Movies come and go, like this summer’s splashy Ocean’s 8 with Cate Blanchett playing it gayer than she did in Carol.
Television though. That’s the real MVP, where the shows and characters that come into our lives once a week for large chunks of the year. We get to see their ups, their downs, their professional lives, and their domestic ones. Often, we know more about them than some of our friends and colleagues after a few seasons.
It’s also been a much friendlier medium for queer women and depicting their relationships. Coming of age in the UK during the 90s I found solace and representation in popular soaps and gritty dramas like Brookside and Bad Girls. In the US, the biggest coming out after musicians kd lang and Melissa Etheridge was an emerging comedian called Ellen DeGeneres.
And where did Ellen come out? Not at your local multiplex, but on TV. So if the television is our spiritual home, how are things looking for women who love women in what still qualifies as the Golden Age of television?
To make the list fair and representative, femslash ships must follow two basic rules: 1) both characters must still be on the show – sorry, Sanvers! and 2) the show itself must still be on the air – so long, Swan Queen!
Canon femslash ships
AvaLance – Legends of Tomorrow – CW
What happens when a time-travelling former assassin crosses paths with a badass detective from the Time Police? Flirting, of course.
Sara Lance and Ava Sharpe had more tension than an exceptionally-taut tripwire, and this time the tension has been allowed to bubble over. With more twists than a roller coaster, not to mention the occasional blue fluffy monster, Legends of Tomorrow doesn’t pride itself on being any kind of serious show.
What is serious is the depth of the feelings that these two women have caught for each other. Whether they’re joining forces against the big bads, or simply lounging around in bed together, they make for compelling viewing.
WayHaught – Wynonna Earp – SyFy
Wynonna Earp is not without its critics, but one shining light from the show has been the development and centred focus on the relationship between Waverly Earp and Nicole Haught.
Why do the queer ladies flock in droves to this onscreen representation? Well, for a start there’s the whole cop thing. We do seem to love a lady in uniform. Throw in great comedic timing from both actresses and a splash of supernatural in the show, and it’s practically lesbian catnip.
More than that, it’s been an organically developed ship from almost the first episode of the show, with tons of chemistry and that rare thing for a pairing between two women: a story that continues after they get together. With showrunners aware of the ‘Bury Your Gays’ climate, it seems there’s one couple it’s definitely safe to invest in.
Anissa/Grace – Black Lightning – CW
The great thing about CW shows is that they often have years of comic book canon behind them, even if the show takes its own path. Like when fans heard Maggie Sawyer was coming to Supergirl, as a lesbian character it was safe to assume gayness was afoot.
Not only is Anissa Pierce out and proud (not to mention a legitimate superhero) she starts the series with one interesting and attractive girlfriend, and has moved on to the fun-loving and enigmatic grace in the space of a short season one. For those of us who don’t necessarily want insta-monogamy and only one couple to choose from, it’s a win/win.
Worth checking out for Anissa flexing in her superhero garb alone.
Vauseman – Orange is the New Black – Netflix
Have we really spent six years with these idiots? Asked with love, of course. Surely the only thing worse than going to prison is your ex showing up, one you parted with on terrible terms?
Still, Piper Chapman and Alex Vause have navigated those choppy waters. Neither Piper’s boyfriend nor the confines of jail could stop them, even through betrayal and separation, not to mention the terrible food.
Not many of us believed they’d go the distance, but here we are with a prison wedding and big soppy declarations of love all the same. As a bonus, you get some other great pairings along the journey like Poussey and Soso.
Kat/Adena – The Bold Type – FreeForm
Think Devil Wears Prada but with Snapchat instead of Sidekicks. Warning: if you’re over 30 this show will age you like a ripening pear. It’s still fun though, and there’s Miranda-Priestly-meets-Cat-Grant in the form of Jacqueline Carlyle.
While some may ship her with Jane, the real Sapphic action is found in Kat and Adena. Take one Muslim lesbian photographer and artist, combine with an ostensibly straight biracial social media manager, and sparks. will. fly.
