Queer Awakenings and the Middle-Aged Actress

Last month, my external hard drive failed and sent every piece of media saved on it into oblivion.  It was the shit topping of an already terrible year. My hard drive had nearly every movie, television show, interview and convention appearance Mary McDonnell has ever appeared in/at. My Mary folder was the culmination of hundreds of hours of searching the internet, downloading, lamenting the terrible quality of older YT videos, ripping DVDs, and trading with other Mary fans to fill out our collections. It was a near-complete anthology of Mary’s work.  And, in one corruption, it was all gone.  I was (and still am) devastated.

Hot on the heels of my Christmas to New Years rewatch of Battlestar Galactica, I began the arduous task of rebuilding my collection. This evening, in my searching, I stumbled across a fan video that I had never seen before. I paused my efforts to watch it. I’m not sure what my expectations were, but they were exceeded in every way imaginable.

Senior Year: A Nonfiction Musical from CASH|MARY on Vimeo.

Initially, I was pulled in by the title because of an inside joke between a friend and I last year. I almost didn’t survive the video when the first song began. However, I pushed through and I am so glad that I did. I was dumbfounded at how these people had stolen my life. Topics I have discussed in the last 24 hours include: The line “Fuck you too, Carlos” in Passion Fish, Mary’s hair, Mary’s legs, Mary’s giggling, and Mary’s mouth. It is a fair assessment that I relate to this video on a spiritual level.

Once I finished wondering how these people turned my life into a short, I found myself considering the significance of the lead character’s queer awakening courtesy of Mary McDonnell.

“I’ve come to realize this afternoon

Mary makes me swoon.

I think I might be kind of gay for Mary.”

There is more truth in these lyrics than one would believe. I have a group of friends who have all, at one point in their lives or another, gone through a “Mary phase”. While I am by far the most outspoken of the group – and most likely to post on social media and bug my non-fandom friends with my constant Mary talk – we all are/have been attracted to Mary McDonnell.

There are dozens of women in their twenties and thirties walking around this world at any given moment daydreaming about Mary McDonnell.  Don’t believe me? All you have to do is go to the Mary McDonnell tag on Tumblr.  You will find women falling all over themselves for Mary.

blogHere’s a small sampling of my favorite tags taken off a run-of-the-mill picture of Mary as Sharon Raydor on TNT’s Major Crimes.

While Mary McDonnell is my own personal favorite brand of hilarious, fiercely feminist, outspoken, middle-aged woman who refuses to take herself too seriously, I recognize that she is not every woman’s cup of tea. Nearly every older actress in Hollywood today has a group of significantly younger queer fans.

For many queer female fans, these older women are not only crushes; they serve as a girl’s ‘queer awakening’. Queer awakenings are those magical, terrifying moments when a person realizes that they are not straight. Many, many moons ago when I was first experiencing this phenomenon I developed a massive, very scary crush on one of my co-workers. Since I was about 75% sure she was het and I was not at all comfortable with expressing my confusing emotions at that time, I turned to a safer alternative: my blossoming attraction to Olivia Benson on Law and Order: SVU.

Law & Order: Special Victims  Unit -- Season 15 There’s a 0% chance that I’m the only one who’s ever had a queer awakening thanks to Olivia Benson

More recently, I was privy to a dear friend’s awakening. One moment she was completely confident in her heterosexuality.  The next moment, she found herself questioning her identity. All it took was Mary McDonnell and a sugar cube. Ok, and maybe a fair amount of soul searching…

The circumstances vary for each woman, but there are always astounding similarities.

  • One of my dear friends is madly in love with Cher – who’s only about 5 decades older than her
  • Another friend has a serious thing for Carla Gugino (who is the youngest actress in this blog post – but still a full decade older than my friend)
  • My best friend shares my tastes and is smitten with both Mary McDonnell and Amanda Tapping.
  • Then there are all of my Tumblr friends falling all over themselves most recently for Sidse Babett Knudsen from Westworld.

While this is all rather anecdotal, there is growing evidence to support this phenomenon. In Allure’s first “Anti-Aging” survey, they found that “LGBT respondents are more likely to be attracted to people older than them by more than 10 years compared to straight respondents” (Source).

Maxim is well known for their Hot 100 in which the men’s magazine ranks the hottest female celebrities of the year.  Similarly, After Ellen – a site for queer women – comprises their own list ranking “the hottest women, according to women.” While the politics of ‘ranking’ women according to physical attractiveness is a post for another day, it’s important to remember that we all find people attractive. There is merit in examining these two lists because the lists’ demographics provides an excellent contrast between what heterosexual men and queer women find attractive.

Maxim’s list features 3 women over the age of 40: Sofia Vegara (44), Eva Longoria (42), and Penelope Cruz (42).  All of these women fall into the bottom half of the list with Penelope Cruz ranking highest.

By contrast, After Ellen’s list features 22 women in their 40s. Two women in their 50s make the list: Jennifer Beals (53) and Mariska Hargitay (52). There are also two women in their 60s: Dana Delany (60) and Lorraine Bracco (62).  With the exception of Jennifer Beals, who comes in at 77th, the women over 50 land in the top half of the list.  Mariska ranks the highest at 29th – putting her squarely in the top third.

Not only is After Ellen’s list comprised of older women, those women rank higher up the list. While Penelope Cruz (41) holds the 64th spot on Maxim’s list, Angie Harmon (44) is the highest ranking woman over 40 on After Ellen’s Hot 100.  Angie Harmon holds the 5th spot. Danielle Cormack (46) holds the 9th spot and Sasha Alexander (43) is 11th.

There are as many women over the age of 40 in After Ellen’s Top 15 as there are in Maxim’s entire list.

The average age of Maxim’s Hot 100 is 28.42 years old.  After Ellen’s average age is 33.17 years old.

blog-chartFor more visual people, let the charts speak for themselves.  Women skew towards older female celebrities more than men do – in every measurable way.

While it’s impossible to know the ages of women responding to After Ellen’s ranking, it’s obvious that they find a wide range of female celebrities attractive.

So what’s the point of all of this? That “serious kink for women twice my age” trait isn’t as unusual as you might think it is. If you find yourself swooning over an older actress, you are far from alone. Sexuality is a complicated and dynamic human trait. It does not fit into the tight constraints that society often tries to force it into. Exploring one’s sexuality with celebrities or fictional characters is a completely normal practice. In some instances, it can provide a safe alternative not available in the real world – especially if you live in a conservative atmosphere. So you go on and do your thing. Love that older lady in all of her perfection!

And, if you find yourself falling for Mary McDonnell in particular, please come find me.  I haven’t discussed Mary’s legs in about twelve hours now and I can already feel myself going through withdrawal!




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