As more complex representation of gay men on our screen happens, it’s time we focus on the stories of unapologetic, defiant queer women
It was recently announced that a queer remake of Golden Girls is in production – yet against all odds, it’s not a show about four snarky older gay ladies. It’s going to be called Silver Foxes and feature a cast of elderly gay men. This totally inexplicable decision is not the first time queer women have lost out in recent TV remakes.
The Queer Eye reboot has been a hit. Unlike its 2003 predecessor, the new Queer Eye was more reflective and political: it tackled internalised homophobia, police violence, mental health, all the while teaching men to love themselves. Iconic gay sitcom Will and Grace was also revived last year. In 2015, Queer as Folk creator Russell T. Davies made Banana and Cucumber, a series about LGBT+ (but really, mostly gay men’s) lives and stories. It’s the age of the reboot, and we have been able to see deeper, more nuanced representations of queer men on television as a result. So where are the shows for queer women? The L Word might be coming back, but surely it’s time queer women are allowed more than one show (or at least one with a less biphobic and transphobic history?).
There are countless examples of queer shows that fail to represent queer women. Grace and Frankie, a show all about unconventional families and the bravery of two older gay men choosing to come out and get married, could take the narrative a step further and let lead characters Grace and Frankie realise they love each other. Frankie is played by lesbian actress Lily Tomlin, so it’s no surprise people imagine that Frankie might be queer too. If this seems like the stuff of fantasy or fanfiction, that’s only because we’ve been led to believe that one or two queer people is enough. Once we’ve got our standard pair of gay white men, having any more would be ridiculous.
This is why queer people – queer women in particular – need their own shows. When queer characters only exist in the context of straight television, the reality of queer lives is often erased in the narrative. They follow a stringent formula: dating, engaged, married, babies. All their friends are straight. When queer characters aren’t protagonists, they’re often put on a heteronormative conveyer belt so as not to disrupt the status quo of the straight show they exist in. The L Word – as controversial as it may be – gave us “the chart”, where character Alice’s interconnecting sexual relationships and hookups mapped out on a wall become its own social network, a tradition half the queer women I know have replicated or at least relate to. The Fosters depicted the reality of what it’s like to adopt children, to try to have biological children, and what a queer family can look like. One Day at a Time brought us Elena Alvarez, a politically active, pronoun-correcting lesbian teenager with a non-binary girlfriend. Orange is the New Black raised the bar for representation on television when it gave us a diverse cast of lesbian, bisexual and trans women who had messy relationships and complicated backstories (though we lost some of them in violent, miserable ways). When queer women characters are allowed to be explicitly, unapologetically themselves on television, as rare as that may be, real queer women benefit.
“When queer women characters are allowed to be explicitly, unapologetically themselves on television, as rare as that may be, real queer women benefit”
In film, women have had a better shot at the reboot: Ocean’s Eight and Ghostbusters were both remakes cast with all-women casts. Both films have also famously received a ton of flak for being pointless remakes, despite the fact that we’re now on 26 James Bond films and counting, and no one seems to complain each time those are recast. Ghostbusters starred gay actress Kate McKinnon, whose character was later confirmed to be gay by director Paul Feig, who explained that the studio prevented him from making it explicit in the film. It remains to be seen whether the incredible cast of Ocean’s Eight will feature any queer characters, but it feels overly optimistic to assume that it will.
In wider cinema though, it looks like there will be some more interesting, textured queer narratives. The upcoming Disobedience, starring Rachel McAdams and Rachel Weisz, sees one woman return to her Orthodox Jewish community, exploring her past attraction to a friend while navigating sexuality and faith. There’s also the Sasha Lane and Chloe Jane Moretz-fronted Miseducation of Cameron Post, a queer coming-of-age story where a teen is forced into gay conversion therapy.
Television remains lagging even further behind. Women are not enormously well-represented and queer women dismally so. Black Lightning’s Anissa Pierce is the first black lesbian to appear in a superhero show, and part of only a handful of black lesbian couples in television history. Queer women characters are popping up on TV with more frequency – Rosa Diaz on Brooklyn 99, Petra Solano on Jane the Virgin – but it’s impossible to get a sense of the diversity of queer women’s lives and culture when their queerness is incidental to the overall story. Once we get Queer Eye for the Straight Girl, gay Grace and Frankie and actual gay Golden Girls, maybe it will start to feel like there’s room for queer women to be themselves, to grow on TV, and in everyday life.