Is 2024 The Year Of Queer Women (and yes, Lesbians)?

Reneé Rapp & The L Word cast at Coachella, Tracy Chapman in custom Prada at The Grammys, Queen Latifah and her partner at The Met: We are officially everywhere.

Earlier this spring, 20-year-old former Dance Moms star turned disconcerting solo act, JoJo Siwa, declared she wanted to start a new genre: “gay pop.” After internet backlash (and side-eye from the likes of Tegan and Sara), Siwa doubled down: though she no longer claims to have invented it, the “Karma” singer still wants to see an “official” gay pop genre established, one that’s searchable on iTunes.

If JoJo had checked in on some of the coverage coming out of Coachella this spring, she might have realized that gay pop—and queer music across styles and genres—is already dominating the mainstream. Coachella is one of the biggest, most profitable, most famous music festivals in the world; it’s a good reflection of where popular music and all of pop culture at large is headed. And if I had to sum up Coachella 2024 in three letters, I’d choose these ones: G-A-Y.

Ludmilla and Brunna at Coachella (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

Actor, musician, and Broadway darling Reneé Rapp was introduced for her set by the original cast of The L Word and hard- launched her girlfriend, fellow musician Towa Bird, with a kiss on stage—all while two giant scissors, well, scissored in the background. Bisexual icon Victoria Monét used her mic to mimic a strap-on. Billie Eilish teased a new song, “Lunch,” about eating a girl out. Brazilian singer Ludmilla danced on stage with her wife, Brunna. Queer artist Brittany Howard brought the house down while wearing a sparkly, colorful caftan, and British indie-rock band The Last Dinner Party performed their hit single “Nothing Matters,” inspiring the kind of hype shared by fellow queer bands MUNA and Boygenius.

Renee Rapp Performs Onstage at 2024 Coachella  (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images)

No Coachella moment was more thrilling than watching from afar as the Missouri- born singer-songwriter Chappell Roan (whose September 2023 debut album, The Rise and Fall of a Midwest Princess, is in constant rotation in my lesbian household), dedicated “My Kink is Karma” to her ex while wearing a harness (sans strap-on) and a tank top reading EAT ME. I’m thrilled that she’s been getting introduced to new audiences on her meteoric rise these past few months. I haven’t loved a pop album this much since I was a teenager; whenever I play it, Midwest Princess gives me that giddy, I-can-do-anything feeling; it’s a perfect, no-skips, nothing-but-enormous- bops album. Chappell writes about queer heartbreak in a way that perfectly captures how all of us have felt at one time or another: totally obliterated by another woman. Plus, she’s just so much fun, taking aesthetic inspiration from drag queens to put together big, campy looks: huge hair, feature-exaggerating, clownish makeup, some lipstick smeared artfully on her teeth. Lately it feels as though people are dancing less at live gigs; I’m grateful for big, joyous performers like Chappell who makes it impossible not to dance to her music, even if you’re alone in your living room listening to “Red Wine Supernova” for the three thousandth time.

“Is Chappell Roan storming towards mainstream success,” asked a viral tweet in April, “or are all my friends and mutuals just gay?” I think it’s clear what the answer is: both! A gay sensibility has always infused mainstream pop culture, but when it comes to music, movies, television, sports, and just general vibes, 2024 seems more lesbiany than ever. Euphoria actor Hunter Schafer casually dropping in an April GQ interview that she’d dated the iconic Spanish singer- songwriter Rosalia—and that they remain good friends—is the kind of gossip that could have fed us representation-starved lesbians of the not-too-distant past for months. But in these extremely gay times, the news barely made a blip. After years of steadily building in popularity, professional women’s soccer and basketball are more widely watched and beloved than ever, which is happy news for the many queer fans of both. And we can’t forget that we kicked off the year with an incredibly moving and historically significant Grammy performance by the legendary Tracy Chapman (giving Black butch excellence in custom Prada), with Luke Combs. Combs’ 2023 cover of Chapman’s “Fast Car” introduced that gorgeous, devastating song to new audiences.

