Welcome to Club Bisexual, Dr. Teddy Altman! You Can Hang Your Scrubs in the Back

Way back in Season Six of Grey’s Anatomy — a full ten years ago! — here were the first five things we ever learned about Dr. Theodora Grace Altman:

  1. She’s a so-called “Cardio-God.”
  2. You wouldn’t know it by looking at the birds on her scrub cap.
  3. She wears birds on her scrub cap because they were her best friend’s favorite.
  4. Her best friend died in the Twin Towers on 9/11.
  5. This is the reason Teddy quit her attending position at Columbia enlisted in the Army to provide emergency medical treatment to soldiers.

There is not a queer woman I know who hasn’t rooted for Teddy Altman to break up with Owen Hunt for good and just make out with Amelia Shepherd instead. Or in Seasons Six — Eight, ditch Owen Hunt and make out with Cristina Yang instead (catching a pattern here?). Maybe we couldn’t explain it, but something about Teddy, even after all these years, always felt like she should play for the home team. And sure, what we learned about Teddy in last night’s Grey’s Anatomy is actually a flashback. But what made it so moving, and from a storytelling perspective so brilliant, is that this reveal made everything else we’ve ever known about Teddy make more sense.

You see, for the five things we’ve always known about Dr. Teddy Altman, there was a sixth no one told us until now: That best friend who died in when the second tower fell? The one who loved birds? That was Allison. And they were much more than friends.

Over here in 2020, Teddy runs in to Claire, an old friend from New York, at a medical conference in Los Angeles (the world of Grey’s hasn’t yet been affected by the pandemic, so the rest of us should still stay at home). Claire, with her obviously gay haircut, lets us know that she now runs a small private practice with her wife down south. Teddy’s shocked that Claire ever left New York! But Claire couldn’t shake the mourning from after the towers fell; she said it embedded itself into the city’s marrow. She had to leave.

Of course that makes sense to Teddy. Did she not also leave, in her own way? Did she not run away to stitch up wounded soldiers in the field, so she could feel like she was helping, somehow? So she could feel anything other than grief and sadness?

In 2001, Teddy was settling in to her life as an attending surgeon. She wasn’t making a lot of money yet, so her best friend Allison offered Teddy a room in the apartment she shared with her then-girlfriend, Claire. Claire and Teddy were both doctors. At first Allison worried that the two would get too close, but Teddy was straight after all. And in case you forgot this apartment belonged to lesbians, let the Ani DiFranco singing “32 Flavors” in the background remind you. Did I mention that Allison is played by none other than Sherri Saum (that’s The Fosters’ Lena Adams Foster to you). Just for casual MAXIMUM gay points. That’s what Grey’s Anatomy is really going for here. Really looking to give the gays everything that they want.

Which is why, when Claire leaves for her shift, it’s immediately clear that Allison and Teddy’s relationship is more than they’ve said. Allison wraps her arms around Teddy’s stomach, softly pushing her nose into Teddy’s neck while she works on dinner. Then she turns Teddy around. They kiss, and Teddy knows it’s wrong. She knows it, but she can’t stop.

Later, when the two of them are naked together in bed, Allison faces the truth. She tells Teddy that she’s her great love. It’s hard, but she’s ready to say it out in the open and let the consequences fall where they may. She loves Teddy. She loves her more, and more, and more. She declares it — whispering “more” into Teddy’s neck, then her clavicle, her cleavage, her ribcage, and then, finally, she whispers it in between her thighs.

The morning of the attacks, Teddy was the last number Allison called.

That’s how Claire confirmed her suspicions about the affair. Still, she never confronted Teddy about it. Instead, she left the city; let each woman that Allison loved claw their own way through the grief. She was ready to let bygones be bygones — until she found out that Teddy recently named her newborn daughter after Allison.

That’s the straw that broke the camel’s back. It’s been almost 20 years, but Claire forces Teddy to come clean. Teddy weeps and apologizes, saying that 20 years ago she didn’t believe that someone could love two people at the same time, but now — caught yet another love triangle, later in her life — she gets it. Yes, Allison chose Teddy, but that didn’t mean her love with Claire was a lie.

