Influential Queer TV: Top Past LGBTQ+ Episodes in Nerdy Media

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As my fellow writers, Cam, Brian, and I discussed on our Pride Month episode of The Cosmic Circle, we live in an amazing time for gay dweebs. Well… Maybe not on a government level, but at least in the media, we are flourishing like never before. We no longer have to watch for any LGBTQ+ show that might provide some representation; we can now find shows we see ourselves in that fit our tastes. For a long time, the queer community struggled to find crumbs of representation in the movies and television shows we enjoyed. In celebration of this new era of LGBTQ media, let’s take a look at the ghosts of gays past. Here’s my list of influential episodes in queer TV history (with a “nerdy” slant, of course!), and some of the stepping stones that led us to where we are today!

Star Trek episode 2×01 “Amok Time”

In 1969, gay history was made when Star Trek aired an episode entitled “Amok Time.” Now, you might ask, is ‘Amok Time’ an explicitly gay episode?


Is it the reason modern-day queer fanfic exists?


Blow a kiss to the sky for the writers of “Amok Time” and the fans who watched it. They are the reason you can stay up until 4 AM on a workday reading fan written takes of all your favorite shows where everything is the same, but this time the two guys kiss.

In “Amok Time”, Spock undergoes Pon Farr, a seasonal condition male Vulcans experience where they need to find a mate, or they’ll die. Spock invites Kirk and McCoy to come to the wedding he’s having to fix that little issue, but his would-be bride has objections to this whole arrangement. She would much rather marry someone other than Spock, and so she demands that Spock battle a man of her choosing to the death before she agrees. She ends up choosing Kirk, and ridiculous amounts of homoerotic sparing and rolling around in the dirt ensue.

When the fight concludes and the interpersonal drama is solved, Spock says he no longer needs to find a mate. Wrestling with Kirk was satisfying enough that it resolved his Pon Farr, a plot resolution with so many implications it may single-handedly destroy heterosexuality as a concept.

Star Trek Spock and Kirk battle in Amok Time
Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and Kirk (William Shatner) battle in “Amok Time.” (Star Trek/Paramount)

Thus began one of the first explosions of gay fan fiction as we know it today. Zines were made. Housewives formed long chains of fan fiction pen pals. Many of their works are still archived online to this day.

While this episode was not explicitly queer, the writer Theodore Sturgeon made it as queer as he was allowed to. Soon began the modern iteration of the sacred gay tradition of searching for every bit of LGBTQ+ subtext you can find and writing your own story. When you see a show with queer potential and think, “I wonder if someone has written a version of this I can see myself in,” remember to thank your foreparents in fandom.

Xena: Warrior Princess episode 6×07 “The Rheingold”

Time for a lesbian cult classic: Xena. The 1995 show Xena: Warrior Princess blazed the trail for female action heroes and queer women alike. This show is one of the big reasons we got Buffy the Vampire Slayer and many other queer female-led shows.

Xena follows the tale of a famous warrior trying to redeem herself by helping the innocent and defenseless. More importantly, it’s about an almost six-foot-tall muscular woman and her beautiful soulmate Gabrielle. There are Valkyries and Amazons galore. What more could you ask for?

The relationship between Xena and Gabrielle is iconic, but not entirely canon. Or I should say, not canon if you’re blind. Throughout the run of the show, the actors said they weren’t playing it as romantic. After the show ended, they went back and forth saying it was gay or that it was up for interpretation.

Different writers on the show have different opinions on whether or not the couple is platonic or not. There’s plausible deniability. Or, as much as you can have when your two female leads kiss and are confirmed to be soulmates.

Xena and Gabrielle Queer TV episodes
Gabrielle (Renee O’Conner) and Xena (Lucy Lawless) in Xena: Warrior Princess (Universal)

There are plenty of staggeringly gay moments in Xena, but the episode I’ve chosen for this list is “The Rheingold.” Technically, the Ring Trilogy is three episodes long, but it comes together to make one incredibly gay arc.