 Tracy Chapman Performs Onstage During the 66th Grammy Awards (Photo by John Shearer/Getty Images)

As a practically lifelong Kristen Stewart fan (I first fell in love with her in the kid’s heist movie Catch that Kid, when we were both preteens), I find the evolution of the A-lister’s career and the way her love life’s been covered in the press to be the best indications of our current moment in lesbian pop culture. When I first started writing about queer celebrity news, a decade ago now, gossip papers tended to describe any woman Stewart was holding hands with in public as her “gal pal.” Until Stewart had “officially” come out by using the word “gay” to describe herself for the first time, in an SNL monologue in 2017, both fans and press alike felt uncomfortable identifying her as such—even when Stewart wasn’t exactly hiding in the first place.

After years of being cagey about her sexuality, in large part because the media was so manic about it, Stewart is now happy to publicly brag about how much she loves her fiancée, the screenwriter Dylan Meyer. Plus, a career that began with the gigantic hetero blockbuster series Twilight has evolved to see Stewart taking roles in smaller, more interesting independent films. One of the most exciting movies of 2024 is director Rose Glass’s romantic thriller Love Lies Bleeding, in which Stewart plays a reclusive gym manager who falls in love with Jackie (Katy O’Brian), a gorgeously jacked aspiring bodybuilder. The Love Lies Bleeding press cycle, which has seen Stewart and O’Brian shamelessly flirting with each other, has been almost as fun to watch as the movie itself. (In that way, they remind me of House of the Dragon costars Emma D’Arcy and Olivia Cooke, whose fabulous chemistry in promotions for the HBO series’ upcoming second season recall their viral 2022 moment that had lesbians drinking negroni sbagliatos all summer.)

Dylan Meyer, Kristen Stewart Arrives on the Red Carpet for the 94th Academy Awards. (P. Lehman/ Getty Images)

And Love Lies Bleeding isn’t the only big lesbian movie from the past couple years— not even close. It arrived this spring soon after the release of Drive Away Dolls, a lesbian buddy comedy starring Margaret Qualley by director Ethan Coen, co-written by his wife, Tricia Cooke, who identifies as both queer and a lesbian, and describes her marriage as “non-traditional.” Some of today’s buzziest young stars, including Ayo Edebiri, Kaia Gerber, Rachel Sennott, and Nicholas Galitzine, starred in last year’s Bottoms, an uproarious, over-the-top, critically praised satire by Emma Seligman about two high school best friends, who are both lesbians and virgins, trying to get laid.

Boomers, Gen Xers, and even millennials will remember a time when you rarely saw lesbians in popular media—and if you did, they tended to be in the closet, or coming out, and their stories almost all ended in tragedy. It wasn’t until 1985’s Desert Hearts that mainstream audiences saw a lesbian couple who wasn’t punished for their lesbianism, and for decades afterward, queer joy in pop culture remained elusive. In my early 20s, when I first started dating other women, the only lesbian movie straight people in my life had heard of was 2013’s Blue is the Warmest Color, another lesbian tragedy with infamously graphic sex scenes; the film’s young stars later alleged horrible, exploitative treatment on the older male director’s set. In 2021, SNL spoofed the “lesbian period drama” in a sketch starring Carey Mulligan, poking fun at the self-seriousness of a spate of historical queer films released in the 2010s and early 2020s.

Actor turned podcaster and entrepreneur, Sophia Bush, came out as queer and confirmed the long-suspected rumors that she’s in a relationship with soccer star Ashlyn Harris in Glamour’s April 2024 cover story. I hadn’t read a similar coming out essay from a big celebrity in years–the whole thing felt very dated. Not that I’m not happy for Bush, whom I obviously crushed on while watching her in One Tree Hill in the aughts. It’s just that the formality of coming out in a magazine, a la Ellen’s historic “Yep, I’m gay” TIME Magazine cover in 1997, no longer feels so necessary. Besides participating in an LGBTQ photo series in 2015, The Idol star Lily-Rose Depp, for example, never bothered to officially come out as anything; she simply started publicly dating the singer 070 Shake, confirming their relationship with an Instagram post last year.

