Here We Go Again: Why I’m Sick of The Way Lesbian Relationships Are Portrayed on TV

I feel like a bad bi girl for saying this, but I’ve never watched Wynonna Earp. Even more criminal, I never watched Supergirl past season one, and I don’t plan on going back and watching either of these shows. I know what you’re thinking. Before you go and attack me with your stray bullets, please hear me out. It’s not that I don’t want to support media that portrays sapphic women in a positive light, because I one-hundred percent do. It’s just that I’m sick of the stories that television writes for women who like women.

Though there are a few exceptions, it seems that every relationship between women (and to a different degree, between men) in live-action TV has followed the same template. Person A meets Person B. Less than a season later, Person A and Person B are in a relationship. Then, unable to write two people happy and in love for long, the writers often find a way to manufacture tension between the two, often by cheating, a love triangle, or some other extenuating circumstance. If audiences are lucky, Person A and Person B face no real problems at all, and they’re endgame. In theory, this seems fine. After all, quick courtships happen all the time. However, when I look at the state of sapphic relationships in TV with respect to straight relationships, I’m beginning to see a troubling pattern.

On TV, straight people get slow burns. Straight people get epic romances and several season long love stories. Straight people get throwaway couples in season one and endgame couples in season seven. They get Jake and Amy from Brooklyn Nine-Nine, they get Jim and Pam from The Office. They get Fitz and Simmons from Agents of Shield. Straight people get longing stares and will-they-or-won’t-they. They get fun banter in season one, mutual pining in season two, and full relationship confirmation in season three. Straight people get a slow, developed love story. Gay people get less than one season of development and then three seasons of pointless, manufactured drama.

I understand that slow burn romances and mutual pining isn’t for everyone. Some people are just impatient; they want to see the two attractive people kiss right away, and that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with that. However, the problem isn’t with sapphic fans who like to see themselves represented on screen. The problem is with TV writers who don’t know how to write sapphic relationships.

I think that the root of the problem is the fact that many TV writers don’t think that sapphic women can lead TV shows, and, by extension, that a love story between women is unable to sustain a TV show similar to a story between a man and a woman. After all, there’s a reason why fan-favorite sapphic relationships such as Wynonna Earp’s Wayhaught and Supergirl’s Sanvers are supporting characters instead of the leads of their respective shows.

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Waverly Earp (Dominique Provost-Chalkley) and Nicole Haught (Katherine Barrell ) in Wynonna Earp

However, it’s still possible to create a plausible will-they-or-won’t-they romance between two supporting characters. In Veep, Dan and Amy had palpable chemistry and an intense will-they-or-won’t-they for years before finally consummating their relationship (off-screen) in season six, despite both being members of the show’s supporting cast. Sure, the two do not end up together in the end, but the fact that they kept audiences on the edge of their seats for so long with their chemistry is a testament to the fact that it’s possible to write a truly developed dynamic between two supporting characters. If it’s possible to do this with two straight supporting characters, then why have so few done it with their bisexual and lesbian supporting characters?

The state of sapphic relationships on TV makes me wonder if TV writers know that sapphic fans have attention spans as big as those of straight fans. Because so many sapphic relationships are written to come together so quickly, I wonder if TV writers think that sapphic fans need official canon confirmation right away, or else we won’t watch their show. After all, I’ve known many shows that suddenly blow up in popularity on Tumblr after people get wind of a kiss between two women. For example, I’d never even heard of Wynonna Earp before my Tumblr dashboard became flooded with gifsets of Wayhaught (and surprisingly, not of the titular female protagonist). Moreover, though I’d watched The 100 since before season two, I didn’t see it become a large phenomenon until Clexa happened. If what I said above is true and some TV writers are using sapphic relationships to draw in sapphic fans without actually caring about writing a good story, then I am insulted, and those shows don’t deserve my views to begin with. I’m not saying that every love story between women should be an epic will-they-or-won’t-they, but god, I’d like to be able to think of at least three off of the top of my head. 

You can tell me that there are slow burn sapphic relationships in animated TV, and you’d be right. Korrasami in Avatar: The Legend of Korra and Marceline/Bubblegum from Adventure Time are both extremely well-written ships with well-deserved fanbases. However, despite how well those pairings are written, the fact that they exist in animated shows means that they lack the verisimilitude that live-action TV offers. When you’re watching live-action TV, it’s easy to pretend, just for a moment, that your favorite characters are real, because you see them living and breathing in actual human bodies. When you’re watching an animated show, you never get that courtesy.

When the only slow-burn sapphic representation on TV is animated, it’s easy to begin to believe that slow-burn sapphic relationships are as much of a fantasy as water bending or vampires. When you only see one type of sapphic relationship on live-action TV, it’s easy to begin to believe that that one type is all that exists in real life. I want to see a woman who breathes like me who pines like me on TV. Straight people get that all the time, so why shouldn’t I?

Sure, you point me to Brittanaon Glee. But considering that in Season 2 of Glee, one of the major Brittana storylines was Brittany cheating on Artie with Santana after Santana told her that it wasn’t cheating due to the “plumbing being different”. I don’t know about you, but I’m reluctant to accept any relationship where the bisexual girl is portrayed as both a cheater and someone so dumb that she gets near-manipulated into cheating by an excuse so sorry as “the plumbing is different”.

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Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh) and Villanelle (Jodie Comer) in Killing Eve

Sure, Killing Eve also exists, and I love Killing Eve. Yet, I kind of hate that my only will-they-or-won’t-they sapphic representation is something so dysfunctional. Again, I love Killing Eve, but I’d also love a TV show where the slow-burn lesbian relationship is treated as pure and good and endgame as so many straight ships are. I know that beggars can’t be choosers, but for the love of God, I’m so sick of being a beggar.

If you think about it, there’s really no reasonthere aren’t more slow burns between women. After all, isn’t it the gayest thing to constantly be wondering if the person you love loves you back? Isn’t it the gayest thing to give your crush longing stares and look away when they look back? Isn’t it the gayest thing to keep quiet until your love becomes explosively, unbearably loud?

It would be so easy to write a good slow burn between two women. Find a script with a love story between a man and a woman and change all the names and pronouns. Then, remove all instances of toxic masculinity and replace those with moments of tenderness and women supporting women. There, now you’ve got a believable love story between women.

I want a love story between two women, and I want it to be epic. I want it to break my heart and leave me breathless, on the edge of my seat waiting for a mere hand touch for weeks on end. I want a several seasons long journey filled with mutual pining and absolutely no cheating whatsoever. Not every relationship between women has to be a slow burn, but I’d at least like a few. Does that sound so hard?