A little while ago I wrote about platonic friendships between straight men and women on TV, and how few and far between they are.
There is of course space for a different exploration of cross-sex friendship when the possibility of sexual tension is removed (at least mostly) because at least one of the characters is gay.
Friendships between women and gay men abound on TV shows these days, although those between lesbians and men seem less common.
Sometimes these can be pretty stereotypical, where the gay guy is simply one of the girls (and loves shopping and shoes and shaking their booty), but I think there is a variety of representations to be found.
So eight of my favourite small screen portrayals of friendship between women and gay men, followed by eight TV lesbians with their attendant lesbros:
Carrie and Stanford (Sex and the City)
Stanford was essentially the fifth Sex and the City gal, and I think in some ways has shaped the image of the typical gay BFF on TV. What could have been a relatively stereotypical portrayal was saved by Stanford’s fish out of water feeling due to not having “that gay look”. Stanford had his own issues, rather than simply functioning as a bitchy sidekick who turns up to offer snarky bon mots and snap their fingers.
His friendship with Carrie was sweet- his reference to knowing her back when she rode the subway suggested a long intimacy- and their interaction offered a counterpoint to the somewhat more cynical chatter of her ladyfriends. He obviously appreciated Carrie in his turn, and she got to be the best (wo)man at his wedding to Charlotte’s rather more snarky gay friend, Tony Marentino.
Rachel, Mercedes and Kurt (Glee)
Kurt is diva-licious, so it’s no surprise that he’s earned himself not just one, but two, devoted hags in Mercedes and Rachel. Mercedes was initially crushing on him, but when he came out to her and admitted that his own crush was on Finn not Rachel, their friendship was cemented. They bonded over a love of fashion, fun music and fierceness, and briefly became the cheerleading team’s newest darlings. It took longer for Rachel and Kurt’s bond to form, mostly because Rachel was threatened by him as competition. But she’s grown as a person as the show’s progressed, and has made a real attempt to reach out to him and make sure he doesn’t feel lonely- even asking him to duet with her.
Both girls have tried to support Kurt who’s had to deal with a lot. He grew to appreciate their attempts to pray for his father after his heart attack, despite his atheism, and even though he wanted to fend for himself against homophobic (and closeted) bully David, the fact that his friends cared about him was clearly meaningful. Although Kurt’s now left the school for the zero tolerance policy of the Dalton Academy, they’ve remained firm friends. Watching the three of them genuinely emotionally support each other in ‘Silly Love Songs’ was adorable, and even when Rachel and Kurt were competing for the same guy, Blaine, in ‘Blame it on the Alcohol’ they didn’t let it ruin things between them.
I’m not joking when I say I want to draw sparkly hearts around pictures of them being BFFs, at least not much.
Rayanne and Rickie (My So-Called Life)
In some ways Rickie was presented as being one of the girls, hanging out with Rayanne and Angela in the toilets and applying copious amounts of eyeliner, but his character was explored more deeply than that. When Angela first developed a sort of friendcrush and essentially abandoned her old friends and life in favour of Rayanne’s much more exciting one, Rickie was little more than Rayanne’s sidekick- although an incredibly adorable one.
Rickie’s genuine kindness was an important part of his character. He spent a lot of time looking out for Rayanne, looking after her when she was drunk and hiding her excesses for example, despite having his own problems that he probably ought to be focussed on- such as domestic abuse and homophobic bullying. Despite her sometimes brash manor, Rayanne appreciated and cared about him, and Angela developed her own strong friendship with him. It was also nice to see him bond with her neighbour Bryan and even her parents (who at one point fostered him), as well as the slightly awkward English teacher, Mr Katimski.
Jen and Jack (Dawson’s Creek)
In a show studded with overly-verbose angsty teens, Jack and Jen were like a breath of fresh air. Not that they didn’t have problems of their own, but they were more likely to deal with them rather than whine and dither and create issues out of nowhere for themselves. Their friendship was pleasantly uncomplicated too, which wasn’t something that could be said of many others on the show.
They became very close when they lived together with her Grams, and this was furthered by them attending the same university after high school. They might have sometimes wound each other up by butting into each other’s love lives and so forth but they provided much-needed support to the other, and were clearly motivated by genuinely caring.
