Fangirl Friday: 2017 didn’t suck as bad for lesbian and bi women characters

HI, peeps!

So apparently 2017 did not suck nearly as hard as 2016 did for queer lady characters on the teevee. For those who remember 2016, many lady characters of the LGBTQ variety died across the media hellscape, and usually in some really messed up trope-ish way.

Which is not to suggest that everything is dancing ponies and glitter-streaked unicorns. Things got better but the bar is of course low, according to a really fab analysis over at Autostraddle by Riese that I freaking missed when it was posted in early January.

Titled “In 2017, Lesbian and Bisexual TV Characters Did Pretty OK, and That’s a Pretty Big Deal” (by Riese, CEO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle), it is a veritable cornucopia o’ info. I totally would not have found this article had I not cruised past Maureen Ryan‘s (she of the major media wisdom at Variety) Twitter feed yesterday. She was talking up this Autostraddle analysis, so I of course had to go see with my own eyes and it is indeed very well done because Riese built a database to track all of this and presented her findings in a super-interesting way with images and charts and graphs.

The database includes every lesbian, gay, and bisexual character ever on English-language programming that is accessible on U.S. platforms.

Riese provides numbers/stats, a history of the Bury Your Gays trope in media, and how changing social currents have helped push for more and better representation of LGBT people. And the piece goes in-depth into the types of queer rep we got in 2017 and where media is still lagging (no surprise here — trans people, gender identity [butch lesbians], and racial diversity)

The piece starts out thus:

“Although most Quality of Life indicators for LGBTQ people and civilization in general nose-dived this year, one thing got notably better: television for queer women.”

But in 2016, GLAAD’s annual report revealed that lesbian representation had gone down for the first time since 2004, and “while bisexual women are getting a small boost in visibility, it’s often coming at the cost of damaging cliche.” Our Senior Editor Heather Hogan called 2016 “the most frustrating year ever for queer women who love television,” even compared to years when we had “hardly any TV representation at all.” Every year for the last ten, we’d seen more and better portrayals of queer women on television, but “Lexa’s death, and the landslide of lesbian/bi deaths that came after it, were crushing because they shook the hope out of us.”

–Riese, “In 2017, Lesbian and Bisexual TV Characters Did Pretty OK, and That’s a Pretty Big Deal,” Autostraddle (Jan. 2, 2018)

So what got better?

Riese found that for 2017, there were “116 total shows with LBQ regular/recurring [R/R] characters, compared to 80 in 2016.” She says that 39 new shows in 2017 had lesbian and bisexual R/R characters, and five returning shows “that previously lacked lesbian and bisexual R/Rs, added them.” That’s compared to 16 new shows and five returning in 2016.

What she and her team found was that those 116 shows “accounted for 105 lesbian and 99 non-monosexual R/R characters” and the shows “also featured 10 trans women (straight or queer) and non-binary R/Rs.”

Part of an infographic from “In 2017, Lesbian and Bisexual TV Characters Did Pretty OK, and That’s a Pretty Big Deal,” Autostraddle

Go to the Autostraddle link and see what else that infographic reveals, because it gives you a breakdown of what was going on with LGBTQ lady characters on TV in 2017, the genres and networks of the shows, and percentages of women of color. Riese also notes that there are more LGBTQ women working in media who are influencing programming (DUH!!!!), and we need more of that, please.

And of course, there are many things that need to get better, and Riese points them out in the article, which you really need to go see right now because not only is it a breakdown of what went right and what didn’t, but it also provides you names of shows with LGBTQ lady characters (as well as the characters’ names and photos for some) so you can add all of that to your lists.

Point being, friends, REPRESENTATION MATTERS. LGBTQ fans are extremely savvy and motivated, and we will get shit done. 2017 is an indication of that, but we can’t sit back and think that everything will now be happy happy joy joy. Given the larger political currents all around us, we have to be extra-aware about good and accurate representation and about ensuring that young LGBTQ people, especially, have access to it.

That’s why analyses like the one Riese did at Autostraddle are important. They help us see what’s been done, and also provide us a map to making things even better.

I’ll finish here with Riese again,  from the Autostraddle piece:

The movement that started when Lexa died put LGBTQ women in the spotlight. So far this year, we’ve lost less than a dozen R/Rs to stray bullets and wayward stabbings, and of those, only two were potential 2018 regulars, as the majority occurred on anthology series. In 2016, LGBTQ viewers pointed out a persistent unconscious bias and also made it known that queer fandom is absolutely nuts about our teevee, we’re tired of being exploited and we’re happy to give praise where praise is due. Did showrunners choose to let queer characters live? Maybe shitty shows stopped inventing new queers just to kill them. Maybe good shows began negotiating potential lesbian/bisexual deaths with the same careful consideration they do straight ones. Whatever the reason, it feels like we’re finally getting somewhere.

Because moreso than a lack of death, 2017 gave us a tiny burst of life — myriad disappointments, to be sure, but small steps in the right direction too.

Also, everyone is gay and so every television show should be about us, the end.

Happy Friday, all. May The Force be with us.

One comment

  1. It’s staggering when you really look at the numbers of how many queer-ish characters are killed in comparison to straight/binary ones. Things are getting better, for sure, but… wow. We have a long way to go. Thanks for bringing Riese’s post to our attention and adding your own thoughts.


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