Sex detectives: "Law & Order: SVU"'s fans, critics, and characters investigate lesbian desire


  • Julie Levin Russo Brown University



Convergence, Femslash, Queer theory, Television studies


I address the contested question of whether sex crimes detective Olivia Benson (a character on TV's Law & Order: Special Victims Unit played by Mariska Hargitay) is a lesbian, and the ways in which both fans and TV scholars approach this mystery. That is, I investigate not what we "know" about lesbians on/and television, but how we frame the very processes of this knowing. In both critical and fan discourse, debates about where to locate the queerness of television oscillate irresolvably between three sites: the text itself, audience interpretations, and the surrounding metatexts and contexts. With a primary theoretical framework drawn from Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick's Epistemology of the Closet, I analyze the cultural and televisual traditions that shape SVU's portrayal of deviant sexuality, and I assess how these resonate with fan interpretations in today's context of media convergence.

Author Biography

Julie Levin Russo, Brown University

Julie Levin Russo is a doctoral candidate in Modern Culture and Media at Brown University and a TWC editor emerita. She has presented on such topics as media convergence, online TV fandom, and cybersexuality at numerous conferences, and her work was recently published in "Camera Obscura" and the anthology C'Lick Me: A Netporn Studies Reader. Her dissertation project is entitled "Indiscrete Media: Television/Internet Convergence and Economies of Online Lesbian Fan Communities," and includes case studies of Battlestar Galactica, Law & Order: SVU, and The L Word. She is also an active writer and organizer in femslash fandom.