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February 1, 2024 39 mins

“Not ‘Lebanese,’ Blanche. Lesbian!” The line originated on The Golden Girls in 1986, after a lesbian friend of Dorothy’s came to visit and Blanche mistook her for “Lebanese.” A decade later, Ellen DeGeneres riffed on that same play on words, coming out as “Lebanese” on the Rosie O’Donnell Show shortly before publicly coming out. “Lebanese” lesbians would go on to appear in Mean Girls, on Glee, and even RuPaul’s Drag Race. In this episode, Jess and Susie get to the bottom of what made that joke so enduring… and talk to an actual Lebanese lesbian about what it meant to her.

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Episode Transcript

Available transcripts are automatically generated. Complete accuracy is not guaranteed.
Speaker 1 (00:00):
The year was nineteen eighty six and Golden Girls, a
groundbreaking news sitcom, was in its second season. The show
followed the escapades of four senior women living together in
Miami as they navigated their friendships and their sex lives.
That in of itself was radical for the time, but
the show also pushed boundaries in more subtle ways, like

(00:21):
in this episode where Jean, a college friend of Dorothy's,
comes to visit the Girls.

Speaker 2 (00:26):
And they find out she is a lesbian. Come on, now,
I heard you laughin What's so fun It?

Speaker 3 (00:32):
The Stars?

Speaker 2 (00:33):
She is a lesbian, but there was some confusion.

Speaker 4 (00:36):
What's funny about that?

Speaker 3 (00:37):
You aren't surprised, of course not.

Speaker 2 (00:40):
I mean, I've never known any personally.

Speaker 3 (00:42):
But isn't Danny Thomas want not Lebanese lesbian.

Speaker 1 (01:01):
It's a classic sitcom joke, a silly play on words,
and one that might have been forgotten over time, and
yet that joke, that punchline has lived on for nearly
forty years. I'm Jessica Bennett and I'm Susie bennakaarm and
this is in retrospect, where each week we revisit.

Speaker 2 (01:21):
A cultural moment from the past that shaped us.

Speaker 3 (01:24):
And that we just can't stop thinking about.

Speaker 1 (01:26):
Today 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 one, So, Susie, we're talking today about an
episode of The Golden Girls called Isn't It Romantic? But,

(01:49):
as I like to refer to it, the Lebanese Lesbian Episode.
This episode aired in November nineteen eighty six on the NBC,
and it centers around a friend of Dorothy's who comes
to town to stay with the Girls, who happens to
be a lesbian.

Speaker 3 (02:05):
How scandalous.

Speaker 1 (02:07):
And to set the scene a little bit, you know,
this was the Reagan era. Shoulder pads are grazing the
runways and the workplace, and Golden Girls was this wildly
popular show. Each Saturday night at nine pm, millions of
Americans gathered on their living room sofas to tune into
the lives of Dorothy, Rose, Sophia, and Blanche, who are

(02:27):
four women living together in Miami, and the characters. They
were all widowed or divorced and what's so funny is
that they were actually described in all the media as
elderly back then, even though most of them were in
their fifties.

Speaker 2 (02:41):
That's worrying for me, right, And the.

Speaker 1 (02:44):
Show documents their lives, you know, while they navigate life
and love and friendship and sex, and Blanche in particular,
has a lot of sex.

Speaker 2 (02:54):
Susie, did you watch the Golden Girls?

Speaker 3 (02:56):
I did watch Golden Girls. Yeah, I watched growing up,
and I feel like we watched as family a lot
of the time. Our favorite character was Sophia, who was
Dorothy's mom who lived with the girls, And I think
I always liked that because my grandmother lived with us,
so it felt very representative of an immigrant family, and
Sofia was Sicilian, so she told a lot of anecdotes
from the old country.

Speaker 2 (03:17):
I think that was really common.

Speaker 1 (03:18):
This was a show that a lot of people watched intergenerationally,
and the characters included Sophia, the Sicilian mother of Dorothy,
who was played by Bee Arthur. She's kind of this
wise cracking substitute teacher who's like always wearing a calf doan,
I know, my hero. And then there's Blanche played by
Rue McClanahan.

Speaker 2 (03:39):
She's kind of like the man hungry Southern Bell.

Speaker 1 (03:43):
Who's like always talking about sex, and she owns the
house that they all live in. And then of course
there is Betty White's character Rose, who is this innocent
farm girl from Minnesota who kind of never gets the jokes.

Speaker 3 (03:56):
It is funny that they were in their fifties because
I remembered them being very old ladies.

Speaker 1 (04:02):
I mean, there was that meme going around comparing Sex
and the City those women now to the Golden Girls then,
and like, just the way they look side by side
is so different.

Speaker 3 (04:13):
I remember that meme because it was making the rounds
on social media. After that new Sex and the City
reboot came out and fans realized that the actors are
actually a little older than the Golden Girls were supposed
to be back then, which really encapsulates how differently we
think about women in their fifties now than we did then.
I mean, they all had gray hair, I feel like,
or if it wasn't gray, it felt like it.