There’s something deliciously satisfying when a show takes a character who’s been presumed straight, but is beloved by LGBT fans, and reveals that this character is bisexual (Jane the Virgin’s Petra Solano comes to mind of course, but also How To Get Away with Murder’s Annalise Keating). What makes last night’s bisexual revelation and secret love story so great isn’t just the fan service, or that it’s a love triangle that mirrors Teddy’s current predicament — it’s that as long as we’ve known Teddy Altman, she hasn’t thought she was good enough.

She’s always been messy in her love life. She’s chased love that was unattainable (I don’t believe that Owen Hunt will ever truly love her back, and her epic love story with Scott Foley’s Henry in Seasons Seven and Eight had an expiration date attached to his health). Time and again, she’s knowingly made romantic decisions that would only cost her pain. The best television “surprises” are the ones that take every puzzle piece we knew, and then re-arranges them in a way that makes perfect sense, but we somehow couldn’t see before. The ones where we didn’t know why, and now we do.

Allison was maybe going to be the love of Teddy’s life. She was absolutely certain that Teddy was the love of hers. Teddy never got to live that life that out loud, so we’ll never know. Instead, Allison died on September 11th.

And then everything changed.

Carmen is Autostraddle's Deputy Editor and a black Puerto Rican femme/inist writer. She claims many past homes, but left the largest parts of her heart in Detroit, Brooklyn, and Buffalo, NY. There were several years in her early 20s when she earnestly slept with a copy of James Baldwin’s “Fire Next Time” under her pillow. You can find her on twitter, @carmencitaloves.

Carmen has written 236 articles for us.

40 Comments

  1. Look, Autostraddle, I love you very very much. But. Can I please, PLEASE, offer my services as a proofreader before you post articles? I will charge a very reasonable rate and I know for sure that I am not the first one to notice this need. From the effected/affected mix up to the know/now typo in this article *alone*, to that time a few days ago when you blatantly misspelled Netflix in a HEADLINE? And all the other glaringly obvious typos in recent posts? I want you to be taken seriously and professionally as a publication, and honestly you need someone to help. Let me, or someone, help you. Please.

    • Hi! Thank you for catching my typos in this piece. I edited it twice, but eyes are always fallible. I appreciate it!

      We are a small team and sometimes mistakes do happen (such as in the headline you’re referencing). We’ve been PARTICULARLY short handed this week thanks to covid-19, I’m sure you can understand, but I also promise you that these mistakes happen across most of the Internet. I’ve seen people complain about typos in The New York Times. We move fast, it happens.

      Still, I appreciate your concern, and I want you to know that Autostraddle TV Team’s reputation and “being taken seriously and professionally as a publication” (to quote your words) has been growing bigger and better than ever before. Over the last few years, we’ve garnered the attention of a lot from the creators in the industry who matter most, despite our shoestring budget and over-worked small team. In fact, given the mountain that we’re up against, we’re really proud of ourselves. Despite whatever mistakes you’re finding, I sincerely hope your proud of us too.

      Thanks for commenting! I always appreciate learning how to do better. I hope you enjoyed last night’s episode of Grey’s Anatomy.

  2. INCREDIBLE.

    I got behind on Grey’s a few seasons ago but boy howdy if this won’t get me back in the saddle. SHERRI SAUM????? BISEXUAL TEDDY ALTMAN????

    Ready to get my heart broken by Shondaland again.

  3. This episode was PERFECTION!
    I knew there was a reason I was so drawn to Teddy!!!! She’s flamingly gay in her actions! Ie she’s a messy bitch who lives for drama and I love her and I loved this episode and the recap rly nails how well they did to incorporate this so seamlessly. It makes GREAT SENSE!! Aaaaahhh!! And now there’s only two fucking eps left because of stupid fucking Corona!!! Aaah!!

