Forever in our hearts: The queer female couples that should have been

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Georgina Hayes
Editor

For LGBT+ history month, Georgina Hayes looks at the popular female ships in TV and film that should – and could – have become a reality

With TV shows like Killing Eve and films like The Favourite becoming awards season darlings and immediate fan-favourites worldwide, it’s an exciting time to be a queer woman that spends far too much time behind the big and small screen. It feels like for the first time in cinematic and television history, we’re finally getting more than just breadcrumbs of intentionally-placed longing glances and ambiguous lines about love or friendship. The last couple of years alone have seen a surge in representation of queer women in TV and film that’s making it slowly unrecognisable to what we were used to even five years ago – it’s rumoured that even Disney might be looking to jump on this welcome bandwagon (looking at you, Frozen 2).

So, congratulations to the Cheryls and Tonis (Riverdale) and Thereses and Carols (Carol) of the fictional universe – I’m really happy for you, but this one is for all the queer female couples that didn’t make it. From couplings that might have just been more entertaining than what really happened (number 4), to pairings that were robbed so badly of a happy ending I genuinely do think it’s homophobic (number 1), here’s a definitely incomplete list of all the female couples that could – or should – have been.

Quinn Fabray and Rachel Berry – Glee

Quinn Fabray and Rachel Berry – or “Faberry”, as fans called them – is a love for the ages whether the Glee writers wanted them to be or not. It’s no secret that Ryan Murphy ruins everything he creates, and “Faberry” was no different – he recently admitted to being “devastated” about the mistakes he made with the series, and I doubt anyone can blame him.

For those of you that didn’t fall into the Glee trap during your teen years, the story of Quinn and Rachel is a simple one at first glance: popular, beautiful and intelligent head cheerleader Quinn (Dianna Agron) begins the series concerned with only three things – maintaining her popularity, insisting upon her Christian image and “torturing” (she uses that exact word) the unpopular, socially awkward, show choir-loving Rachel (Lea Michele). Although that all sounds very cliché, their relationship quickly transcended the tired cheerleader/unpopular girl trope and became something unusual, fragile and beautiful.

First of all, Quinn’s bullying quite literally screams repressed lesbian, especially considering she’s from an unforgiving Christian family: she draws pornographic pictures of Rachel on bathroom walls, calls her defeminising nicknames, comments obsessively on her social media profiles and, crucially, only seems to care about her boyfriend Finn when Rachel specifically shows interest in him. “I know that husbands cheat on their pregnant wives,” she tells him once, before adding: “Just don’t do it with her.”

Still, despite Quinn rarely being anything other than mean to her, Rachel still pursues a friendship with Quinn with dogged persistence – something that the blonde eventually acquiesces to in the beginning of season three, sparking a journey of mutual understanding and genuine concern for each other that no other friendship or relationship on the show came close to. On their journey from enemies to “friends”, to Quinn tearfully asking Rachel who she was singing a love song to (yes, that actually happened), the rest of the Glee universe queer-baited “Faberry” fans in a way that they wouldn’t get away with a short handful of years later.

“Do you have any idea what you mean to me?” Rachel asks a teary-eyed Quinn in season three as they discuss how far they’ve come since their sophomore year. She probably didn’t, but the fans did.

Quinn is quite literally the female equivalent of Karofsky (the football player who bullied Kurt only to actually be secretly in love with him) in the series, except Quinn and Rachel’s storyline wasn’t shoehorned in like the latter, and the signs had been there from episode one.

“I think the whole world is rooting for you and Quinn Fabray,” a character tells Rachel in season five, which is perhaps the most self-aware Glee ever got. It’s okay, though – as with every lesbian couple that should have been, the fanfiction for it was written better than the actual show anyway.

Beca Mitchell and Chloe Beale from Pitch Perfect

We’ve all seen the shower scene in the first film. We’ve all seen the almost-kiss scene that followed it a few minutes later. We’ve all seen both actresses – especially Anna Kendrick – express disappointment and outrage that Beca and Chloe didn’t get together at the end of the third film. A lot of lesbian couples that never quite became canon all get a similar criticism: “You’re imagining it,” they say. Well, with Beca and Chloe we most certainly weren’t: the official promotional social media channels for the final Pitch Perfect film posted videos of the two cosying up with the captions “Will Beca and Chloe get together? Go and see Pitch Perfect 3 to find out!” The chemistry was there, the queerbaiting on behalf of the film producers was there, the actresses wanted it to happen and so did the audience. As with Faberry, these two seemed not to make it because the powers that be were more interested in queerbaiting and then shoving a monotonous heterosexual relationship down everyone’s throats. And the saddest part? Both Glee and Pitch Perfect would have had much better, and more memorable, franchise endings if they’d have followed the path they were baiting fans with.

Emma Allen and Olivia Lerner – Bride Wars

Bride Wars, a 2009 wedding comedy about a pair of best friends-turned-enemies in the face of a clashing wedding date, missed a very unique opportunity when it decided to force its two leads into passionless, eye roll-inducing heterosexual relationships that did nothing to further the plot. Although a commercial success starring Anne Hathaway and Kate Hudson, the film was panned critically – and you’ll never guess what many of the critics said would have improved the film.

Manohla Dargis of The New York Times in her official review of the movie wondered what the film might have been if the writers had explored a “potential lesbian subtext suggested by the opening scenes”, and she wasn’t wrong. In the opening scene of the film, young versions of Emma and Liv are routinely rehearsing for their wedding to each other, and the fallout that ensues in their adult lives makes it clear the two women are far more interested in each other than their boring fiances. The chemistry between Hathaway and Hudson was so sizzling and brimming with genuine love for the other (as well as perfect comedic timing) that Bride Wars could, and should, have been a trailblazing romcom where the shock twist is that the reason they were so upset about a wedding clash is because they really wanted to marry each other.

Alice Cullen and Bella Swan – Twilight

Before the mutiny begins, I want to make it very clear that I was just as enamoured by Edward and Bella a decade ago as every other twelve year old; I know that their love was sincere, and I’m not here to convince anyone that Bella was secretly pining after Edward’s undead, adoptive sister.

What I am saying, though, is that Alice’s character could easily be read as queer, as could Bella’s (I mean, it’s Kristen Stewart – come on). The chemistry was always there: their first meeting in Twilight lingered a little too long, and Edward was constantly testy by Alice and Bella’s friendship throughout the series. Also, let’s acknowledge the fact that while we all may have found him very romantic in our preteens, Edward Cullen is quite literally the vampiric equivalent of Joe from You. If it were Alice that fell for Bella instead of Edward, a lot of extremely problematic disasters could have been avoided – the marriage and the undead baby that quite literally kills Bella, to name but a few. A lot of the more troubling gender dynamics of the Twilight Saga could have been avoided or at least minimised if Alice and Bella got together instead.

Emma Swan and Regina Mills – Once Upon a Time

Now, I must confess: I’ve never watched a single episode of Once Upon a Time in my life, and I don’t intend to either. But this ship has been so unsinkable that I first came across it in 2012 when I was still in school and still used tumblr, and now – all the way into 2019 – I’m still seeing entertainment websites lambaste the series for not making “Swan Queen” a canon-official couple. Despite not watching the show, I can see just from stills alone how much chemistry these two characters have (their scenes are so romantically compelling that I’ve genuinely seen GIFs that made me assume they’d finally got together), and it seems to be the most enduring ship-that-isn’t to grace television screens.