To be fair, Bush probably felt compelled to set the record straight (or queer, as it were) because her dating another woman came in the context of her recent divorce from her ex-husband, as well as Ashlyn Harris’s messy breakup with her ex-wife, fellow soccer star Ali Krieger. Harris and Krieger are just two of professional soccer’s famous lesbians, among the likes of America’s sweetheart Megan Rapinoe and the legendary Abby Wambach, the highest all-time goal scorer for the women’s national team, who brought a tear or two to my eye when, following a win at her last ever World Cup, Wambach kissed her then-wife Sarah Huffman, who leaned over to embrace Wambach from the stands. (Some early reports and photo captions mistakenly referred to Huffman as a “friend” or “fan,” something I doubt would happen today.) Between all the fun gay gossip and continuing record-making athletic prowess of the NWSL, plus the buzzy new stars of the WNBA, lesbian sports fans are positively spoiled for choice.

When Gen Z lesbian superstar Reneé Rapp brought out the cast of The L Word to kick off her Coachella set (confusing a lot of the straight people in the audience), I became momentarily overwhelmed, thinking of how much has changed in the lesbian pop cultural landscape since 2004 when Bette, Tina, Alice, and Shane first rocked our worlds. The L Word was rebooted for three seasons of The L Word: Generation Q, though it was canceled in early 2023 following negative critical and fan reception; A New York-set reboot with original creator Ilene Chaiken is reportedly in the works. I didn’t even end up finishing Gen Q’s third season. Ten years earlier, abandoning a show with an all-queer cast would have been inconceivable to me. At the time of its release, The original L Word was totally unique, and even when things started to get crazy- town by the last season, which became, inconceivably, a murder whodunnit, most lesbians I know stuck with it anyway—because, bad as it got in the end, it was ours, and it was all we had.

The Cast of the TV Series The L Word Brings Out Singer Reneé Rapp Before Her Coachella Performance (Dania Maxwell / Getty Images)

Now, there are so many lesbians on television alone that even I, someone who covers queer pop culture for a living, haven’t watched anywhere near all the shows now featuring queer women characters. There remains a dearth of lesbians of color and butch women onscreen— more butches on TV, PLEASE!!!—but with every new greenlit project, the lesbian television landscape grows, affording us new storylines and perspectives. I wasn’t a huge fan of HBO’s True Detective: Night Country, released earlier this year, but did I watch every single episode just for Jodie Foster and her costar, the alluring Kali Reiss? You bet I did.

 TCM Honors Actress Jodi Foster with Hand and Footprint Ceremony at TCL Chinese Theatre (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images)

Speaking of Jodie Foster—who could forget the famously private actor’s weird, rambling speech in 2013, when she accepted the Cecil B. DeMille Award at the 70th Golden Globe Awards and acknowledged her sexuality without actually using the words “lesbian” or “gay”? Foster is from a generation when openly expressed queerness could kill your career; so is Queen Latifah, who took her longtime partner, Eboni Nichols, as her date to the Met Gala this May. Latifah was not hiding her partnership, exactly, as she and Nichols have made some red carpet appearances before. But the Met Gala was by far the biggest international stage upon which Latifah, who, like Foster, has been infamously cagey about her sexuality, has ever stood proudly arm and arm with her partner. And it was beautiful to behold.

 Eboni Nichols and Queen Latifah Attend The 2024 Met Gala (Photo by Arturo Holmes/Getty Images)

When JoJo Siwa claimed, hilariously, to have invented gay pop, I thought about the time in 2016 when Sam Smith mistakenly referred to themselves as the first openly gay man to have won an Oscar. It’s tempting as queer people to think of ourselves as trailblazers. Many of us grew up representing any number of firsts: we were the first openly gay person in our family, maybe, or the first openly gay person in our high school, or the first gay person our friends personally knew. Sometimes we felt terribly alone, like we were the only one who understood what it meant to be different. How lucky we are, then, to live through changing times, when no singular queer person has to bear the enormous pressure of representing all the rest of us. Simply being gay doesn’t mean an actor or a musician is necessarily breaking down barriers, or doing anything particularly radical. And queer celebrities and queer stories are no longer rare enough where we might feel compelled to support them just for the fact of their gayness. No—we can consider quality now, what we really want from our queer icons and queer narratives. In 2024, we have choices. And I am so, so grateful for that.

SHANNON KEATING is a writer, editor, artist and culture critic from Connecticut, now living with her wife and dog in Liverpool, England. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, New York Magazine’s The Cut and Vulture, Slate, BuzzFeed News, The Atlantic, Salon, Bustle, and many others.

What Do You Think?