In Classic Gay TV, Louis Peitzman looks at classic and new-classic gay-themed episodes of television. Was this a major step forward in LGBT representation or a cringeworthy relic of the past?
Series: The Golden Girls
Episode: “Isn’t It Romantic” (Season 2, episode 5)
Original Air Date: November 8, 1986
Plot Points: Dorothy’s friend Jean comes to visit, but Dorothy neglects to tell her roommates that Jean is a lesbian. Everyone assumes Jean’s longtime companion Pat was her husband – except for Sophia, because “a mother knows.” Jean says she isn’t ashamed but leaves the disclosure up to Dorothy: they decide to keep things in the closet for a while, since Rose might be too naïve to get it.
But Jean and Rose hit it off, despite their vastly different mental capacities, and Jean believes she’s falling in love with St. Olaf’s Woman of the Year. They stay up late playing cards and eventually end up sharing Rose’s room. When Jean confesses her feelings to Rose, Rose panics and pretends to be a sleep, which puts a kibosh on the potential senior citizen snuggling.
Meanwhile, Dorothy and Sophia tell Blanche about Jean – once Blanche realizes the difference between “lesbian” and “Lebanese,” she becomes incensed that Jean would pick Rose over the roommate who puts out. The next morning, Jean decides to leave but Rose gives her the “I’m flattered but not interested” talk, and the two agree to remain friends, without benefits.
What Makes It Gay: Well, Jean, mostly. While The Golden Girls didn’t have any regular gay characters – Coco the houseboy got written out after the pilot, thank God – they did occasionally get LGBT visitors. Jean was one of the most notable: she’s a semi-openly gay woman who isn’t shy about her sexual identity. This episode also underlines The Golden Girls’ Sapphic subtext – for a bunch of straight women, they sure spent a lot of time in each other’s beds.
How Does It Hold Up: Surprisingly well. Aside from a couple jokes about women turning gay because they’re rejected by men – none of which are any worse than what you’d here on many current sitcoms – the episode is really very progressive. Jean is treated with as much dignity as any other one-off Golden Girls guest, and no one seems to have any problem with her sexuality. Even the old Sicilian woman pledges her support for the gays.
“Jean is a nice person. She happens to like girls instead of guys. Some people like cats instead of dogs. Frankly I’d rather live with a lesbian than a cat. Unless a lesbian sheds. Then I don’t know.” (Sophia)
“If one of my kids was gay, I wouldn’t love him one bit less. I would wish him all the happiness in the world.” (Sophia)
Blanche: “I mean, I’ve never known any personally, but isn’t Danny Thomas one?”
Dorothy: “Not Lebanese, Blanche. LESBIAN.”
Dorothy: “Honey, I didn’t even know if you’d know what a lesbian was.”
Rose: “I could have looked it up!”
“I have to admit I don’t understand these kinds of feelings, but if I did understand, if I were, you know, like you, I think I’d be very flattered and proud that you thought of me that way.” (Rose)
Louis Peitzman is a freelance writer in Los Angeles, spending most of his time as the weekend editor at Gawker and a contributor to WitStream and TV.com. He’s a little bit Dorothy, a little bit Blanche. You can follow him on Twitter.