Matt Miltovich over at tvguide.com seemed to get quite excited while writing his piece about a new lesbian subplot on the ABC Family show Greek. The title alone implies his glee — “Greek Star Pledges Big Twists (Including a Lesbian One!)” — but it gets just a smidge creepy with this little bit:
Next, Spencer [Grammer] confirms that one of the ZBZ gals will have a crisis of sexuality, “and Casey might placate that in a fun, playful way.” The storyline, she teases, “will be an audience-pleaser for everyone.” And how.
“And how”? Nice. Thanks for basically telling everyone that you love fantasizing about sorority sisters in a sapphic liplock. He’s not alone, of course. Whereas most straight men don’t really want to see women who look like me doing the horizontal tango with another woman, a good number of them will spontaneously combust at the thought of pretty young things experimenting with one another. It’s scandalous! But it’s just experimentation, so they’ll go back to craving the cock soon enough!
When TV shows do this, it’s feeding into the whole “gay for play” fantasy. Gay for play is not a reference to actual experimentation that seeks to clarify ones sexual orientation; it is instead the kind of stunt that Desperate Housewives used to try to combat sagging ratings this season by orchestrating a kiss between Teri Hatcher and Eva Longoria Parker for no other reason than to grab headlines and titillate whatever male viewers the show might have. And the failed Courteney Cox cable vehicle Dirt attempted to save itself by staging the stiffest “we’re-kissing-but-we’re-not-really-gay” embrace ever between Cox and Jennifer Aniston. It’s a kind of fetishization of a certain type of women who love women, and really only happens when the actresses look like Portia di Rossi and not Ellen DeGeneres. My hope is that Greek is not doing gay for play here, because it actually has a pretty good track record on LGBT characterization.
There is delicious irony in the fact that ABC Family actually began as Pat Robertson’s CBN Network until he sold it to ABC parent corporation Disney. Now the network has several shows that depict the complexity of sexual orientation, including its teen hit Greek, which has not shied away from presenting actual, non-caricatured gay characters and seemingly avoiding gay for play. Nobody is calling it a brilliant show, but critics, including gay newspaper Washington Blade, give it kudos for its handling of the storyline attached to its major gay character:
Gay viewers will no doubt root for Calvin (Paul James), a pledge who’s dealing with coming out. Calvin’s stories are particularly well written, and gay teens will relate to the young man, while older viewers will most likely sigh as they remember when. . . .Most humorous are Calvin’s run-ins with Dale (Clark Duke), an ultra-dorky born again Christian who offers to “cure” the newly out young man. “Greek’s” writers brilliantly poke fun at the absurd tactics often employed by ex-gay ministries, and Calvin, bless him, teaches Dale a thing or two about tolerance.
Given this track record, it would be sorely disappointing if Greek chose to have a twist that has nothing to do with actual sexual identity and everything to do with a soft-focus, lip-glossed quick kiss between starlets.
If TV shows feel compelled to have their actresses experiment with one another, maybe they could at least try to make it meld with the plotline in a logical and unforced way. Though I am loath to point to Sex and the City as an example for other programs to follow, it is appropriate in this case. During the show’s first season, Miranda is mistaken for a lesbian and set up with another woman. Shocked and confused by other people’s assumptions (she can’t believe other people think that her short-hair and “aggressive” personality means she must be gay), she ends the episode by curiously leaning over and kissing the other woman. It’s not done to titillate, perhaps because the show was almost exclusively geared to women viewers, and has an actual whiff of realistic experimentation to it.
And if experimentation is really the road that these writers want to go down, maybe they should stop and just examine why it’s almost always women whose sexualities are presented in this light. When is the last time you can remember a mainstream Hollywood film or TV show that featured a male-on-male kiss just for experimentation purposes? I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry doesn’t count. The mere fact that any actor who makes out with another one on camera is constantly asked about how torturous it must have been (see: Franco, James; Gyllenhaal, Jake; Ledger, Heath) points to how male sexuality is not treated as being as fluid as female sexuality is. Bi-curious is a phrase rarely associated with men in American pop culture, while the popularity of Katy Perry’s song “I Kissed a Girl” highlights the notion that nobody is surprised when a young woman experiments — although she’s never expected to follow through and actually deviate from the heteronormative structure. In other words, women can play at being gay all they want, as long as they don’t actually take it seriously and abandon their destiny as a good hetero wife and mother. So kiss away, you pretty girls. Just please remember to do it in front of the camera, and stop when they call “cut.”