Kendra and I watched the latest Grey’s Anatomy episode this morning. She loves the show. Me? Not so much – but I watch it anyway because I can’t get enough of the relationship between the characters Callie and Arizona. Though nowadays there are a lot more gay characters on television, it is rare that I see my own life reflected in the storylines. Arizona is the non-bio mom to the baby that Callie is carrying… their situation is more complex than ours, with Callie having gotten pregnant by her best friend Mark prior to her relationship with Arizona, but so much of what Arizona is going through mirrors my own experiences as a non-bio mom. I have a deep-seated fear that at some point I am not going be recognized as Addison’s mom. Illogical, yes… I AM Addison’s mama, but listening to the way the character Mark spoke to Arizona during this episode, telling her that she didn’t matter because she is not biologically related to the baby, reminded me that not everyone will recognize or understand my relationship with my daughter.
Anyway, the show got me thinking back to other times I felt like television reflected my gay life. I think every other lesbian my age had a crush on Nancy McKeon from the Facts of Life. For me, it was less of a crush, and more of an idolization. I tried to get my hair cut like hers, but with my wild mane, I just looked silly. Though her character, Jo, wasn’t gay, she sure seemed like it. Of course, I only recognized her gayness retrospectively – at the time, I related to her tomboyishness and disdain for all things pink and girly. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized my connection to the character was reflective of my sexual orientation. Jo’s obliviousness to her own gayness was much like mine – something just under the surface that neither of us had figured out yet – we just knew we were different than the other girls.
I came out in college, and although it was certainly less scary to be gay in the 90’s, it still wasn’t widely accepted, nor often spoken of in conversation. College was a time for me to come into my own, and peek out of the closet. Yet again, I had a television character to help lead my way – Ellen came out on her show during my senior year of college. My girlfriend at the time and I held a “coming out” party at our apartment in celebration of the episode. It was amazing to watch someone on television struggling with the same things I was – acceptance, love, and support.
After Ellen, it was hard to find a television show with characters that reflected my life. Sure, there were Carol and Susan on Friends, but they were just bit characters, and I was not in solid, committed relationship like theirs. While they were getting married, and having a baby, I was still in college, trying to figure out the meaning of life. (I’m still working on that one…) Then there was Xena and Gabrielle, but their relationship was relegated to subtext. Not ideal, but at the time, I was so eager to see any lesbian relationship represented on TV, I was more than willing to read between the lines.
Though there have been plenty of other shows since then that have featured gay characters (Will & Grace, the L-Word, Modern Family, etc.), Grey’s Anatomy is the first one in over a decade that has made me feel represented on television. It’s a good feeling – and it has drawn me to a show that I would normally turn off, or change the channel. Heck, I can’t wait for next week’s episode…