How The Golden Girls Taught Me About Homosexuality
I watched too much TV growing up. I don’t think I can remember a time when it wasn’t on accompanying breakfast, homework, fighting with my brother, or, really, just watching the damn thing. It’s where I developed my sense of morals. My mother was always there to offer sound advice, but nothing ever quite stuck with me unless it was coming from a talking sponge or Will Smith. Such was my attention span.
However, there were some topics my mother was too uncomfortable with to bring up with me, one of which was homosexuality. It would be unfair to say that this was because she was homophobic; my mother grew up in a time and culture where sex in general was a taboo subject and it was something you just dealt with on your wedding night. If talking about straight sex was too much for her, then gay sex was definitely off the table. I was going to have to turn to television for that lesson, and it was one I learned from The Golden Girls.
Running from 1985 to 1992, The Golden Girls was a sitcom following the lives of four single, of-age ladies living together in Miami: simple Rose, man-hungry Blanche, uptight Dorothy, and the sharp-tongued Sophia. Aside from Sophia’s wit and Betty White’s fantastic comedic timing, the show can be best known for being a gay-friendly series and for presenting views towards LGBTQ rights that were decades ahead of its time. Though I was born just shortly before its cancellation, I still enjoyed watching reruns with my older sister. Most of the jokes went over my head—particularly the sexual innuendos—but I always liked Sophia’s moxie no matter what she said.
One weekend we were in my sister’s room, watching this episode. I couldn’t have been older than seven:
Again, the jokes went over my head (Why did Dorothy cover her mother’s mouth like that? Who’s Butch and Sundance?), but so did the premise itself, leaving me as confused as Rose. All I understood was that Blanche’s brother, Clayton, was announcing his plans to get married, but I couldn’t see to whom, and I couldn’t see why Blanche was so upset over it. Where was his girlfriend? Why wouldn’t she be there with him for this kind of news? Luckily, my sister was there to explain.
Me: Wait. So…who’s getting married?
Sister: Blanche’s brother.
Me: And that guy?
Me: To who? Where are their girlfriends?
Me: They’re having a double wedding. Right?
My sister then explained to me that the two men on the TV show weren’t going to marry their girlfriends, but, rather, were going to marry each other.
Me: But they’re both men!
Sister: So? Sometimes men marry men and women marry women.
Me: You can do that?!
She had no idea how much this news excited me. Up until that point, I thought my choices for a husband were limited to the boys on the playground who picked their noses and touched their eyeballs. I didn’t know I had this second option. This was perfect: I could just marry my best friend and have babies with her, maybe even adopt a kitten. I wouldn’t have to worry about any boy and his germs. This wasn’t a plan she seemed to be quite on board with, but I figured there was still time for her to warm up to the idea. Of course, once I went through puberty, I learned it didn’t quite work that way and that I was going to be stuck with boys.
Still, despite my initial confusion with the concept of homosexuality, the moral of the episode was not lost on me and it is one that still resonates with me today. While it took eight or so years for me to be able to confidently laugh at the jokes, the message stuck to my conscience. For that, I have to express my love and admiration for The Golden Girls, not only for introducing me to the topic of homosexuality when no one else was quite ready to, but for also acting as my personal moral compass when it comes to civil rights. And it didn’t hurt that all of it came from an adorable, smart-mouthed grandmother.