Speaker 1 (04:34):
Was well and there were certainly you know, like the caftan,
like they were dressing like older women. Yeah, but that
was part of what made this show great Golden Girls,
I think was ahead of its time in various ways.
For one, it was created by a woman, Susan Harris,
but the characters and the women playing the characters were

(04:56):
all women who might have been considered past their prime
in other contexts. And not only were they supposedly pass
their prime, but they were extremely open about their sex lives.
Like I think in a lot of ways, the Golden
Girls were the original sex positives.

Speaker 3 (05:12):
I happen to have an affection for buyes. Matter of fact,
I became a woman in one. I thought you lost
it in the hot air balloon.

Speaker 4 (05:21):
I thought you lost it at a pancake breakfast.

Speaker 3 (05:25):
Well, those don't count. And they were always dating, which
I think is also another thing that you don't really
see for elderly and quotes women that they have active
romantic lives, and that was a huge part of the storylines.

Speaker 1 (05:38):
Before we get into the episode itself, Susie, you're a
resident TV expert, we need to explain for people who
didn't live during this era what you need to know
about eighties sitcoms.

Speaker 3 (05:49):
Yeah, I mean, I think the difference is is that
sitcoms were very much appointment television when we were growing up,
you knew what time they came on. There was always
between eight and eleven o'clock at night, and if you
were lucky, your family let you stay up to watch them,
and they were family friendly. You gathered around to television
together and you watched and it sort of felt like
you knew those people right. And they also had this

(06:11):
kind of famous laugh track, this can the laugh. It
did just become the soundtrack of these shows, and so
it helped q you on what was supposed to be
a joke and how it worked. I actually, I have
to say I love sitcoms. It feels funny to admit
this now, but we really love The Cosby Show in
my family, and I even like, you know, some more

(06:32):
current sitcoms, like I loved Modern Family. So it's very
much I think when you're an immigrant family one of
the ways in which you learn about how America is
supposed to work.

Speaker 1 (06:42):
And that's an interesting point because I think that these
shows were catering to mainstream America, and so often they
were really trying to reflect the cultural norms of the time,
which you know, sometimes were retrograde in some ways, but
occasionally these shows would push against them. Either subtly or
not so subtly, like I Love Lucy did this in

(07:03):
the nineteen fifties with pregnancy at a time when even
just the word was forbidden on TV.

Speaker 3 (07:09):
Why was pregnancy a forbidden word? Like, it's not a
dirty thing to be pregnant? She was married.

Speaker 1 (07:14):
We're going to get into all of the weird, oh
my god, around what you can and can't say on television.
But the thing is when this episode, when Golden Girls
was airing, there were really very few gay characters on television,
and especially in the eighties and mid eighties, if a
writer did dare to create one, the plotline around that

(07:34):
character often related to aids. And then within those gay representations,
it was so rare to be almost nonexistent to actually
feature and out lesbian on a sitcom.

Speaker 3 (07:47):
Yeah, I can't remember one until actually much later. The
one that comes to mind immediately for me is Grade's Anatomy,
But I mean that was in the two thousands, so
I mean we're talking about much later.

Speaker 1 (07:58):
Yeah, I mean, there were definitely ones before that. But
the thing about this episode is that it's coming out
at a time when Golden Girls is really at the
top of its game. It has a devoted regular audience
of fifteen to twenty million viewers, and out of the
top ten most viewed shows, it ranks number five.

Speaker 4 (08:18):
Oh wow.

Speaker 3 (08:18):
I mean, I knew it was hugely popular, but I
don't know that I realized it was so popular. But
also the interesting thing is it's become kind of this
cult show since I remember watching it when I was
growing up, But then I have friends who are still
obsessed with it, so it really has taken on like
a cultural meaning beyond just that time.

Speaker 1 (08:43):
Okay, so let's get into the episode. This episode, as
I mentioned, is called Isn't It Romantic? And it airs
in season two, and the real plot of the episode
involves Dorothy's college friend Jean, who was coming to visit
the girls after the death of her longtime partner Pat
Pat note the gender or neutral name.

Speaker 2 (09:01):
It's easy for the girls to assume that.

Speaker 1 (09:04):
Pat may be a man, and Jane is and has
always been, a lesbian, and Dorothy knows this, but she's
worried about telling the other girls. And then what ends
up happening, which gets us to our Lebanese moment, is
that we learn that Gene actually develops a crush on
Rose and so Dorothy then tells her mom, who gets

(09:24):
like a kick out of this, and they're in the
bedroom giggling and in walks Blant, come on.

Speaker 2 (09:28):
Now, I heard you laughin what's so fully?

Speaker 1 (09:31):
Sophia then tells Blanche that Jean is a lesbian, but
Blanche thinks she means Lebanese, and so she asks if
Danny Thomas, who's a popular Lebanese American entertainer at that time, is.

Speaker 3 (09:42):
One not Lebanese lesbian clesbian lesbian lesbia?

Speaker 1 (09:56):
Isn't that?

Speaker 4 (09:57):
Well one moment in the numb you already know what.

