13 of the Most Earth-shattering Moments in Queer Fandom

Before I even started my first column four years ago on AfterEllen, Notes on a Fandom, I had been a proud member of the queer fandom community. Since then, I’ve seen many fandoms come and go, and given a lot of thought to what fandom means and how it continues to evolve.

This year has shown the true power of fandom, and the events that can profoundly affect both shows and the fandoms they attract. I decided to put together a list of what I feel are some of the most important moments in queer fandom—broken hearts, lessons learned and communities forged with joy and frustration.

Xena and Gabrielle inspire a generation of fanfiction writersxena

In 1995, Xena Warrior Princess and her gal pal Gabrielle burst onto the scene, bringing such delicious and overt subtext you could cut it with a chakram. Actresses Lucy Lawless and Renee O’Connor knew exactly what Xena and Gabrielle meant to each other, and that understanding brought a sort of clarity queer fans rarely saw in their subtext. Couple that with a little thing called the internet, which was still pretty new, and an abundance of fanfiction was born and shared across the globe. Talk to queer members of fandom and they will credit Xena with putting WLW fanfiction on the map.

Tara Maclay’s death highlights a troubling trendtaravia sulietsexual.tumblr.com

In a cruel twist of fate, one night after reconciling, fan favorite lesbian character Tara Maclay was felled by a stray bullet meant for Buffy Summers. Willow, covered in her girlfriend’s blood, went on a downward spiral into madness and magic, and nearly destroyed the world. While Willow’s grief highlighted how much Tara meant to her and the Scoobies, Tara’s death devastated fans. Enraged and heartbroken, fans used message boards like the Bronze to express their feelings of outrage. While the Bury Your Gays trope wasn’t originated by Joss Whedon and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the popularity of the character and the fact that she finally experiences joy before her violent death reinforced the harmful notion that gay people could never truly be happy; that our lives were ones of tragedy and strife.

Bianca breaks the soap ceiling on All My Childrenbianca

In the world of soap operas, All My Children’s Erica Kane was the reigning queen of daytime. Naturally, that would mean her daughters Bianca and Kendall were royalty too. This makes what happened in 2000 all the more remarkable. America watched Bianca grow up on the popular soap, and as a young woman coming into her own, Bianca also realized she was gay. Bianca and then love interest Lena shared the first female same-sex kiss on daytime, and soon after, Bianca came out to her mother. While there was some backlash, the response was overwhelmingly positive according to Eden Riegel who played Bianca for over a decade. Queer soap fans were finally able to rejoice in a character, even if Bianca did deal with a lot of tragedy of the years. In a way, it also allowed LGBT soap fans to come out and changed the atmosphere for queer characters to exist and be accepted in the soap universe.   

The L Word is bornlwordvia thesecretlifeofalesb.tumblr.com

After decades of living off of crumbs of subtext and queer relationships that were short lived and few and far between, the debut of The L Word in 2004 was like an all you can eat buffet. With the internet in full swing, fans debated the relationship between Tina and Bette, Jenny and her Manatees, and the enigma that was Shane McCutcheon in forums, chat rooms, viewing parties and sites like, well, AfterEllen! While not a perfect show by any means, there has never been a show before or since that features as many queer woman or relationships as The L Word. With so many queer characters to root for (or against) The L Word is still giving us stuff to talk about, seven years after its final episode.

South of Nowhere pushes boundaries with complex teen queer romance and family relationshipssouthvia wayhaughtt.tumblr.com

Oh South of Nowhere, you were a show before your time. I remain convinced that if South of Nowhere had debuted now, it would be a smashing success. Alas, Twitter and Tumblr didn’t exist yet, and the show’s dedicated fanbase wasn’t able to make themselves heard as loudly as they would today. Teenager Spencer Carlin was the lesbian girl next door who fell in love with her best friend, Ashley. Their love story was the show’s heart and soul, but the relationship between Spencer and her parents also rang true for a lot of fans. Complicated, tumultuous and relatable, Spencer and her mother struggled with understanding each other as Spencer grew up and fell deeper in love with Ashley. While Teen Nick was a progressive network, there were many moments were the Spashley relationship was more or less censored, frustrating fans who had limited resources to express said frustration.

Fan dedication leads to Brittana and one of TV’s few queer lady happy endingsbrittanavia loversofbrittana.tumblr.com

It all started with a one-liner from Brittany Pierce during the first season of Glee. When Brittany comments innocently about hooking up with HBIC Santana Lopez, queer fans lost their show tune loving minds. What happened next is one for the record books. Brittany and Santana became Brittana, one of the most shipped and popular queer lady couples in TV history. Through break-ups and make-ups, fans were dedicated to the OTP and despite a sometimes contentious relationship with show’s creator Ryan Murphy, Brittana got their happy ending in the final season of the series. Fans fought hard for Brittana, never giving up hope and utilizing social media to unite and ultimately influence a hugely popular show.

Pretty Little Liars introduces a lesbian leading lady in Emily Fields, immediately launches endless shipping warsemilyvia degrassi.wikia.com

Emaya. Paily. Emison. Never before on television has there been a lesbian character at the center of so many ships. One of the only leading queer characters on television, Emily Fields has some of the show’s most significant romantic relationships. Now in its seventh season, there’s no let up in the shipping wars that have accompanied Emily’s love life since Season 1. At times, the shipping wars have become brutal, with the actresses at the center receiving hate and angry messages, as well as the fans themselves. No matter who you ship, there’s no doubt that Emily’s love life has become something that keeps fans coming back for more.