In order to defeat a beast, Xena must put on a ring that can only be worn by someone with great love, whose love will soon be taken from them. In doing so, she loses all her memories of Gabrielle. In the meantime, Gabrielle turns down a woman’s advances because of her devotion to Xena. The culmination of the arc is quite literally Gabrielle trapped in a ring of fire that only her soulmate can free her from. Despite not remembering her, Xena finds herself pulled to Gabrielle and frees her with a kiss.

Not quite sure how that qualifies as “up for interpretation,” but that was the state of queer media for a very long time. You could have the queerest plotline imaginable and still have to fight for confirmation that you’re not crazy, that it truly is queer. No matter what, Xena: Warrior Princess is still incredibly gay, and a huge landmark for nerdy queer media.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode 7×20 “Touched”

I won’t lie, I was sorely tempted to make my Buffy episode selection “Once More With Feeling” due to the inherent queerness of having a campy musical episode, but “Touched” made nerdy gay history and so alas I must give it its dues.

Even before it was explicitly queer, Buffy the Vampire Slayer resonated with its LGBTQ+ audience. One of the fundamental components of supernatural monsters is that they mirror societal issues and fears, at the very least in their origin.

Vampires began as an exploration of fear of religious and sexual deviance. Fear of witches often sparked from concerns of women going against societal norms. Just about every monster has explored the questions of “What if you had irrepressible urges that go against cultural morality?” or “What if there are beings that cannot be allowed to exist with the rest of the community?”

That in of itself is pretty queer. Queer people have often found themselves mirrored in monsters, and Buffy is no exception. From Buffy “coming out” to her mother as the Slayer, to Tara’s family essentially trying to send her to conversion therapy for being a witch, the supernatural elements of the show have always alluded to the queer experience.

Buffy the vampire slayer Willow and Kennedy Queer TV episodes
Kennedy (Iyari Limon) and Willow (Alyson Hannigan) in Buffy The Vampire Slayer episode “Touched” (20th Century Studios)

However, “Touched” changed the game by having the first lesbian intimate scene on American Network TV. While Buffy the Vampire Slayer has been known to indulge in more problematic queer tropes, airing a scene like that in 2003 was revolutionary. I may never forgive the writer’s “bury-your-gays”-ing Tara, but at least Willow and Kennedy got to make history!

Doctor Who episode 1×13 “The Parting of the Ways”

Rejoice! The current season of Doctor Who is incredibly gay. Perhaps gayer than ever before.

That being said, Doctor Who has a long history of celebrating its queer fan base, and if we’re talking about queer history, we have to talk about Captain Jack Harkness.

Jack was the first openly queer companion. He expresses interest in every gender, and there’s not much of a fuss made about it. His story is less about being queer and more about being in space. Jack is also the first man to ever kiss the Doctor, which is why the episode “Parting of the Ways” is on this list.

“Parting of the Ways” features the first same-sex kiss of the Doctor Who franchise. Jack says goodbye to Rose, tells her she’s worth fighting for, and then kisses her. Then, he turns to the Doctor and says, “I wish I never met you, Doctor. I was much better off as a coward,” and kisses the Doctor in the exact same way he just kissed Rose.

Doctor Who Nine, Rose, and Captain Jack Harkness
Christopher Eccleston and John Barrowman in Doctor Who (BBC)

Captain Jack’s queerness is explored more in the spin-off series Torchwood, but this was a huge moment for queerness in the Doctor Who universe. While there are moments in the series where queerness is handled a bit less tactfully, this was a big step forward.

It’s moments like this that led us to the Doctor we have today, played by a Black gay man with a male love interest. Things are looking bright for queer Doctor Who fans.

Sense8 episode 1×06 “Demons”

Joining a long legacy of canceled queer shows, we have Netflix’s Sense8. This show is incredibly queer. It’s queer enough that when I was researching the specific episode I’d like to focus on, multiple Reddit threads popped up asking “Is Sense8 LGBT propaganda?” and “What’s with all the LGBT?” Like it or not, this is a show made by and for queer people.

