Very Special Gay Episode: The One Where I Write About the ‘Friends’ Lesbian Wedding

Welcome to Very Special Gay Episode, a fun little series where we recap standalone lesbian episodes from classic TV shows that are not otherwise necessarily gay. In this installment, we will discuss Friends season two, episode eleven: “The One with the Lesbian Wedding”

I honestly don’t remember much of it.

I mean, I know the basics. The show was a bona fide phenomenon, a powerhouse that aired to nearly 25 million viewers per week. In 1996, the year I turned sixteen, girls at my high school had asked their stylists to give them The Rachel, a questionable shag-adjacent haircut that looked good on almost no one aside from Jennifer Aniston. People carved time out of their busy schedules every Thursday night to watch Rachel, Ross, Monica, Chandler, Phoebe, and Joey cavort for a half-hour of laugh-track fueled comedy. Romance! Slapstick! A theme song where people clapped! Friends had it all. But this particular episode, “The One With the Lesbian Wedding,” focused on something a little different from the usual fare: Two women were getting gay married.

Well, not legally. But still! There was going to be a wedding!

In the promo, the lesbians in question wore fussy Victorian clothing that looked more like furniture upholstery than wedding finery. Some very weird hats were involved. One of them was shaped like a mushroom cap. Both hats looked as if someone had mistakenly sat on them, leaving them lopsided and crumpled from the weight of a person’s ass. Yes, the clothes were weird, even by 90’s standards.

But these were lesbians! I’d never seen any in real life before. Perhaps, I thought, this was how all gay women dressed; as if they were in an old timey vaudeville act. At any moment, you thought someone might show up with a hook and yank one of them offstage.

It was Must See TV in its heyday. And hey, these were lesbians.

I wanted to watch the episode because everyone was watching it; there had been a lot of buzz about the gay wedding prior to airdate. Candace Gingrich was going to officiate the wedding! (I had no clue who that was, but people were talking about it.) Many conservatives, including my parents, were outraged. Two affiliates censored the episode. Some viewers made a point of boycotting that week, as if tuning out one time was going to really stick it to the network. But no matter! We were going to Sit This One Out, a phrase utilized by my mother whenever we wouldn’t be participating in something due to the fact that it went against our Christian values.

But I didn’t want to sit this one out. Everyone would be talking about it at school the next day. Missing it would make me feel like even more of an outsider than I already was: a gangly, dorky, church kid. I was closeted and didn’t even know it (though I think it’s possible that some small part of me did). Talking about Friends made me feel normal. In that regard, I was just like everyone else.

The night the episode aired, I was home alone. My dad was out of town and my mom had taken my brother and sister to some now unremembered event. This in and of itself was a kind of miracle. Our house was small and there were five of us that lived there, which meant that you were lucky if you didn’t have to stand in line to use the bathroom. I shared a bedroom with my much younger sister. We had bunkbeds. Time to myself wasn’t just a rare occurrence; it felt like a luxury.

Before my mother left that day, she’d warned me not to watch Friends. We’d argued about it for the past week and I’d hoped she’d budge, but she’d stuck firm in her beliefs. Absolutely not, she said. Though I know you really want to. This particular phrase has stuck with me – though most of the episode itself has not – because yes, I did want to see those lesbians get married very, very badly. And for whatever reason, my mother seemed to understood that fact better than I did.

At 8PM EST on the night of January 18th, 1996, I tuned in to Friends along with the rest of America. My mother said she’d be home well before 9PM. I wouldn’t be able to watch all of it, but I could see some. The theme song played, the Friends splashed fully-clothed in their fountain, and then–

My brain blanks. I don’t remember anything that happened.

I know they got married. Ross might have walked his ex-wife down the aisle, but I’m just guessing here. The lesbians stood there in their strange wedding clothes and those misshapen hats and they held hands. I remember that they kiss. Do I even remember that? Was it on the cheek or was it a peck on the lips? I’d have to look it up online to really know for sure.

What I do remember is feeling so scared that I thought I’d puke. I was worried someone would come home. I knew I’d be in trouble for disobeying my mother, and that was part of my worry, but the bigger part of me was afraid that someone would ask me why I wanted to watch so badly.

Why do you want to see two women get married?
Why do you care about lesbians?
What, are you gay?

At the time, queerness was a thing so bright that when I looked too closely at it, it felt like someone had aimed a high-powered flashlight directly into my eyes. It hurt.

