Our favorite characters and their identities reflect our own priorities, values and biases. When properly constructed, a character’s journey can remind us of our own. We compare our flaws and struggles to their weaknesses and trials. As such, our favorite characters end up revealing the most about our own identities. They inspire us to become more heroic versions of ourselves (and most importantly, to kiss the girls we want to kiss).
For the sake of reminiscing about the lesbian and bisexual characters we most identify with, we’ve compiled the following list of our 50 most relatable lesbian and bisexual characters on TV.
Xena-Xena Warrior Princess
Xena is driven by guilt, and seeks to undo her past wrongs. Initially, she rejects Gabrielle’s attempts at companionship, and repeatedly states that she prefers to be left alone. However, Gabrielle perseveres, setting their bond and legendary story into motion. We can all relate to the tendency to push people away, especially when we’re consumed by guilt. Their story, and Xena’s evolution from detached to driven by her love for Gabrielle, remind viewers that all of us deserve forgiveness and a shot at redemption.
Gabrielle-Xena Warrior Princess
Gabrielle travels with Xena despite her reputation for one simple reason: a thirst for adventure (and mysterious brunettes with swords). Though their relationship remains subtextual throughout the series, their connection is undeniable and leads them to chase one another through alternate universes and multiple timelines. Honestly, who wouldn’t follow Xena to Tartarus and back?
Alex artfully embodied the gay mess aesthetic and experience when she tumbled out of that closet with a surprise kiss for Maggie Sawyer in a dive bar. Although Sanvers didn’t last, Alex gained confidence and assurance in her lesbian sexuality with the help of a new haircut and girlfriend, her friend James’s sister.
Santana Lopez- Glee
Sarcastic and occasionally cruel, Santana routinely insults members of the Glee club in order to mask her own insecurities . Her relationship with Brittany starts out with hookups in the bedroom (we’ve all been there) and eventually becomes a marriage. Her emotional coming out scene reveals what we all already knew: that under that rough exterior, Santana was really just a softie.
Brittany S Pierce-Glee
Brittany is initially characterized as the stereotypical “dumb blonde” cheerleader. This trope is later subverted when we learn that there’s more to Brittany than meets the eye. For instance, she develops a friendship with Becky, a student with Down Syndrome. This contrast between appearances and identity reinforces Glee’s overall message: that people cannot be reduced to their high school roles or the parts they play.
Casey Gardner- Atypical
Casey’s first interaction with isn’t intimidated by Izzie’s standoffishness and continues to initiate conversations with her. God bless lesbians and their constant perseverance! She eventually gains Izzie’s trust and respect, as they embark on a close friendship. After an almost kiss, they hold hands. Though their story is just beginning, we can’t wait to see what the writers come up with!
Anissa Pierce-Black Lightning
Anissa is fiercely protective of her family and community, as well as driven by her values. An activist at heart, she stands up for social justice and starts utilizing her powers to bring about positive change. Who would’ve thought that a superhero would be so relatable?
Black Lightning — “Black Jesus: The Book of CrucifixionÃÂ — Image BLK111A_0078b — Pictured: Nafessa Williams as Thunder — Photo: Bob Mahoney/The CW — ÃÂ© 2018 The CW Network, LLC. All rights reserved.
Grace Choy- Black Lightning
Grace checks off two boxes: booksmart and fierce. In a twist, it’s revealed that Grace, who’s dating Thunder aka Anissa, has powers of her own, making Grace and Anissa the ultimate power couple.
Nico Minoru – Runaways
Nico brings us back to our emo and goth days. Perceptive and angsty, she caught our attention from the get-go with her biting observation targeted at her later girlfriend Karolina Dean “Some hide behind makeup, others behind a smile”.
Alice Pieszecki -The L Word
Alice is one of the most beloved characters in the series due to her relatable sense of humor, and readiness to love and be loved. Alice’s shrine to Dana during their breakup illustrates the dramatic nature of lesbian relationships, albeit hyperbolically. And who could forget the Chart? Her proven theory that all lesbians are distantly connected through romantic and sexual entanglements provides a foundational basis for the show, and for the lesbian experience.
Kat Edison – The Bold Type
Kat is driven and outspoken. Her passion for social justice manifests in virtual feuds, as she calls out misogyny and refuses to compromise on her values, especially her feminist ideals. Still, she opens herself up to learning about Adena’s identity, and even recognizes her short-sightedness in judging Adena for running away from the police. This event and Adena’s reaction helps her to realize that she still has much to learn.
