Welcome to Very Special Gay Episode, a fun little series where I recap standalone lesbian episodes from classic TV shows that are not otherwise necessarily gay. In this installment, we will discuss Living Single Season Three, Episode 22: “Woman-to-Woman”
There are few television shows that I would consider myself a legitimate TV “scholar” of — not in the way I would Living Single. Famously, my obsession with the peak 90s FOX sitcom lead to me having a Queen Latifah-themed birthday party in second grade. I’ve watched it quite nearly daily since it first went off air in 1998, first in after-school reruns and cable syndication, then on DVD (they only released the first season, a tragedy, but that did not stop me), and now on streaming. And every reunion show? Behind-the-scenes oral history? I was there. The Internet loves to joke about “besties” but Khadijah, Maxine, Synclaire and Regine? Those are my besties forreal. Those girls hold me down. Not past tense.
And maybe it’s because Living Single is still so alive for me, such a part of my everyday life, that I was shocked to find out that September marked its 30th birthday. For one, I refuse to be that old. But more to the point, I never thought I’d see the day where, even for a second, Living Single would get the well-earned due it deserves. But there it was… a commemorative sticker underneath its title on Max streaming, a special edition billboard on the same production lot where it used to get paid dust for Friends.
It is hard to talk about Living Single without talking about Friends, because rock ’n’ roll and Elvis Presley vocals barely scratch the surface of what white America has stolen from Black people and Black culture. If you’ve never seen Living Single, first you should remedy that immediately — it’s available for streaming on both Max and Hulu. But also, the basic plot is that a group of twentysomethings learn about love, dating, and the meaning of friendship while stomping through hijinks in New York in the 90s. There’s also a few cross-group dating and big “will they/won’t they” romances peppered throughout. Is that sounding familiar? The show came out before Friends by exactly one year, and they both filmed on the same lot. I don’t have to say more on it, because plenty of others — including Living Single cast and crew — already have.
Plus, I mean, right now we’re here for the gay. And to celebrate Black greatness on its own terms, not in comparison to white people.
The structure of Living Single is that Khadijah (Queen Latifah) lives with her childhood best friend, Regine (Kim Fields), and her cousin, Synclaire (Kim Coles), in a Brooklyn brownstone. Across the street lives Khadijah’s college best friend, Maxine (Erika Alexander), and above the women’s apartment live Overton (John Henton) and Kyle (T.C. Carson). Today we are focused on Max. Let us begin our story.
Max and Khadijah both went to the HBCU Howard University. At Howard, Max’s roommate was Shayla (Karen Malina White) — which is a great winking nod to the fact that Erika Alexander and Karen Malina White played teenage best friends Pam and Charmaine on The
Cosby Show, adding a little emotional depth to the story, if you know where to look.
Shayla is traveling up to Brooklyn with her fiancé, Chris, because the whole crew is throwing her a bridal shower that will somehow be only a few days before her wedding. The wedding will also take place in Brooklyn despite the fact that seemingly neither Shayla or Chris live there.
Does this timeline make sense!? No, but nothing made sense in the 90s. Go with it.
Everyone is getting ready for the bridal shower (Synclaire is hand-making little brides and grooms out of toilet paper) when Shayla shows up. We find out that Chris is short for Christina, her fiancée. Synclaire immediately starts ripping apart the toilet paper grooms while cheerfully exclaiming, “Lesbians! NEAT!” And we cut to the opening theme song.
To jump around a little bit, because we only have so much time here, the most important thing to know is that even though Living Single is typically a very straight show (obvious lesbian prowess of Queen Latifah not withstanding), it is STUNNING and EXHILERATING how gay this episode is — not only in plot, but also in jokes.
About halfway through the episode, I noticed the trend and tried to keep a running tally of every gay joke I heard, and after roughly five minutes my hand was already cramping. My brain had broken. I gave up. On top of that, nearly every joke, every zinger, lands.
Even the jokes that made me most nervous, end on solid ground. Kyle — a known “ladies’ man” — stands out of Khadijah’s apartment before the lesbian bridal shower, proclaiming he can “change” every woman that crosses his path. When one woman in particular turns him down, he huffs, “You’re just like the rest of them, afraid of men.” Synclaire looks at him, her face in a confused pout, “That’s Khadijah’s friend Jamie — she’s straight.” His bruised ego rightfully becomes his own punchline.
But the star of “Woman-to-Woman,” surprising no one, is Queen Latifah herself.
Khadijah has always been read queerly. Maybe its my imagination, I know that ‘90s Queen Latifah was still far from being out herself, but I swear to you that Queen has never stood more proud, more swaggy, more effortlessly f*cking gay (in the every best possible way) than she does here. It’s not in what she says, it’s in how she says it. Her smirk, her hair bounce, her posture.
When Synclaire makes a hot pink sign for the bridal shower that proclaims “WELCOME LESBIANS” — there is Khadijah to rip it down, mumbling to herself “Nah kid.”
When Synclaire proclaims, “I’m not up on lesbian etiquette. It’s not like I’ve ever known any before,” there is Khadijah again: “Aunt Gladys was gay.” (Hilariously, Synclaire’s response? “Aunt Gladys was not gay. She just never found the right man. Like her roommate, Aunt Hazel.”)
When the always exquisitely dressed and extremely straight Regine shows up to the bridal shower in a backwards cap and baggy shirt, arguing “Why put out the banquet, if they can’t eat.” There’s Khadijah with the knockout, “You succeeded. You definitely look like a sack lunch.”
And when Max struggles with her best friend’s coming out, there is Queen Latifah one final time with the simple, non-confrontational, pitch-perfect words of wisdom that every straight person best friend of a gay needs to hear:
Khadijah: Max let me ask you something, the entire time y’all roomed together, did she ever try to come on to you?
Khadijah: Okay, so she played it cool. That’s how much your friendship mattered to her.
Truer words have never been spoken, especially because as it turned out, the reason that Shayla kept her secret from Max for so long (she told Khadijah junior year back when they were all in college) was not because she worried Max couldn’t handle the news that she was gay. It was because she worried Max couldn’t handle the news that Shayla was, for years, in love with her. It’s a scene that plays out beautifully, equal parts raw emotion and well-earned humor, with the kind of charm that you’ll have hard time believing goes by so quickly for how deeply you become invested in it.
Most notably, in a hat trick that a lot of straight shows still would struggle to pull off today, there’s never an ounce of homophobia laced in their confrontation. Max isn’t freaked out that Shayla is gay, or even that Shayla once loved her — she’s bothered that her best friend didn’t feel like she could be her true self around her. It’s that nagging feeling that leads to the two friends making up on the morning of Shayla’s wedding.
Max visits Shayla at the beauty salon and just as the closing credits are about to roll, she can’t help but lament:
“Think of all the time we waisted. All the conversations we didn’t have. All those chances I would have had to diss your dates.”
And that final joke, my friends… drumroll.. brings us to the end of this Very Special Gay Episode!
OK, Is It Worth It? I’m biased, but based on the sheer infinite levels of gay jokes packed into 22 minutes, the rareness of Very Special Gay episodes on Black Television, and of course Queen Latifah — this is a clear winner by every known metric. Congrats to series creator and writer Yvette Lee Bowser, a success!! 10/10, Would do it again.