There was that one time that they almost slept together, but they were very drunk. And there was a lot of snow. So, y’know, it totally doesn’t count.
Jenny and Eric (Gossip Girl)
Back in the day, Jenny and Eric used to be an adorable twosome who actually looked out for each other. They first bonded over a shared sense of isolation- Eric had been hospitalised at the Ostroff Center after a suicide attempt and Jenny was finding it difficult to fit in at school. This, plus the fact they were the two youngest characters, suggested that some sort of romance might develop between them. However when Eric announced that he was gay, outing Jenny’s boyfriend Asher at the same time, their friendship was cemented as a platonic one- and they eventually became step-siblings too.
However, when Jenny became the Queen Bee- and her short-lived attempt at egalitarianism ended- she turned on Eric and his boyfriend Jonathan. It drew Eric into this world of backstabbing and scheming, which changed him and ruined his relationship with Jonathan irrevocably. Since Jenny’s been sent off to finish high school in Hudson, and later come clean about her part in Juliet’s kidnapping and drugging of Eric’s sister Serena, she seems to have been trying to make amends and a fragile peace exists. I’m hoping that if and when she makes her way back to Manhattan more permanently she and Eric can go back to being allies- even if it’s simply because they have no one else. I think it would be difficult for the show to juggle Jenny’s high school storyline along with the rest of the character’s university lives, and it would be a bit tiresome to watch Jenny fall from grace yet again. So hopefully Jenny and Eric can enjoy a relatively tame existence together, playing lots of scrabble. Cos they definitely both need someone better than the drug-dealing Damien to rely on.
Tara and Lafayette (True Blood)
Lafayette and Tara are cousins, but they also have a genuine friendship. They’ve supported each other through various things- such as their issues with both of their troubled mothers. As the series has progressed they’ve also both had to deal with abuse at the hands of vampires, and the trauma that followed. Their closeness with Sookie might be responsible for them getting caught up in some of this drama, but she’s also tried to look out for them- like when Tara had been hypnotised by the maenad Maryann.
Sookie has to deal with a lot of small-town prejudice as a supposed freak (because of her telepathy) and as a “fangbanger”. True Blood deftly uses the potential of supernatural Otherness as an analogy for real world prejudices, and has layered this by increasing the importance of the gay characters. While Lafayette is flamboyantly gay and always exquisitely dolled up- Nelsan Ellis who plays him reportedly has more make up on then any of the female cast members- he’s not simply another gal pal for Tara, Sookie and the other waitresses at Merlotte’s. He’s been fully realised as an individual character (more so than in the book series that the show is based on) who is also masculine and magically potent.
Nicki and Alex (As If)
As If was a sort of proto-Skins– it was about a group of A Level students who said “as if!” a lot. Alex was one of the more dynamic characters, and despite the unsophisticated nature of the 2001-4 show he was a refreshingly unstereotypical presentation of a gay character. He was definitely one of the lads who preferred football to shopping. He was also probably the most likeable of the main characters, the others were often wildly annoying, and making him particularly sympathetic allowed the show to explore topical issues, such as the fact that the age of consent for gay men was 18 in the UK at the time, compared to it being set at 16 for heterosexual sex.
The six main characters all developed connections and friendships with each other over time, although it began with two groups of three. Alex got on well with Nicki, the pushy man-eater that Jamie lusted over and Sooz couldn’t stand (a rather different role for Jemima Rooper than her subsequent status as the “every bint“). They seemed to bond over shared personality traits, such as their frankness about sex, and seemed to fill a void for each other. Alex was probably a bit too cool for his friends Jamie and Sooz, and certainly didn’t want to be constantly embroiled in their relationship drama when they finally got together, and Nicki was often being ditched by her best friend Sasha for her boyfriend Rob. Plus Alex and Nicki had the same taste in men- having both dated Mark. Although given that he was played by the luscious Callum Blue, I’m not sure whose taste he isn’t.