Adena El-Amin- The Bold Type
Adena is unapologetic about her faith, even challenging Kat’s preexisting notions about Islam and misconception that religion and feminism are contradictory. Despite her fearlessness in this area, she maintains anxieties surrounding state violence and discrimination, as she runs away when Kat is arrested for punching a racist. She later is able to articulate to Kat that they react differently due to their different upbringings and that her fears are justified. Her commitment to her identities and values is both admirable and relatable.
Clarke Griffin-The 100
Clarke is a selfless and idealistic leader. Indeed, she is motivated by a desire to protect rather than a thirst for power. Throughout the series, she advocates for compassion towards the guilty, providing an alternative to Bellamy’s mercilessness. Like many of us, she is driven by her emotions, which drive her to defend the group from harm. She displays her vulnerabilities to Lexa after losing Finn, who tells her that “love is a weakness”. Unfortunately, she’s proven right when she’s accidentally killed, leaving Clarke to grieve yet another loss.
Stef Foster- The Fosters
Steph was married to Mike when she unexpectedly fell for Lena, who worked at her son Brandon’s school. Despite the fact that she was going through a divorce and wrestling with the uncertainties involving her sexual orientation, she comes out and starts seriously dating Lena. This storyline is unfortunately somewhat uncommon on television, despite the fact that many lesbians start out in relationships or marriages with men. As we know, there’s a disproportionate amount of tragic lesbian love stories in the media, so any lesbian relationships that radiate stability, while simultaneously pushing the relatability factor, can boost lesbian morale and remind closeted or questioning lesbian and bisexual women in straight relationships that they’re not alone.
Lena Foster- The Fosters
Lena initially displays uncertainty about their relationship, since Steph is in the midst of a divorce and discovering her sexuality later in life. This honest portrayal is key because it normalizes the universal lesbian experience of wrestling with doubts and fears. Luckily, she takes the leap and over time develops a stable and healthy relationship with Steph. The success of their union sends the message that happiness in a same-sex relationship is attainable despite potential complications.
Kalinda Sharma-The Good Wife
Kalinda is private and solitary. She’s talented and a hard worker, but resorts to risky methods in order to achieve the results she desires. Her relationships are often a means to an end, as she uses them for information on her cases. Her dedication to her job and to Alicia is both admirable and relatable.
Elena Alvarez- One Day At a Time
Like many young lesbians, quirky Elena Alvarez spends much of her time online. Her endearing moments of gay panic, including her fears related to losing her virginity to her girlfriend Syd, are universally relatable. These moments delicately unfold in a humorous yet sincere manner. The younger generation is extremely fortunate to have Elena to look up to.
Helena “HG” Wells-Warehouse 13
Helena radiates spunk and charisma. She’s proudly bisexual despite the fact that she comes from the 19th century. Her flirtation with Myka, unfortunately, doesn’t lead to a relationship, but the fanfiction and fanart dedicated to these two (almost) makes up for it.
Carmen De La Pica Morales- The L Word
Carmen demonstrates the bravery that some of us have to muster in order to be out and comes clean about her relationship with Shane to her traditional Mexican family. It’s the classic coming out tale that many of us can relate to; her mother initially rejects her identity, but eventually comes to accept her relationship. Though Shane and Carmen’s wedding never occurs, Carmen is remembered as a vital character because she uncovers a more vulnerable and broken side to Shane.
Alex Vause- Orange is the New Black
Alex is the ultimate badass, but under all that bravado lies a soft and nerdy soul. In prison, she admits to trading her anti depressants in for some black eyeliner (gotta admire the devotion to her aesthetic). While most of us can’t relate to the prison experience, we sure can vibe with her sarcasm and general dark humor. Despite the betrayals she’s experienced, she remains loyal and dependable.
Marceline- Adventure Time
Known for both her angst and her silliness, Marceline reminds us of our teenage selves (if they were cooler and had an axe guitar). Her captivating performance of the song “I’m Just Your Problem” directed at Princess Bubblegum during a feud epitomizes lesbian drama. Their relationship remained very subtextual up until the finale, where a kiss finally occurs.
Olivia Spencer-Guiding Light
When Olivia falls for her best friend Natalia, she tries to hold herself back from acting on it, especially since Natalia is engaged. The added complication of their children being in the picture pushes Olivia to exercise self control. However, this merely delays the inevitable, when they declare their feelings for one another after Natalia literally escapes her own wedding. Though most lesbian relationships don’t start off with a runaway bride, the experience of attempting to deny the reality of an attraction due to potential familial complications is not an uncommon one.
