Q on the tube: Identity crisis

One of the reasons the Valentine’s Day wedding of Bianca and Reese on “All My Children” was so significant is because same-sex marriage is legal in only two states and in limbo in California.

ABC promoted the upcoming wedding with the same fanfare it gives heterosexual weddings — an affirmation for queer viewers. Thus, the sudden sundering of the only lesbian couple on daytime came as a total shock.

There was no rose-petal-covered marital bed for Bianca and Reese. Instead, their wedding night became a search-and-rescue mission for Bianca’s cousin Greenlee, who was run off a cliff in an accident caused by Bianca’s sister, Kendall.

The complex relationship of Bianca and Reese, Kendall and her husband, Zach, who was the sperm donor for Bianca and Reese’s baby, was a source of tension for weeks prior to the wedding. Kendall had been in a coma for three months and during that time Zach made Reese his confidant.

His attraction to Reese was apparent, but his devotion to Kendall never wavered. But at the rehearsal, Kendall and Bianca’s mother attacked Reese. She fled in tears, a bottle of Scotch in hand. Bianca held her and told her she would fix it and Reese yelled, “Then fix it.”

But Bianca didn’t fix it. Instead, she spent the night before her wedding with her mother and sister — both of whom despise Reese — leaving her beloved drinking and crying alone.

On TV, as in real life, drinking and crying alone never ends well. For Reese it ended with Zach coming to check on her and kissing her. It was a moment of weakness for Zach, whose wife has become intolerable. For Reese it was a moment of drunken upset. Zach had cared enough to come rescue her. She was grateful.

What would have been just a mistake — two people being shut out by the women they loved and feeling the pain of that rejection — turned into tragedy when the secret kiss was revealed.

The love affair of Bianca and Reese had developed over a year prior to the couple coming to Pine Valley from Paris. They had two daughters, including their new baby, Gabrielle. But the one kiss between Zach and Reese sundered not only their relationship, but their family. Bianca kicked Reese to the curb, got an attorney and demanded both an annulment and custody of the children.

What was so disappointing about how “All My Children’s” storyline evolved — or devolved — is that it incorporated all the negative elements of lesbian relationships but offered no opportunity to showcase any of the positive ones.

The message this storyline sent to straight viewers was simple: Lesbians are screwed up.

There’s no question that Bianca was justified in feeling betrayed. But why end the marriage? Why tell her sister, Kendall, to work on her marriage and forgive her husband when she was unwilling to do the same thing? After all, the “sin” — the kiss — was the same for both Reese and Zach. And Bianca forgave Zach, but not Reese.

Reese became the focus of everyone’s outrage. She was the porn stereotype of the hyper-sexual lesbian who will have sex with anyone — women or men — and doesn’t care about the consequences.

But that’s not the Reese viewers were introduced to. Reese was presented as a vulnerable yet loving and devoted partner to Bianca and doting mother to Miranda and Gabrielle.

“All My Children” ruined a promising storyline that could have presented the first lesbian family in daytime history and charted their life together. Instead they chose to demonize both lesbian characters.

It’s not enough to merely present queer characters on TV. Those characters have to range beyond the stereotypical or sensational and be invested with some level of “normalcy” to be truly representative of what queers are really like. “All My Children” spent eight years building the character of Bianca and less than a week destroying her. And it set back the clock on the representation of realistic lesbian relationships on TV for a long time to come.

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Victoria A. Brownworth is a Pulitzer Prize-nominated award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, DAME, The Advocate, Bay Area Reporter and Curve among other publications. She was among the OUT 100 and is the author and editor of more than 20 books, including the Lambda Award-winning Coming Out of Cancer: Writings from the Lesbian Cancer Epidemic and Ordinary Mayhem: A Novel, and the award-winning From Where They Sit: Black Writers Write Black Youth and Too Queer: Essays from a Radical Life.