Karen and Jack (Will & Grace)
Jack was a ridiculously over the top character who might have seemed like an unpleasant stereotype if he wasn’t matched by his shallow best friend Karen. They were ultimately far more fun, and likeable, than the titular main characters- though I’m rather glad that a Jack & Karen spin-off never materialised as having nothing to counterbalance their shrill insanity would probably have gotten very irritating very quickly.
The two of them formed a close friendship and looked out for each other both emotionally and financially, Jack even marrying Karen’s beloved maid Rosario so that she wouldn’t get deported. Ironically Jack and Karen ended up forming a sort-of platonic marriage, much like the one they’d been mocking Will and Grace for having for years. But at least there’s came complete with booze cupboards, jazz hands and campness beyond belief.
And now onto the lesbros…
Eric and Pam (True Blood)
Pam’s the leather-clad vampire hostess of Fangtasia, at least by night. There’s never seemed to be the hint of anything even vaguely sexual between her and her boss Eric, who spends most of his time lusting over Bill’s human girlfriend Sookie, although how anyone could like someone so annoying remains a mystery to me.
Pam and Eric have a very sweet and caring familial relationship- as he’s the one who turned her into a vampire- and can be seen as analogous to the moving relationship portrayed between Eric and his own sire Godric. Although Pam’s his childe she’s not afraid to give him lip, and she certainly enjoys teasing him. And since his bar often serves as a place for Pam to pick up women he seems to be an excellently wingman-y lesbro.
Shane and Isabelle (Weeds)
Like with Jenny and Eric on Gossip Girl it seemed like a foregone conclusion that the two young characters would end up together, until one of them came out. In this case it was Isabelle, whose mother Celia did not take well initially. It didn’t affect her and Shane’s friendship though.
They had initially bonded over their inattentive mothers and the ridiculous situations they were forced to deal with while growing up as a result of their mothers’ drug dealing/use and antagonistic behaviour. Isabelle’s sexuality certainly wasn’t going to detract from that- although their shared appreciation of pictures of Shane’s mother when she was younger was a tad disturbing. Weeds has a tendency to reinvent itself with each season and since Shane and his family have disappeared “off-grid” Isabelle has gone from his life. I’m hoping that she reappears in season seven, and hopefully can help rehabilitate him. Murderous, drunk and slutty is no way for Shane to go through life.
McNulty and Kima (The Wire)
Working on the wire tap together they formed a close friendship, based on mutual respect. They were both very intelligent and dedicated police officers, who were frustrated by not being allowed to investigate crime in Baltimore fully. They both also managed to rub people up the wrong way, especially with their tendency to enjoy outsmarting others. Plus they got to bond over their womanising and alcoholic ways.
Kima sort of became McNulty’s protégé, learning from his investigative techniques, but was also very useful to the group- especially by introducing her CI Bubbles into the mix. McNulty was genuinely worried and guilt-ridden when she was shot in the line of duty, and as the show progressed they ended up working together on various occasions, often outside of their jobs’ remit. She didn’t end up going quite as batshit insane as McNulty and Lester Freamon in the final season, but they forgave her for having that pesky moral compass.
Ellen and Spence (Ellen)
Ellen had had a close friendship with her flatmate Adam, but he turned out to have been harbouring a crush on her which she pretended to reciprocate. He discovered that she was lying, which obviously caused even more tension between them. And this was all before she even came out as a lesbian. Her next flatmate, her cousin Spence, was a much better platonic friend for her.
Not only was he her relative, but he was around when she came out. The drama about it in the show was pretty meta, as it was also about Ellen DeGeneres herself finally coming out. Spence was supportive- and claimed that he’d always suspected- and got to be part of the lovefest of her friends and family, even if it did take some people a little longer than others to accept the news.
Tom and Kim (Sugar Rush)
Before Andrew Garfield was off being in a boatload of films (The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, The Social Network, Never Let Me Go, The Amazing Spider-Man) he played Kim’s adorable next-door neighbour Tom on Sugar Rush. He was infatuated with Kim, although it seemed like that may have been born of a desperate desire to have a girlfriend, as he did also spend a drunken night with Sugar. His attempts to flirt with Kim didn’t go very will initially, as she found him irritating and they didn’t really have anything to talk about. To make matters worse, as the adopted son of a gay couple living in Brighton, he spent most of time trying to point out that he was straight- which only exasperated her further.
