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February 9, 2024 34 mins

In part one, Jess and Susie revisited a famous episode of The Golden Girls, in which Blanche mistakes the word “lesbian” for “Lebanese.” (“Not ‘Lebanese,’ Blanche. Lesbian!”) Nearly 40 years later, the IKYKY of calling lesbians “Lebanese” lives on – as does the gay legacy of The Golden Girls. Jess and Susie talk to the originator of that joke about the role that The Golden Girls played – and still plays – in gay culture, as well as how that episode fits into the history of LGBTQ representation on screen. Plus: a lesbian-lebanese surprise!

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Episode Transcript

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Speaker 1 (00:00):
In nineteen eighty six, in the middle of an episode
of the beloved sitcom The Golden Girls, a silly, simple joke.

Speaker 2 (00:07):
Not Lebanese black.

Speaker 1 (00:11):
Lesbia triggered that classic laugh track and a surprising legacy.
That's because those four Golden Girls had an unsuspecting power,
the power to influence public perception about a topic that
remained taboo.

Speaker 3 (00:24):
You have these four women living together in a chosen family.
This is a really powerful relationship they have with each other,
and I think that's subconsciously really good modeling for anyone really.

Speaker 1 (00:38):
In shoulder pads and captans, the Golden Girls snuck positive
gay representation into millions of living rooms across America, creating
a ripple effect in writer's rooms and on screens for
decades to come. I'm Jessica Bennett and I'm Susie Vana Karam,
And this is in retrospect, where each week we revisit
a cultural moment from the past that shaped us.

Speaker 2 (01:00):
And that we just can't stop thinking about today.

Speaker 1 (01:03):
We're talking about the Golden girls first encounter with a
lesbian and the way it spawned an enduring gay joke,
but we're also talking about the creative ways that Hollywood
has written and sometimes hidden queer characters for decades. This
is part two. So, Susie, we've been talking about the
Lebanese lesbian episode of Golden Girls, which is actually called

(01:24):
Isn't It Romantic? That aired in nineteen eighty six, And
in that episode, Dorothy's friend Jane comes to visit after
the death of her partner Pat, and she develops a
crush on Rose. As we spoke about, that episode was
ahead of its time for many reasons. You know, it
was a pretty tender depiction of a lesbian character at
a time when that was pretty rare, and as we

(01:47):
have left about its repetition of the word lesbian really
drove home that that was a word we should feel
comfortable with.

Speaker 2 (01:53):
Yeah, and even the fact that there was a gay
character at all was pretty significant for that time.

Speaker 1 (01:58):
Yeah. And in order to understand how subversive that was
for the time, what you really need to understand is
the way that gay and lesbian characters were depicted back then.
So I want to set the scene a little bit
in terms of what was happening in this time. Prior
to nineteen seventy, there really were very few, if any

(02:19):
gay characters on screen, at all, and like that makes
sense for the time, Like homosexuality was classified as a
mental illness until nineteen seventy three.

Speaker 2 (02:28):
It was I didn't realize it was that late.

Speaker 1 (02:30):
Yeah, in the idea zone.

Speaker 2 (02:31):
Pretty recent.

Speaker 1 (02:32):
Yeah, But then you know, in nineteen sixty nine, Stonewall occurs.
So the gay liberation movement is bursting forward in the
early nineteen seventies and representation on television begins to shift
as a result of that. So in nineteen seventy one,
you have the first gay male character who appears on
the sitcom All in the Family.

Speaker 2 (02:52):
What do you think that your I can't even shit you, Steve,
He's right, art Eh.

Speaker 1 (02:59):
And that's interesting too because four years later, that same
show has a recurring drag queen character that's actually played
by an out drag queen.

Speaker 4 (03:08):
I'm afraid you don't understand, missus Bunker, I'm a transvesti.

Speaker 1 (03:12):
And then Skip I had a few years in nineteen
seventy seven, you have a trans character that appears on
The Jeffersons, and the plot line there is essentially George,
who's the patriarch of the Jefferson family, goes to meet
his old navy buddy Eddie, only to find out that
Eddie has transitioned to Edie.

Speaker 5 (03:29):
If you don't understand, George, I'm a woman deep down inside.

Speaker 4 (03:32):
I've always been a.

Speaker 1 (03:33):
Woman, even in a navy, even in the navy.

Speaker 2 (03:36):
Oh interesting, And actually, you know, in nineteen seventy seven
is the same year there's that show soap that appears
with Billy Crystal playing a gay character. Right, Oh, okay,
and I think that show was also made by Susan
Harris who made Golden Girls, right and girls.

