“Grey’s Anatomy” Says Goodbye To Callie Torres, TV’s Best Ever Bisexual Character

On last night’s season 12 Grey’s Anatomy finale, Callie Torres said goodbye to Seattle Grace. She didn’t get shot or stabbed or blown up by a bomb trapped in a patient’s stomach; she didn’t get hit by a train or smashed by a car or thrown from a plane; she didn’t get flattened by an earthquake or leveled by stray shrapnel or sucked up into a tornado and flung through the sky to Oregon. She didn’t even get swallowed up by the Parking Lot of No Return like her first girlfriend, Erica Hahn. Callie simply reached a custody agreement with her ex-wife, and walked out the door to go to New York with her girlfriend, Penny. An exit that un-traumatic, on Shondaland, is like ascending to the right hand of God.

Sure, I wish Callie and Arizona had been able to work it out. Or, if they hadn’t, I wish Callie had left the show with a relationship that had some resonance, even just a little spark. And, well, while I’m wishing, I also would have loved to see Callie leave without the bizarro out-of-character behavior that led up to her exit, forcing her friends to take sides in an ugly custody battle. That’s no way to remember the most beloved bisexual character in the history of TV!

I didn’t love the way she left, but I will never forget the way she got there.

Eight years ago, the world was a very different place for gay women. The end of 2008 saw California pass its now infamous Proposition 8, a voter-approved ballot initiative that overturned California’s same-sex marriage law and made it illegal for gay people to get married. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was still going strong. We were facing a pandemic of gay teens committing suicide after being bullied by their parents and peers. President Obama was still four years away from from supporting marriage equality.

We knew nothing was going to change in the real world if gay representation didn’t change on TV, and there was nothing to watch on TV! The L Word was on its way out, South of Nowhere was airing its final episodes, and Cashmere Mafia — our one hope for representation on broadcast network TV — had gotten canned after seven episodes. We sustained ourselves watching Skins and subtitled soaps on YouTube, but those portrayals of queerness didn’t force Americans to grapple with their ignorance or bigotry.

Into that bleak void wandered Callie Torres. She arrived on Grey’s Anatomy in season two as a love interest for George O’Malley, but she quickly became a fan favorite and was elevated to series regular and then main character. Callie was tough but vulnerable, unapologetically competent, smart and sarcastic, a proud Latina, and one day she just fell for a woman. It didn’t work out with her and Erica, but then she fell for another woman — an unprecedented turn of events, actually. In 2008, established female characters who kissed guest starring female characters on the mouth only ever did so for three episodes at most, and then it was back to men and never a mention of their queerness ever again. But not Callie!

The golden days of Callie and Arizona’s relationship played out on one of the most watched TV shows in America, at a time when Americans were trying to decide whether or not they were cool with gay people having the same civil liberties as straight people. The GOP and evangelical Christian leaders hammered home the message that gay people were faithless deviants, but Callie and Arizona contradicted that lie in 12 million living rooms every single Thursday night. Callie came out to her super religious dad, who didn’t take it so well, but ultimately embraced his daughter’s sexuality. Inside the show, Callie’s bisexuality was never an issue with her co-workers and friends, and when she and Arizona got married, the doctors at Seattle Grace cried as much as we did.

Callie was extra special because she identified as bisexual, actually said the word “bisexual” out loud on television. She had deep, life-changing relationships with men and women. But Grey’s Anatomy‘s writers never leaned into the tired, damaging tropes that have plagued bisexual representation on TV and in movies forever. She wasn’t a psychopath. She wasn’t depraved. She wasn’t unable to commit or remain monogamous. She wasn’t a prop for a threesome, a ratings stunt, or a gateway for the male gaze. Callie was a complicated, fully-realized woman who loved men and later recognized she loved women too. And she refused to apologize for either.