Speaker 1 (10:00):
Dorothy then tells Blanche the Gene, the lesbian has developed
feelings for Rose, and Blanche in like typical Blanche passion,
you know, she sort of famously loves attention, is totally
unconcerned that Gane is a lesbian, but she's very concerned
that Jane is into Rose and not her.

Speaker 3 (10:17):
It's a classic Bland But actually I have to say
it feels pretty progressive how well they're all taking the news.
How does this all end up playing out?

Speaker 1 (10:25):
Yeah, I mean it plays out in kind of classic
Golden Girls fashion. Basically, Rose still doesn't know that Gene
is a lesbian and she definitely doesn't know that Jane
likes her, but they're developing this friendship, and then there's
this really funny misunderstanding where they're staying up late and
the other girls are asleep, and so Rose is like, well, Gene,
you can sleep in my bed with me.

Speaker 2 (10:46):
And so then there's this scene.

Speaker 1 (10:47):
Where they're in bed and Jane kind of rolls over
and tells Rose that she's quite fond of her. And
I love this line because it's like so sweet and innocent.
But then you watch as this kind of clicks in
Rose's mine what's actually going on here? And she in
response pretends to be asleep.

Speaker 3 (11:06):
Do they talk about it eventually?

Speaker 1 (11:09):
Yeah, So eventually this little bit of drama is all resolved,
and you know, they have this nice conversation and the
girls remain friends but not lovers. And so the Lebanese
joke is not actually the focus of the episode itself,
Like it comes midway through after we find out that

(11:30):
Gen has the hots for Rose, and it's funny, it's
well timed, it's not too heavy handed, it's like maybe
not even that funny, but it seems to be playing
on this idea that the words Lebanese and lesbian sound similar.

Speaker 3 (11:44):
It's a perfect sitcom joke, though, right sitcom jokes are
a little like absurd and not righteously funny. For the
most part, they're almost like a little punny or juvenile.
You know that it's meant to be kind of silly.

Speaker 1 (11:56):
But okay, So like for many reasons, this was an
episode that really stuck in people's minds, and it was
groundbreaking in a lot of ways, but it was not
groundbreaking for the Lebanese joke, and so you might have
thought that that joke would have you know, whatever, it
gets lost to history.

Speaker 2 (12:13):
It's kind of funny.

Speaker 1 (12:14):
We move on, and yet then a full decade later,
it appears again in a very public fashion on an
episode of The Rosy O'donnald Show, where Ellen Degenerous appears.

Speaker 3 (12:24):
Oh interesting.

Speaker 1 (12:25):
You probably remember this time because they were rumors circulating
that Ellen, her character on her sitcom, and also Ellen
the real person, was gay, and that she was going
to come out as gay, which she soon would in
April I believe, of nineteen ninety seven.

Speaker 4 (12:41):
So I'm gay.

Speaker 3 (12:44):
Yeah, I mean, I completely remember this. It was such
a big deal because there had never been a gay
lead on a sitcom or primetime television show before.

Speaker 1 (12:53):
Right, and so this appearance on Rosy's show is before
any of that happens.

Speaker 2 (12:57):
I'll just walk you through it. So Ellen comes on stage,
they banter.

Speaker 1 (13:01):
Rosie is asking her about rumors about Ellen's character on
the show, and she gives her the opportunity to set
the record straight, and so then Ellen reveals, well, you know,
we do find out that the character is Lebanese. And
so Rosie says, watch us out of the Blue, and
Ellen then jokes about, how you know there have been

(13:22):
clues that she might be Lebanese, Like she eats a
lot of Baba good noosh, she's pretty good the hummus,
and she's a big fan of Kasey kase and the DJ.

Speaker 3 (13:30):
This is Casey case American Top forty.

Speaker 2 (13:33):
Has moved to a new who I actually didn't realize
was Lebanese.

Speaker 3 (13:36):
I did not know that either, And so.

Speaker 1 (13:38):
Then Rosie says, you know, I also like Casey case
of like maybe I'm Lebanese. And Ellen says, you know, Rosie,
sometimes I pick up that you might be Lebanese. And
you know, basically the whole thing is this kind of
wink wink, but like an obvious one. And Rosie ends

(13:59):
by saying, you know, actually good for the network, like
many networks wouldn't be so comfortable with different ethnicities, that's amazing.
And then Ellen closes it off by saying, well, you know, Rosie,
like half of Hollywood is lebonies.

Speaker 3 (14:15):
I got I love this. But Rosie wasn't out yet, right.

Speaker 2 (14:18):
No, Rosie was not formally out.

Speaker 1 (14:20):
She didn't come out until two thousand and two, after
this talk show had ended. But I think people knew. Like,
that's why it's funny. That's why the joke worked, and
it becomes this whole kind of like wink wink. We
can have this whole conversation about our sexuality without actually
using the word lesbian, and the audience is going to

(14:41):
get it. And of course is at a time when
it's much less common to be out in Hollywood, and
that's what makes the joke.

Speaker 3 (15:03):
Didn't remain right about this moment between Rosie and Ellen
in his book about the View.

Speaker 2 (15:09):
Yes, he did so for listeners.

