One of the interesting things about doing a Classics Region this year is seeing how LGBT stories have evolved over time. I think about Spencer Carlin from South of Nowhere and how her mom reacted to finding out about Spencer’s relationship with Ashley compared to how Randall and Beth handled their daughter Tess’ revelation on This is Us. I think about the limits placed on intimacy between Emily and her girlfriends on Pretty Little Liars and I compare it to what Nomi’s allowed to do now on grown-ish or how Sabrina introduces her half-dressed girlfriend to her family on The Mick. I think of Bianca’s one time girlfriend, Zoe, on All My Children and much the ground has shifted for trans stories to now have Nia Nal — a trans character played by a trans actress — come out to James Olson on Supergirl.
There are so many stories left to tell about LGBT people…in a very real way, the honest sharing of those stories remains in its infancy….but, as I hope this edition of March Madness makes clear, we’ve come far in a short amount of time.
As with yesterday, you have 48 hours to vote for your favorites in the Baby Gay region. If you’ve seen the episodes, vote accordingly. If not, check out my descriptions or links to video of those scenes (where available)…who knows, you might find a whole new show to love.
Remember: We’ll be revealing the Grown region and the International region on Wednesday and Thursday!
#1. Elena Alvarez – One Day at a Time
First and foremost: #SAVEODAAT, but also:
“Television has a habit of linking coming out with romance, as if your identity isn’t your own without someone else there to affirm it, and while that might make for great TV — who doesn’t love a love story, after all — the conflation of those two things has always struck me as a bit problematic. I didn’t expect One Day at a Time, the reboot of the 1970s Norman Lear multi-cam sitcom, to be the show challenged that convention, but it did.
When Elena comes out to her family, it’s about her. It’s not about some girl that’s waiting in the wings, equally smitten with her…it’s about Elena and this realization she’s come to about herself. Coming out is the moment we turn quiet revelations — borne, in Elena’s case, from countless hours of binge watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer, staring longingly at Kristen Stewart and kissing the wrong people — into public pronouncements and One Day at a Time gives Elena the space to own that moment.
The show, guided in part by two queer writers, allows Elena’s coming out to be a season-long triumph; not a byproduct of feelings she has for someone else, but a product of her fully accepting and loving herself.
#16. Kelsey Philips – Dear White People
In season one of Dear White People, the show’s self-proclaimed lesbian character, Neika Hobbs, fell into one of our least favorite gay tropes: lesbian sleeps with a guy. On top of that, Hobbs was a professor so it became “lesbian sleeps with a guy in a gross abuse of power.” It was not good. It was so bad that I couldn’t even appreciate seeing Nia Long play a lesbian again (as she’d done in If These Walls Could Talk 2). But, thankfully, the show learned from its missteps and gifted us with Kelsey Philips in season two.
According to Carmen, “Kelsey had a tiny role in Dear White People‘s first season. She served as comic relief thanks to her Hillary Banks valley girl vocal inflection, all around ditzy personality, and her love for her dog, named Sorbet. Her waters get a bit deeper in the second season, where she plays a crucial supporting role in Coco’s stand alone episode.”
“I’m a lesbian, love. Gold star,” Kelsey announces (“Chapter IV”), affirming that this show won’t be repeating its past mistake. “I’ve been out ever since Queen Janet’s wardrobe malfunction.”
#2. Tess Pearson – This Is Us
The first person Tess Pearson comes out to is her Aunt Kate, who’s visiting from the West Coast for Thanksgiving…and because Kate can’t be there to support her niece, Kate asks her mother (Rebecca) to keep an eye on her eldest grandchild. Rebecca tries to achieve that delicate balance of being an outlet for Tess while also not forcing conversations Tess is just not ready to have. She respects Tess’ silence for the most part but advises her to not let secrets — a thing that Rebecca Pearson knows a lot about — fester.