In keeping with the times this goes far beyond a coming out arc for Kat, and labels are no big deal for most of the characters. By the second season we’re exploring polyamory and open relationships, without it once being exploitative or sensationalised.
Plus the core girls have an amazing friendship, making it an antidote for cynical times.
Non-canon femslash ships
Of course, those of us who have been around for a while don’t always trust shows to do it right. There’s still something to be said for shipping based on chemistry and subtle moments rather than being handed an established relationship on a plate. After all, we can’t force ourselves to like a pairing just because the writers have decided to make it happen. We like what we like, and for queer women, the habit of shipping through subtext is maybe to ingrained to ever give up entirely.
Not that you have to justify why you’d like those two hot ladies to make out with each other. We’re all in favor of that.
Supercorp – Supergirl – CW
Anyone who knows me personally knows this isn’t my personal cup of tea (Supercat, always and forever, baby!) but there’s no denying the juggernaut presence of the Supercorp presence in the Supergirl fandom.
To be fair, Lena and Kara do share an inordinate amount of long looks and breathy pauses. There’s even a bridal carry or two in there when Kara’s in Supergirl mode. Whether the writers do it on purpose or not, there’s no denying that thousands of women show up every week just to pronounce Katie McGrath’s every utterance and raised eyebrow really really gay.
Hicsqueak – The Worst Witch – ITV and Netflix
I’m as surprised as anyone to find one of my favourite childhood characters on this list, but when it comes to Hecate Hardbroom I may just have been slow on the uptake.
The Worst Witch does have the innocence of a kids’ show but in subtext and fandom imagination, the combination of Hecate and her childhood friend/crush Pippa Pentangle, headmistress of a rival school, is something distinctly more adult. (Yes, Pippa is played by the woman from Britain’s Got Talent. No, I don’t know either.)
Queer women have long had an affinity for witches, so perhaps this isn’t so surprising. If you don’t fancy the traditional blonde/brunette pairing that femslash ships seem to default to, there’s always Hecate/Ada for those who prefer the slightly older lady.
Grace/Frankie – Netflix
Age is no barrier to shipping, and when it comes to Grace Hanson and Frankie Bergstein, they’re already putting sex back into your seventies with their vibrator business.
Since their husbands left them to be gay with each other, a lot of the audience for this Netflix show have been clamouring for the next natural progression: Frankie and Grace being gay for each other. At various points it really seemed to be going there, only for roadblocks to pop up along the way. We’ll have to see what season 5 holds, but in the meantime the comedic timing and the Fonda/Tomlin chemistry is worth watching in its own right.
Emily/JJ – Criminal Minds – CBS
Criminal Minds has been running for eleventy billion years, and these two characters haven’t always been in it. Sometimes they’re fake dead, sometimes… other things happen. But when they do share a screen, as they currently do, fandom goes nuts for their chemistry and shipping potential.
Maybe it’s that they’re great at being awesome women in a boys’ club, that they’re as smart as they are lethal, or that they’re the funniest people in what could otherwise be a dull but scary procedural.
People have been shipping them for years now, and they don’t show signs of stopping anytime soon.
Maze/Linda – Lucifer – Netflix
This almost didn’t qualify when FOX cancelled Lucifer. Thanks to Netflix, the day has been saved, along with the potential for Maze to act on her very strong feelings for Linda. Sure, one is a demon from actual hell and the other is a psychiatrist, but why should that get in the way?
The actors are as into the idea as the fans, frequently expressing their support for the ship on social media. It’s hard not to get caught up in the enthusiasm!
That should hopefully offer a little something for everyone, with the overwhelming feeling now that we finally have some choice. Add in the recently departed or the temporarily off the show options, and the field is looking healthier than ever.
What’s your current favourite ship? Did it make the list?
Lola Keeley is a writer and coder. After moving to London to pursue her love of theatre, she later wound up living every five-year-old’s dream of being a train driver on the London Underground. She has since emerged, blinking into the sunlight, to find herself writing books. She now lives in Edinburgh, Scotland, with her wife and three cats. With Ylva Lola has published The Music and the Mirror.