Over the course of seven seasons, Mad Men included a number of lesbian, gay, bisexual and we’re-still-not-sure characters.
The show was obsessed with sex, surfaces and the American dream in a way that even the straightest moments could seem a little queer.
As we celebrate ten years since the show premiered, we’re listing 13 moments when Mad Men’s queerness rose to the surface of all the smoke and booze.
Elliot’s room with a view (Season 1, Episode 8)
Art director Sal Romano’s sexuality begins as a series of looks and innuendo. Sal’s internal life isn’t subtle. But true to the atmosphere of 1960, it is silent.
That is until Elliot, a charming client, takes Sal out for a drink and reads him like Hooked on Phonics. When Elliot touches Sal’s hand and invites him up to his room for a view of the park, Sal declines and retreats – but not before admirably defending his decision to walk away.
Carol’s confession (Season 1, Episode 10)
Joan Holloway’s effect on men was clear from the first tracking shot of her strut and jiggle across the offices of Sterling Cooper. But it is her roommate and college gal-pal, Carol, who seems to want more than just some fries with that shake.
Watching her friend primp in the mirror, Carol makes the painful confession that she’s always held a candle for Joan. Surprised but not horrified, Joan glosses over the moment as though it didn’t happen. In 1960, they called that “a courtesy.”
Betty’s washing machine (Season 1, Episode 11)
Feeling increasingly isolated and isolated in Don’s household, Betty gives herself a little release by pressing her groin against the rumbling washing machine and fantasizing about a door-to-door salesman.
Although the moment isn’t explicitly gay, it queers the promise of hetero-happiness that her marriage to Don was supposed to provide.
And it reminds Betty that she doesn’t need a man to take care of her delicates.
Kurt’s plain English (Season 2 Episode 11)
As if Kurt’s German accent and coveralls didn’t separate him enough from the rest of the office, his casually mentioning in the break room that he is gay – and his calm insistence that he does understand what “homosexual” means in English – marks an important moment of transition in Mad Men’s vision of history.
Kurt is in the first wave of Sterling Cooper’s Beat generation: He represents a growing alternative culture that is both professional and anti-establishment. His bold queerness illustrates the march of time and makes the rest of his coworkers start to look a little retro.
Sal’s bellboy, (Season 3, Episode 1)
Poor Sal. He finally relaxes enough on a business trip to get a piece from a cute bellhop and a fire in the hotel interrupts them. Mad Men’s first moment of gay sex ended in disaster.
To be fair, most of the sex on Mad Men ends in some form of emotional or psychological disaster, so Sal isn’t singled out here. And it is worth it to see the brief moment of pleasure across Sal’s face when he decides to say yes instead of no.
Betty’s high drag (Season 3, Episode 8)
Betty Draper is always serving us a major look. Although often used to cover her dark emotional life, Betty’s costume moments are glamorous spectacles. Sometimes her arm-candy drag even feels like revenge.
Her fashion story reaches its apex on a business trip with Don to Rome, where she pretends not to know him while she flirts with other men in a café. Hair piled to the gods, suddenly fluent in Italian, Betty is the glowing fashion goddess of Don’s advertising dreams—Audrey Hepburn meets Anita Ekberg—and makes everybody sorry that he’s neglected her for so long.
Joyce’s tongue (Season 4, Episode 9)
In Season 4, Peggy befriends Joyce (Zosia Mamet), a lesbian photographer that cruises her on the SCDP elevator. Joyce wears her sexuality on her sleeve in a way that Peggy envies.
When Stan tries to put Joyce in her place, saying she “can never do what a man can do,” Joyce agrees with a smile and a lick of Peggy’s cheek. The scene is light and comic and the (office) door is left open.
Joyce shows an image of cool female sexuality that, in a Mad Men first, does not determine her professional worth.
Bob Benson’s shorts (Season 6, Episode 8)
Although Betty’s styling became a character of its own, no costume piece will outlast the legacy of Bob Benson’s shorts. Thick thighs save lives and actor James Wolk’s nearly broke the Internet.
No detail of this show is accidental, and Bob’s trunks leave him literally and figuratively exposed in a confrontation between Joan and Roger. But this is one of many Mad Men moments where the narrative is deliciously overwhelmed by its visuals—and a very rare Mad Men moment where the body on display is a man’s.
Bob Benson’s knee (Season 6, Episode 11)
Who the hell is Bob Benson anyway? As eager as he is handsome, Bob is source material for many Mad Men conspiracy theorists , who guessed he wass everything from a special-ops agent to a representation of Don’s fading youth.
So it’s hard to know what to do with Bob pressing his knee against Mad Men’s most uptight and least sexy character, Pete Campbell. Ambition? Misdirection? An actual genuine moment? We may never know for sure. But we can still fantasize about what Bob could have done for Pete’s hairline.
Megan’s threesome (Season 7, Episode 5)
Don Draper in bed with two women is not terribly surprising. But his second wife, Megan, deserves all the credit here for bagging the girl and pushing past her own sexual limits.
Afterwards, its seems Megan hoped the experience would repair all the problems in her marriage. Spoiler alert: she was wrong.
But at least she seems to genuinely enjoy her attempt to be right.
Bill Hartley’s bail (Season 7, Episode 6)
Bill Hartley’s arrest for public indecency in Season 7 is exactly what Sal feared in Season 1: After offering to fellate an undercover officer, Hartley is badly beaten and humiliated by the police.
When Bob Benson shows up to post bail, the two have a coded exchange about resisting “temptations” and whether Bob is of Hartley’s “stripe.” It is a heartbreaking image of the closet’s potential for self-destruction and it shows that progress cannot reach those who won’t accept themselves.
Even Joan knows what time it is: Later in the episode when Bob offers a lame marriage proposal, she replies “You don’t want this—you shouldn’t be with a woman.”
Pima’s necktie (Season 7, Episode 9)
In the show’s final season, hard-nosed photographer Pima Ryan (Mimi Rogers in an all-too-brief cameo) manages to get both Stan and Peggy a little self-conscious and a little aroused.
More than a little aroused, in Stan’s case.
Without directly acknowledging Stonewall or the feminist movement, Mad Men shows the influence of both in Pima’s professional authority, brazen bisexuality and Diane Keaton menswear. The male uniform of Season 1 becomes everyone’s drag by Season 7.
Don’s almost nightcap (Season 7, Episode 11)
When a drunken Don goes trolling around the building of an old fling, he finds a gay couple has taken over her apartment – or should we say, they find him.
The younger man invites Don in for a drink. Interestingly, Don doesn’t respond or move from his spot—it’s the older half of the couple who slams the door in Don’s face. Sadly, this is probably as close as Don Draper will get to experimentation with his sexuality.