Speaker 1 (03:50):
Oh, I hadn't realized that, Okay, so before the Golden
Girls episode, she has already done this.

Speaker 2 (03:56):
Yeah. And interestingly, that show initially got a lot of
backlash for having an openly gay character, but then went
on to become a huge success. So maybe that's why
she felt so comfortable.

Speaker 1 (04:05):
Maybe that in Bolden Yeah. Yeah, So nineteen seventy seven
was I guess a big year because that also was
the year that one of the first black gay characters
appears on television. And this is in an episode of
Sanford Arms. I didn't know this show, but it was
a spin off of the popular black sitcom Sanford and Sons. Basically,
the character in the show is this tall, handsome civil

(04:28):
rights lawyer, so very much a positive depiction.

Speaker 2 (04:31):
It's so interesting this is all happening in the seventies.
When you told me that just until nineteen seventy three
it was classified as a mental illness, you sort of
feel like it's a sea change in terms of the
way people are starting to think. Right.

Speaker 1 (04:42):
Yeah, actually, that's a really good point, because what you're
seeing in the seventies is pretty progressive. But then there's
this kind of backlash or this erosion of that when
you start to have the eighties emerge. Essentially, by the
time The Golden Girls airs, this episode in nineteen eighty six,
is a crisis.

Speaker 2 (05:01):
A mystery disease known as the gay Plague.

Speaker 3 (05:04):
AIDS appears to be a virus transmitted through body secretions.

Speaker 1 (05:07):
Ronald Reagan as president. I think that abstinuce has been
lacking in much of the education.

Speaker 2 (05:13):
President Reagan was repeatedly booed at an AIDS research fundraising
dinner last night.

Speaker 1 (05:18):
And I think to some degree, Hollywood gets scared off
from writing these fully rounded gay characters.

Speaker 2 (05:24):
I mean, I think AIDS was used so much as
a cudgel to push back on gay civil rights right
I mean, it was just a way in which people
stoked so much fear around gayness and gay people. So
it makes sense that that actually pulled back on some
of the games.

Speaker 1 (05:39):
Yeah, pulled back. And then at the same time, if
there are gay characters written into scripts, they're typically white
gay men, and the plotlines usually revolve around aids in
some way anyway, So this is very negative depiction.

Speaker 2 (05:51):
Yeah, I guess it was either negative or very sorrowful.
So you just never got any depictions of gay joy.
But also where were all the lesbians?

Speaker 1 (06:02):
So to a large degree in the eighties, lesbian visibility
on film actually reflects life like it's very much in
the shadows, even as lesbians are very instrumental to the
fight for gay rights. A couple of things worth understanding
are essentially how lesbians fit into the larger feminist movement,
which was very charged at the time, in part because

(06:24):
Betty Fridane called lesbians quote the lavender menace because she
felt like they would derail the women's movement's other causes.
And so I love lavendar, I know what, I love
the color level like whatever, And so lesbians felt marginalized
within the women's movement, but they also felt pretty marginalized
within the larger gay community. You know, the first Dike March,

(06:47):
which is the lesbian march that happens every year around Pride,
didn't even happen or become a thing until nineteen ninety three.
And I think that also shows just how groundbreaking that
Golden Girls episode was in nineteen eighty because, in fact,
the lesbian character Gene, the friend of Dorothy's, as we've discussed,
was just the second lesbian character ever to appear on

(07:09):
primetime TV.

Speaker 2 (07:10):
Wow. Really, even in nineteen eighty six, it was the
second time they had a lesbian character.

Speaker 1 (07:15):
Yes, and the first happened just a few years before
on a cops show called Hill Street Blues, and lesbian
was a police officer.

Speaker 2 (07:22):
I remember Hill Street Blues. Isn't that the show that
spawned like be careful out there?

Speaker 1 (07:27):
Oh my gosh.

Speaker 2 (07:28):
Really yeah, with the Cops. They end the meeting by saying,
be careful out there.

Speaker 1 (07:32):
I had nose.

Speaker 2 (07:33):
But I don't remember this character, so it must not
have been a super prominent character.

Speaker 1 (07:37):
Yeah, I mean that's probably by design. I don't particularly
remember it either. But lesbian representation was also working against
this thing called the Hayes Code, Susie, I feel like
you probably know what that is.

Speaker 2 (07:47):
I mean when you say that, I feel like I
should know. But I don't know what that is.