I didn’t want to think about any of it. I stood less than a foot from the television screen and hardly watched the show I’d begged to see. My eyes glazed over. Sweat drenched my back and armpits. I waited there like a stressed-out Jeopardy contestant, white knuckling the remote control, prepared to change the channel to something less gay if my mom suddenly burst through the front door.

When she finally pulled into the driveway, I turned off the TV and casually sat down on the couch with a book. I was cool, calm, and collected. And by that, I mean I was hyperventilating and looked like I’d just barely outrun a murderer. As the door opened and my family walked inside, I peered up from my book, attempting an “oh, I didn’t notice you there” vibe.

Of course, my mom knew what I’d done. Of course, I got into trouble.

Sensing that I was going to watch the forbidden show even though she’d specifically told me not to, my mom had parked up the street and sent my brother to spy on me. He’d watched me through the back window as I watched (or tried to watch) my first gay wedding. Then he went back to the car and tattled on me.

Was I punished? Probably. I can’t remember that, either. It wouldn’t have really mattered. I was never allowed to do much, anyway – Christian kid with an early curfew and very few friends who never drank or smoked, a choir girl who’d never attended a real party (and wouldn’t go to one until well after high school ended). My mom probably yelled at me for a while and sent me to bed early and that was the end of it. No big deal.

It had felt like a big deal, though. And even now, in my early forties, it still feels life-changing. The way that people talked about that episode leading up to it had made the moment feel historic and significant. When the episode was over and Friends continued, sans gay weddings, it almost felt like it had never happened at all. People stopped talking about it. No one mentioned it to me again, including my parents.

The thing about the gay wedding episode of Friends is that even though I don’t remember much of the storyline in particular, the fact that it happened at all was important. And maybe that’s because it was the first time someone showed me – even for a weird, ill-dressed moment – that a union between two women was a possibility. It could happen in real life, couldn’t it? It had happened on Friends and everyone loved Friends. And if something happened there – say, a very bad haircut that everyone coveted – then maybe I could watch those women get married and think: that could be me someday, too.

So, no. I don’t remember much from the episode. Not really. But I got married a few months ago, and when I picked out my suit I thought about those misshapen hats and those maidenly Victorian clothes. I remembered them with affection. I smiled.

I’ll never look up what actually happened during the episode, because I don’t think it matters.

I won’t forget the important parts.

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Kristen Arnett

Kristen Arnett is the queer author of With Teeth: A Novel (Riverhead Books, 2021) which was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award in fiction and the New York Times bestselling debut novel Mostly Dead Things (Tin House, 2019) which was also a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award in fiction and was shortlisted for the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award. She was awarded a Shearing Fellowship at Black Mountain Institute, has held residencies at Ragdale Foundation, Vermont Studio Center, the Millay Colony, and the Key West Literary Seminar (upcoming 2024), and was longlisted for the Joyce Carol Oates Prize recognizing mid-career writers of fiction. Her work has appeared at The New York Times, TIME, The Cut, Oprah Magazine, Guernica, Buzzfeed, McSweeneys, PBS Newshour, The Guardian, Salon, The Washington Post, and elsewhere. Her next novel, CLOWN, will be published by Riverhead Books (Penguin Random House), followed by the publication of an untitled collection of short stories. She has a Masters in Library and Information Science from Florida State University and lives in Orlando, Florida. You can find her on Twitter here: @Kristen_Arnett

Kristen has written 3 articles for us.


  1. This is an absolutely beautiful piece! Thank you for sharing it with us.

    I remember my favourite episode was the one where Winona Ryder guest stars and has been repressing dreams of Rachel since college and I had no idea. none! why it meant so much to me and why i felt so sad for her.

  2. AHHH NOOOOOOO I thought their wedding dresses were so cute! :(

    I remember being obsessed with this episode (and Carol and Susan) as a kid; of course I know why now, hehe.

  3. I do not remember watching this episode specificallly, but thinking about it did flash me back to sneaking upstairs to sit INCHES from the little TV to see the episode of Ally McBeal with the lesbian kiss. Which of course they had promoed all week so you basically saw it already. But it felt… ~personally important~ to see it, alone, and to really focus, for reasons.

  4. This was really a beautiful and evocative essay. Friends is not exactly renowned for its treatment of queer issues (nor should it be), and it certainly makes some painful stumbles. But when I have returned to it, I find that the show actually seems to have great affection for its lesbian couple. Ross is usually the butt of the joke, not Susan and Carol, who are one of the more loving and functional couples we see. Friends could have done better, but given the times, it also could have done a lot worse.

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