Sarah Paulson thought about not thanking her girlfriend at the Emmys. She's glad she did.
Sarah Paulson was a standout at the 2016 Emmys.
Her roles in "American Horror Story" and "The People v. O.J. Simpson" had fans and critics alike rooting for the actress long before she even hit the red carpet.
She ended up snagging Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series for her role in the Simpson crime anthology.
As she stood on stage, Paulson publicly apologized to the real life person she portrayed on screen, Marcia Clark — the head prosecutor in the O.J. Simpson murder trial.
"The more I learned about the real Marcia Clark, not the two-dimensional cardboard cutout I saw on the news, but the complicated, whip-smart, giant-hearted mother of two, who woke up every day, put both feet on the floor and dedicated herself to righting an unconscionable wrong," Paulson said in her speech. "The more I had to recognize that I, along with the rest of the world, had been superficial and careless in my judgment."
The apology made waves across the internet for days.
But it was a different, less reported line in Paulson's speech that the actress said she was unsure about: Should she thank her girlfriend?
"Holland Taylor," she said, concluding her speech by addressing her partner. "I love you."
It was just one sentence, but it made a difference.
In a recent interview with The Guardian, Paulson opened up about the double standard in straight relationships and queer ones when it comes to public affection and visibility in Hollywood, and why she wouldn't let it deter her from living honestly (emphasis added):
"In terms of my speech, I wanted to say I love you to the person I love. Everyone else does it, so should I not do it because the person I love is a woman? And so I thought, you know what? I’m just gonna do it. I wasn’t worried over it. It was a flashing thought — ‘should I do it?’ And I thought to myself, ‘The fact that I am having this thought is wrong in the first place.’ The idea that I would have to take a moment before I say this to consider what impact it might have that could be negative is an asinine thing to engage with mentally, and I refuse to do it. So I just said what I wanted to say."
Paulson's win was celebrated as one of several big moments for LGBTQ women at the Emmys this year.
Openly queer Jill Soloway, the creator of "Transparent," won Best Directing for a Comedy Series — "Topple the patriarchy!" she yelled gleefully from the stage during her speech — while "Saturday Night Live" star Kate McKinnon, the series' first openly lesbian cast member, snagged Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series. Laverne Cox, who became the first transgender artist to be nominated in an acting category last year, also presented the award for Outstanding Directing for a Variety Special.
"Thank you, Ellen DeGeneres, thank you, Hillary Clinton," McKinnon said as a nod to two big names she's impersonated (flawlessly) on her rise to stardom, as the audience laughed.
Don't let the 2016 Emmys fool you, though. TV still has a ways to go before LGBTQ actors and characters are depicted fairly on screen.
Although progress has been made, there's still not enough quality representation in primetime programming — especially for transgender characters, women, and people of color, as the 2015 GLAAD "Where We Are On TV" report found.
What's more, when LGBTQ characters are included, they too often fall into dangerous tropes that perpetuate negative stereotypes. Hollywood also has a tendency to kill off LGBTQ characters or avoid giving them happy endings: "bury your gays," as it's been coined throughout the years.
Too often, queer characters are written more like props — not as complex, real people.
Media representation matters because if and how we see ourselves in the world around us (including on our TV screens) helps shape our own self perceptions in big ways.
Paulson understands no one Emmy win or captivating speech can shift an industry overnight.
"It’s a complicated thing to talk about," Paulson said when asked about how her speech plays into the bigger theme of trailblazing LGBTQ women. "The issues this raises are big and important. I don’t want to give superficial answers."
But — thanks in part to actresses like Paulson, McKinnon, and Cox — more girls and young women can see themselves in their favorite TV series and the Emmy speeches that make history. And that's big.