Previously on The Fosters, Sally came into Lena’s office and said that Monty kissed her and I honestly don’t remember anything else that happened before or after that because I blacked out in a rage spiral foreseeing one of only two directions that storyline could go: queer predator teacher or teenage girl lying about sexual assault, and neither of those things are okay. Probably I would have been a little more trusting if Freeform hadn’t cancelled Chasing Life and de-gayed Pretty Little Liars, but man, you add those two things to Rose (from Jane the Virgin) and Lexa (from The 100) getting murdered last week, and my belief-o-meter is hovering on empty.
It’s breakfast at the Foster Adams house. What thing that has nothing to do with Brandon will Brandon make all about himself on this morning? Why, it’s Jesus and Mariana’s birthday! They have different ideas about what sounds fun. He wants to skateboard with five bros and pizza and that’s it. She wants to have a dance party that everyone is invited to. Nick is there and he suggests using his dad’s warehouse as both a skate park and a dance floor, and that’s when Brandon is like, “But that warehouse is for R and J!” (Every time someone says “R and J” out loud, Gretchen Weiners gets her wings.) It is a space someone is letting him borrow, and he has claimed complete ownership over it. Every morning before 8am, this boy.
Lena zips out the door to work, but not before Stef kisses her and pointedly says, “Good luck.”
Jude’s invisibility potion has worn off. He’s sitting at the table eating his Fruit Loops when his phone bleeps. Jesus picks it up for some reason, and gets more than he bargained for. It’s a sext from Connor. Jude seems just as surprised as Jesus, and definitely more freaked out than him. To complicate matters, Stef and Lena have given Jude a train ticket to go see Connor this weekend, for his homecoming game and dance.
Unsatisfied with his success in centering his siblings’ birthday on himself, Brandon pulls Callie aside before they leave for school and tells her not to bring AJ to the party because it’ll make him feel weird, which he knows from experience, because when Callie and AJ were making out in the backyard the other day, he was standing in the shed and staring at them from the window. Callie is like, “We’re going to be siblings for the rest of our lives, so maybe we should get used to the idea of seeing each other with appropriate love interests.” Brandon doesn’t really know if they need to do that at all. Is a murder suicide pact out of the question? It worked for R and J. J never had to see R with Rosaline ever again after she was dead.
Anchor Beach High School for Extradimensionally Dramatic Humans.
Lena: So. Sally says you kissed her.
Monty: Aw, man. No. Come on. Look, what happened is, she tried to kiss me and I calmly but firmly refused her.
Lena: And did not report it to the school board for some reason?
Monty: Well, she’s eighteen, so it’s not a felony.
Lena: Okay, Ezra.
Monty: I’m serious, Lena. I did not make a pass at a student. I just didn’t want to embarrass her when she came onto me. I know what that feels like.
Lena: I mean, way to try to emotionally manipulate me into feeling guilty by illogically juxtaposing two monumentally different kissing scenarios.
Anyway, Sally told her parents about what happened and so now there will be consequences, one way or another. Lena really doesn’t know who to believe. Stef lists all the reasons Monty is engaging in classic grooming behavior: She created situations where she could be alone with Sally, builds her up, gives her special treatment. And so Lena keeps all of this in mind when she goes to meet with Sally and her parents.
Sally barely talks the whole time, and Sally’s mom says she’s also not going to testify in front of the school board, which puts Lena in a tricky pickle. Here’s how Sally’s mom tells it: Sally found Monty, this “self-described bisexual” on a dating website, where she was “soliciting both men and women” — the term is “seeking,” Lena corrects her — and then Monty tried to kiss Sally, and not the other way around, obviously, because Sally has a boyfriend. Sally has worked too hard to have her reputation called into question, Sally’s mom says, so she wants Monty fired.
