The Female Gays is a monthly column about queer women in pop culture, including but not limited to horny doritos ads, Jojo's Siwa's Disney trauma, Tiffany "New York" Pollard's queer TV show, the most recent straight actresses to play gay, lesbian Super Mario characters, and Cate Blanchett.
It feels like every day I hear about another lesbian love story that never saw the light of day because a studio thought audiences would be scared of two women kissing. From Now and Then making Roberta “straight,” to Scooby Doo cutting a Velma-Daphne kiss, to Love Actually removing two lesbian storylines, to Netflix canceling a show as soon as it gets a little dyke-y, you might think Hollywood hates lesbians. But I think they enjoy challenging our overactive, ultra-horny imaginations by making us project queerness onto characters based on things like hair length, eyebrow shape, and blazer choice. They can take our Velma-Daphne kiss but they can never take our Velaphne fanfiction.
Being erased from the mainstream but constantly toyed with—you’re gonna make funky-button-down-wearing, GI-Joe-loving Roberta straight?!—has made queer women an eagle-eyed audience, our ears perking up at the sight of anything even slightly sapphic. This skill’s come in handy considering it’s been nearly 30 years since Now and Then came out and there’s still a screaming lesbian deficit in pop culture. (And if there is a queer woman she usually doesn’t live to see the sequel.) But that doesn’t stop us from making up our own lesbian characters. We see lesbians everywhere, even where there are clearly none present.
When we meet Naomi Pierce in Succession, for instance, she has a sharp, just-under-the-chin bob and archless eyebrows. She’s wearing a sweater vest layered with a button-down and a long leather jacket—inarguably the gayest outfit a woman can wear. It’s like she’s wearing several different lesbians’ outfits all at once. Not only is she visually queer, but we know she’s slept with Roman Roy’s girlfriend, Tabitha. Despite all signs pointing to dyke, Naomi hooks up with (spoilers ahead!) Kendall instead of Tabitha, forcing queer women everywhere to spit their organic wine out at their TVs before feverishly stitching together clips of Naomi and Tabitha, making it look like they’re girlfriends.
In the absence of actual lesbians on- and offscreen——we can’t survive on Kristen Stewart and Queen Latifah alone—queer women read into every casual hand-touch, lingering eye contact, and Taylor Swift lyric. We ship straight fictional characters like Rachel and Quinn from Glee or Valkyrie and Captain Marvel. We ship straight women IRL simply because of their proximity to each other, like Chloe Sevigny and Natasha Lyonne, Taylor Swift and Karlie Kloss, or any actress and Cate Blanchett.
If an actress plays gay even once, they are officially entered into the lesbian lexicon, which is kind of like the sex chart on The L Word. We’ve claimed Kate Winslet, Rachel Weisz, Cher, Natasha Lyonne, Jennifer Beals, D'Arcy Carden, Maya Hawke, and, of course, Cate Blanchett. In fact, every long, winding line in this version of The Chart would lead to Cate Blanchett.
Some actresses didn’t even have to play gay for their roles to be lesbian canon. Like Winona Ryder in Heathers (and Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, etc.), Brie Larson in Captain Marvel, Sigourney Weaver in Alien, Miss Honey and Miss Trunchbull in Matilda, and JLo in Enough.
Other fictional characters that should be lesbians—again based on things like gait, nail care, and vocal fry—include Olivia Benson from LAW & ORDER: SVU, Lisa Simpson, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Elektra, most of the women in Succession, Shego from Kim Possible, Aubrey Plaza in season 2 of White Lotus, Betty with the headband from Rugrats, and obviously Miss Grotke from Recess.
And you may not have noticed them before, but all the Disney movies you loved as a kid are crawling with queer women. There’s Ursula, Queen of Hearts, Pocahontas, Meg from Hercules, Elsa from Frozen, and Aunt Sarah from Lady and the Tramp who travels alone with two cats.
Projecting queerness onto straight characters and celebrities is as universal a lesbian experience as being turned on by Jasmine in the red bikini. And while the next generation is spoiled with things like Yellowjackets, Riverdale, L Word Gen Q, and an actually gay Velma, it’s still not (nor will it ever be) enough. So we’ll continue to pretend every woman we see is gay. And now that I’ve given you the tools, you can, too!
It’s like Hugh Grant says at the end of Love Actually (after two hours and fifteen minutes of nothing but painfully heterosexual love stories and no lesbians, dead or alive): If you look for it, I've got a sneaky feeling you'll find that love (read: lesbians) actually are all around.