Warehouse 13 doesn’t go thereberingvia luisasalvers.tumblr.com

After four seasons of heavy subtext between the pansexual H..G. Wells and leading lady Myka Bering, fans thought that maybe the final season would the two women together. What actually happened was what ended up feeling like queerbaiting to many fans. Even after sacrificing herself out of love for Myka, the writers brought H.G. back just to put her in a relationship with a new character named Jake. Eventually, H.G. left Jake, and the finale puts her in a relationship with another woman, who was sadly off-screen and certainly not Myka, who ended up with partner Pete instead. While actresses Joanne Kelly and Jaime Murray were very much on board with the relationship, the powers that be had a different path in mind; one that had many queer fans feeling they were cheated out of the greatest love story on the show. They let their frustration be known on social media, and Bering Wells lives on in the hearts of fans in fanfiction.

Grey’s Anatomy breaks up its beloved queer couplealzonavia sararamirez.co.vu

Few queer couples were as beloved and cheered for as Seattle Grace Mercy West/Grey Sloan’s longtime loves Arizona Robbins and Callie Torres. After a meet-cute in Season 5, the docs fell into a passionate love and eventually got married. The couple survived a shooting, a car accident, and a plane crash, but simply couldn’t survive the slings and arrows of a tumultuous marriage. Fans were devastated when Calzona broke up, and patiently waited for what they thought was their inevitable reconciliation. However, all hope was lost when Callie Torres (and actress Sara Ramirez) decided to leave Seattle. While actors do leave shows all the time, shippers were left with knowing that they weren’t going to get their happy ending, at least with Calzona, and no amount of fan protest was going to change that.

Carmilla brings lesbian shipping to YouTube, Creampuffs are borncarmillavia sleepinawell.tumblr.com

When Smokebomb Entertainment put a broody lesbian vampire and a relentlessly perky college student together with a webcam and 150-year-old gothic story, who knew it would become fandom gold? Carmilla the web series premiered in 2014 and within a few weeks became an absolute sensation, with a dedicated fanbase that called themselves Creampuffs, a nickname that Carmilla once called Laura. Fanart, fanfiction, meetups, songs and more started flooding spaces like Tumblr and Twitter, and only made the very inclusive Carmilla fandom bigger and stronger. As Carmilla heads into its third and final season, expect to see much more of the Creampuff’s love and dedication every time you hop on social media.

Episode 307lexavia yeahclexa.tumblr.com

Lexa’s death on The 100 was the proverbial shot heard round the world. After months of courting queer fans, and even going to far as to seek out and enter fan spaces, fans were horrified when Commander Lexa was killed seconds after finally consummating her relationship with Clarke. Fan reaction was swift and unprecedented. You could say that Lexa’s death was the straw that broke the camel’s back, but after years of feeling helpless to witnessing tragic ends for their favorite characters, fans created their own revolution. While the movement has had its own detractors, there’s no doubt that fans drew a line in the sand and that line will influence shows to come. The message was clear: We are tired of being used and rewarded with tragedy. Viva la fandom revolucion.  

Shoot becomes realityshootvia itberice.tumblr.com

After seasons of mad flirtations and sexual tension, the creators of Person of Interest couldn’t ignore the gift they were given with Root and Shaw. Actresses Amy Acker and Sarah Shahi were fully on board for their characters to acknowledge their love, and in the show’s finale season, they finally did. After months of captivity and simulations, we find out that Root is Shaw’s safe place and her reason for staying just beyond Samaritan’s grasp. When they ultimately reunite in the real world, their reunion is short-lived and Root sacrifices herself to save Harold. Happening so soon after Lexa’s death and over a dozen other queer character deaths, left fans reeling. POI was always a show full of peril, so major character deaths were always a possibility, but many fans expressed frustration of being baited and cheated out of such an important relationship. Creators giveth and they taketh away, especially in 2016.

Wynonna Earp shatters the Bury Your Gays tropewayhaughtvia latenightflurricane.tumblr.com

Fans who were suffering from BYG fatigue found respite in the little SyFy show that could, Wynonna Earp. While Wynonna is a badass all on her own, it was the sweet and sexy relationship between Waverly and Nicole Haught that drew queer fans like a moth to a flame. Creator Emily Andras, who had been outspoken about the BYG trope, made it very clear to nervous fans that Wayhaught would make it out of the finale in one piece. And boy did they. In a moment that stood for everything that BYG doesn’t, Nicole is saved from a shot to the chest by a bulletproof vest. The irony wasn’t lost on fans who were delighted by this turn of events, and Nicole Haught will go on to steal our heart in Season 2. Despite all odds (including a painful time slot. Please give them a better one, Syfy. They deserve it.), Wynonna Earp became the shining star of the spring television season, in large part to a killer cast, crew and a dedicated and vocal fanbase. It also proved that queer women don’t have to be sacrificial lambs if creators even take a moment to think beyond lazy cliches and tropes.

If you aren’t finding your most earth-shattering queer fandom moment on this list, share yours in the comments below. And as always, keep flailing.