Things have changed so much since Callie came out, in large part because Callie came out. She clocked 240 episodes on Grey’s Anatomy, making her the longest running queer character in television history. And after she came out, 227 more lesbian and bisexual TV characters made their way into the world.

Callie confronting her father about his unwillingness to accept her sexuality is one of my all-time favorite TV moments. It makes me cry every time.

Jesus may be her savior, but in one of the bleakest moments of visibility in modern gay rights history, Calliope Torres was ours. She told America they couldn’t pray away the gay, and she was right, and we believed her.

Heather Hogan is an Autostraddle senior editor who lives in New York City with her partner, Stacy, and their cackle of rescued pets. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr.

Heather has written 724 articles for us.

42 Comments

  1. Like, I cried so hard last night I full on actually made myself dehydrated. All headaches and puzzy eyes. I’ve never had that reaction over a fictional character/ actress leaving before (and I’m a PASSIONATE TV watcher).

    I’m so heartbroken I couldn’t even read this tribute, just not yet (Sorry Heather! I will! As soon as I can muster up the gumption! I promise!)

    I’m not handling this. I. Just. Can’t. It’s not even necessarily *that* she’s leaving, it’s *how* they treated her character as she left. Whenever I think about it….

    Yeah, I’m going to take a tv/ internet recap cycle break for a couple of days, I think. Lick my wounds for a bit.

    I’m so going to miss Callie Torres. No one on television has ever meant more to me.

  2. Amazing! I teared reading the last paragraph.
    And by the way, people calling themselves Christians doesn’t make them so. Jesus was scandalous. He hang out with the ‘outcasts’ , hated and ‘unlovable’ in society. He accepted and loved them. Those ‘Evangelical Christians’ are NOT Christians. Bigotry is unchristian.
    ****

  3. Amazing! My eyes watered up reading the last paragraph.
    And by the way, people calling themselves Christians doesn’t make them so. Jesus was scandalous. He hang out with the ‘outcasts’ , hated and ‘unlovable’ in society. He accepted and loved them. Those ‘Evangelical Christians’ are NOT Christians. Bigotry is unchristian.
    ****

  4. I haven’t watched this show in years. Honestly, I can’t remember why. Was Lexie Grey’s death too much for me? I know I had only just fallen for her character when we said goodbye.
    I know I continued to tune in after that, off and on, because watching Callie and Arizona drift away from each other made me nauseous and angry. They faced something they couldn’t reconcile, and the worst part is that it happens.
    I didn’t realize how invested I still am in Callie until I read this.
    Shonda Rhimes killed Derek Shepard. A white man with Perfect hair, a legion of swooning fans, and a smile that is still seared into my mind. She killed him. She’s killed so many people. But Callie Torres got a divorce. Callie Torres fought her ex wife for custody. And then she lived.
    We may never see her again. But her story continues. That’s the part most showrunners just can’t understand. We aren’t asking for happy endings. We’re just asking for the space to keep imaging our stories. Fanfic will handle the rest. It will fix every single hurt and in your words, we’ll believe it, because anything could happen. She’s alive.
    If tumblr has dubbed Root ‘The Immortal Lesbian’ maybe Callie Torres is the ‘Immortal Bisexual’.
    Thank you Heather. This article is fantastic.

    • “We may never see her again. But her story continues. That’s the part most showrunners just can’t understand. We aren’t asking for happy endings. We’re just asking for the space to keep imaging our stories. Fanfic will handle the rest. It will fix every single hurt and in your words, we’ll believe it, because anything could happen.”

      Oh my god, this was a perfect articulation of the central problem of the Bury Your Gays trope. Well done. You’re exactly right. Callie Torres, and Calzona, will live forever in fanfiction.

  5. Ahhhh it’s only Friday morning! Please keep this in mind when putting spoilers in the title. I know it’s been building up to her leaving for a while, but maybe things were going to change!

