Thursday, February 2, 2012

Where Have All the Lesbians Gone?

Take a quick second and think of a gay television character. Got it? Good. Now, was that character a man or a woman?

It was a man, wasn't it?

Statistically, it probably was. While the rates of gay male awareness have been rising on television for the past few years (despite a dip after the cancellation of Will and Grace*), the rates of lesbians of television have never been high and have continued at pretty much the same level of barely there as ever, even in this "enlightened" age. The 90s had Xena with Xena and Gabrielle, the early 00s had Original Cindy on Dark Angel and that one lesbian couple on Queer as Folk, and now we've got...What have we got?

Based on even the most cursory analysis of the past 20 years, gay women seem to be criminally underrepresented on television. And, why, perchance, is that?

Well, let's look at a case study. Let's look at Glee.

It's popular to hate on Glee, but think of it this way: Glee's a great concept wrapped up in the most cynical marketing possible. It's also primarily the brainchild of one man, and that man happens to be Ryan Murphy.

Now, I don't mean to imply that because Ryan Murphy is a man, he can't write about lesbians. He has, and I think that his writing has been some of the more interesting work in the area. It's more that lesbianism doesn't appear to be all that close to Mr. Murphy's male, admittedly homosexual heart. No, the character that he feels the most for is Kurt, the male gay character.

Why does it matter? One gay is as good as another, right?

Well, no.

It matters because the level of respect and, dare I say, reverence that their stories are treated with varies wildly. The primary lesbian character, Santana, started out the show as a bitchy minor character and slowly worked her way up to being a bitchy major character. She stood in the background and threw out taunts, seduced other people's boyfriends, and generally was a horrible (though amazingly fun to watch) person.

Even the revelation that she was even a little gay was first given as a sort of joke about how terrible she is: her best friend, the adorably dim Brittany, blurted out that they'd had sex, and Santana immediately implied that Brittany was hallucinating. Later, her former sluttiness with men is explained as her attempts to hide from herself, and her bitchiness as her anger that she can't be straight.

Her outing happens via a local election ad aired on television, she's disavowed by her grandmother, harassed in school, and still stands by her loyal (but still dim) girlfriend, Brittany. Rock on, sister, because that was not an easy road.

By contrast, the male gay character, Kurt, comes out to a completely understanding father who is not remotely surprised and supports him fully. His gayness is treated as something sacred which shall never be mocked, and must always be explained with the utmost courtesy. Even the bully who mocks him is only jealous because he himself is actually gay and wishes he could be that out.


Both Santana and Brittany think this is bullshit.
It's not that Kurt's storyline is bad (though at times, it really, really is), it's that it's not hard to see where Ryan Murphy's sympathies lie. And along with Murphy are the rest of the networks and executives who are simply better able to identify with a male character, even a gay one, than a female character of any shape or sexuality. And that's just fucking sad.

I think it's really all best summed up by this scene. Kurt and Brittany are running against each other for student body president. They are both white, they are both seniors, and they are both in glee club. Both have, at one time, been cheerleaders. And both of them are gay.

So guess which one of them gets an inner monologue about how important it is that they win because it would be a win for gays everywhere?

You don't get points for guessing. It's a sucker bet.

*I jest, but I sort of don't.

See Naya Rivera perform as Santana here, here and here. Isn't she awesome? She's awesome. Yeah. You're welcome.


  1. I wish I had a more cogent though than "Yes" for this but I think I used up what little brain power I had left on yesterday's comment.

  2. I agree that Glee made a much bigger deal/gave more of a focus on male gays than female ones.

    Some more lesbian/bisexual females on tv:
    Adriana (90210)
    Angela Montenegro (Bones)
    Jenny (Doctor Who)
    Inara Serra (Firefly)
    Kalinda Sharma (The Good Wife)
    Arizona Robbins (Grey's Anatomy)
    Calliope Torres (Grey's Anatomy)
    Remy Hadley (House)
    Bo Dennis (Lost Girl)
    Lauren Lewis (Lost Girl)
    Tamsin (Lost Girl)
    almost entire cast (The L Word)
    Julia (Nip/Tuck)
    Liz Cruz (Nip/Tuck)
    Alex (The OC)
    Mulan (Once upon a time)
    several characters (Orange is the new black)
    Cosima Niehaus (Orphan Black)
    Delphine (Orphan Black)
    Emily (Pretty little liars)
    Maya St. Germain (Pretty little liars)
    Paige (Pretty little liars)
    Samantha Jones (Sex & the City)
    Mrs. Gallagher (Shameless)
    Charlie Bradbury (Supernatural)
    Pam (True blood)
    Tara Thornton (True Blood)