Speaker 1 (07:50):
I don't know that you should know. I just feel
like you're a TV film whisper. But the Hayes Code
was a set of content guidelines for American movie that
existed between nineteen thirty four and nineteen sixty, with movies at.

Speaker 4 (08:05):
Their lowest moral lib but riding high financially.

Speaker 1 (08:08):
A new name appears on the national scene, Will Hayes
and the Hayes Code basically outline moral codes for what
could appear on screen. And so they kept this list
of topics that were not allowed to be shown. Things
like homosexuality, which was called in their words, sexual perversion,
interracial relationships, drug use, scenes of passion that feels like

(08:31):
it can be very hard to define, nudity, ridicule of religion,
et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. And so the Hayes
Code was for movies. But the point is it seeped
into television. It goes on to set the model for
what becomes the code of practices for television broadcasters. That's
a mouthful, but basically that's the code that prohibited depictions

(08:53):
of homosexuality.

Speaker 2 (08:54):
Yeah. I didn't know any of this history, but it
makes sense. I mean, a lot of those codes are
still in place. There are a lot of things you
still can't say on TV. And didn't you used to
not be able to say hell for a long time
on television?

Speaker 4 (09:07):
Yeah?

Speaker 1 (09:08):
And actually I want to reintroduce Maya Salam here. She's
the culture editor at The New York Times who's written
about this and who he spoke to earlier, and specifically
she's written about how so much of this stuff ties
back to the power of the Catholic Church. And it
wasn't just words that you couldn't say. It was subjects too, so.

Speaker 4 (09:25):
Divorce, abortion, home sexuality.

Speaker 5 (09:28):
The church threatened to boycott movies if these strict regulations
weren't applied, and so filmmakers and studios bowed to them.
So that's why you know, characters were written as like
Sissy's villains are sexual deviance is kind of the way
that it's put. Then it was more acceptable. They would
be more likely to allow it if they were cast
in this really negative way.

Speaker 1 (09:50):
So essentially, what Maya's saying here is that the only
way to have content that the Catholic Church would disapprove of,
like representations of homosexuality, was to write these characters as villains,
so that behavior could basically act as a warning to
viewers like don't do this, look what will happen to you.
And to get around that, writers and directors start doing

(10:12):
something called queer coding, which is essentially create characters who
appear to be queer but couldn't actually be out due
to the codes.

Speaker 2 (10:21):
That's actually kind of brilliant. So there's ways in which
they're indicating that someone is gay, but not explicitly.

Speaker 1 (10:26):
Saying it exactly. Here's my again.

Speaker 5 (10:29):
That's when you really start to see the really clever
ways that queerness was shown and explored in characters.

Speaker 4 (10:38):
It was really this.

Speaker 5 (10:40):
Under the radar only gaze maybe might pick up on it,
you don't know unless you know kind of representation. One
of my favorites is Calamity Jane, which is a nineteen
fifty three musical western with Doris Day and there's a
scene in the movie where she like walks up to
sort of who would be her crush, and she kind

(11:01):
of like almost tries to like look down her top
and she's like, oh I think I might be in
love with you or something like that.

Speaker 2 (11:06):
Gosh, al money, the prettiest thing I ever seen.

Speaker 4 (11:10):
And there's a wonderful song. It's called Secret Love.

Speaker 1 (11:14):
First of all much secret Love, no Sea Coo witch, and.

Speaker 4 (11:26):
It is the gayest.

Speaker 2 (11:38):
Jess. It sounds like queer coding initially was a good thing.
It was kind of a way to have gay characters
hidden in plain sight and give them an opportunity to
be part of the stories.

Speaker 1 (11:51):
Right and Jean, the lesbian front of Dorothy's on Golden
Girls is really a great example of this. Here's Drew
Mackie again for.

Speaker 3 (11:59):
A lesbian cacharacter. Gene is very found, like she looks
like one of the girls, Like you would not look
at her and presume she's a lesbian, So she is
like sneaky And that sounds like a negative phrase, so
I'm using it as a positive here. Like they did
their homework. They tricked the audience into giving a shit
about a gay person, which is remarkable.

Speaker 1 (12:18):
Yeah, So the problem with queer coding is that in
some cases it's easy for these characters to quickly veer
from kind of like this. You know, wink nod. Example
of representation to tropes.

Speaker 2 (12:30):
So this positive thing can sort of turn negative when
it becomes kind of stereotypical. So what does some of
those tropes look like?

