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Friends of Dorothy: Was 'The Golden Girls' Really As Queer-Friendly As Its Reputation Suggests?

Television
by Jose Gallegos
July 10, 2014 10:29 AM
3 Comments
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The Golden Girls

Before I begin, I’m going to place my gay card on the table (just in case you want to revoke it after you hear some of the blasphemous things I say).

“The Golden Girls” is a seminal queer classic, one that flawlessly incorporated aging women into NBC’s primetime lineup. Since its initial airing, the show has developed quite an immense following from viewers (especially gay men) who enjoy the antics and sexual escapades of Rose, Blanche, Dorothy, and Sophia. But what I have noticed about some of the more prominent and vocal fans is that they tend to glaze over the show’s problematic depictions of LGBTQ characters, hailing these depictions as brave and flawless.

Like any sitcom, “The Golden Girls” suffers from a formulaic flaw: a revolving door of recurring guests who appear in one or two episodes, then leave without any lasting impact.  Often times, these characters are used to push the narrative forward. In terms of queer characters, their sexualities and gender are used as a narrative catalyst rather than as a character trait, and a majority of the episode is spent waiting for the gay man, the lesbian, or the transgender politician to come out of the closet.

My examination of these characters isn’t meant to demean the brilliance of the show, nor downplay the boundaries it pushed in order to show older women on television. I myself am an avid fan, but even I must take a step back from my own personal adoration in order to look at the problems that are inherent in these depictions. I applaud the producers and writers for featuring LGBTQ characters – especially during a time when being such was stigmatized – but that doesn’t mean the depictions were flawless.

THE LIMP-WRISTED SIDEKICK

Coco Davis (Charles Levin) – Appeared in “The Engagement” S01 E01

Coco is introduced as the girls’ cook who has a somewhat limp wrist, a swishy walk, and a penchant for cooking enchiladas in the Floridian heat. He is coded as gay before Rose actually references him as such (she remarks that the only collateral her and Dorothy have is a “gay cook”). Sophia even manages a jab or two, calling him a “Fancy Man” and a “Petunia.” Essentially, Coco is a sissy character who merely exists in order to provide sass.

Producers axed the character after they realized Sophia (who was slated to be a recurring character rather than a lead) proved to be a better wisecracker than Coco. Richard Laermer of The Advocate admonished the creators for getting rid of this gay character who was “played with pathos and a roving eye” (if you watch the episode, there is very little “pathos” in Levin’s portrayal). It is unclear what Coco would add to the rest of the show, but it is clear that he offers very little in the pilot. He is a sexless/harmless buffoon with an occasional one-liner about how dumb Rose is.

Watch the full episode:

Continue to the next page….

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3 Comments

  • Roger Asquith | July 29, 2014 6:52 AMReply

    THE GOLDEN GIRLS lived up to the title, they were witty and certainly on the ball . They kept their audience entertained and put them in a good mood which surely was the PURPOSE of the show. There was no bias, either political or for/against the gay community. If only more TV shows were like that. I visited the set two or three times and found everyone in a good mood, they all got along great . This is why the show was a success.
    Any comments about whether or not the Golden Girls were gay frieindly are superfluous because they were friendly to everyone and a great example for Senior Citizens.
    Roger Asquith

  • Crimson | July 12, 2014 7:47 PMReply

    I have to disagree with you to a point. It's really unfair to look at a show, which started in 1985, through eyes of 2014 (long after Ellen D, Will & Grace, Neal Patrick H, etc). Considering they brought the topic to the forefront, even if briefly, to prime time TV was wonderful. Being in my late teens, in a backwoods Alabama town surrounded by extremely conservative religious friends and family, the eventual acceptance by the end of the episodes really warmed my heart. It gave me hope that there would be some who would also accept me, well, once I finally accepted it myself a few years later.

    And you mentioned most roles and jokes were of more stereotypical representations, but back in the late 80's, I'd have to say nearly 85% of the gays I knew were ones who gave credence to the stereotypes.

  • Nicole | July 15, 2014 6:07 PM

    I agree with Crimson. While it's true that the gay or queer characters on GG weren't perfect, you have to consider the time. This show did more good for LGBTQ people than any other show I can think of from the same era, and even if the portrayals didn't compare to the richness of today's shows, the show always clearly came down on the side of love and acceptance of the queer community.

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