    • Hey, Lis! I put this info in the headline because every entertainment site is leading with the news that Sara Ramirez has left the show and it was trending on both Facebook and Twitter, so I wanted gay ladies who were looking for a safe place to have gay feelings could find it through Google and social media. 🙂

      • Ok, that makes sense. This just happened to be my first point of contact with the news although it sounds like I would have come across it over the next little while anyway.

  6. I’m so sad Sara Ramirez is leaving, although I did read that there’s some possibility she might come back. I’m not gonna cling too tightly to that hope, but I’m glad at least they wrote her off in a way that gives Callie some happiness.

  7. I haven’t watched Grey’s Anatomy in years, but Callie Torres was one of the first LGBT characters on TV I connected with.

    Here was a not-bone-thin woman of color, who discovered and struggled with her sexuality and coming out to her family in authentic ways, who built a life that was imperfect but beautiful all the same, and who was fierce and outspoken through it all. Sara Ramirez did an excellent job portraying her with honesty even when the plot lines got ridiculous.

  8. I’m still pissed that one of the best and only bisexual latina characters on primetime TV left a series with the most wonder-bread ass cardboard ass character I’ve ever seen in my life.

  9. I haven’t watched most of this season – I think I was kind of waiting to hear that Calzona would be ok before I caught up, and I’m sad to hear they won’t get their happy ending, at least for the time being. Really though, after the year we’ve had, this helps to put into perspective how lucky we are to have had her for as long as we did – and to get to add her to our meager “happy endings” list instead of that other one! I suppose as long as Arizona stays alive, there’s always hope that when J Capshaw’s contract is up they could pull a Juliana Marguiles/George Clooney and send them off into the sunset together? A girl can dream…

    • (Shonda actually did pull a Juliana Marguiles/ George Clooney ending in Private Practice between Audra McDonald and Taye Diggs’ characters. So there is precedent well established within the larger Shondaland canon. We can all dream.)

  10. This means so much:

    “Callie was extra special because identified as bisexual, actually said the word “bisexual” out loud on television.”

    One of the biggest reinforcers of bi invisibility is the refusal of media to name bisexuality when it happens, which encourages the idea that bi women in relationships with women are just straight women temporarily fooling around. I was never a devoted Grey’s watcher, but it means a lot that Callie actually used the word that most of us use in real life.

  11. Hey Heather! I finally mustered the courage to read this over my lunch hour, and now I’m crying fresh tears!

    That maybe sounds sarcastic, but what I sincerely mean is thank you. This is what I needed to read and a tribute that her character deserved. It’s helping to bring a balm into my broken heart today.

    Thanks.

  12. Well that scene with Callie and her dad definitely got the waterworks going. So real and heartbreaking and empowering all at the same time.

    Also Callie was a bisexual character who actually called herself bisexual. Something that years later many shows still seem to struggle with. I don’t watch Grey’s anymore but I’m sad to hear she won’t be on it anymore.

  13. We also can’t talk about Callie without talking about her importance to the visibility of Queer women of color in a central role on mainstream tv. If not for her there would have been no Lena on The Fosters or queer story arc on How to agent Away with Murder. There or Freda Gatz on Empire. That character blazed a real trail.

  14. I love Shonda Rhimes…I’ve read her book, I watch her interviews and I try every show with the Shondaland stamp on it (though that forthcoming Romeo & Juliet retelling might be a bridge too far). And I’ve done it without hesitation because she has told our stories, without apology, in an era when showrunners still shy away from doing so. She’s recognized that she couldn’t tell the American story without incorporating the lives and loves of LGBT people….and I’ll be forever indebted to Shonda for that.

    But last night felt wrong…

    Not because Callie left to be with Penny, but because the episode didn’t reflect an appreciation of how significant Callie’s character was. For all the reasons that Heather’s laid out so eloquently here, Calliope Iphegenia Torres was groundbreaking and this episode–which sandwiched her departure between a wedding, an emergency delivery and Jo’s drunken revelations–treated her departure as an aside.