Princess Bubblegum-Adventure Time
Princess Bubblegum is a perfectionist, which puts her at odds with Marceline, whose attitude is basically to wing everything. She creates the candy people out of a need for companionship (lonely lesbian mood). Like Clarke, she’s a selfless leader, but unlike Clarke, she usually remains rather composed, even in the face of conflict and danger. Her relatability, however, lies in her prioritization of friendship and justice, as well as her desire for freedom, hindered by her responsibilities. Like many of us, she struggles with balancing her duties and her urge to let loose, but she eventually becomes a less domineering ruler.
“Garnet” aka Sapphire and Ruby- Steven Universe
Steven Universe has been called the “gayest cartoon on television” for its surprisingly subversive characterizations. The show became the first mainstream children’s cartoon to depict a proposal between two female characters: Ruby and Sapphire, as well as the first same-sex wedding in a later episode. In a fun reversal of roles, Ruby, who typically fills the “butch” role, wears a navy suit, in contrast to Sapphire’s dress and the flowers in her hair (yes, she’s a floral gay). In classic lesbian fashion, Sapphire Ruby and Sapphire’s love is anthropomorphized into “Garnet”. A lesbian love so powerful that it becomes its own character defies the norm and sets an important precedent for all children’s shows.
Bette Porter-The L Word
Bette is relatable in terms of her personality flaws, such as her workaholic nature and infidelities. Her redemption arc is so satisfying to watch because we can identify with her and as a result root for her and her reunion with Tina. She’s additionally a loyal friend and sister, as well as a brilliant creative mind.
Dana Fairbanks-The L Word
Dana remains such a beloved character because her transformation from insecure to proud of her sexual orientation is one many of us undergo as well. She requests help from her friends when trying to determine Lara’s sexuality, resulting in a humorous scene where Shane attempts to seduce Lara. That scene is so necessary because it encapsulates the lesbian struggle: trying to date other women despite faulty or nonexistent gaydar. In one of the most memorable moments of the entire show, she comes out to her cat Mr Piddles, which resonated with me because the first “person” I ever came out to was my cat.
Piper Chapman- Orange is the New Black
Piper is commonly referred to as the most irritating character on Orange Is the New Black, however I’d argue that this aversion is tied to her relatability. Piper originally embodies common flaws such as a self-centered focus and a tendency towards manipulation.
However, over time, exposure to different worldviews and experiences uncovers a more self-aware and compassionate side to her, as she constantly attempts to improve conditions for the inmates in the prison. As she gains notoriety and power over time, she begins to take risks and makes mistakes, such as cheating on Alex with Stella, played by Ruby Rose. Her growth throughout the series serves as a reminder that our personalities and identities don’t remain stagnant.
Frankie Doyle’s reputation as a badass is a stark contrast to the vulnerable side, exposed in the form of therapy sessions and intimate conversations with her therapist Bridget who she falls in love with. Her defensiveness blossoms into protectiveness and loyalty as a result of her relationship with Bridget. She becomes more responsible and dependable thanks to the stability and constant support that the relationship provides. Though Frankie and Bridget temporarily split up when Frankie is incarcerated again, they find their way back to each other in true lesbian fashion.
Suzanne “Crazy Eyes”- Orange Is the New Black
She fixates on Piper and pursues her relentlessly, even throwing a pie for her (leading to the best line of the show: “I threw my pie for you”). Who hasn’t gone overboard for an ill fated crush? Like a classic fan fiction lesbian, she dabbles in erotica as well, and her legendary “time hump chronicles” become a hit with the inmates.
Tasha Williams-The L Word
Tasha originally prioritizes the military over her relationship with Alice, which leads to tension between the two and later a breakup sparked by Alice’s decision to out an NBA player. However, when she witnesses Alice being interrogated about their relationship, she sacrifices her army career for an out relationship with Alice. She’s loyal to a fault, opting to stay with Alice despite her feelings for Jaime.
Shane McCutcheon-The L Word
While we can’t all relate to being players or getting all the girls, we can relate to attempting to mask our insecurities with meaningless sex and alcohol, or to mucking up the perfect relationship due to our fears and past traumas. Shane bottles up her emotions and rarely expresses them, leading to a history of volatile and short-lived relationships.
Helena Peabody-The L Word
Initially spoiled, Helena Peabody relies on her mother to resolve her conflicts. However, after her mother cuts her off, she moves in with Alice and begins to blossom as a character. She remains generous and selfless, especially going to great lengths to protect her friends from harm.