Speaker 1 (15:11):
This is romin Instituta, our friend who is now the
editor of Variety, and he wrote a book called Ladies
Who Punch, which is all about the juicy inside details
of the view. And in the book, he talks to
Rosie about Ellen's coming out, and there's this really interesting
quote where she says to remain I remember thinking, well,
she's going to ruin her whole career. And then when

(15:32):
Ellen came on Rosie's show, Rosie said she had to
figure out a way to here's the quote, stand next
to her so that everybody in the know is going
to know I'm not leaving her out there alone.

Speaker 3 (15:43):
Oh that's interesting, right, because she doesn't want to seem
like she's not in solidarity with her, but she's also
worried about her own career, like it must have been
very complicated actually exactly.

Speaker 1 (15:52):
And so they're doing it in this way where it's
kind of like if you know, you.

Speaker 3 (15:56):
Know, yeah, but it's actually kind of sweet, right, I mean,
it makes that mom even more meaningful because it's a
way of her showing support and finding a way to
do it in a way that's going to get through
the censors. I'm sure had they seen the joke on
Golden Girls, is that where it came from.

Speaker 2 (16:11):
Well, so that's the thing we don't know.

Speaker 1 (16:13):
I mean, you have to presume, so I've gone up
and down like into nexus, like deep dive all the
way trying to find the origins of this joke. And
the first known use of it is on Golden Girls.

Speaker 2 (16:24):
So had Rosie seen Golden Girls? I'm not sure?

Speaker 1 (16:27):
Or was this something that was kind of one of
those things that was out in the ether where you
don't really know the origin, Like it kind of reminds
me of the lesbian U haul joke, like what do
you bring to the second date?

Speaker 2 (16:38):
A U haul?

Speaker 3 (16:39):
Wait?

Speaker 2 (16:39):
Is that joke from something I don't know? We've all
always heard that joke.

Speaker 1 (16:42):
It's certainly appeared in various sitcoms and on television and
pop culture, but I don't know that anyone really knows
the origin. Though probably if our listeners are anything like
New York Times readers, they will now fact check us
on that, which I welcome.

Speaker 2 (16:56):
Please tell us tell you that joke.

Speaker 1 (16:59):
But there's a lot of these wink wink nod jokes
when it comes to people's sexuality. And actually, this makes
me think of something that Searon, one of our producers,
point out, which is Gene in the Golden Girls episode
is a quote friend of Dorothy. Friend of Dorothy is
a reference often used for a gay person that comes

(17:20):
from Dorothy.

Speaker 2 (17:20):
And the Wizard of uz.

Speaker 3 (17:21):
Oh, that's where Friend of Dorothy comes from.

Speaker 1 (17:24):
Yes, And so this too is one of those jokes
with like unclear origins. Best I could find for why
that is the case is because Dorothy was played by
Judy Garland, who, though she herself was not gay or
at least not that we know of, was a huge
icon to the gay community.

Speaker 3 (17:41):
That's amazing. Yeah, of course I've heard Friend of Dorothy,
but I didn't connect it to this episode. But that's
I wonder if the writers were sort of doing like
a wink to that.

Speaker 1 (17:49):
I feel like they must have been right, Like there's
all these kind of wink wink nod nods. And so
then the next time the joke appears, this is I
know a favorite movie of both of ours comes in.

Speaker 2 (17:59):
Mean Girl on Wednesdays. We were pink best movie, the
best movie.

Speaker 1 (18:03):
And so this time so this is again the Lebanies
lesbian joke, and this time the plot point involves Janice.
Janis is like the Gothy indie side character.

Speaker 3 (18:14):
Well, she's the one who takes in the Lindsay Lohan
character when she doesn't have friends in the beginning.

Speaker 1 (18:18):
Right exactly, and she's kind of this outsider and her
best friend is gay, and she presents as a lesbian
in a lot of ways, which is something that Regina
George then uses to make fun of her throughout. I
was like, Dans, I can't bite you because I think
you're a lesbian.

Speaker 2 (18:35):
I mean, I couldn't have a lesbian at my party.
There could be girls.

Speaker 3 (18:38):
There in their bathing suits.

Speaker 1 (18:40):
My god, Regina George is such a bitch. So that's
Regina George making fun of janis Ian. By the way,
janis Ian named after a famous nineteen seventies lesbian singer songwriter,
So like, that's another kind of underhanded thing there. Okay,
So then you get to the very end of the
movie and jan and Katie and everyone are at the

(19:02):
school dance and Janis you'll remember, is wearing this very
androgynous suit. But she's dancing with Kevin G, who is
one of the guys from Katie's math to you, like
the Kevin G math to her math let, a fellow
math lete athlete. Yes, so she's dancing with Katie's fellow mathlete,
Kevin G. And Kevin G says to her Puerto Rican Lebanese.

Speaker 3 (19:27):
Wait, she wasn't Lebanese.

Speaker 4 (19:29):
No, she is blowing my mind.

Speaker 3 (19:31):
I'm such an innocent I was like, oh, she's Lebanies
like me midd least third.