Sense8 follows eight people around the world who suddenly find themselves to be mentally linked together, and have to help each other not be killed by those who see them as a threat. The show features couples like Nomi and Amanita, a white trans woman with her Black bisexual wife, and Lito and Hernando, two gay men in a closeted relationship living together in Mexico City.

Sense8 Queer TV episodes
Freema Agyeman and Jamie Clayton in Sense8 (Netflix)

This series was a big step forward in terms of diversity. Oftentimes, the queer representation we get is between two cis-gender white people. Sense8 explores all different types of queerness.

One of the best things about Sense8 is how it incorporates its sci-fi elements into its queerness, and no episode is a better example of that than “Demons”. Mental linking in this show is triggered by intense emotions, and in episode 6, that includes sex.

To keep it incredibly brief, episode six features a scene wherein four of the eight link up during sexual encounters in different locations. It highlights the show’s sexual fluidity. The characters in question are a gay man, a transgender lesbian, and two straight men. It’s a cross-continental hivemind experience about human connection, and a very unique scene. No one was making anything like that at the time. I don’t think anyone has made something like that since.

Despite being canceled, Sense8 remains a look into how sci-fi can explore the queer experience. The LGBTQ characters aren’t an afterthought. The world building and queerness are woven together. Here’s to more of that in the future!

Steven Universe episode 5×23 “Reunited”

This one goes out to all my fellow cartoon nerds. While I did consider giving this spot to my girls Princess Bubblegum and Marceline from Adventure Time, Steven Universe takes the cake due to its sheer genius of avoiding censorship.

Steven Universe Queer TV shows and episodes
Image from Steven Universe (Cartoon Network)

Steven Universe was a landmark show for gay representation. It was a kid’s show about crystal space aliens with an almost entirely LGBTQ+ cast of characters. There are numerous same-gender couples baked into the fabric of the show, along with a literal race of fem-presenting nonbinary aliens, but for a very long time, censors aimed to cut as much of that as they could. If an episode of Steven Universe was too queer and not plot-important, they’d cut it overseas. If a shot could be cut, it was. Sometimes, countries outside of the US would try to give characters more masculine voices in dub, so a couple could appear to be straight.

“Reunited” changed that. In a brilliant move, the show’s sapphic wedding takes place in one of the most important episodes of the show, so it could not be cut. Ruby and Sapphire have their wedding, and then directly afterward, the series’ central villains show up in a pivotal plot point.

Additionally, they put Ruby, who was sometimes dubbed to sound like a boy, in a wedding dress. It was a complete and utter middle finger at any attempt to make this show less gay than the creators intended. Props to the Steven Universe team!

Black Mirror episode 3×04 “San Junipero”

Black Mirror rarely gives us an episode that does not leave everyone with a general sense of nihilistic dread, so props to them for giving one of the more hopeful stories to the queer ladies.

Black Mirror, Queer TV episodes
Mackenzie Davis and Gugu Mbatha-Raw in Black Mirror (Netflix)

“San Junipero” follows two women, Yorkie and Kelly, and their unfolding romance in a beach-side resort town that seems to jump through time. The pivotal twist of the episode is that neither of these young women is all that young. The town San Junipero is a simulated reality that the elderly can try out and then upload their souls to after death.

Originally, the script was written for a heterosexual couple with an unhappy ending. But then it was instead edited to be two elder queer women who can finally achieve the love and authenticity they weren’t able to have in their lives.

“San Junipero” is the type of story queer people don’t often get. It’s a radically hopeful sci-fi tale of embracing authenticity. A bi-racial love story between two women where neither of them die (or, in this case, experience soul death) at the end? Even just a few years ago in 2018, that was uncommon. Understandably, sci-fi is usually a way for us to explore our fears of the future, but sometimes stories of hope and queer joy can be even more impactful.

What queer TV episodes would you include on your list?

We’ve come a long way with queer TV and other media, and hopefully, our journey to acceptance will only continue. Of course, since the history of LGBTQ+ media is vast, I wasn’t able to include every influential nerdy episode on this list. Are there any you’d suggest? Let us know on social media @mycosmiccircus!

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