Emily Fields- Pretty Little Liars
Emily initially attempts to pass as straight by dating a boy named Ben, who attempts to rape her but is stopped by Toby. As a result, Emily befriends Toby and even accompanies him to the dance. In her friend group, she’s known as the loyalest one as well as the sweetest. She starts a relationship with Maya St Germain, who is killed. Despite this tragedy, she manages to start several relationships throughout the series and eventually even starts dating her best friend Allison who she was previously in love with.
Fiona Coyne- Degrassi
Fiona is Degrassi’s first main lesbian character. In true Degrassi fashion, Fiona has a plethora of issues to address, mainly her struggles with alcoholism, as she drinks to numb herself from emotional pain. Through her recovery journey, she’s able to come to terms with her sexuality. Though she initially crushes on her best friend, Holly J, she eventually finds partners that are able to reciprocate her feelings, such as artist Charlie and later her friend Imogen. Fiona’s relability lies not simply in her self destructive tendencies, but also in her ability to eventually overcome them, and develop healthy relationships.
Bo Dennis-Lost Girl
Bo Dennis is characterized as sexually and emotionally independent at the beginning of the series. Over time, even the previously untamed succubus U-hauls with Lauren, her doctor, who teaches her to control her supernatural urges. Despite her identity as a succubus and her attraction to Dyson, Bo settles down with Lauren at the end of the series, and they get the idyllic fairy tale happy ending that we rarely see for lesbians on television.
Mercedes Moller- Perdona Nuestros Pecados
Mercedes Moller prioritizes her faith, as well as her father’s approval, but simultaneously develops feelings for her friend Barbara. She suffers from guilt and shame as a result of this cognitive dissonance. Internalized homophobia is unfortunately still a relatively common phenomenon as a result of compulsory heterosexuality. After a long journey, including a brief engagement with a man, she accepts herself and lives with Barbara unapologetically. Demands for a sequel to the story exploded all over Twitter after the finale. Fingers crossed!
Luisa Gomez- Amar Es Para Siempre
When Luisa is kissed by Amelia, she freaks out, despite reciprocating the kiss. When she discusses the kiss with her sister, she calls love between two women “unnatural” and expresses great distress at the idea of her parents finding out. After receiving a love letter from Amelia, however, she decides to surprise her with a romantic dance. Recently, Amelia was hospitalized by her father for homosexual behavior and undergoes shock therapy.
This leaves her traumatized and temporarily unable to continue her relationship with Luisa. However, Luisa refuses to give up, and eventually is able to get through to her. Rarely will a TV show address the ugly history of shock therapy treatments for homosexuality, especially with such poise, compassion and sensitivity. While thankfully that history remains just that, history, Luisa’s character development illustrates the positive impact of accepting one’s identity and prioritizing love over social comfort.
Willow Rosenberg-Buffy the Vampire Slayer
When we first meet Willow Rosenberg, she’s a shy computer nerd who avoids social interaction. In one of the most epic glow-ups in television’s history, Willow becomes the most powerful witch in the world, in part thanks to her girlfriend, the late Tara Maclay. Tara’s death unleashes the wrath of Dark Willow, Willow’s grief and magic induced alter ego. Thankfully, Willow was able to reign her powers back in and regain self-control. Many of us can identify with Willow’s journey from timidity to assurance and self- confidence.
Naomi became my favorite Skins character the moment she told James: “you couldn’t make me feel alright if you stapled your tongue to my clit and stood on a cement mixer”. As with many of our fierce characters, Naomi has a hidden vulnerable side, which she eventually reveals to Emily. Naomi repeatedly sabotages her relationship with Emily because of her fear of attachment and her reluctance to let her guard down. I’m still pretending Skins Fire never happened.
At the beginning of her story arc, Emily is constantly in the shadow of her twin Kaitie. We begin to notice that she has a unique identity of her own, as she finally carves out her own space and sets boundaries with Katie. Though Emily is characterized as innocent, she’s the one who initiates a relationship with Naomi, despite Naomi’s reluctance to let herself fall in love. From this dynamic comes one of the most powerful quotes from the series: “I do want you, so be brave and want me back”.
