Very Special Gay Episode: When Two ‘Girls’ Kiss and Never Speak of It Again

Welcome to Very Special Gay Episode, a series where we recap standalone lesbian episodes from classic TV shows that are not otherwise gay. In this installment, we discuss Girls season one, episode eight: “Weirdos Need Girlfriends Too,” the one where Marnie and Jessa kiss.

My friend — who once presented to the world as a hot girl femme and has now reached his true form as a queer dude in WeHo — told me about the party.

“It’s a sex party where straight women go to have sex with each other,” he said. Even though he was already out as bi in college, he’d gone with a few other friends at various stages of embracing their own bisexuality.

“I think that might be my ultimate sexual fantasy,” I told my friend. We were quarantined during the peak of the pandemic and I was hornier and more honest than usual.

I wasn’t surprised by the contradiction of straight women and lesbian sex. In fact, before I transitioned, many of my straight-identified friends and girlfriends told me stories of hookups they’d had with their female friends. My eyes often widened with the revelation that life was more like an 80s sex comedy or porn than I’d imagined. A little alcohol or the presence of a man or just a really close friendship appeared to these girls as a get-out-of-queer-free card. Sure, some of them identify as queer now, but some don’t.

I used to think my fascination with the cis closeted bisexual experience was simply a response to their fascination with me. Before transitioning, most of my girlfriends were bi or pan or would eventually come out as bi or pan. After transitioning, I found friends in lesbian community while finding my hookups in baby bis who I worried saw me as a stepping stone. (I even made a movie about that.) Over time, I stopped resenting this pattern and started to appreciate it. In Detransition, Baby, Torrey Peters draws a connection between divorced cishet women and trans women — I see a similar connection between queer trans women and newly out cis bi women. There’s often a shared imposter syndrome in cis lesbian spaces; there’s often a shared desire to both defy and belong to the binary.

But to understand the sexual appeal of being a vaguely bi cis woman with very bi behaviors, I had to go back to a show that came out years before me, a show that, in many ways, defined my college years as an NYU freshman in 2012. I’m talking, of course, about Girls.

Marnie grabs Jessa's face and kisses her

Over a decade since it premiered and launched a thousand think pieces, most people now agree that Girls was a very good show. Whether you hate or love Lena Dunham, her work on the show is seen as more accomplished than when she was mostly known as a lightning rod for controversy. (Some deserved, some not.)

Of course, Girls was about a very, very narrow subsect of girlhood (young womanhood, really), but in the years since, we’ve realized that might be preferable to shows that shoehorn in a bunch of identities while still only caring about the most expected characters.

This is to say, along with its lack of racial diversity, Girls was a very straight show. Of course, there was the gay ex-turned-friend and, later, the gay dad — the show was co-written by multiple gay men after all — but queerness wasn’t a large part of its portrait of girls.

Except for one episode in the first season. One episode with a version of queerness so integrated into straight culture, it’d be easy to forget. During the eighth episode of the show titled “Weirdos Need Girlfriends Too,” Marnie and Jessa kiss — and, maybe, more.

Jessa looks at a smiling Marnie in disbelief.

The A plot is focused on Hannah and Adam, now officially a couple, and Hannah’s mixed feelings as Adam reveals more of himself. But any complications do not hinder their amount of loud sex — much to roommate Marnie’s chagrin.

Even if her best friend wasn’t doing age play in the next room, Marnie would be depressed. The previous episode, Marnie met ex-boyfriend Charlie’s new girlfriend and is now spiraling. That’s when Hannah’s other best friend Jessa arrives.

Marnie is uptight, Jessa is a free-spirit. Other than their friendship with — and frustrations with — Hannah, they don’t seem to have much in common. But Marnie is lonely and Jessa is there.

From the beginning, Jessa’s energy is flirtatious. When she first arrives at the apartment, she complains about chafing in a way that would make anyone picture every inch of her sweaty thighs. Then she tells Marnie she’s a “classic beauty” and way hotter than Charlie’s new girlfriend.

Nothing on the page inherently makes these interactions more than friendly, but Jemima Kirke plays Jessa as bisexual the entire episode. The way she looks at Marnie, the way she talks to Marnie, the way she will later kiss Marnie, all feel driven by genuine desire.

Marnie says it’s not fun being known as the uptight one, so our girls go out on the town — Marnie to prove she can be fun, Jessa because she seems to genuinely be having a good time.