  4. I loved almost all about this except learning that Teddy has an unhealthy habit of participating in cheating instead of communicating. It doesn’t take away from this bisexual revelation, but its something to note at least.

  5. This was very good, but for one brief second I thought they might be revealing that Teddy had been part of a queer triad, and now I will never get over it. All of this talk of being able to love more than one person would have been SO MUCH BETTER with some polyamorous context. Obviously Grey’s is too heteronormative for such a thing and of course they were cheating, but I am so sad for the storyline that almost was.

  6. ok here’s the thing. this reveal was incredible and I love how Grey’s is just down to throw anything at the wall, and seems to have a mandate that at least two auxiliary characters every single episode be LGBT. but also…feels more like “idk I always figured Dumbledore was gay ¯\_(ツ)_/¯” than writing a bisexual character?

    the retcon seems especially blatant for all of the years Teddy was Arizona’s best friend and it never came up, and that we’ve seen so many stories about her army struggles but of course none of them were about DADT. I thought the whole idea of bringing her back was that she’s never in her life had a love like Owen?

    I’m not saying that every writer’s room needs to have a 15-season arc for a character ready at all times or nothing at all, but Teddy Altman being the new bisexual one comes off to me like they picked names out of a bowl and halfheartedly found a way to justify it.

    let me be clear: I am ALL for a universe where everyone flashes back to their torrid and heretofore unmentioned same-sex affairs. it’s my favorite twist since “lesbian cop peels off her face to reveal she’s actually a presumed-dead lesbian criminal mastermind.” but I think it’s valid not to equate this with a story or a character meant to have a reflection of queer experience in it!

    • Yeah, I hear that. It’s not necessarily my read on the episode — I think I’d be more inclined towards it if we knew other things about Teddy’s life before the war and just not this? But because she’s always been a tier 3 character, we don’t have much background. One of the few concrete facts we know about her is the story about 9/11, and learning that her best friend was also once her lover feels seamless to me. It also explains a lot of Teddy’s other reckless life choices (which I guess I explained above lol).

      It’ll be interesting to see where Grey’s takes this from here! I love that not every queer character was written starting off that way, especially when it’s a character that fans long read as queer and then the show’s production decided to agree. But I agree there’s definitely a danger zone in retcons, for sure.

      Thanks for sharing! I love talking about the show with people.

      • for sure, I think your read on her appetite for hopeless/difficult romances is on point and definitely the strongest link to me for why this isn’t an entirely half-hearted choice. the line about “I felt guilty that my love for Owen was half of what I felt for Allison” just really rubbed me the wrong way, like trying way too hard to pretend this recent writing decision had been in the works forever.

        also, props to this show that this was only the second-biggest twist in the episode?? poor Richard :(

        and yes, thank you, I was so relieved to see your post hahaha. I love talking about this and no one I know still watches it. obviously twitter and other more public forums are not a reasonable place to shout about grey’s anatomy right now :)

        • Richard, oh my gosh – somehow that scared me. like, i felt that.

          i also feel like a few of the characters have had personality transplants lately, and not in a good way. but this episode was such a great ride! i like Kim Raver, but Sherri Saum!

  7. Torn because it really does feel like something the writers just pulled out of a hat – how can you date Owen after Lena Adams Foster?! I can handwave under the theory that Teddy joined the army during DADT, so referring to Allison as her best friend and shoving down everything else for a decade does make it seem more reasonable it wouldn’t have come up.

    If this is a set-up for Amelia and Teddy ditching Owen and running off together I will whole heartedly accept all of it.