With her grandmother’s voice ringing in her ears, Tess decides to tell her parents. This Is Us is infamous for making its audience cry, and with Tess’ big coming out, they shot all the way to the stars. Her coming out is messy. She doesn’t know all the right words or how to explain her emotions eloquently. She comes downstairs in her bathrobe and blurts out all her worries at once, leaving them there like hot spilled soup on the tile floor. She doesn’t wait for the perfect moment or the perfect phrasing or for everything to be just right. There’s mucus obviously coating the back of her throat, snot’s running out of her nose, her eyes are shining red with tears, her young voice wavers and cracks. But that’s okay. It’s triumphant, because you know what? She doesn’t let the anxiety that had been eating her up for weeks win.
#15. Sabrina – The Mick
Sabrina Pemberton got a girlfriend. If I’m not mistaken, Sabrina has made brief mention of being not-straight before (or maybe I’m mixing her up with the actress’s role of Tea on the US Skins) but this week she kisses a girl named Alexis full on the mouth and calls her her girlfriend.
Mick calls her a lez, which Sabrina is offended by, not because of what it stands for, but because Mick assumed if she wasn’t straight she must be a lesbian just because she has a girlfriend. And when Mick asks for a better word to describe her niece, Sabrina says my new favorite line, “Stop trying to label me, you ancient bag of sand.”
And listen, I think labels can be very useful, and use lesbian and queer myself, but I laughed out loud at the indignation in her voice, the look on everyone’s face, and the phrase “ancient bag of sand.”
#3. Tamia “Coop” Cooper – All American
When we first meet Tamia “Coop” Cooper, it’s hard to believe that she’s hiding anything. As she walks the halls of South Crenshaw High or the streets of her neighborhood, she affirms who she is in her style, her swagger and the women who catch her eye. For Coop, that’s enough — she doesn’t have to say she’s gay because it’s obvious — and whoever can’t see her for who she is, is responsible for their own blindness. But what she doesn’t realize, until she meets a girl who makes her want more, is that by not saying it aloud…by living under a version of “don’t ask, don’t tell” in her own home…Coop’s been carrying everyone else’s shame.
“Mom, look at me, please,” Coop begs, when she comes out for the very first time. “I am gay and there is no amount of prayer that’s gonna change that. Trust me, I’ve tried.”
#14. Casey – Atypical
No one says a word when Casey comes out on Atypical…not really. She and Izzie have just returned from a trip four towns over to find a 7-Eleven that serves Cotton Candy slurpees which, actually, seems like a great use of time. After their near kiss during her birthday party — the culmination of feelings that have grown between the pair throughout the season — Casey runs straight to her boyfriend, Evan, to have sex again. But even as she admits that she loves Evan, Casey draws her hand closer to Izzie.
“It’s just, sometimes a thing feels, like so right. You know?” Casey says, clearly no longer talking about her boyfriend (whose call she ignores as they sit).
Their fingers touch and, in an intense and beautiful way that I can’t fully explain, their fingers move slowly until their holding hands. No one has to say anything. They both know.
#4. Kate Messner – Everything Sucks
The first time that Kate Messner comes out to Luke on Everything Sucks, it doesn’t stick. The A/V Club shows up at the auditorium to make amends with the Theater club…and do so with a six-pack of Zima — which, can I just say, I revisited recently and doesn’t taste nearly as good as my teenage self thought — and a movie pitch for an extraterrestrial version of Romeo and Juliet. It’s enough to assuage the anger of the Theater kids and eventually, despite Kate’s reluctance, they all settle in to play spin the bottle.
Kate spins first and it lands on Emaline but Jessica immediately discounts the spin because it’s two girls. Emaline resists but Kate is quick to accept the judgment and let the next person go. Luke spins next and, of course, it lands on Kate. They step into the prop closet and make awkward small talk before sharing their first kiss. Luke thinks it was awesome but Kate absolutely does not.
“I think I’m a lesbian,” she admits. She comes out at that moment because the emotional difference between what she wants — to kiss her crush, Emaline — and what she has — this kiss with her friend — could not be more apparent.
#13. Courtney Crimsen – 13 Reasons Why
Throughout season one of 13 Reasons Why, everything Courtney Crimsen does is steeped in her own internalized homophobia. So desperate to keep her sexuality a secret, she isolated and spread rumors about Hannah Baker…and, ultimately, Courtney became reason 5 of the 13 reasons that Hannah took her own life. But in Season 2 — did we really need a season 2 of 13 Reasons Why, no we did not, but I don’t make the rules — Courtney takes responsibility for her role in alienating Hannah.
