The Lesbian Appeal of Maura Tierney

From “ER” to “The Affair,” Maura Tierney remains an enduring queer icon.

Many sets of lesbianic eyes will be lustily scanning the small screen to scope out actress Maura Tierney when Showtime’s fourth season of The Affair premieres June 17. Tierney plays Helen Solloway, the jilted ex-wife of Noah Solloway (Dominic West) whose liaison with a married waitress (Ruth Wilson) unravels their lives. Some, like the current managing editor of queer outlet Into (and former NewNowNext contributor) Trish Bendix, are hoping for a storyline that will cast Tierney in a lesbian love affair. “I’m holding out hope that Helen will soon move on to women after dating and marrying disastrous misogynists,” she says. (With all the shark-jumping craziness that ensues on the series, it’s not a far-fetched scenario.)

Bendix isn’t the only one jonesing for a dyked-up Tierney. In fact, it’s a commonly heard echo in the Twitterverse: “Will someone cast Maura Tierney as a lesbian? Please?” one woman tweeted.

Ever since Tierney’s entrée into television history as mathematical genius Lisa Miller on cult hit News Radio and nurse-cum-doctor Abby Lockhart on mainstream megahit ER, she’s been exciting lesbian loins the world over. “When I was at AfterEllen,” Bendix, who once edited the dyke site, says, “she was a reader favorite—even voted by lesbian/bi women into a spot on our Hot 100 poll during the height of her ER years.” It’s been three decades since Tierney’s initial arrival on the scene and her queer fanbase remains as steadfast in their devotion to her as ever. Although all signs point to full-blown heterosexual, the question of Tierney’s sexuality continues to titillate, and women, whether they are straight or gay, seem especially enthralled with her.

The two women who operate her fan accounts, @GiveMauraAnEmmy and @MauraTierneyFan, while not gay themselves, are absolutely, certifiably mad for her. (Exhibit A: “Maura Tierney could hit me with a truck and I’d say thank you and ask her to do it again” @GiveMauraAnEmmy once wrote…!) The duo, Henni and Shelby, who just launched a website devoted to “Mo” as they affectionately call her, sent me their analytics confirming that 76% of their Instagram followers are female. While most of that 76% are presumably straight, no matter: A common refrain among hetero female fans is that the Boston native, who was married to actor Billy Morrissette for 13 years before she filed for divorce in 2006, could turn them queer: “Maura Tierney holds the distinction for being the only woman I would go serious lesbian for,” the Broadway star of Frozen Patti Murin declared on Twitter.

What is it, exactly, that makes Tierney an enduring lesbian icon? “Maura has this kind of swagger and masculine energy that reads as queer,” Bendix says, “It’s similar to someone like Kendall Jenner for the younger set.” Her “androgynous stature and voice,” she adds, aided by her sartorial choices and irreverence, I’ll add, give her a quintessentially queer air.

The Voice

Tierney’s vocal chords alluringly blur the line between feminine and masculine in all the right ways. Here she enticingly tosses her head from side to side, sexily inhaling a cigarette with her signature insouciance before a gangly, geeky boy:

The Style

Although she’ll sport a high femme get-up at award shows and events (below), her customary look is urban cool—skinny jeans, boots, jackets, blazers, and chunky glasses, wardrobe staples that one might find in Bette Porter’s closet on The L-Word.

Jason Merritt/Getty Images
David Livingston/Getty Images

Standing alongside director Timothy McNeil (far left) and actor John Carroll Lynch (photo below), Tierney cuts a strong profile at a SAG-AFTRA event on May 2, 2018 in New York City to promote her latest project Anything, a controversial film about an older and newly widowed man (Carroll Lynch) who falls in love with a transwoman (problematically played by cisgender gay actor Matt Bomer).

Desiree Navarro/Getty Images

On May 2, 2018, she went casual to attend a Build Series panel on Anything.

Rob Kim/Getty Images

At the 22nd Annual Artios Awards in 2006, the actress opted for this adorably boyish ensemble.

Michael Tran/FilmMagic

The Rebel

She also gives off “fuck the establishment” vibes that sync with queer sensibilities. At 53, she may no longer be smoking and drinking with abandon, but she still maintains a tough girl posture that’s anathema to the false frills of girly gender expectations—and she’s always at the ready with a curse word.

“She’s got an edge,” Bendix says, “an energy that lesbian and bisexual women recognize. Plus. she looks great in a suit!”

Season 4 of The Affair premieres on Showtime, June 17, 2018.

Stephanie Fairyington is a journalist who writes on gender and sexuality in NYC.
@Fairyington1