Does Lesbian Typecasting Still Happen?

For feminine women, typecasting as a lesbian isn’t a concern, but Hollywood still has a butch problem

This rejection of gender non-conformity may also explain why Ellen Page in 2016 expressed concern about being typecast as a lesbian. Where actresses have been in more gender conforming roles, lesbian typecasting seems to be much less of an issue. For example, when in June 2011 AfterEllen interviewed Shay Mitchell, whose character Emily Fields has always been femme, she summarily dismissed the idea of being typecast as a lesbian, stating that she’d happily play another lesbian character.

emily-fields-shay-mitchell-552500_w650

The biggest change affecting actresses’ perception of the risk of typecasting has probably been shifts in casting in general since the mid-2000s. As Clea DuVall noted in an interview with Vulture, the stigma behind playing a gay character evaporated once the number of gay characters on screen grew exponentially and the novelty of the role dissipated.

Nowadays, many, many actresses have played lesbian or bisexual roles, meaning that Hollywood no longer has to rely on a few “go-to” actresses willing to play those roles and inadvertently typecasting them in the process. As Eden Riegel noted in a 2014 interview: “Nowadays it’s even less of an issue than it ever was. We are starting to see actors male and female go in and out of gay or straight roles with no one batting an eye…Life’s too short and the part too enticing. Considering every potential inevitability is too exhausting.” In addition, gay roles have become more multidimensional: rather than just the butch lesbian, the predatory lesbian, or the flannel-wearing man-hater, the diversity of gay and lesbian characters makes them harder to typecast.

Ultimately, the problem of typecasting—for any type of character, lesbian or not—comes down to the long-term career effect that it has for the actress affected by it. For actresses put into “America’s Sweetheart” roles (for example, Julia Roberts in the 1990s), typecasting can be a positive. On the other hand, for actors playing variations of Middle Eastern Terrorist #2, typecasting is a net negative. It seems like in general, what can be said of “lesbian typecasting” in 2018 is that it seems to be significantly in decline compared to the early 2000s and 1990s, although it may still exist to some degree.

 

Actresses who seem to be most concerned about negative typecasting and most affected by it are out lesbians, particularly those who tend to be more androgynous. Very feminine, heterosexual actresses, particularly those who fall into the Millennial generation, who have played feminine lesbians seem to be less concerned about the negative potential for typecasting. Therefore, while it is a good thing that the stigma of playing gay is rapidly dissipating, nevertheless it seems there’s more work to be done to overcome Hollywood’s discomfort with butch lesbians and gender non-conformity.