Ah, the ‘90s. We had oversized flannels, we had Caterpillar boots, we had Claire Danes dyeing her hair red and wondering why her mom just didn’t understand her — but one thing we didn’t have, one thing we thought we might never have, was girls kissing on TV as part of a normal plot arc.
Before Ellen ever said “I’m gay,” before Willow and Tara kissed for comfort as they got ready to go see Buffy after her mom died, what we had was the Lesbian Sweeps Kiss. A legacy of the Nielsen TV ratings system, sweeps were a couple of weeks a year when TV shows brought out sensational content, like women kissing, to reel in viewers. These plot arcs usually ended with the instigator, who was often a guest star, unceremoniously leaving the show. And they continued well into the 2000s, really! Buffy producer Marti Noxon explained it in 2003: “You can show girls kissing once, but not kissing twice, because if they kiss twice, that means they liked it.” Talk about queerbaiting!
These days, I can’t even keep up with all of the shows with queer series regulars (or keep up with their cancellations!!!), and I feel so very grateful for shows like A League of Their Own, where Max and Carson can talk frankly about being queer as a three-dollar bill. Still, I’m occasionally nostalgic for those Very Special Episodes from the ‘90s, when you knew that for a moment, however fleeting, someone was gonna let themselves get vulnerable, let themselves get just a little bit gay, and let themselves get kissed.
Which Lesbian Sweeps Kiss are you?