    For the first time, it felt like Shonda just didn’t get it. She didn’t understand that even as she normalizes LGBT stories in Shondaland, they’re still an anomaly on the broader television landscape. To have a character as monumental as Callie Torres go out with whimper, instead of a bang (figuratively speaking)…it just felt wrong…

    That said, I’m so grateful to Shonda and Sara Ramirez for this character.

    I actually fell in love with Callie long before she discovered her attraction to women. Callie was just as Heather described her–“tough but vulnerable, unapologetically competent, smart and sarcastic”–but another thing she was is not rail thin. And not only that…she was not rail thin AND sexualized…which is a combination we hardly ever see on television.

    It’s seems simple, but in a world that insists on minimizing and micromanaging women’s bodies, having a beautiful, curvy Latina dance around in her underwear on TV was revolutionary.

    • I want to write a thousand love letters to this post.

      Yes, Yes, A Thousand Times YES! Thank you for saying my every thought so eloquently and with love (and with a dancing in her underwear gif, for prosperity).

      I will say, in the briefest defenses of Shonda, that I’m pretty sure that when they wrote the episode Sara had yet to officially decide if she was or was not coming back next year, so I think it was underplayed for a reason. If Sara had chosen to add to her contract, Callie could have come back from New York without much fanfare.

      To be clear, that is not an excuse. I expect better from Shonda because she has built her brand on telling stories that are like mine with dignity and respect. This is the first time where I truly felt, like you said, that “Shonda just didn’t get it”. It felt like a betrayal of sorts for Callie to go out as quietly and unbelievably as she did after all of what her character has done and has meant to so many, myself and a lot of people here at the front of that list.

      Anyway, sorry for tagging in here. I really love what you wrote. Thank you for writing it.

      • And to double down, I’m really NOT trying to stand up for Shonda. After 10 years and every trail blazed mentioned on this thread in this article, Calliope Iphegenia Torres spent her final episode with less than 3 minutes of screen time (after the last 5 episodes of near complete character assassination). It’s inexcusable.

        It’s nearly the cruelest thing I could’ve imagined being done and I never, not in a million years, thought Shonda would do it.

        Long Live Callie Torres, forever may she reign.

  15. Callie has been such an important character for me that I don’t even know what to say. She has really been the best representation of a bisexual character ever.

    This, forever:

    Thank you, and goodbye (goodbi?).

  16. I haven’t watched Grey’s Anatomy since the plane crash, but Callie will forever hold a huge place in my heart. I was a freshman in college when Calli came out (oh hey Erica Hahn), and I was all ‘omg she kissed a girl, I wanna do that!’ I even wrote a Grey’s Anatomy musical that centered on Callie.

    Now that Sara Ramirez isn’t on Grey’s, maybe she can come back to Broadway. Have you heard the woman sing? Also, she has a Tony award. New York/the theatre community wants you back!

  17. That said, in the early days with Erica she did give in to the trope of cheating on her girlfriend with a man. And then after sleeping with him again while on a break from another woman, she had his baby…

    It’s awesome though that she’s the longest running character, especially as so much of her screentime she was in same-sex relationships.

    My favourite Callie moment is her singing The Story in the musical episode, waking herself up and agreeing to marry Arizona.

  18. I just watched the episode and I’m glad Callie and Arizona worked it out. I’m glad Callie didn’t get killed off. But I needed more of her in this episode. It didn’t feel like a solid enough good-bye. Cristina got like three or four episodes that centered around her future and departure and represented growth for her as a character and Callie gets a few minutes in the season finale?

    However, I don’t think the way this played out is entirely unrepresentative of Callie and Arizona in general. They’ve always had big fights, often where Callie is passive-aggressive or impulsive and then things blow up (fighting in the airport) and then eventually they work things out. The courtroom was extremely vitriolic and over the line, but not totally unprecedented.

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