Jul 3, 2018

The Golden Girls: Homophobic Gay Favorite

When I was livingin West Hollywood,  Saturday night meant picking up tangerine chicken to eat on tv trays while watching Throb, Mama's Family and The Golden Girls, then heading out to the bars.

The Golden Girls' theme song "Thank You for Being a Friend" still brings back memories of those Saturday nights of lights and music, checking out the musclemen, searching for Mr. Right (or Mr. Right Now), and schmoozing with friends.

It featured four senior citizens who live together in a Miami:

1.Former Southern Belle Blanche (Rue McClanihan), the sexually promiscuous one.

2. Dimwitted Rose (Betty White), who is from St. Olaf, Minnesota.

3. Sensible Dorothy (Bea Arthur).

4. Her mother, the sarcastic Sophia (Estelle Getty).

The real Miami is 70% Hispanic, but not on The Golden Girls:  it was exclusively white, exclusively affluent, and a small town where everybody knows everybody.

The Girls were all played by gay-friendly actresses; Bea Arthur often spoke out against homophobia, and Betty White is a tireless supporter of gay marriage.

But the show itself could be quite homophobic:

1. Blanche is shocked to discover that her brother is "a homo."

2. Blanche cannot restrain her disgust at a feminine caterer: "you're about to fly right out of here, aren't you?" she asks, alluding to the stereotype of gay men as "fairies."

3. A female visitor develops a crush on Rose, who has no idea what lesbians are.  When she finds out, she is shocked and horrified.

There was little beefcake.  Though the Girls were sexually voracious -- jokes mostly involved sex -- the men they slept with were older, and fully clothed.

Occasionally there was a hot guest star for the gay teens, such as as Mario Lopez (later photo) as one of Dorothy's students, Scott Jacoby as Dorothy's son, or Billy Jacoby (below) as Blanche's grandson.

Why, then, was this homophobic, beefcake-free show a gay favorite?

The recurring scene where the Girls sit around their kitchen table, eating cheesecake and schmoozing.

The men in their lives came and went, but their same-sex friendship was eternal.

Like the subtext songs of the 1980s, an image of connection, of the families you build for yourself.


  1. I think it's because of the actresses too. But it is interesting to see a common motif with the Star Wars holiday special, in which Bea Arthur plays a bartender and calls all her patrons "friend". (It just remixes the bar music from the movie.)

    And to be fair, it is realistic for anyone born before World War I to be, let's say naïve about gay issues.

    You know, when fiction focuses on affluent coastal areas and makes them whiter than reality or are otherwise unrealistic, I'm just going to shorten "write what you know" to WWYK from here on.

    1. Oddly, the Girls don't seem to have canonical ages, except in one episode Sophia notes that she's 84, which would put her birth around 1902. If she had Dorothy at age 18, Dorothy would be in her early 60s when the show began. Maybe younger, since she has a son who's still a young adult.

  2. Keep in mind the fact that this show was made by a division of Disney, who a year before it began had just lost a lawsuit over a gay couple getting kicked out of Disneyland for dancing together while battling greenmailers who wanted to break it up and sell the individual pieces. They'd cast gay actors before, even when Walt was still alive, but only in heterosexual or asexual roles, but this show still deserves credit for breaking the studio's openly gay character taboo. The de facto "no gays before 9 PM" rule still applied, and especially on shows with children or teenagers in them, it was still the love that dare not speak its name, even when there was a huge dissonance between text and subtext.

  3. Maybe you should rewatch the show. Yes, Blanche has a hard time accepting her brother, in both episodes he appears, but the other girls don't understand her upset. Also, he gets married which almost nobody was talking about gay marriage in the early 90s and Sophia puts Blanche in her place about it. In the episode where Rose freaks out, Sophia is very understanding of lesbians (she would rather live with a lesbian than a cat) and at the end, Rose and the Lesbian become friends. They also specifically have an AIDS episode where Rose may have been exposed during surgery to tainted blood and she freaks out having to wait so long for the results (I also recall freaking out having to wait for my results from my first test) and Blanche has a whole bit about how HIV/AIDS isn't a "bad person's" disease. Considering the time, I found the show very progressive on many issues, including gays. Yes, the episode where Blanche and Dorothy are mistaken for a couple is pretty bad, but the rest outshines that for me.

    1. I still watched it in West Hollywood every Saturday night. It was "Mama's Family," "The Golden Girls," go out to Mugi.

  4. Great website! Thanks Boomer!!!!!

  5. No mention of Coco (Charles Levin), their house helper in the pilot that Sophia refers to as “the fancy man”. When the series was picked up the character was eliminated and Sophia’s part expanded. In 2019, Levin died in an accidental fall while hiking in Oregon.


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