I hate this story, I really do. Because there’s an untrue stigma in the world, still to this day, that queer people — and particularly bisexual women — are sexual deviants, and it often makes it very hard for queer women to adopt children or to come out when they’re teachers and school administrators, especially in places that aren’t bastions of progressive values. I have a dear friend who is a teacher at a private school here in Manhattan that fosters inclusivity and encourages staff members to talk about their identities, and she still struggles with it because she grew up in a rural community that would never have accepted her as an exceptional teacher if they’d known she was gay. When I lived in Georgia, my friends who were teachers begged me not to publicly talk about my sexuality because they feared having to cut me out of their lives, or risk alienating the parents of their students.
And on the other side of that coin, women are often punished and socially ostracized for coming forward to speak out against their abusers. The football players who gang raped a women in Stubenville, for example. CNN, NBC, ABC and Yahoo News all mourned the loss of the promising careers of these young men, these respected teammates, these good guys, and cast aspersions on the woman they victimized. Just two weeks ago, SB Nation (a limb of Vox Media) posted a longform article sympathizing with and humanizing Daniel Holtzclaw, instead of honoring the 18 black women he was convicted of raping. Fox Sports’ Erin Andrews won a $55 million lawsuit against the stalker who videoed her undressing through a hotel wall, and posted it online. Just look at these tweets that landed right after the verdict was announced yesterday.
The first few responses to Erin Andrews pic.twitter.com/Fu1KUmoFAD
— Brandon Wall (@Walldo) March 7, 2016
There’s a reason almost 70 percent of sexual assaults are never reported to the police. Authorities, the general public, the media: our society doesn’t believe women when they report being victimized; and even if it’s proven beyond doubt that they were victims, their lives are often still torn apart.
The experience of moving through the world as a woman is fraught; and moving through the world as a queer woman, specifically, is a constant battle that daily includes fighting against the stigmas that have been sewn into the fabric of society by pop culture. I am so exhausted from explaining over and over again the enormous responsibility of putting queer stories into the world. And I remain almost constantly bamboozled by the fact that writers: a) continue to use the same hackneyed tropes when there are infinite other story possibilities available to them, and/or b) are convinced the way they’ll use the trope will be different and singular and acceptable.
It won’t be. And it won’t be. And it won’t be.
Queer women are not just pushing back against one single story on the one single show. I’m not even reacting to just The Fosters right now. Stories do not exist inside a vacuum. Stories build upon the perceptions we’ve consumed from other stories, from advertising, from our religious upbringings, from our anecdotal experiences, and on and on. When you add one more brick to that wall of damaging cliches, it makes it that much harder for us to try to knock it down. That one brick might be the difference between a tough but manageable obstacle and an insurmountable one.
Someone said the most profound thing on Twitter yesterday: “Y’know, there aren’t really lesbian “fandoms.” There’s *the lesbian fandom*, migrating from show to show like a herd crossing the desert.” And what’s more, there’s not even really a generational divide in lesbian fandom. The quality TV shows and movies that are available to us, and especially the ones that really resonate with us emotionally, have been so sparse that we’ve watched them all, no matter when or where they were made. We’ve watched them in pieces on YouTube, with fan-made transcriptions for non-English shows, and we’ve talked about them and written about them until they’ve become part of our collective queer consciousness. We’re reacting to the totality of the canon because it’s not a very big canon and the fullness of it informs the way other people think about us, and the way we think about ourselves.
You know what got me the most last week about gay TV? The overwhelming majority of queer women who were blaming themselves for believing that [whatever show] wasn’t going to let them down. Using these tropes to write about queer women doesn’t only make the world harder for us, systemically, and more painful for us, personally; it also causes us to hate ourselves for hoping in story. How fucked up is that?
I love this thing Graham Swift wrote: “Man — let me offer you a definition — is the storytelling animal. Wherever he goes he wants to leave behind not a chaotic wake, not an empty space, but the comforting marker-buoys and trail-signs of stories. He has to go on telling stories. He has to keep on making them up. As long as there’s a story, it’s all right. Even in his last moments, it’s said, in the split second of a fatal fall — or when he’s about to drown — he sees, passing rapidly before him, the story of his whole life.”