Speaker 1 (12:38):
One of them is what Drew and his co host
call it, the angel gay. That's this idea that you
have to be perfect good in every way, like you're
not allowed to have flaws if you are a gay character,
because you can't possibly reflect poorly on your community in anyone. Oh.

Speaker 2 (12:54):
Interesting, So this is sort of like the equivalent of
a model minority.

Speaker 1 (12:59):
Yeah, I think that's a really good comparison. Here's Drew
talking about how this applies to that Golden Girls episode.

Speaker 3 (13:05):
In some ways, Gene is sort of an angel lesbian
in that, like she doesn't really have any flaws. She's
aside from the fact that she is lusting after Rose,
and angel gays normally don't get to want someone the
way Gene wants Rose. So that's probably the one exception
to it.

Speaker 1 (13:21):
And Okay, it's because they can't show lust or desire.

Speaker 2 (13:24):
They don't.

Speaker 3 (13:24):
Yeah, they don't. You're there to like maybe make some
snapping comments and that's it. Mostly you're there to help
probably a straight female character achieve something in her life,
and then you fled away and you never heard from again.
There is this thing that happens on sitcoms where usually
in the second season they'll do an episode that tells
the audience, despite how things might look, this character is

(13:47):
not gay. And this is an example of that where
if someone is watching, like, why are these ladies living together?
Are they some sort of lesbians? This is the episode
that will definitively spell out they are not lesbians. B
Arthur has that voice, she is not a lesbian and
they are all heterosexual. Don't worry, you're watching a straight
show with straight characters.

Speaker 1 (14:05):
Do you have a name for that?

Speaker 3 (14:06):
I guess we're called the second season clarification.

Speaker 1 (14:11):
Another troupe you might recognize, it's called buryer gaze.

Speaker 2 (14:13):
That doesn't sound good.

Speaker 1 (14:15):
The trope was originally used actually in books. It was
a way for gay authors to write about gay characters
without coming under fire for breaking laws. And so you
see this a lot in lesbian pulp fiction of the
nineteen fifties and sixties, and the idea there was that
they could avoid the censors and the obscenity laws because
if a queer character was given a happy ending, it

(14:37):
would set off alarms. But if you just kill one
off at the end, then it becomes a cautionary tale. Okay,
terror maybe God, it's so insidious, isn't that crazy? So
it sort of starts as this sneaky positive but not
totally positive thing, but then it just starts to become

(14:57):
a broader trop.

Speaker 2 (14:58):
Meaning they just eventually start killing off all their gay characters.

Speaker 1 (15:02):
I mean kind of auto Straddle, which is a lesbian website,
has a list that they update every year of currently
it's two hundred and thirty dead lesbian and bisexual characters
on TV and how they died.

Speaker 2 (15:14):
It's interesting because that's a trope we hear about so
much in horror movies about the black friend, Like if
you're the black friend in a horror movie, you're going
to die first. But I didn't realize this was also
a thing. If you were a lesbian or bisexual character,
you also were doomed. That's a really good comparison.

Speaker 1 (15:28):
And yeah, there are a few that I remember, Like
there's an example in nineteen ninety seven and NYPD Blue
where Kathy, who is a lesbian, is shot by a
hitman hired by her girlfriend's ex. There's another example on Buffy,
which I think is more our generation. There's this scene
where you finally get to see longtime girlfriends Willow and
Tara in bed together. I forget how good this could feel,

(15:52):
us together, about the magic. There was plenty of magic,
and yet then in that very same episode, Tera is
killed by a stray bullet, so you don't get to
see the relationship progress.

Speaker 2 (16:04):
Wasn't that sort of a famous scene with Willow and
Derek as they had shared a historic kiss.

Speaker 1 (16:09):
Yeah, that's why I think it was so upsetting when
she was killed off. But here let me go to
Maya again, because she actually talks about how this plays
out in a couple of different ways.

Speaker 5 (16:18):
There is the obvious the person literally dies, it drops dead.
But even if a lesbian character or any LGBTQ character,
even the Golden Girl's character, in a way, they might
not die, but you just never see them again. You Know,
It's one thing to like come out on TV or
be on an episode, say, it's a whole other thing
to have a whole storyline and continue to be gay.

(16:44):
So it's like one thing to come out and be
gay on TV, but it's another thing to stay gay.

Speaker 1 (16:54):
Okay, there's one other phenomenon I want to mention here,
which is the lesbian kiss, and in particular the lesbian
kiss episode, which becomes a thing in television and film
where a seemingly heterosexual female character will kiss a possibly
lesbian or maybe by character, and in many of the instances,

(17:15):
like the potential for a relationship does not actually survive
past this one episode, and you know, the lesbian or
suspected lesbian is never to be heard from again, and
the other character goes back to their straight hetero.

