I have noticed an upsetting trend recently. No one seems to care about queer ladies being represented in the media. Seems that any time a show announces that they will be including gay characters, or any time someone critiques a show for not having gay characters, more often than not those characters tend to be male. Gay men, despite also not having much representation on television, seem to at least currently hold the market on representation. Why is that? According to GlAAD’s most recent Where Are We On TV Report, there are fifty LGBTQ+ characters on broadcast TV. 61% of those characters are gay men, while only 20% are lesbians, though there are more bisexual women (14%) than bisexual men (4%) on broadcast TV. And of course only one of those characters is a transgender woman. Thank you, Elementary!
I think the lack of queer female characters largely has to do with with how society has sexualized queer women. When I was younger, I remember hearing that queer men are less accepted in society because straight men are uncomfortable with queer men, but queer women are more accepted because straight men find them attractive. Yep, that’s right, there is this misconception that because queer women have been heterosexualized and fetishized, they are somehow more empowered than queer men. If that’s empowerment, then sorry, I don’t want it.
So you know the stats, but how many queer female characters are there in our geek wheelhouse? This is including both cable and broadcast TV shows.
Glee and True Blood currently hold the market on the most LGBTQ+ characters currently on TV. True Blood features four queer female characters, while Glee has two. Archer, Being Human, Orphan Black, Spartacus: Vengeance, Supernatural, and Sherlock also feature queer women. And of course Elementary features our only transgender female character.
Most lists I have seen actually do not include Sherlock. Partly because it’s not currently on TV so I’m not sure how much it counts, but also because even though Irene Adler has canonically said she is a lesbian, she is attracted to Sherlock. As such, many people seem to forget about her. This is because her sexuality is largely unexplored and seems to be set up only to show how special Sherlock is. Irene Adler is usually attracted to women (and we only see her with women in her job as a dominatrix), but Sherlock is so fantastic that she ends up falling for him anyway. Despite this, since Irene Adler has said on the show that she is attracted to women, I have decided to include the show on this list.
Out of all these shows, none feature a queer female character in a leading role. Archer, Glee, Orphan Black, Spartacus: Vengeance, and True Blood feature queer women in a supporting role. Being Human, Elementary, Sherlock, and Supernatural all have at least one queer woman on their respective shows, but only as a recurring character. True Blood also features another two female characters as recurring characters. Seriously, God bless True Blood, because without that show there would be significantly fewer queer female characters on TV.
Even within fandoms, the focus seems to be on gay male characters. Fanfics usually feature gay or bisexual male characters. Tumblr user destinationtoast put together a list of the top 51 most popular ships on AO3, a popular fanfiction website, and not one femslash pairing is listed. Noy Thrupkaew, a writer for Bitch Magazine, argues that this is partly because of a lack of compelling female characters, as well as the sexualizing and objectifying of gay male characters. She writes:
Few TV shows have more than one strong, sharply drawn female character, which may be one reason why female/female slash is still relatively limited. But there may be another. Straight female slash writers, who are used to desiring male bodies, may feel that women’s pairings lack a necessary sexual frisson.
Furthermore, when a fandom speculates that a character might be gay, it’s almost always a male character. Kirk and Spock, Dean Winchester and Castiel, Stiles Stilinski and Derek Hale, and many more male characters are speculated as gay. While there are certain fandoms that seem to favor femslash like the Xena: Warrior Princess, Star Trek: Voyager, and recently Once Upon a Time fandoms, none of these femslash pairings has an equal following to any of the slash or het pairings listed in the link above. I think perhaps the lack of female ships is also why the fandom is less likely to push for female characters to be canonically recognized as queer. The fandom seems more likely to push for queer characters if the result is their desired romantic slash ships.
I don’t think the lack of queer female characters is due to just a misconception that women in the gay community have it easier. I think this is also largely due to a misogynistic mindset on the part of both the Powers That Be and the fans. With mostly male writers and directors working in the entertainment industry, sometimes the portrayal of female characters suffers. On top of this, the fandoms themselves often suffer from misogyny. The hatred and demonization of female characters in fandoms and in fanfiction is common and almost expected at this point.
At this point in my life I’m rather tired of stories about white cisgender heterosexual men. It’s gotten to the point where I almost want to say if there aren’t any lesbians then I simply don’t care.