Being a queer teen girl in the late ‘90s meant having to dig deep to try and find our stories reflected back at us. Sure, we all had “Ellen” to look to in those days, but certainly no one out and proud in our own age range. We had to write our own fan fiction about falling in love, having adventures, or saving the day. Today’s queer teen femmes, however, have way more representation to look to. There are now numerous TV shows tackling the coming out stories of young people, showing their relationships, and working hard to push their existence into the mainstream — where it’s always been, if only in the shadows.
The early 2000s tried to start pushing more of our storylines to the forefront with mixed results. ‘The O.C.,” for example, had a brief storyline in season two wherein Marissa (played by Mischa Barton) dates a girl named Alex. Unfortunately, it’s short-lived, and we end up seeing Marissa date more bad boys until things end up decidedly not good for the show’s only openly bisexual character. We did have a more successful run with “Buffy’s” Willow (played by Alyson Hannigan) coming out and embarking on a relationship with character Tara, but most of the queer femme characters outside of that, though fabulous, were older (as in “The L Word“) or in random films.
In 2010, we finally got “Pretty Little Liars,” a show I would have watched sooner had I realized that two of the main characters were young queer women. The show is more about the disappearance of a friend than it is about diving into what it means to grow up queer and femme, but still noteworthy. Three years later, “The Fosters” also offered us some queer rep in the form of a lesbian couple who adopt a bunch of kids — but again, not really heavily centered on the queer experiences of teen femmes.
But if you look at some of the shows to start airing in the last handful of years, you’ll find plenty of TV shows that are giving us the kind of representation folks like myself have been waiting on for ages. “One Day At A Time,” the show revival that revolves around a Cuban-American family, prominently features the coming-of-age storyline of a young queer Latina named Elena. On the show, we get to see how Elena navigates figuring out her sexuality, revealing it to her family, and dealing with their varying responses. In later seasons, we also have the chance to witness Elena’s relationship with her non-binary partner, Syd, and it is all kinds of adorable and refreshing to watch.
The same year, the CW’s “Riverdale” premiered and brought along with it a number of queer characters. While the first season gave us Kevin (the first openly gay character in the Archie Comics universe) in a relationship with Moose (whom all us comic readers kinda suspected), we also had a fair amount of queer-baiting going on, which wasn’t exactly great (who else was thoroughly disappointed at the inherent straightness of Veronica and Betty even after that kiss?). In the second season though, we find bombshell Cheryl Blossom (Madelaine Petsch) coming out as bisexual and even pursuing a relationship with Southside Serpent Toni Topaz (another openly bisexual character, played by Vanessa Morgan). What’s better still is that, despite the disapproval from Cheryl’s mother, their relationship is well-accepted by everyone else in their circle.
2018 introduced us to even more wonderfully queer characters via “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.” This other Archie Comics-spinoff show often brings to light sexual fluidity among the members of the Church of Night — most of which seem happy to pursue sexual encounters with anyone interested. There’s also Ambrose, Sabrina’s queer male cousin, as well as Theo (whom we meet as Susie Putnam in season one but eventually comes out as trans). While Theo may not be femme, what’s really wonderful is witnessing how quickly his friends call him by his new chosen name and use his proper pronouns. Additionally, Theo is played by actor Lachlan Watson who is non-binary themselves, which adds to the authenticity of representation.
One completely under-the-radar Netflix original, 2018’s “Everything Sucks,” may have gotten canceled, but it’s still worthy of your time. This ’90s-set queer coming-of-age story revolves around a Tori Amos-obsessed teen girl who is doing what she can to fit in and survive high school. Spoiler alert: Her love of Tori goes beyond admiration. There’s also another queer character in the mix, but sadly, we don’t get to find out much about her (unless we finally get a season two). Netflix’s “I Am Not Okay With This,” which debuted earlier this year, has very similar vibes to “Everything Sucks,” except it adds a supernatural twist. Also taking place in the 90s, “IANOWT” also centers on a queer main character trying to adjust to teen life while simultaneously coming to terms with her sexuality and the death of a parent. This one hasn’t been renewed for a second season yet, but we’re all hoping with bated breath here.
There are even more examples of queer young femmes finally taking a rightful place on our television screens. In HBO’s “Euphoria,” for example, we have Rue (played by the spectacular Disney-alum Zendaya) as well as her best friend, Jules, a trans girl played by trans actress Hunter Schafer. This groundbreaking show about teens facing addiction, sex and sexuality, and more is beautiful and heartbreaking all at once, and doing a great job in bringing more light to our varying experiences.
While I didn’t have many shows to look to in my own adolescence, it’s exciting to see more representation for today’s queer youth. And while much of the representation remains white-centered, we’re seeing more and more diversity being brought into the mix as well. Being a young queer femme comes with its own set of challenges, but it’s amazing to see how far we’re coming to make sure that they can even find support in seeing their stories reflected back to them. Let’s hear it for the queer teen femmes!