrante, using a rainbow-colored strap-on on pride weekend. (Seriously, that is the gayest sentence I have ever typed.)
Nomi and Amanita are the heart and soul of the show: completely in love, completely committed to one another, willing to risk everything for one another. There are multiple hot, beautiful sex scenes between the two of them, including a psychic orgy and a long session of lovemaking lit by Fourth of July fireworks. But my personal favorite is a moment of small, domestic intimacy between them. Amanita is drying dishes and Nomi wraps her arms around her and kisses the side of her head. Nomi says that the spontaneous moment of tenderness “just felt like something I needed to do,” to which Amanita responds “I like that.” We do too, Amanita. We do too.
One of my favorite things about this show is how gleefully it flouts the tradition of waiting until season three for something kind of gay to happen on-screen. A major plot point of the very first episode was Connor Walsh (who would have been a hetero womanizer on any other show) seducing Oliver, the adorable IT guy. And then, at the beginning of season two, we got some unexpected queer lady intimacy when Annalise’s ex-girlfriend Eve shows up to defend Annalise’s on-and-off boyfriend, who has been arrested for the murder of Annalise’s dead husband. (Ms. Keating has a very complicated love life.)
And then, for old time’s sake, Annalise and Eve have sex. And it is hot, and they look really good together, but there is also a depth of emotion and complexity to the sex. There are feelings and history and tenderness between them. And while nothing is certain on a Shonda Rhimes show, I find myself hoping that Annalise and Eve do make it to Paris some day. (Also, my secret hope for the show is that Michaela and Laurel get together and go at it on the teacher desk like Connor and Oliver did that one time. I mean, you KNOW Laurel had a lesbian phase in college.)
Unlike HTGAWM, it took four seasons for something gay to happen on Grey’s Anatomy. But Callie Torres and the rest of the #GreysGays were worth the wait. The queer storylines got off to an admittedly rough start, with Erica Hahn disappearing into a vortex in the Seattle-Grace-Mercy-West-Sloan-Grey-Memorial-Hospital parking lot. But then Callie met Arizona Robbins, a pediatric surgeon with a smile made of sunshine. They kissed in the bathroom while Arizona was out on a date with someone else. Since then they have kissed a lot more, had dance parties, had a kid, gotten married, performed surgery on one another, and gotten divorced. Also, they had sex in the shower, because no relationship on a Shonda Rhimes show is complete without shower sex.
They are portrayed being intimate and sexual, just as the straight couples on the show are. Their relationship was turbulent but always treated thoughtfully, with emotional honesty. And theirs is not the only queer relationship on the show. Callie and Arizona both have sex and relationships with other women. Arizona cheated on Callie with Lauren Boswell in the middle of a thunderstorm. (A horrible betrayal, to be sure, although it was also kind of hot.) She also briefly pursued a sexual relationship with Leah Murphy. Callie, meanwhile, is currently dating Penny (who might be kind of partially responsible for Derek’s death). God only knows what the future holds for Callie and Arizona. I personally am pulling for a happy ending between them.
I’m gonna level with you guys right now: I love Faking It. Something about it strikes a deep, resonant chord within me. One of the many things I love about this show is the way it talks about sex between teenagers and portrays teenage girls feeling empowered and happy about the sex they have. And look: there is still a bit of a discrepancy between the portrayals of straight and queer female intimacy on this show.
But in Season 2, when Amy starts dating Reagan, they roll around on the bed and make out like two teenagers who are totally into each other. And then they have an actual sex scene, which is a wonderful, happy moment for Amy. And god knows Amy deserves some happiness. While Amy and Reagan eventually went their separate ways, they had many bright and lovely moments before they parted. Amy and Karma have a lot of sexy dream sequences about each other too. (I think it says a lot about their personalities that Amy dreams about kissing Karma while cuddled up in their PJs while Karma dreams about Amy in lingerie in a softly lit tent.) Call me crazy, but I still have hope that those dream sequences will one day become a reality.
No article about intimacy between queer ladies on television would be complete without mention of the long, complicated love story between succubus Bo and human Doctor Hotpants. It all started when the good doctor ran a hand down Bo’s back. Since then, Lauren and Bo have fallen in love, gotten together, broken up, gotten together with other people, fought gods and monsters. And they had a lot of sex. Like, a lot.
Even when they weren’t together, they were the most important thing in one another’s lives. And their story ended the way that all lesbian love stories should: with Lauren reciting what sounded like marriage vows and Doccubus kissing on the hood of a car. Of course, their adventures continue, because evil never dies, but Bo and Lauren continue their adventures the same way they started them: together.
There are probably shows that I have left off of this list. For which, you know, mea culpa. But one thing that is clear here is that we can always depend on Netflix, genre fiction, and Shonda Rhimes to deliver the goods in terms of queer female intimacy. In teen drama news, the more previews for Season 3 of The 100 I see, the more likely it seems that we will soon be able to add The 100 to this list soon. (And speaking of Shonda Rhimes, I hope to one day be able to add Scandal to this list as well.)
The history of queer female representation and queer female intimacy on television is a long, twisty path. But it seems that we are moving toward an era that does not just include more representation, but also a higher quality of representation. So here’s to a new year that will hopefully include a lot of positive representation of sex and intimacy between women on our TVs.