Speaker 2 (17:30):
So this would be the sort of like the lesbian
kiss that's really purely for the male gaze.

Speaker 1 (17:34):
I think that's exactly it. And one of the first
big examples of this comes in nineteen ninety one on
La Law.

Speaker 2 (17:41):
Oh, I know La Law. I watched La Law. I'm
beginning to think this episode is purely set up to
make it look like I did nothing but watch TV
as a child, which is not.

Speaker 1 (17:50):
You too accurate, And maybe I didn't watch enough. It's
like all I did about it because I don't remember this,
But what happened is there's a kiss between these two lawyers,
Lamb and Abby Perkins and It's widely regarded as the
first romantic kiss between two women on a major network.
And this is interesting because it's historic in a good
way in that it's the first time two women kiss

(18:13):
on TV, and also because you know, neither one of
them dies or like kills anyone or is ostracized afterwards.

Speaker 2 (18:19):
And I don't remember this character being gay at all,
so that's fascinating.

Speaker 1 (18:23):
And part of that is probably because it was never
meant to be a real relationship that would develop.

Speaker 4 (18:29):
You kissed me back, Yeah, I'd sort of like to forget.

Speaker 2 (18:32):
The whole thing.

Speaker 1 (18:33):
Even later on, as the actresses who played these characters
were interviewed, they've described how essentially this kiss was included
for race of course, like it was not meant to
be developed, It was not meant to be expanded on.
And that was it.

Speaker 2 (18:47):
Wasn't there something similar on Picket Fences?

Speaker 1 (18:50):
Yeah? So Picket Fences is another example where two teenagers
kiss in nineteen ninety three, and then one of the
big ones that's often referenced is nineteen ninety four on Roseanne,
and this is a kiss between Roseanne Barr and maryo Hemenway,
and it's in an episode titled don't ask, don't tell,
get a hang out world.

Speaker 2 (19:08):
I was thinking that too, but next time, let's leave
the wives at home.

Speaker 4 (19:14):
Read my mind.

Speaker 1 (19:16):
Huh.

Speaker 2 (19:17):
I don't actually remember this particular episode, but this must
have been the Clinton era, right because don't Ask, Don't
Tell was something he introduced in relationship to gays in
the military, but it was very much part of the zeitgeist.

Speaker 1 (19:28):
And this one actually ends up being a pretty big deal.
The kiss lasts for three seconds, oh my god. Though
of course, if you rewatch it, you can't actually see
either of their lips, so you.

Speaker 2 (19:38):
Know, I'm watch that because I don't know how you
would have a kiss where you couldn't see any lips.

Speaker 1 (19:45):
But it becomes a big deal. Like ABC didn't want
to air the episode, and whatever we think of Roseanne
bar today, at this time, she, to her credit, threatened
to take her sitcom to another network if they wouldn't
actually air, which I think is part of the beauty
of being in charge of your own show, which she
was at the time with her husband.

Speaker 2 (20:05):
I mean, I think that is the sad thing about
rose Enbart because that show really did break so many
barriers and was so progressive in so many ways.

Speaker 1 (20:14):
And actually that character becomes one of the first recurring
bisexual characters on a show, so it really did have
an impact. But for the most part, these lesbian kiss
episodes were more just sweep stunts. And in many cases,
these sweep stunts are dreamed up by a straight male
show runner.

Speaker 2 (20:32):
I mean, of course they are, because straight male showrunners
still run most shows unfortunately.

Speaker 1 (20:37):
And the thing is, these stunts are actually pretty effective
in a lot of ways. Like they're visual, they are cheap,
they're controversial, so people talk about them. And then the
other thing is they're like easily reversible. You don't have
to develop the relationship. You can, like you said, just
like go vanish into the night and go back to
the plotline as you had.

Speaker 2 (20:58):
It before, right, So it's like the lesbians sweeps in,
gives you your sweeps numbers, and then sweeps away exactly.
You know what this reminds me of actually is do
you remember when Brittany and Madonna and Christina Aguilera did
that kiss at the MTV VMAs in two thousand and three.

Speaker 1 (21:15):
I of course remember this moment, but I think I've
forgotten the details a little bit. Like I remember there
was a pretty lengthy kiss between Brittany and Madonna, And
was Christina watching while that happened?