“I liked her. I was the one with the crush,” Courtney admits during her testimony, revealing the truth as her dads watch from the gallery. “It was my first kiss, see? And I felt like it was ruined. Maybe ’cause her own first kiss had been ruined, maybe because she just felt bad, but that’s the real reason she kissed me back.That’s what’s in those photos Tyler took: proof that she was a good friend. And maybe that means I was bullying her the whole time.”
#5. Willow Rosenberg – Buffy the Vampire Slayer
There’s nothing quite as tender baby gay as coming out while clutching your teddy bear, which is exactly how Willow told Buffy that there was something special going on between her and Tara, something different, something powerful — and that it was really complicating her feelings about Oz’s return. Buffy paced around for a second, saying Willow’s name over and over like a weirdo, but when Willow straight-up asked her if she was freaked out, she sat right down on her best friend’s bed, looked her in the eye, and said, “No.” Willow didn’t want to hurt anyone, never wanted to hurt anyone — well, I mean, eventually she did but that was later — and Buffy told her that somebody was going to get hurt, no matter how hard she tried; the only thing Willow could do was be honest. And she was.
#12. Toni Topaz – Riverdale
Toni Topaz had one of the most casual coming outs on a network where people just come out left and right these days. During breakfast after an evening romp with Jughead, who was trying to let her down easy, she just said, “I like girls more anyway.” It turns out it’s not that casual in her real life, though; her family has basically disowned and ostracized her for being bisexual (which, weirdly, in Riverdale still doesn’t make you as bad as the other serial-killing, cult-leading, child-murdering, mob boss parents???). Toni’s relationship to coming out to her parents forced her to be hard in some ways, but made her even more empathetic in others, which is pretty damn gay.
#6. Nicole – Fresh Off The Boat
Nicole picks up Eddie in her Saturn on her way home from the movies. Her friends ditched her to hang out with their boyfriends, which she doesn’t understand on two levels: 1) Boys, blech. 2) They’d made plans to see Jodie Foster in Contact, okay? That means that Ellen’s “The Puppy Episode” happened just a few months ago in Nicole’s world and Ellen herself just became the most famous lesbian in the world and lesbian lesbian lesbian is in the air everywhere. Trust me, I was exactly Nicole’s age at exactly this moment in time.
Nicole invites Eddie to hang out some more, one-on-one, which makes him think she’s into him, which bamboozles him and he ends up blurting out over dinner (free chips and salsa) that he likes her but that he’s got already got a lady in his life. At the same time she blurts out that she’s into girls. It freaks him out a little and that freaks her out a lot; she’d never said it out loud before. By the end of their car ride home, he’s come around and starts pelting her with questions like best friends do.
#11. Genesis Pérez – Mi Familia Perfecta
After her brother tells Genesis that Megan, her new friend and teammate, is gay, Genesis can, seemingly, think of nothing else. She watches Megan get dressed after practice and when she’s caught, she covers asks Megan directly about her brother’s suspicions. Megan confirms her brother’s suspicions but assures Genesis that they can still be friends. Besides, Megan says, Genesis isn’t even her type and it’s that revelation that yields a flash of disappointment on Genesis’ face. In the weeks that follow, the affection that Genesis feels for Megan becomes even more apparent and, eventually, her best friend, Marisol volunteers to listen if she ever wants to talk about what’s going on with Megan…and it leads to Genesis finally coming out.
As I noted when I reviewed this show over the summer, Spanish-language television is woefully behind in terms of LGBT representation. GLAAD found that of the 698 characters on the networks’ scripted primetime series, only 19 were LGBT characters and, of those, just 6 were women. So while, at times, Genesis’ coming out story and her romance with Megan felt like , they were a definite step forward for inclusion.
#7. Cheryl Blossom – Riverdale
Later, Cheryl and Toni find themselves alone at the movies, and Cheryl lets her in a little more. They agree to watch Love, Simon together and get milkshakes after. For as in-your-face as the Love, Simon product placement is, it’s smart of the writers to actually have the movie play such a significant role in this narrative. Cheryl relates to the film’s protagonist and how repressing his sexuality has suffocated him. She entirely opens herself up to Toni and tells her that she used to love someone. Toni thinks she’s talking about Jason at first, but she isn’t. She’s talking about Heather, her best friend in middle school who she loved. When Cheryl’s mother thought they were getting too close, she called Cheryl a deviant and forced Cheryl and Heather apart.