Speaker 1 (19:34):
Well, No, she is Lebanese, and and she talks about
it at various points in the time. But she's also
subscribed to the queer fan theory, like, yes, this is
her confirming to those who know that she is also
a lesbian. Okay, that's there's all these funny fan theory
I mean, like you can go deep into mean girls
fan theories. But like one of the theories is that

(19:57):
at some point Jana says she's Lebanese, Regina may have
misheard her, and so that's why she thinks she's.

Speaker 3 (20:03):
That makes sense. Yeah, that's hilarious.

Speaker 1 (20:05):
You know, you could see the ending of that movie
as her telling Kevin g she's Lebanese flat like that's
that's it. Or you could read it as her coming
out and so there are various interpretations of what that means.

Speaker 3 (20:17):
Wow, this is blowing my mind.

Speaker 1 (20:36):
So, Susie, if you can't tell already, I got a
little bit obsessed with this lesbian Lebanese joke and I
really started going down a rabbit hole that took way
too much time.

Speaker 2 (20:47):
But I went on a journey because I.

Speaker 1 (20:50):
Needed to know where the origin of this joke was
and like, was it really as simplistic as it sounded?

Speaker 3 (20:56):
Well, first of all, I love this about you. One
of my favorite things about you is that you can
come up again something that just seems simple and then
spend hours and hours trying to come up with the
origin too. And I do think it's going to pay off.
And I am sort of curious. What did you hope
you were gonna find? Like, what was the thing you

(21:16):
were searching for?

Speaker 1 (21:18):
Well, I guess I wanted to credit the original author
of the joke, but I wanted to know if there
was something we weren't getting, Like it just seems too simple,
Like is it really just.

Speaker 2 (21:28):
A play on words?

Speaker 1 (21:29):
You seriously mix up the words lebanies and lesbian, Like
I just didn't get it, and I thought there must
be more to it.

Speaker 3 (21:37):
I mean, this is very writerly of you to want
a minute is sure that whoever came up with this
had really gotten the credit they deserved. I love that.

Speaker 1 (21:45):
So, Okay, here's where I began. I had a great
place to start, which is with my friend Maya Salaam.
She is a culture editor at the New York Times.
She is a Golden Girls super fan. Her dog is
named after be Arthur.

Speaker 3 (21:58):
That's amazing.

Speaker 1 (21:58):
And on top of that, she is an actual Lebanese lesbian.
Oh wow, So I figure she would be a good
place to begin.

Speaker 4 (22:07):
I've been thinking about it and obsessing about it.

Speaker 5 (22:10):
This like very strange play on words for so many
decades that in twenty ten I actually bought the domain
Lebanese lesbian dot com with high hopes of creating a blog,
and the only thing I did on it was actually
embed the clip from that Golden Girls.

Speaker 4 (22:26):
Episode at the top.

Speaker 2 (22:27):
Amazing.

Speaker 4 (22:28):
So this is this has been a long running theme
in my life.

Speaker 1 (22:33):
Okay, So I was screaming on the phone with Maya
because I had no idea when I called her that
that website was a thing.

Speaker 3 (22:41):
I mean, when perfect thing.

Speaker 1 (22:43):
The other thing is that Maya actually remembers watching that
episode in real time, so I'll let her explain what
it was like to see that.

Speaker 4 (22:50):
We had only been in the US for a couple
of years.

Speaker 5 (22:53):
My family came to America from Baryt Lebanon and I
took to watching a lot of TV as soon as
we got here. It was kind of like my little
outlet in a way that I learned a lot about
pretty much everything I learned about American culture, and I
was obsessed with the Golden Girls from the start.

Speaker 4 (23:12):
I still am.

Speaker 5 (23:15):
I was sitting on the living room floor, I know
my mom and at least one of my sisters was
in the room, not Lebanese, and of course they heard
the word Lebanese and you know, kind of like caught
everyone's attention. But then they kind of paused because they
understood what the word lesbian meant, even though I didn't.
So it was sort of like I was this little
girl like cracking up at this joke, and they were frozen,

(23:38):
probably in fear that I was going to ask them
what lesbian meant.

Speaker 4 (23:42):
At that young age, I didn't know what a lesbian was.

Speaker 5 (23:45):
But to hear Lebanese, which you know, obviously I am,
and was such It's such a you know, interesting word
and not one that I was hearing in my life.

Speaker 4 (23:55):
We were in Missouri at the time.

Speaker 3 (23:57):
To hear it on like the most popular show on television,
it just made me feel so.

Speaker 1 (24:03):
Heard and seen it would be a number of years
before my would actually come out as a lesbian.

Speaker 2 (24:08):
But I just love that image of her in the
TV room watching this show so much to me too.

Speaker 3 (24:13):
I mean, I know from watching TV with my Middle
Eastern family that anything that was even vaguely scandalous was
so uncomfortable.

Speaker 1 (24:22):
And so Maya has actually gone on to cover this
subject as a journalist, and not just Golden Girls, but
the idea of queer representation on television. So I thought
for sure she could help me understand where this joke
came from, like this was a joke that had followed
her her entire life.