  8. Nope, NoNoNoNo. I’m pissed off with this.

    You don’t get to make the nonexistent teddy and the nonexistent allison relevant in any way to the people who died at the world trade center, or the pentagon or on flight 11.
    Claire’s soliloquy to Teddy about Allison’s death was poorly written and even more poorly performed.
    When you take on a subject of this magnitude, you’d better have a script and direction and performances that will beat your basic One Life To Live soap opera.
    Teddy’s story here was merely a cling to what happened in our own world.
    Fuck you, Grey’s, for exploiting it, and right back at you, Autostraddle, for making this all seem beautifully sad and poetic because Teddy is involved. It isn’t. When Claire talks about Allison falling from the sky?
    You can do that brilliantly, you can do that poetically. But here? This was lame soap opera acting/writing.
    Don’t talk about people falling from the sky.
    The fictional Allison was on the top floors at Windows on the World that morning, she invited Teddy to breakfast, who declined.
    Allison didn’t fall in a collapse.
    She either succumbed to the smoke or jumped.
    I’m so angry about this poor storytelling, Get it right. Get it right, damnit.
    I’m supposed to overlook this because, hey! Teddy! Surprise bisexual!
    Grey’s can kiss my ass for this.

    • There is actually some precedent for the way Allison is said to have died–if you listen to the Kevin Cosgrove tape (which I do not recommend), it’s clear that he (and many of those with him) definitely died in the collapse. With that said, I’d argue that Claire has no way of knowing how exactly Allison died and was just trying to be poetic, and I agree that it comes off as really cheap and unrealistic for that scene. Fell from the sky? Come on. That’s a line for a poem, not a line a person says in a conversation.

      I also agree that 9/11 was used as a cheap plot point to anchor this story, and it upsets me too. I was totally fine with Teddy’s backstory of having a friend who died in 9/11 and it leading to Teddy going to Iraq. That makes total sense and is an appropriate reference to that tragedy. But unless you’re constructing a story that by nature involves 9/11 (even if it isn’t about 9/11 per se, like Zero Dark Thirty), it shouldn’t be a backdrop. Same with the Holocaust or any other major tragedy.

      This story wasn’t about 9/11–it was about revealing what made Teddy who she is and revealing that Allison considered Teddy the love of her life. That, to me, is what made the use of 9/11 feel cheap here–that it was basically used to drive the plot forward. Allison could’ve died in any way whatsoever and the story would’ve been the same. She didn’t have to be the person Teddy lost in 9/11. Ugh.

      I love love LOVE that Teddy is bi, because I completely have gotten that energy from her and shipped her with women from day one, but tying 9/11 into it felt icky. As a standalone story, it could work. There were complications regarding close relationships, intimate or otherwise, that stemmed from 9/11 (think Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, or The Mercy Seat) and I see no issue with telling those stories. But to use it to add intrigue to a seasons-long character arc feels icky.

      • With respect, Kevin Cosgrove died in the SOUTH Tower collapse.

        The South Tower was the first to fall.

        The tv character mentioned, Allison, would have died while being trapped by flames and smoke in the North Tower. or jumping.
        The north tower, above the impact zone, where Windows on the World restaurant was located, simply stood long enough to kill everyone above before collapse.

  9. So they’re telling me Teddy has been bi this whole time and didn’t once gush about women with Arizona? (FWIW I don’t see her working as a couple with Arizona and I hate the trope where if two women both like women they should get together.) Nor did she tell Arizona that the love of her life was a woman? NOR could Lauren Boswell have pursued Teddy instead of ruining Callie and Arizona’s relationship? Come on. COME on. This is the type of thing that made me stop watching Grey’s. Just so many missed opportunities, and the relationships they do construct for people once they’ve killed off half the available love interests, make no sense.

    I LOVE that Teddy is bi. I crack-shipped her with Addison and I have 100% gotten gay energy from her since day one. And I agree that revealing bisexuality and shattering those assumptions of straightness is fun and important. But they could’ve done SO much with this if it were explored earlier, plus then Callie (who is probably the worst bi representation on the face of the planet) wouldn’t have had to be the token bisexual. I was so excited to see Teddy being revealed as bi at first, but now that I think about the implications (and the fact that she’s with not one but two mediocre men right now) it’s kind of frustrating.

    • Cath,

      With respect, Kevin Cosgrove died in the SOUTH Tower collapse.

      The South Tower was the first to fall.