Cheryl has always struggled with healthy relationship dynamics and boundaries. It’s easy to see where that stems from: Her parents straight up hate her, and her father killed her twin brother/best friend. Penelope Blossom’s hatred toward her daughter has always been a little confusing in how extreme it is. But Riverdale finally contextualizes that animosity as homophobia. Cheryl’s parents never saw her as the rightful heir to their maple kingdom because she’s queer. Penelope hated Cheryl long before Jason died, and by calling her a deviant, she planted the seed of internalized homophobia that has wrecked Cheryl’s perception of herself and ability to let herself really feel what she feels.
#10. Nia Nal – Supergirl
Nia Nal is looking for a caffeine fix when she walks into a local pizzeria and spots her friend, Brainy. When a hack exposures Brainy’s original form, the pizza guy recognizes Brainy for the alien that he is and threatens him. Nia steps in and deescalates the situation but her ire has been raised. She returns to work at CatCo and…well, I’ll let Valerie explain what happens next:
She seeks out James and instead of asking this time, she tells him that she thinks he needs to write a statement as the Editor in Chief. He says he has to wait for the right moment, that he can’t editorialize right out of the gate. Nia disagrees; she thinks this isn’t the time to be careful or PC, this is the time to stand up for what it’s right. This is James’s chance to fight for justice even though he can’t be Guardian anymore.
James asks why she’s so passionate about this, and Nia tells him that she’s a transgender woman and that she knows what these aliens are going through. She knows what it’s like to be attacked and denied because of who she is. She stood up to Brainy’s attacker and made a difference, but James has an opportunity to do the same on a much larger scale.
James explains that he has to time it so that he can “reach across the aisle” to ensure the other side will listen instead of pushing them away without them giving him a chance to explain. He wants to stay balanced, and Nia thinks the time for balance is long gone. James thanks her for sharing her truth with him, and it’s clear Nia gave him a lot to think about.
#8. Catherine Meyer – VEEP
Veep‘s First Daughter, Catherine Meyer, has been lurking in the background all season long — literally. Selina’s long-suffering only child is crafting a documentary, and every time the camera pans out or around, there she is: standing in the corner shooting video of her mom’s cabinet meetings, Oval Office interactions, narcissistic meltdowns, and swearing symphonies. Selina always seems to forget that Catherine exists, and then shoos her away when she realizes they’re standing right beside each other. She didn’t even remember to call Catherine into the hospital room before she pulled her grandma’s life support earlier this season!
So it’s no surprise that during last week’s “C**tgate,” Catherine announced that she’d fallen in love with someone else who lives in the shadows. What is surprising is that the someone is a White House staffer, and woman. But not just any woman: Catherine has fallen in love with Marjorie (played by Clea DuVall), Selina’s personal Secret Service detail who was chosen for the job because everyone thinks she looks like the president. It’s so deliciously bizarre and awkward; it’s so very Veep.
#9. Nomi Segal – grown-ish
Nomi’s dreaded coming out to her parents since the first episode of grown-ish. Initially, she resists telling them because she doesn’t want to be a disappointment to them. She doesn’t want her parents to look at her differently…she just wants to be their daughter…and she worries about how telling her parents she’s bisexual would change that. Plus, Nomi’s reliant on her parents for financial support — they pay her overpriced tuition and for the lavish apartment she shares with Ana and Zoey. No, she concludes, she can’t tell her parents about her sexuality. Not yet.
But then a strange thing happens on the way to her gender studies class: Nomi gets a mentor who points out the way her parents’ disappointment and, by extension, her unwillingness to come out, have left her with such a capricious view about relationships and women. No matter how much she tries to avoid it, she’s already carrying her parents’ disappointment.
The revelation plus a deep dive into queer culture and a impromptu make-out session with her aforementioned mentor, is enough to convince Nomi to finally comeout to her parents.