Speaker 2 (24:39):
But she didn't know.

Speaker 3 (24:41):
God, You're never going to get to the bottom of this,
but you will.

Speaker 2 (24:45):
Well, no, I am, So where did I go from there?

Speaker 1 (24:47):
Okay, so every lesbian I know received a phone call
or a text about this.

Speaker 3 (24:52):
I'm sure they really appreciated.

Speaker 2 (24:53):
My resident owl got.

Speaker 1 (24:55):
A phone calls an old wise lesbian.

Speaker 3 (24:58):
Oh, I didn't know that was a thing.

Speaker 2 (25:00):
She had never heard of it.

Speaker 1 (25:01):
I then was with my friends Danielle and Sarah, and
Sarah has a friend who is Lebanie, not a lesbian,
but Lebanese, and so we texted her asking if she'd
ever heard of it, and she actually said yes, like,
oh my god, I've been so confused by this for years,
like this is a bad joke that people would say
to me when I would say I'm Lebanese. And so

(25:24):
so I was like, wait, what, like how does that look?
And so she wrote this out on text so her,
I'm Lebanese guy, you're a lesbian.

Speaker 3 (25:32):
Of course, I mean you can sort of picture that
at every frat party, like.

Speaker 2 (25:36):
If you're like, oh, that's what she said, Joe, Yeah.

Speaker 1 (25:39):
And then I was in the middle of a deep
research dig and realized I was late to therapy, and
so I paused for therapy and then I asked my therapist,
she's not Lebanese, but she is a lesbian.

Speaker 2 (25:51):
I like, we have to.

Speaker 1 (25:51):
Clarify for each person, now Lean lesbian or ros And
she very much knew the joke. She knew immediately, but
she too thought that it had originated with Rosie and Ellen,
not with the Golden Girls. And actually she also made
the good point that there are a lot of these
types of jokes that persist. Another one that she uses

(26:12):
with her friends is the toaster oven joke from.

Speaker 3 (26:15):
Ellen Wait I don't know the toaster oven, Jake.

Speaker 1 (26:17):
I had to look this up, but basically, it's a
joke about how if you recruit a straight woman to
the lesbian cause, they get a toaster oven as their reward.
It was like a gift of recruitment, and so in
common usage, it's like, oh, yeah, did you give her
a toast raven?

Speaker 3 (26:38):
So I thought it was like a reward for the
person who had recruited the straight woman into the lesbian.

Speaker 2 (26:42):
Cause, well, maybe she deserves a toaster oven.

Speaker 4 (26:45):
Too, Yeah, susan.

Speaker 3 (26:51):
Stuff of that.

Speaker 2 (26:52):
Okay, So that clearly got me nowhere. But finally I
reached out to Drew Mackie.

Speaker 1 (26:59):
He is a journalist and the co host of an
amazing podcast that I now can't stop listening to called
Gayest Episode Ever.

Speaker 2 (27:06):
And so here's what Drew told me.

Speaker 6 (27:08):
I was really thinking about this is the hardest question
in the list of questions you sent me. I'm like,
why is this a thing? And it made me think
of lake Titycocca, where lake Titycoca is like an easy
joke in the culture of anyone who's not someone who
lives around lake Titycca, because it sounds like something funny,
even though it's not that thing, And I'm.

Speaker 1 (27:27):
Like, is that it?

Speaker 2 (27:28):
I really do think that's it?

Speaker 1 (27:29):
Is it?

Speaker 6 (27:30):
That simplistic Lebanese sounds like this word that is sexual
in nature? And no matter how much studying and maturing
we do, we are still little kids giggling at the
thing that sounds like another thing. And I can't think
of another explanation for it.

Speaker 3 (27:47):
I mean, it's sort of like how kids laugh whatever
you say uranus, even though uranus is not objectively a
funny word.

Speaker 1 (27:53):
Yes, on that note, before I get into how Drew
helped me unlock the mystery of this joke, there's a
small but very important piece of his personal history that
cuse I think you need to hear.

Speaker 6 (28:04):
I remember learning the word slut from Sophia and then
using it at school. Did not understand what it meant.
I just thought it was like a generic insult for
someone that you don't like. And then I had to
have explained to me that just because Sophia says something
does not mean that I should be allowed to say it,
which was surprising to me. It was like, Oh, she's
allowed to say that on TV and I can't in school.

Speaker 3 (28:23):
That's weird.

Speaker 2 (28:24):
Who did you call a slut?

Speaker 6 (28:25):
By the way, this girl named not Aida and we
were fighting over like some sort of toy on the playground.
I was like in second grade and then she was like,
missus Brown, Drew called me a slut.

Speaker 3 (28:35):
And she was like, what you're like?

Speaker 2 (28:36):
Sophia said it literally, I.

Speaker 6 (28:39):
Can remember being like, but like, I learned it from
Golden Girls.

Speaker 3 (28:43):
It's really funny that he actually learned the word slut
from an actual grandmother.

Speaker 2 (28:49):
It's perfect.

