When Katy Perry sang “I Kissed a Girl (and I Liked It),” she might have been singing TV’s latest anthem. Women are kissing all over the tube these days. So why is it still not OK to be gay?
Attractive women kissing has always been titillating to straight men and therefore acceptable in a way gay men kissing has not.
Certain factors must apply, of course: The women must be pretty, sexy and preferably young, although a hot cougar works too. And the women must at least give the implication of bisexuality (that is, open to men joining in the fun) and not definitively lesbian.
For two weeks, ABC has been promoting the upcoming wedding of Bianca and Reese on “All My Children.” The promo ads don’t just run during daytime; they also run during prime time. The scenes in the promos are of Bianca and Reese walking down the aisle together, Bianca and Reese kissing and — wait for it — Reese kissing Bianca’s brother-in-law, Zach.
What’s the message here? Tune in to the first legal lesbian wedding in TV history and see one of the brides-to-be kiss her soon-to-be brother-in-law?
For months CBS was working the gay storyline between Luke and Noah on “As the World Turns.” Yet at no point was there promotion of Luke and Noah kissing or deciding it was finally time to have sex. Even though Noah has a bisexual past, just like Reese, while Luke and Bianca are gay, the same rules do not apply with men.
Because it’s still not OK to be gay on TV.
There have been gay scenes between men on prime time, notably “The Wire,” “The Shield,” “Prison Break” and “ER.” There were gay rape scenes on “The Shield” and “Oz.” Interestingly, all the actual sex scenes involved men of color — black and Latino — and more than half of the characters were criminals.
On “Brothers & Sisters” and “Desperate Housewives,” there are established middle-class white gay couples. But these men are as de-sexualized as can be. Occasionally Kevin and Scotty kiss on “Brothers & Sisters” and they are legally married, but there’s no lovemaking, no sexual intimacy. Yet the other members of the cast are regularly hopping in and out of bed together.
On “Desperate Housewives,” one gay character is allegedly a former gay porn star. But he couldn’t be less sexual in his on-screen scenes, even though he’s young and about to marry his boyfriend. Viewers are told he’s sexual but never see it. But the same show has shown intergenerational heterosexual sex among several couples with no apparent problem.
TV likes to be on the cutting edge and push the envelope. Few series have pushed more envelopes than “The Shield” and “The Wire.” Yet even on those shows, the gay characters had a serious dark side that marginalized them as real gay people with real gay lives.
Meanwhile, lesbian characters, with the exception of those on “The L Word,” seem to have flexible sexual orientations.
Few, with the exception of Ellen and Bianca, have been lesbians throughout their tenure on their respective shows. And Ellen’s character didn’t come out as a lesbian on her sitcom until the show had been on for several seasons. Bianca has yet to be involved with another woman who wasn’t bisexual.
What is clear is that queer relationships are still new to TV and still unsure of their footing. If a storyline is front-burner, as the Bianca/Reese or Luke/Noah storylines have been, are straight viewers turned off by the amount of time devoted to queer characters? That seems to be the question networks/cable are asking.
The question LGBT viewers have for the networks/cable is this: When will prime time and daytime accept men being openly gay and intimate with each other as part of the panoply of sexuality on TV dramas? When will they accept lesbians who aren’t going to be straight in the next episode? When will it truly be OK to be gay on the tube, rather than just a phase a character is going through?