At a bar, a man in a gray suit named Thomas-John (Chris O’Dowd) sends them over martinis. Marnie is thrilled! An opportunity to show she’s not boring! But Jessa knows there’s nothing more boring than some rich guy buying pretty girls drinks.

Throughout their interactions, Jessa is annoyed with Thomas-John. She seems to only stick around and, eventually, go back to his apartment, because Marnie is insisting. It’s a classic queer girl experience — ending up at an apartment or a party or even in bed with some boring dude because the girl you’re into leads you there.

But Jessa is more confident than that, so when Thomas-John starts to get handsy she says it’s time to go. Marnie, panicked that she might miss her chance at something fun and unexpected, kisses Jessa. Jessa is taken aback. Then she smirks and leans in.

Marnie just pressed her lips against Jessa’s. It’s Jessa who guides Marnie into a full-on make out. This all could be seen as if it’s for Thomas-John’s benefit, except Jessa isn’t the only one to push him away. Marnie does too. She kissed Jessa to prove a point; she keeps kissing Jessa because she wants to.

Then Marnie knocks over a glass of wine and Thomas-John throws a tantrum about his rug and being excluded from the potential threesome. Marnie apologizes and explains that she’s not gay, she was just being spontaneous — a nonsensical thing for a straight girl to say as an excuse for ignoring a man to make out with a woman.

Jessa leads Marnie out of the apartment and, as one final insult, says, “I’m going to go eat her cunt on the sidewalk.”

Did she? Probably not. We’ll never know for sure, because it’s the last we see of them in the episode and neither character mentions it again. But based on the experiences of girls I’ve known, even if they had sex, they still might not think anything of it.

In the end, Jessa, in an attempt to be taken seriously, will turn even more toward heterosexuality. The season ends with her doing the one thing even more boring than hooking up with some rich guy — she marries him.

Jessa and Marnie kiss, Jessa has a hand around Marnie's head

Friends have assured me again and again that these kinds of hookups were empty at best and emotionally devastating at worst. How often did closeted queers have threesomes or sleepover experimentations or drunken makeouts and want more from their female friends only to be met with silence? There’s a reason why these experiences are associated with a step on the way to explicit queerness.

And yet, rewatching this episode, I was struck by the centering of desire. When two “straight” women friends go out for drinks and end up having sex, there are no expectations. They are driven only by want — and maybe alcohol. In this way, the sex party my friend described would cheapen the fantasy. Once a straight woman is attending a party to have sex with other straight women, she might as well come out. The attendance is confirmation enough.

But not Jessa and Marnie. They are driven, however brief, only by connection and lust. I know for closeted queer girls these encounters are fraught. But I’m not talking about reality — I’m talking about fantasy. And, in the fantasy, these encounters allow for sex separate from the pressures of identity.

As queer people — and especially as queer trans people — our experiences carry the weight of our labels. Throughout the 20th century and early 21st century, we’ve owned our identities as we’ve fought for our rights. This is mostly good! I love being out and proud. But sometimes a little part of me just wants to be a girl who gets to be queer in action without all the rest.

It’s fitting to work out these feelings on Girls, a show that is at once aspirational and cautionary. It’s a show about people with immense privilege who are often miserable due to a lack of self-knowledge or deeper purpose. And isn’t that what I’m talking about? The privilege of pure desire without the depth of queerness?

It’s not a trade I’d make. But, every once in a while, I long for this alternate life where I exist outside myself, where I’m kissing a girl just to try it.

Girls is now streaming on Max.

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Drew Burnett Gregory

Drew is a Brooklyn-based writer, filmmaker, and theatremaker. She is a Senior Editor at Autostraddle with a focus in film and television, sex and dating, and politics. Her writing can also be found at Bright Wall/Dark Room, Cosmopolitan UK, Refinery29, Into, them, and Knock LA. She was a 2022 Outfest Screenwriting Lab Notable Writer and a 2023 Lambda Literary Screenwriting Fellow. She is currently working on a million film and TV projects mostly about queer trans women. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Drew Burnett has written 550 articles for us.

1 Comment

  1. I have no idea if it’s cringe or not at this point but boy oh boy did this episode send me into a little baby bi spiral (also in my freshman year of college!). I wasn’t even close to coming out or even knowing I was bi- all I knew is that I wanted to do exactly what Jessa and Marnie were doing.
    Thanks so much for writing about this episode, Drew. We can’t really choose what hits us most deeply and hits us at *just the right time* in this life. In my case one of those moments just happens to be watching this one kinda gay episode of Girls, and I really appreciate your thoughts on it.

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