Speaker 1 (28:49):
I mean, the show was not just groundbreaking, but it
was educational in a really important way. And speaking of educational,
Drew has actually written a very well researched oral history
of episode oh wow. He did it a few years
back for a now defunct gay magazine out of la
called Frontiers. But as part of that oral history, he
spoke to this guy, Jeffrey Dutiel, who was apparently the

(29:12):
man who was actually responsible for writing that episode of
The Golden Girls.

Speaker 3 (29:17):
Okay, I'm genuinely impressed by how far down this rabbit
hole you went.

Speaker 2 (29:21):
Thank you. But also we're not done.

Speaker 3 (29:23):
Oh I know.

Speaker 1 (29:24):
So I obviously had to get in touch with Jeffrey,
but Drew couldn't find his email. So then we began
this game of telephone, which essentially was first I spoke
to this woman. This is like the behind the scenes
reporting that you normally don't put into the article, but
since we're on a podcast, yeah, I love it. So
first I spoke to Winnifred Hervey, who herself is a

(29:47):
trailblazer in many ways. She wrote and executive produced shows
like The Cosby Show, The Fresh Prince of bel Air,
and she was a co producer on Golden Girls.

Speaker 3 (29:55):
Oh wow.

Speaker 1 (29:55):
But she didn't know the origin, of course. So she
put me in touch with a guy called Barry fin Narrow.
He was a staff writer on the show during the
time that this episode aired, and I spoke with him
and he actually claimed that he had written a joke.

Speaker 2 (30:08):
But then here's the twist. I finally heard from Jeffrey.

Speaker 1 (30:13):
He's retired now, he's seventy two, he's a grandparent, and
he explained in more detail that, yeah, he had been
a freelancer at the time and he loved Golden Girls.
He was an out gay man. He knew Winifred from
working with her on a past sitcom, and so he
got this specscript to her and the joke came to

(30:35):
him in a quote burst of creative luck.

Speaker 3 (30:38):
So I tend to believe Jeffrey here.

Speaker 1 (30:41):
I mean, I don't want to get into the middle
of this. I'm sure that everyone had a hand in it.
I'm not going to immediate being very many years have passed.
But I did learn two important things from the series
of conversations. First, as Barry reminded me, all of the
characters on this show were a little night so it's
not that crazy to think that Blanche might have actually

(31:02):
mixed up Lesbian for Lebanese.

Speaker 3 (31:04):
That's fair.

Speaker 1 (31:05):
And Second, what Jeffrey's blamed was that there was actually
an inside joke here too, and that was that Danny Thomas,
who we spoke about before, this famous comedian and actor
who was Lebanese, is the father not only of Marlow Thomas,
but of Tony Thomas, whose production company ran Golden Girls.

Speaker 3 (31:23):
Oh my god.

Speaker 1 (31:23):
So on top of the wordplay, there was this kind
of poking fun at Tony Thomas because.

Speaker 2 (31:30):
It's his dad, and now we're going to call his
dad a lesbian.

Speaker 3 (31:34):
Oh god, there are so many layers here we could
never have predicted when we started on this journey.

Speaker 2 (31:39):
I love this exactly.

Speaker 1 (31:42):
There's another thing, Susie that became very clear in talking
to Jeffrey, which is basically that Golden Girls was always
for the gas.

Speaker 3 (31:50):
Because it has kind of like a gay icon status.

Speaker 2 (31:53):
Well, I mean that very much is true.

Speaker 1 (31:56):
Now there are Golden Girls cruises and drag shows on
like every kind of Golden Girls themed event under the sun, now,
which all sound amazing.

Speaker 2 (32:04):
I would love to go on a Golden Girls cruise.

Speaker 1 (32:06):
But I guess what I didn't realize was that Golden
Girls has ties to gay culture that are much deeper
and really go all the way back to its inception.
Oh really, So from the very first episode in the pilot,
there is an out and proud gay character, Coco.

Speaker 2 (32:23):
I don't know if you remember this. He was kind
of a houseboy.

Speaker 1 (32:25):
He was then written off, so like arguable how progressive
that character actually was. But from the very first episode,
I don't remember that. And then there was this episode
where Blanche's brother Clayton comes out and he pretends that
he has slept with Rose in order to disguise from
the fact that he's gay. But the point of the
episode is really that Blanche has to confront her own homophobia.

(32:47):
So then a little bit later the show took on
AIDS in nineteen ninety, but not in the way you
might have thought. Like in the episode, it's Rose who's
told she may have contracted HIV during a blood transfusion,
and this is an exchange between she and Blanche.

Speaker 3 (33:00):
I'm just saying that I am a good person.

Speaker 4 (33:07):
Hell, I'm a goody two shoes. Age is not a
bad person's disease.

Speaker 1 (33:12):
Rose.

Speaker 2 (33:13):
It is not God punishing people for their sins.

Speaker 3 (33:17):
Wow, that's really progressive. I think at that time there
really was this right wing talking point that AIDS was
like punishment. So it's impressive they took that on. It's
a really poignant line. And then there's this other fact
that Drew alerted me to, which is another episode. It's
in Valentine's Day episode, and you know, many of these

(33:37):
women are widowed, and so Blanche goes to this bar
where she orders two glasses of champagne.