Speaker 2 (21:25):
Well, I mean, I guess Christina was watching, But really
what it was was that the three of them performed
a song Brittany, Madonna, and Christina Aguilera, and at the
end of the song, Madonna leans over and gives Brittany
kind of a peck. Actually it's not like a lengthy kiss,
although there was a lot of debate at the time
of whether or not there was tongue or whatever. And
then she does the same with Christina. But most people

(21:46):
don't remember the Christina part because the camera immediately panned
to Justin Timberlake, because Brittany and Justin had recently broken up,
So you know, all the audience cared about was his reaction,
or all the director thought the audience would care about
was his reaction. So, you know, Brittany wrote about this
in her book about how this becomes kind of a
big cultural moment and it's for the same reasons, right,

(22:08):
It's salacious and it gets attention because it's two women kissing.

Speaker 1 (22:13):
And actually Maya said something really interesting about how growing
up during this time, these random performative kisses felt so
prevalent that they actually influenced how she felt about using
the word lesbian.

Speaker 5 (22:29):
I mean, I will admit that it has not always
been the most comfortable word for me to use, depends
on the setting. In the eighties and nineties and the aughts,
it was like a phrase that represented it just went
hand in hand with like pornography and what The word
lesbian was like a word kind of owned and used
by like men to represent like what they wanted to see.

Speaker 4 (22:51):
It was.

Speaker 1 (22:52):
It was like titillating to say the wordless exactly exactly.

Speaker 5 (22:56):
You don't always want to conjure up images of like
lesbian sex and people's.

Speaker 4 (23:00):
When you use the word.

Speaker 5 (23:02):
So I used to just rely on using the word
gay because I didn't feel like I own the word
lesbian in the way that I wanted to the way
that I feel like I do now.

Speaker 2 (23:13):
But some real lesbian characters do you start to emerge.
Right in the late nineties and the aughts, we start
to see this improve in a way.

Speaker 1 (23:23):
Yeah, there were a few. One that I really remember
is on Friends, where you have Ross's ex wife Carol,
who has an affair and leaves him for Susan. Yes, Friends,
Family were gathered here today to join Carol and Susan
in holy matrimony, and Susan and Carol go on to
get married, and the three of them cope parent their son,

(23:44):
which is actually a really nice example of a blended family.

Speaker 2 (23:47):
I really remember that it was often sort of a
joke at Ross's expense, right that his wife had left
him for a woman. But they did air Susan and
Carroll's wedding nearly a decade before same sex marriage was
legal in the United States.

Speaker 1 (24:00):
Yeah, so all of that was great in a lot
of ways, but there were still limits, like they didn't
kiss at that wedding. The wedding episode was banned in
several markets, and like you said, the relationship was really
used as a punchline at the expense of Ross, like
sometimes in a funny way, but also as a punchline.

(24:20):
It seems like.

Speaker 3 (24:20):
Ross is the kind of guy who would marry a
woman on the verge of being a lesbian and then
push her over the ash.

Speaker 1 (24:27):
Another thing that happened was later on the actress who
played Susan actually did an interview where she talked about
how she was cast for the role because basically she
didn't look like a lesbian, so she was palatable enough
for the friend's audience.

Speaker 2 (24:41):
You know, that's kind of a parallel to Jane in
the Golden Girls episode, right, that in some ways it's
progress to have lesbian characters who don't look like some
sort of stereotype, the same way it's progressed not to
have gay men who always have to be like sassy
best friends. But on the other hand, it's also about
making them accessible to a quote unquote mainstream audience.

Speaker 1 (25:01):
I guess, yeah, exactly. And actually, I want to go
back to Jane for a moment and that Golden Girls
episode that started all of this, because yes, on the
one hand, like Jean is the perfect not too lesbian lesbian,
but there are also some things in watching the episode
now that really stood out to me. The first thing
is that Jean's character is pretty well developed for a

(25:21):
gay character at that time, Like she's comfortable with her sexuality,
she's uninterested in hiding it. At one point, when Dorothy
is telling her that she wasn't sure she should tell
the other girls, Jane says, well, you know, I'm not
embarrassed or ashamed of who I am.

Speaker 2 (25:36):
Hey, you know your friends better than I do. If
you think they're the kind of people who can handle it, I'd.

