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Where Are All the Sitcom Lesbians?

Where Are All the Sitcom Lesbians?

 

Written by Diane Shipley, a Ms. Magazine blogger

News broke last week that Portia de Rossi will star in a sitcom produced by her wife, Ellen DeGeneres. NBC has signed on for a “put pilot”, which means they’ve committed to screening the first episode (and thus, hopefully the whole first season).

So far, all we know is that the show is about two sisters with a difficult relationship, and Portia will play one of them. Speculation has begun about who else might be cast, but for me the big question is: Will Portia be allowed to be out?

TV today has an overall dearth of gay characters, as we learned today from the latest GLAAD “Where We Are on TV” survey. The 2011-12 season offers only 19 gay characters out of nearly 650 roles, down a percentage point from the year before.

But gay leads are an especially rare breed. There’s only ever been one lesbian lead character on a sitcom, Ellen herself, and her eponymous show was canceled shortly after she came out on air. Gay men aren’t often sitcom leads, and their characters can be problematically stereotypical, but since Will & Grace premiered in 1998, they have become increasingly mainstream. Two of this season’s returning comedies, Modern Family and Happy Endings, give gay male characters prominent screen time. Lesbians should be so lucky.

Not that we haven’t seen gay women on TV, most memorably in The L Word, which prior to becoming a melodramatic (and perennially unsolved) murder mystery in its fifth season, was actually a groundbreaking show about a group of lesbian friends. Currently, teen thriller Pretty Little Liars portrays gay teenager Emily without, thankfully, recourse to lesbian clichés or storylines that revolve around her sexuality. Meanwhile, The Good Wife features a bisexual woman, although she’s hardly a role model. And, paean to a more retrograde era though it may be, at least The Playboy Club has a lesbian “bunny”.

But when it comes to sitcoms, women who love women are sidelined, if they’re shown at all. Sure, Rosie O’Donnell made brief appearances on Will & Grace and Friends had Carol and Susan, but those characters were peripheral and their portrayal stereotypical. In ‘90s episodes of shows like The Golden Girls and Designing Women, lesbian characters had one-episode arcs intended to teach the main, straight characters (and the audience) about tolerance. No one seemed to realize that what might really promote tolerance was to have an existing character come out and for it to be no big deal.

Since sitcoms aim to reflect reality, the omission of a group which is already marginalized reflects badly on both television and society. There are some signs of hope, however. While Carol Leifer’s 2009 script about a pregnant lesbian didn’t pan out and, earlier this year, I Hate That I Love You, a pilot about a lesbian couple, wasn’t picked up as a series, there is one sitcom in the works that clearly has a gay female lead: My Best Friend is a Lesbo. Let’s just hope it changes the title and reins in the othering.

In 2009, Liz Feldman, who won four Emmys while writing for Ellen’s talk show, spoke about her long struggle to get a Sapphic sitcom on the air. But she remained hopeful, saying: “It might take a really long time but I promise you that there will be a sitcom or a half-hour single-camera with a lesbian lead character.”

Portia, we’re looking at you.

This post was originally published by Ms. Magazine.

 

Related Stories:

Tina Few and Ellen: Making the F Word and the L Word OK for the Masses

Ellen DeGeneres Has An Important Message for LGBT Youth

Ukraine MPs Want to Ban ‘Promotion’ of Homosexuality

 

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Photo from Pulicciano via flickr creative commons

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64 comments

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4:35AM PST on Jan 22, 2014

As for me I am not interested in any lesbian lead. Though, if someone like such kind of stories heshe can read this article.

6:22PM PST on Nov 7, 2011

thanks

4:58AM PDT on Oct 28, 2011

Why not try a new thing here on Care2? Actually commenting on the posting above. I think having positive role models in sitcoms and other TV shows are essential for specially young people struggling to embrace their identity. If I had been fortunate enough to have positive gay characters on TV when I grew up, it would have meant the world to me. All I got was "Who killed sister George?" and "The killer is not the only liar" portraying lesbians as insane, dominating and murderous. But I managed to get my identity and become a happy person despite those nasty portraits. I do wish no one else have to endure such a wasted time to find something positive. Keep my fingers crossed that more positive lesbian characters are shown on prime time TV!

10:19AM PDT on Oct 5, 2011

Roger M & Diana S...both of you are right. I personally got a little off track and slammed Mike C. He can be sarcastic, egotistical, and arrogant, but I should have as you said Roger "counted to 10" and replied differently.

My apologies to Mike.

2:36AM PDT on Oct 3, 2011

Having trouble believing my eyes here. Is all this flapdoodle really over whether there are lesbians is sitcoms or not?

Take a deep breath and count to ten, people.

3:08PM PDT on Oct 2, 2011

The comments on Care2 seem to be getting more negative everyday. Everyone needs to calm down. If a lesbian sitcom is ever produced, no one is going to force you to watch it. It won't change your life in any way, shape, or form. If you want to get mad about something, direct your anger toward Wall Street or something else constructive.

11:23AM PDT on Oct 2, 2011

Hey! I'm just going to bop over to "Goodbye to Heidi, the Cross-eyed Opossum". I can't take the anger here.

11:11AM PDT on Oct 2, 2011

Well Mike C...that's a "pot calling the kettle black"! You make sarcastic, egotistical, arrogant and negative comments about people almost every time you post. And don't split hairs when you try to say your "generalizing". You're directing that comment at that person! You're "assuming" that all liberals think that way or one way or would do what you say they would. Do you see how it feels when someone says something about you? Do you like it?

Mike, I would never make a negative comment about your lovely wife who passed away from cancer. Congratulations on the 37 years you had together and sorry to hear it ended due to a catastrophic illness such as cancer.

Mike, you need to open and broaden your mind a little and see that not all of us liberals are after your money, trying as "individuals" to "FORCE" you to do everything or anything we believe in. You may be surprised that a few of us agree with some of your points! I have even crossed party lines to vote, for I have voted for the "individual" and not necessarily the party. You may find that we share things in common...such as I love to travel as well. My partner of 16-years this month took me to Europe in 08 for my 50th B-Day to Luxembourg, Paris & Amsterdam and I had a wonderful time!

10:15AM PDT on Oct 2, 2011

christopher., boy you really know, do you live down the street, you are a moron, I was married for 37 years, she died of cancer (maybe you can mack that as well), the profile picture was taken in a train crossing the alps, we had backpacked Italy for 2 weeks, my friend and i, and yes I'm still working and drawing SS, am happy socially as well as financially. the statements you made about me are mean and show what a nasty person you are, but then idiots show their colors.

9:47AM PDT on Oct 2, 2011

Children are dying from starvation and we are concerned about such stuff as this.

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