Swan Queen Shippers and the Need for Lesbian Representation on TV

Curator's Note

In ABC’s Once Upon A Time, Emma Swan is dragged to Storybrooke, ME by her son and soon encounters his adoptive mother Regina (The Evil Queen). Together they navigate what it means to be co-parents to Henry, a negotiation similar to that of divorced or separated parents. Fans of the series picked up on this tension, and started shipping Emma and Regina as a homosexual couple on a fantasy show that rarely, if ever, features homosexual characters (the jury is still out on Mulan). 

The relationship between Emma and Regina, widely known as the “Swan Queen” ship, fulfills an audience’s desire to have a realistic homosexual parenting dynamic normalized by a national television series that does not focus on homosexual relationships or reality. Even though both characters are involved in multiple heterosexual relationships throughout the series, the relationship between Emma and Regina is a central, and arguably more important than any romantic relationship. They both possess traditionally ‘masculine’ qualities that help them fight their battles, and they frequently rely on each other for support. The distance between their relationships as parents and friends is only a few important steps away from being a full-blown homosexual partnership. 

Although Once Upon A Time easily passes the Bechdel Test (a three-step feminist guide to television and film), the popularity of the Swan Queen shipdom calls into question the societal ramifications of having two central lead female characters. Why is it that audience members assume a homosexual relationship between these two women? Is it because they spend more time worrying about keeping the town safe than about their male partners? Is it because they have the audacity to maintain a complicated relationship with each other that is open and truthful? Or is it simply because there is a lack of lesbian representation outside of HBO & Netflix? Most importantly, why won’t ABC let this lesbian fairytale come to life? 




Interesting post. It's funny how you bring up The Bechdel Test as something to contrast the idea of lesbian partnership (your phrasing of "although" at the start of the sentence makes it seem the the ideas are mutually exclusive, but perhaps I'm reading this incorrectly) because Alison Bechdel, the woman credited for this test, is a lesbian. The test first appeared in her comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For, and it wasn't intended on being the feminist lens through we view movies. It was used by a (butch) lesbian character about how she wanted to consume media as a lesbian. I've read really interesting criticisms about the evolution of the Bechdel test and how it has been removed from its original context within the LGBT community, and instead used to prop up (cis, white, straight, mainstream) feminism instead--thus contributing to another branch of lesphobia that you seem to be hinting network TV to be guilty of at the end of your piece. It's really fascinating how these two ideas can go hand in hand, and how a TV show can be so much more entangled in these ideas of homophobia and sexism than we realize on first glance! On a side note, I really need to watch this show, or maybe I should skip to the fanfic instead. ;)

Hi Evelyn, thanks for reading! I think you bring up an interesting point. Although I knew the history of the Bechdel test before your comment, the way I employed it in the piece did present an interesting problem. Thanks again for commenting (and you should definitely watch this show if you like the fantasy genre!)

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