Speaker 1 (25:41):
Prefer to tell them. And also she's always been a lesbian,
like she's not just trying this on, which I think
is how in later years a lot of the gay
characters were depicted as just trying it out and then
going back to the way they were. And even when
you know she has the hots four Rose, it's not
treated in like a predatory sense or even so much

(26:03):
like a joke. And then when the episode closes, after
we've learned that Rose doesn't share the feelings, but she
says this really lovely thing, which is she gently tells Jean,
if I were like you, meaning a lesbian, I'd be
proud and flattered that you thought of me that way.

Speaker 2 (26:19):
That is actually a really lovely way to respond. I
think we all wish that, you know, when we were
presented with something uncomfortable, we would respond in such like
a gentle and sweet way.

Speaker 1 (26:29):
And so it's interesting looking back and trying to analyze
I guess what is going on here, and like how
much the writers were actually conscious of what they're doing,
because on the one hand, Jean, she appears she's like
very attractive, she's super palatable. She looks like the other girls.
You know, she's got her own caf dan. She's not butchered.

(26:50):
She's not playing into the stereotype we might have of
what a lesbian looks like. At the same time, the
writers are not shying away from the fact that she
is who she is, Like they say the word lesbian
in that episode over and over and over again, like
if you were confusing Lebanese and lesbian before, you will
not be confusing it after you watch this, And that

(27:10):
was really not common at that time.

Speaker 2 (27:26):
We've finally seen an evolution to some degree with how
lesbians are depicted on TV. But I'm curious if anything
else comes of the Lebanese lesbian joke.

Speaker 1 (27:36):
Well, yes, so, just to recap after Golden Girls, the
joke first re emerges in nineteen ninety one on the
Rose O'donnald Show in a conversation with Ellen DeGeneres, and
then again it appears in Me and Girls as a
kind of wink wink inside joke about janis Ian the
hot goth Lebanie is lesbian. But this is the best part.
The joke keeps coming up.

Speaker 2 (27:56):
It really does have a life of its own.

Speaker 1 (27:58):
It is again in twenty eleven episode of Glee. This
is an episode titled Born This Way, which is the
Lady Gaga queer anbum. Yes, I'm guessing you also watched
Clee Okay.

Speaker 2 (28:09):
Yes, obviously I'm familiar both with Lady Gaga and Lee.

Speaker 1 (28:13):
Okay, And so in this episode there's a scene of
Santana and Brittany, and Brittany gets a T shirt made
that's supposed to say lesbian, but instead it says Lebanese Way.

Speaker 2 (28:23):
Was that supposed to be lesbian? Yeah? Isn't that what
it says?

Speaker 1 (28:27):
And it's supposed to be I guess this kind of
airhead moment or mistake, but there it is again, Lebanie
is lesbian.

Speaker 2 (28:33):
I probably watched this and it didn't register for me
because I didn't know that this joke was like a thing,
So I probably was just like, yes.

Speaker 1 (28:39):
He's very did see Then later on in twenty seventeen,
there's actually an episode of Master of None. This is
the show created by Azi's I'm Sorry, and they devote
this entire episode to the coming out story of Denise,
who's played by Lena Waith.

Speaker 2 (28:55):
We finally found a show that I did not watch,
but I do remember that Lena in an Emmy for this, right,
I've been meaning to watch this show.

Speaker 1 (29:02):
Yeah it's Leena Way want an Emmy for this. But
the interesting thing here is that this joke appears again,
but this time it's a little bit less of a
joke here. I'm gonna let Maya explain this.

Speaker 5 (29:14):
I talk about this episode all the time because I
do think it's pretty much the greatest, one of the
greatest episodes of.

Speaker 4 (29:18):
Television in like the last ten years.

Speaker 5 (29:20):
But in this episode, the Lebanese lesbian joke kind of
takes like a little bit of a different spin, even
though it's used in a similar way, but it's not
as jokey Lena Waite as the adult Denise. But here
you have like the teenage Denise speaking to dev the
childhood version of Ziz and Sorry's character.

Speaker 2 (29:38):
But they have this conversation, where are you trying to
tell me that you're you know?

Speaker 4 (29:43):
She says, like, you know, I'm Lebanese?

Speaker 2 (29:45):
Lebanese? Wait, you're from Lebanon? No wat, I don't know
how to fet comfortable with the word a lesbian.

Speaker 5 (29:52):
And she kind of uses that as a cover because
she's not ready to use the word lesbian or say
the word lesbian even as refer to herself who she
is or in conversation, because she's still kind of like
grappling with that reality, so she uses it as kind
of a substitute word that she's more comfortable saying.

Speaker 1 (30:11):
I just love that so much because it's like we've
seen this plan words go from haha, wink wink, that's
what she said, joke to this actually really poignant moment
that allows this character to say how she identifies without
having to say it.