Speaker 2 (33:42):
To commemorate her late husband.

Speaker 1 (33:45):
And while she's there, she meets a young man who's
going to propose to his boyfriend. And all of this
is to say that the episode basically ends with Blanche
saying love is love.

Speaker 2 (33:55):
The line love is love.

Speaker 3 (33:57):
Wait was that a political slogan at that time? No?

Speaker 1 (34:00):
Oh, because this was nineteen eighty nine, and that, of
course is the phrase that became known as the slogan
or part of the rallying cry for marriage equality.

Speaker 3 (34:09):
So that's an amazing sort of little negative political history
that ties to this.

Speaker 1 (34:13):
Meanwhile, these were like really big and overt moments of
gay representation in the show, but there were also more
subtle ones too. Here's Drew Mackie, co host of Gayest
Episode Ever again.

Speaker 6 (34:24):
You have these four women living together in a chosen family,
and the reasons that they've been separated from their nuclear
families are different from what would separate a queer person
from their nuclear family, especially back in the eighties, But
the result is the same. They're living together and they're
getting the kind of stuff that you would normally expect
to get from parent, siblings, extended family. They're getting it

(34:45):
from each other, even though except for Dorothy and Sophia,
they're not related. And it doesn't mean any less to
these four women. This is a really powerful relationship they
have with each other. And I think that's subconsciously really
good model for anyone really, and I think that is
the genius of sitcoms, is that you don't watch to relate,

(35:07):
or you don't certainly don't watch to learn.

Speaker 3 (35:08):
You just watched to laugh.

Speaker 6 (35:10):
And if this show is written intelligently enough, they will
educate you regardless. And you may not ever realize that
that show changed your opinions about anything, particularly gay people.
But I think this show definitely did, and this episode
definitely did.

Speaker 1 (35:24):
I think it's so interesting what Drew is saying here,
which is that whether purposeful or not, these messages like
chosen family, friendship, community, they really stuck with people, and
especially gay viewers. And actually, when I was emailing back
and forth with Jeffrey, the writer of the episode, he
described how the Golden Girls characters for him and for

(35:45):
so many of the men he still hears from, became
like these surrogate mothers. They were like aunties and grandmothers,
right because they were accepting, right.

Speaker 3 (35:54):
I mean, these examples you've gone through are all examples
of these women kind of coming to terms with whatever
or personal feelings they might have had and then embracing
their loved ones, no matter what their sexual orientation. That
had to feel relatively unique back then.

Speaker 1 (36:09):
Yeah, and so I think all of this plays into
the way that the show was so embraced by the
gay community. And so another thing that I didn't know
that I learned from Jeffrey the writer, was that he
before he wrote this episode, when he was simply a fan,
he would gather with his friends and his community in
this kind of communal celebratory watching of the Golden Girls.

(36:32):
So for him, that meant going to gay bars in
LA on Saturday nights and at nine o'clock with a
new Golden Girls episode would air, they would like turn
off the dance music. Everyone would gather around the television.
They would watch the show in the bar, and then
it would end and they would turn the music back on.

Speaker 2 (36:49):
Everyone would go back to partying.

Speaker 3 (36:51):
That sounds so fun, honestly.

Speaker 1 (36:53):
And he wrote to me that he has now attended
many drag performances of different episodes of the show, some
of which include this episode, and he's always pleasantly surprised
when Scott, his husband of thirty nine years, can't wait
to tell a new gay acquaintance that he Jeffrey wrote
the first gay Golden Girls episode, and they immediately know

(37:15):
which one, and they.

Speaker 2 (37:16):
Respond with not Lebanese blanche lesbian.

Speaker 3 (37:19):
Oh that is such a nice story. I love this story. Okay,
that feels like a good place to end it for today.
But jess what do we have coming up in part two?

Speaker 2 (37:28):
Yeah?

Speaker 1 (37:29):
Part two is going to look at how queerness has
been sneakily written into TV for decades, but also where
that Lebanese lesbian joke is today?

Speaker 3 (37:36):
I can't wait. 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

(37:58):
find us on Instagram at retropod.

Speaker 1 (38:01):
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 3 (38:10):
You can also find this on Instagram at Jessica Bennett
and at Susie b NYC. Also check out Jessica's books
Feminist Fi Club and This Is eighteen.

Speaker 2 (38:19):
In Retrospect is.

Speaker 3 (38:20):
A production of iHeart Podcasts and the Media.

Speaker 2 (38:23):
Lauren Hansen is our supervising producer.

Speaker 1 (38:26):
Derek Clements is our engineer and sound designer Emily Meronoff
is our producer. Sharan Atia is our researcher and associate producer.

Speaker 3 (38:34):
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 heills from Mary
do Our mixing engineer is Amanda Rose Smith. We are
your hosts Susie Bannacarum and Jessica Bennett.

Speaker 1 (38:52):
We are also executive producers for even more check out
inretropod dot com.

Speaker 2 (38:57):
See you next week.
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