Stories make us human, and it’s not hard to tell good ones about women. Watch how easy this is: There’s a rumor about Sally that she’s gay and she comes to Lena to talk about it, because even though it’s cool that the vice-principal is a lesbian, that doesn’t make it easy to come out as a teenager, and then the rumor gets back to Sally’s parents and they accuse Lena of recruiting Sally into lesbianism and Monty has to investigate. You’re on the side of the established queer woman from the start. Your sympathy is with Sally. Her parents are still controlling. And it’s highly watchable drama. No ducking and dodging at bisexual predator tropes, or leaning onto the lie that women in real life lie about sexual assault. It would cost the same amount of money to make and use the same actors and take up the same amount of screen time and fit in exactly the same place in the season-long narrative. IT’S NOT HARD.
My dad recently said to me that it must be exhausting to view the world like this and I was like, “You mean as a queer woman with my eyes open? Yeah, it is.” I just want to love TV and I want TV to love me back. So simple. It’s so simple. I don’t want to be outraged. I just want to be happy, and for the world to be safe for me and my queer sisters.
Mariana has a chat with her grandparents and asks them if they’ll work with her to get Gabe off the sex offenders registry, because he’s done his time and because Jesus really wants to have a relationship with him. She then drags Ana over to Gabe’s house and explains that he just needs to fill out this form and Ana will testify for him and maybe even her grandparents and it’ll be all good, and she’ll fix it, and she’ll make it right. She bounces for her birthday party, the fact of which makes Gabe feel super awkward, and leaves Ana behind with him and a beer.
The party! It’s actually very cool. Nick pulled it off brilliantly. Jude is there because he told his moms to return his train ticket because he didn’t really want to go see Connor this weekend. That was a lie, but he got some bad advice from Jesus about how he learned to have sex, and that advice was: porn. Jude literally Googled “gay sex two dudes first time” and clicked on the first result and it terrified him. Luckily, Callie gets a hot tip that this is why he abandoned his trip, and she talks to him about her fears of having sex with AJ as a way to really talk to him about the things he’s scared about. She says when you have sex with someone you love and trust, it can still be weird, especially at first, but it’s safe and also awesome. He believes her.
Also at the party is Sally. She’s dancing with another girl and when she peeps Lena looking at her, she stops right in her tracks and dances in the other direction with the air. She even tries to make a break for it when Lena’s head is turned, but Lena is the mother of five teenagers; her peripheral vision borders on premonition. She stops Sally and asks why she’s leaving so early.
Lena: Your parents put a lot of pressure on you, huh? To be a great student. To be a beacon of heteronormativity.
Sally: I am a beacon of heteronormativity!
Lena: I was just thinking, if you found Monty on a dating website, you were probably looking for women, too, same as her, huh?
Lena: I know you want to make your parents proud. But you should be able to make yourself proud by living authentically. I’m trying to pep talk you about your sexuality without casting doubt on your claims of assault. I, and I alone, am capable of doing this, on all of television and perhaps in the world.
Sally: Yeah, this show really lucked out when it found you.
Also also at the party is Ana, and she is high. It’s not good. She starts yelling at her mom and dad for getting Gabe arrested, and tells them they’re the reason she lost her kids. And also it is Stef’s fault for taking her kids. It’s a terrible scene and I have never felt so sorry for Mariana in all my life. This is a bit of Callie luck.
Who, by the way, is at home making out with AJ. While Brandon is making out with his new girlfriend in the garage. They bump into each other in the kitchen when they’re getting water to rehydrate and it’s dumb. And AJ sees them and gets mad about it which is also dumb. Brandon’s girlfriend lives with her ex, too, though (like a regular ol’ homosexual), so she’s not mad.
Finally everyone comes home and they’re all feeling kind of morose, and Connor and Jude break up on Skype, but then Stef and Lena pull out the presents and the Adams Fosters are happy, just for a second, that they have each other, and can get through everything because of it.
In two weeks: Everyone wears all the eyeliner and R and J finally hits the stage.