Speaker 2 (30:29):
Yeah, it's really sweet in a way that this joke
that now that we've traced the history sort of started
in a way that was throwaway, really has become meaningful
for some people.

Speaker 1 (30:39):
Okay, I have one other thing to tell you, which
is that as I was interviewing Maya, she'd been watching
RuPaul's Drag Race where this joke came up again, and
I couldn't believe.

Speaker 4 (30:48):
When this happened.

Speaker 5 (30:49):
It seemed like I was dreaming in a way because
it was so perfect, And.

Speaker 1 (30:54):
So what was happening is Maya was watching this episode
of Drag Race where the queens are tasked in this
challenge with giving some lesbians a makeover.

Speaker 5 (31:02):
Ruined Michelle have this exchange where Michellevissage asks, you know,
why are we.

Speaker 4 (31:07):
Remaking, you know, Lebanese women, and it's.

Speaker 2 (31:10):
Like, not Lebanese, Michelle, Le's bit lesbian.

Speaker 4 (31:16):
And then you really have the full circle moment where
Michelle is like.

Speaker 2 (31:19):
That sounds like fun.

Speaker 5 (31:22):
Thanks, Golden Girls, and she looks at the camera and
wigs and I'm like, we're living in a simulation.

Speaker 2 (31:29):
Oh my god, I mean it's perfect.

Speaker 1 (31:34):
It's almost too perfect. And so I guess I don't know.
Somewhere in writer's rooms all over America, people are still
deciding that this is a joke worthy of telling.

Speaker 2 (31:44):
That is beautiful. And I have to say that going
on this journey with you about this joke has made
me love the Golden Girls even more than I did before,
which I did not know was possible.

Speaker 1 (31:55):
I love that and I'm so glad. And I also
have one more surprise for you, Yea, though it's not
actually for you, But do you remember when I told
you that Maya this is Maya Salaam. New York Times
culture editor, a very established journalist, was once the proud
owner of Lebanese lesbian.

Speaker 2 (32:15):
Dot Course How could I forget such a thing?

Speaker 1 (32:17):
How could you forget? Well, when we were talking, she
confessed to me that she actually let it lapse, and
I was horrified. I mean, like, honestly, that's pretty homophobic,
maybe even, and so you know, I did what a
good ally does. I decided to buy it for her. So, Susie,
you're now speaking to the owner of Lebanese lesbian dot com,

(32:40):
which honestly is probably appropriate. So I need to figure
out how to transfer this to Maya immediately.

Speaker 2 (32:46):
That's really beautiful.

Speaker 1 (32:47):
Congratulations Maya, and congratulations to Lebanese lesbians everywhere.

Speaker 2 (32:57):
Jess, do you want to tell listeners we have coming
up next week?

Speaker 1 (33:00):
Yes, it's an interview with the director of Bottoms, the
hilarious gay fight club comedy whose director happens to also
be the best friend of one of our producers, Sharon.
I knew that I wanted to make a teen comedy
and that I wanted it to be queer from the
get go.

Speaker 2 (33:14):
Yeah, there was no we'll see what the sexualities of
these characters are. This is in retrospect. Thanks for listening.
Is there a pop culture moment you can't stop thinking
about and want us to explore in a future episode.
Email us at in Retropod at gmail dot com, or

(33:35):
find us on Instagram at in retropod.

Speaker 1 (33:38):
If you love this podcast, please rate and review us
on Apple or Spotify or wherever you listen. If you
hate it, you can post nasty comments on our Instagram,
which we may or may not delete.

Speaker 2 (33:48):
You can also find us on Instagram at Jessica Bennett
and at Susie b NYC. Also check out Jessica's books
Feminist Fight Club and This Is Eighteen.

Speaker 1 (33:57):
In Retrospect is a production of iHeart podcast and the Media.
Lauren Anson is our supervising producer. Derek Clements is our
engineer and sound designer. Emily Meronoff is our producer. Sharan
Atia is our researcher and associate producer.

Speaker 2 (34:12):
Our executive producer from the media is Cindy Levy. Our
executive producers from iHeart are Anna Stump and Katrina Norbel.
Our artwork is from Pentagram, additional editing help from Mary do.
Our mixing engineer is Amanda Rose Smith. We are your
hosts Susie Bannaccarum.

Speaker 1 (34:29):
And Jessica Bennett. We are also executive producers for even
More check out in retropod dot com. See you next week.
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