      The tv character mentioned, Allison, would have died while being trapped by flames and smoke in the North Tower. or jumping.
      The north tower, above the impact zone, where Windows on the World restaurant was located, simply stood long enough to kill everyone above before collapse.

    • Cath, I appreciate your measured response to both the attacks and this Grey’s episode.
      I hope you will please reconsider your response that Kevin Cosgrove died in the North Tower collapse. He died in the South Tower collapse, and the difference is immeasurable.
      Thank you, Cath.

    • Cath, I appreciate your measured response to both the attacks and this Grey’s episode.
      I hope you will please reconsider your response that Kevin Cosgrove died in the North Tower collapse. He died in the South Tower collapse, and the difference is immeasurable.
      The South Tower fell first, this is where Kevin Cosgrove was.
      The North Tower, though it was hit first, fell second, this is where the fictional Allison was, at the Windows on the World restaurant.
      No one could have survived the smoke and flames prior to collapse up there. People had to jump. The planes simply hit higher up there, and the fires burned hotter and longer.
      And that is the point at which I yell to ABC, get it right.
      Thank you, Cath.

      • HotTub. I know you’re angry, but 4 replies? Come on. Scale it back a bit.

        I didn’t remember where Cosgrove died, nor did I remember which tower fell first. But it’s not even clear that Allison was in the north tower. She offered to get breakfast at Windows *with* Teddy–it’s not clear whether she still would have done that on her own once Teddy declined. So we have no way of knowing she was at Windows. If anything, there’s a stronger implication that she was in the south tower: when Claire came into the hospital and saw Teddy, the news was saying that the south tower collapsed. Now, Claire might have just been reacting to the implication of the towers being hit in general, but that’s the closest we got to any info on where Allison was. Unless they’d outright said she was in the North Tower and then had the line about falling from the sky, it’d be inaccurate.

        In the end, it’s semantics, and I think we’re on the same side here–this was a cheap, insensitive, and quite possibly inaccurate use of 9/11 as a plot device for dramatic effect, and it added a sour note to what is otherwise a great bisexual reveal of a long-running character.

    • They didn’t do it earlier because they had their token gay…. I’m sure they never thought of doing this or it was on the back burner for just in case when they lose Arizona or whatever… I mean she could have hooked up with Arizona a couple years ago if they thought of that but they already had one …and as inclusive as greys has been… What show has more than one LGBT woman unless there is a couple like with Callie… Or when they have to bring in a guest star like Callie’s last gf or Carina. Not many shows have 3 or more LGBT women. I can’t think of any except shows made for the lagbt like oitnb, Wentworth & l word.

      • So yeah I mean that I definitely agree with you that it was never planned for Teddy to be bi. Maybe they got enough backlash since Arizona and are trying to appease because the intern and Carina aren’t enough.. and it was their way to deal with the budget since teddy has LGBT fanbase… I sent them tweets about how their raings have gone down since April and Arizona left… And about how they shose to get rid of a lesbian whose been their forever instead of chosing someone else to cut to make up for Ellen’s pay raise… God I would have been so happy if they got rid of Owen… Or like 5 other people instead of Arizona AND April since both actresses said they didn’t want to leave. …yeah I think I sent quite a few tweets actually. I’m sure many others did too. So yeah in my long all over the place rrloy I just mean you’re totally right… Teddy was never meant to be bi they just threw that in there to bring people like me back to watching when it airs… Their rating I think have gone down like a million veiwers each year since Arizona left.

  10. Just watched greys last season… Because since Arizona left I don’t need to see it when it comes out and it kinda went off the rails …I miss April too… But now I’m going to be rooting for Teddy and Carina because it seems Carina is still around every like 19th episode and with deluca gone crazy she should get a bigger role. And they’d be super hot together. Carina is so hot.. and teddy is so much hotter than the two guys she’s with… And just like way better than them in general. I would be down for Arizona to come back and be with teddy too since they were good friends. And while there’s not tv couples I have loved more than Callie and Arizona.. I would take a teddy love just because I miss Arizona so much and I know she didn’t didn’t want to leave like Callie did.

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