However, they did eventually form a friendship when she was overwhelmed by her problems with her family, and with her crush on Sugar. They ended up getting drunk and sleeping together, which might not seem exactly platonic, but it was obviously an intoxicated mistake on Kim’s part, and she’s shown imagining that she’s having sex with Sugar instead. Tom was initially very upset by Kim being a lesbian, but eventually he allowed it to bolster his confidence when he found that that having slept with her gave him an immediate cachet of cool.
Toby and Emily (Pretty Little Liars)
This one’s a total cheat because I’m not (yet) watching Pretty Little Liars, but Miss Penn suggested that this was a platonic friendship that ought to be included, so I decided to snoop around the internet for factoids about these two:
I’ve learnt that Toby was interested in Emily, and attempted to get closer to her but that their friendship was shaken by various outside influences (murder and all that typical teen drama). Emily meanwhile has been struggling with coming to terms with her sexuality, but has told her father that she’s gay. This puts her and Toby’s friendship squarely in the platonic zone, and she’s apparently stepped back to allow his relationship with another girl to blossom.
And I’ve also learnt that I kind of want to start watching this show. Cos it sounds wonderfully ridiculous and has Holly Marie Combs in. What’s not to love?
Mr Darcy and Caroline Bingley (Lost in Austen)
What I really liked about Lost in Austen is the way that it provides Pride and Prejudice fans with a way to reconcile the fact that characters like George Wickham and Caroline Bingley are at once entertaining and detestable. Instead of Wickham seducing Darcy’s younger sister for her fortune it’s revealed that she spread rumours about him when he spurned her advances and he allowed these to be widely believed in order to protect her honour. Caroline meanwhile is reinterpreted as a lesbian with an attraction to Amanda, who roughly takes Elizabeth’s place while Elizabeth has disappeared off into the real world.
This casts Caroline’s delightfully catty friendship with Darcy in a rather different light. Instead of her trying to keep him in his clutches, it seems more like she’s trying to cling onto their tight clique for support while she struggles with hiding her sexuality. (And possibly to be trying to steal Lizzy and/or Amanda away from him…) Lost in Austen allows the witty repartee of Darcy and Caroline’s friendship to be preserved, without it having a detrimental impact on his relationship with Elizabeth.
Interestingly The Jane Austen Book Club, another post-modern take on Austen fangirling, also suggested that Charlotte Lucas might have been a lesbian, which does make her marriage of convenience to Mr Collins a lot more understandable.
Xander, Willow and Tara (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
Xander’s tendency, both in the show and the canonical comics, to hang out with queer women definitely entrenches his position as lesbro extraordinaire. However, best friends Xander and Willow might not be the best example of platonic friendship on their own. Willow had a massive crush on him when they were younger, and he sometimes seemed to reciprocate her feelings. When she’d finally moved on with Oz, and Xander was dating Cordelia, Willow and Xander suddenly discovered a mutual attraction (that turned out to not be the fault of formal wear) and seemed incapable of stopping themselves from sneaking around and secretly making out in the stacks.
You can find a lot of discussion about Willow’s sexuality in the Buffy fandom. I’m not sure that there’s a need to define her sexuality as definitively bisexual or gay, especially within the very fluid context of the show where binaries seemed to exist purely to break them down. However you read Willow’s sexuality, it’d be difficult to entirely airbrush her history with both Oz and Xander, but as they matured she and Xander did build a genuinely platonic friendship that no longer seemed to have any sexual tension.
Xander- and indeed Buffy’s- burgeoning friendship with Willow’s girlfriend Tara was explored very sweetly in the episode ‘Family’. It starts with Xander admitting that he has no idea what to buy Tara as a birthday gift, although Buffy and Xander like her they don’t really know her. All they’ve really managed to garner is that she likes Willow (and she already has one of those). The fact that Tara clearly genuinely loves Willow is enough for Willow’s best friends to like and welcome her into their group, and I think that that’s sweet- and realistic- in itself. However it’s only when her autonomy is threatened by her blood relatives that the gang display how important she’s become to them. They refuse to let her kin take her away from them, because she’s become a part of their family.