Callie Torres- Grey’s Anatomy
Our favorite memory of Callie Torres is of her dancing in her underwear and getting caught by the chief. We were immediately hooked, because who doesn’t embarrassingly dance in their underwear sometimes to blow off steam? And then she kisses Erica despite her fears while she’s looking for her keys. When Arizona corners her in the bathroom after her breakup, she’s a tearful mess, but then Arizona kisses her and we get a glimpse of the old Callie Torres and her spunk. After she decides to end her relationship with Arizona, she can finally stand on her own two feet. And it’s a beautiful sight to behold.
Arizona Robbins – Grey’s Anatomy
When we first meet Arizona, she’s fiercely protective of her feelings and hesitant to embark on a relationship with Callie. This side of her is contrasted with the silly and relatable one, the one that rolls around the hospital in wheelies. Arizona’s “good man in a storm” speech introduces us to a more emotional and vulnerable side of her. All these facets of her identity come to together in powerful ways throughout the series, and contribute to the anguish we felt when Callie and Arizona officially called it quits.
Waverly Earp- Wynonna Earp
At the beginning of the series, Waverly settles for Champ, an emotionally stunted and homophobic “boy-man”. Thankfully, her reunion with Wynonna and her attraction to Nicole push her to fight for what she truly wants and conquer her fears. She bravely relays these fears to Nicole in a beautiful and sincere speech that leads to a passionate make-out session. I’m beginning to think that being afraid of pretty and badass women is a universal lesbian experience.
Nicole Haught- Wynonna Earp
Nicole is a supportive friend, even platonically qualifying Wynonna’s behind as “top shelf”. Her admiration and adoration for Waverly are the basis for their relationship and our obsession with Nicole. We can definitely identify with the experience of fangerling over the girls we like and love. And who didn’t cheer when Nicole finally punches Champ?
Erica Hahn- Grey’s Anatomy
Erica is initially characterized as the “hard-ass” of the hospital, but through her coming out journey we experience the emotionally vulnerable aspect of her identity. The “glasses” speech, in which she compares Callie to glasses that finally allow for her to see the truth about herself (aka her gayness), had us in tears because we could all relate to just how eye opening dating women truly is, especially since it’s never presented as an option by heteronormative society. Erica played a vital role in teaching Callie to accept herself and her identity through her normalization of the lesbian experience.
Jenny Schecter – The L Word
Okay so hear me out on this one. Yes, Jenny behaved pathologically and manipulatively throughout the series, eventually damaging many of her friendships (giving them each a motive for murder).
However, there are some aspects of Jenny’s character that I find very relatable. The first is her initial awe when she’s introduced to the lesbian world. Many of us got drawn to the lesbian experience in certain ways before actually coming to terms with the reality of being a lesbian. Secondly, Jenny’s use of art and creative self-expression as further explorations of the homosexual experience is a common one. Some of us also write about lesbianism (such as the Afterellen team) because we know how vital it is for young gay viewers consuming gay content to recognize that their experiences are valid and even common in the community. Finally, though Jenny took involvement in her friends’ personal lives to a destructive level, we can identify with the investment into our friends’ relationships for instance as we want them to be happy and fulfilled.
Moira-the Handmaid’s Tale
Despite being stuck in a dystopian world where lesbianism is a crime due to the prioritization of male pleasure, Moira refuses to let herself be a prisoner. Despite the fact that our society is not as outwardly dystopian as Gilead, lesbians still struggle with the societal emphasis on male pleasure and subvert it just as Moira did by simply existing without a male partner.
Anne Lister- Gentleman Jack
This new show is such a hit because of Anne Lister’s characterization as a badass lesbian who wears “masculine” clothing and refuses to play by society’s rules. She also subverts the player trope, since players in the media are typically heterosexual men. Despite her entanglements with many high society women, notably due to her charisma and charm, she desperately searches throughout the season for a partner or “wife” to settle down with.
Ann Walker-Gentleman Jack
Ann has been obsessed with Anne Lister since her youth. Despite her infatuation with her, it takes her a while to fully commit to Anne due to her fears around capital punishment for homosexuality and her desire to please her family members. Finally, Ann accepts Anne’s proposal and expresses to her that she cannot live without her (same Ann, same). Though our anxieties aren’t the same as Ann’s were, we still had to conquer our own fears and expectations surrounding lesbian love.
Jane the Virgin- Petra Solano
Petra falls for her lawyer Jane Ramos on this season of Jane the Virgin. The way she realizes she has this crush is so relatable: through her subconscious (she has a sex dream about her). In one of the most satisfying scenes of the season, she comes out to Jane while in tears. Though they broke up, we’re holding out for an epic proposal scene in the finale.