Lesbian Characters Missing from Primetime

Image courtesy of FOX TV.

Angela Serednicki

Growing up, the TV shows Will and Grace and Friends taught me two lessons about LGBT people.

Lesson One: Some people are attracted to the same sex. There are men like Will and Jack from Will and Grace who like to date men, and there are women like Susan and Carol from Friends who are partners and raise a kid together.

Lesson Two: Being attracted to the same sex doesn’t mean that you’re abnormal or weird. Love is love.

But I’ve noticed recently that lesbians are underrepresented on TV. The majority of LGBT characters are ‘flamboyant’ gay male stereotypes, and it makes me wonder if today’s viewers will not be able to learn the same lessons of tolerance and understanding that I did.

According to the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation’s (GLAAD) 2011-2012 report, Where are We on TV, lesbians represent 22 per cent of LGBT characters, while gay males make up 54 per cent.

Only 14 per cent of LGBT characters are bisexual females and 6 per cent are bisexual males.

With two new comedy sitcoms on primetime that feature the gay male stereotype and no new shows featuring lesbian characters, it doesn’t look like this bias will change any time soon.

The New Normal, a sitcom on NBC, is a family comedy that follows the unique relationship that gay couple David and Bryan have with their pregnant surrogate mother, Goldie.

Just like two of TV’s most popular gay male couples, Modern Family’s Cameron and Mitchel and Glee’s Kurt and Blaine, The New Normal is continuing to represent a gay male couple as one member being more ‘feminine’ and comedic, while the other takes on the more ‘masculine’ role

Miguel Lobo, a gay first year student at McMaster University believes the media is causing people to establish a contingency between being flamboyant and being gay when in reality, one doesn’t exist.

“If anything, there’s a correlation between the two, but one does not cause the other, ” he says.

Lobo thinks society holds different views of homosexuality between the genders because of the ideal that every girl should have a ‘fun and flamboyant’ gay best friend.

Lesbian relationships, on the other hand, are often only used to sexualize a TV show rather than showing a relationship, and are equally as stereotypical.

“The ideal lesbian couple for society is two hot chicks who have a lot of PDA,” he says. “Any lesbians who fall out of this category tend to make people uncomfortable. Almost every girl wants a ‘gay best friend’, but the term ‘lesbian best friend’ never really comes up.”

CBS’ new comedy, Partners, puts a new twist on the gay best friend cliché with a show about two childhood friends, Joe and Louis. The show follows them at the architecture firm they work at, and is focused on the consequences of Louis’s weekly dramatic interjections into Joe and his fiancée’s relationship.

Christian Bellissimo, a gay life science student at McMaster,  says these representations of characters aren’t necessarily bad, but leave little room for diversity.

“It gives audiences the idea that if you are a gay man, you have to fit into one of those two categories: masculine or feminine,” he says.

In reality, the LGBT community is just as diverse as the straight community.

While a divide within masculinity and femininity exists within gay couples on television, lesbian couples portrayed experience the opposite.

Both Glee and Grey’s Anatomy feature lesbian and bisexual characters that are very feminine, supporting the ‘lipstick lesbian’ stereotype. The two shows feature same-sex relationships consisting of a bisexual female and a lesbian character.

Although there are many stereotypes within the media’s portrayal of homosexuality (as there are in almost every TV show) the inclusion of LGBT characters in mainstream media still helps to break down the negative stigma that some audiences may have associated with homosexuality.

Now all that needs to be done is to break down the stereotypes. M


4 thoughts on “Lesbian Characters Missing from Primetime

  1. I find it kind of funny how you write an article about lesbians on TV and fail to mention the biggest lesbian TV show ever: The L Word. Yes, the characters on that show were too beautiful to exist but it was a showe exclusively about gay women on prime TV. And also you don’t talk about the new show Chicago Fire and their lesbian character– a firefighter who shuts down a guy by asserting her sexuality.

    And while there are many femme/flamboyant gay men stereotypes in TV, you don’t even mention Max from Happy Endings, a gay character who is completely the opposite of clean-cut boy– he is rude, messy and brash.

    On Degrassi, Alex and Paige’s relationship took up a lot of time in the show.

    There aren’t a lot of lesbians in TV. Gays are portrayed completely stereotypically every day. Pretty femme gay boys are seen as the norm– and that’s wrong, of course. And not all lesbians are Super Butch or Lipstick Lesbian in six-inch heels either. Stereotypes suck, but don’t neglect to mention the small victories that the LGBT community has had in the media, especially in recent years, in breaking down at least a few of the stereotypes in small ways.

    • I think what is trying to be brought across here is not that there haven’t been victories won by the LGBT community, but that most mainstream shows that contain these characters have to conform to stereotypical “norms” of queer people in order to be noticed, Degrassi has not received mainstream attention in a while now, and Chicago fire is way too new of a show to make any comments about

      • I beg to differ; Degrassi has gotten a lot of press for Adam (FTM trans) and Fiona (lesbian), and given that it’s a new show, so has Chicago Fire. If we continue to undermine the small successes in the media, we won’t get anywhere.

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