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

By Jose Gallegos | /Bent July 10, 2014 at 10:29AM

“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.

Clayton Hollingsworth (Monte Markham)- Appeared in “Scared Straight” S04 E09 and “Sister of the Bride” S06 E14

After the dissolution of his marriage, Clayton (Blanche’s brother) comes to stay with the girls for a few days. Blanche immediately sets him up on a date, but the chemistry between Clayton and the woman fizzles. He spots Rose in a park, and the two play a game in which Rose tries to figure out his type of girl. She slowly realizes that Clayton is gay (“Clayton, you’re that thing that everyone said Onga Larson’s nephew was because he wore pastry clogs and gave out puff pastry on Halloween.”). Yet, when Blanche confronts him about his date, Clayton lies and says he slept with Rose.

The power of “Scared Straight” comes from Blanche’s reaction: though she is an open (and seemingly liberal) woman, she still has a somewhat conservative mindset, especially concerning private/personal matters. Clayton’s sexuality tests Blanche’s tolerance, and she inevitably accepts her brother for what he is. Yet when Clayton returns in “Sister of the Bride” (a problematic title, but I digress), Blanche is confronted with her brother’s marriage to another man, Doug (Michael Ayr).

Like Jean, Clayton is a sexless man who is only characterized as gay because everyone else calls him such. Even his affection for his partner is lackluster (they stand next to each other but they never touch or kiss, though I doubt that NBC would have wanted those things to happen). Essentially, Clayton becomes that which Blanche wanted: “I don’t really mind Clayton being homosexual, I just don’t like him dating men.” Blanche accepts her brother for being gay, but she doesn’t want to deal with the reality of Clayton being intimate with another man.

Though the episode focuses on Blanche’s evolution, it is Sophia who again provides the most poignant perspective, especially in terms of gay marriage (“Everyone wants someone to grow old with, and shouldn’t everyone have that chance?”). Yet the fact remains that Clayton is neutered of any sexual difference, and though he isn’t a buffoon like Coco, he still serves the same purpose as Jean: to teach the heterosexuals a lesson of tolerance.

Watch 'Scared Straight' below:

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