Until recently, queerness was censored or excluded from TV show plotlines. Though shows like Heartstopper freely depict queer love, the entertainment industry has come a long way when it comes to queer representation.
Sharing kisses is the main symbol on TV to portray romantic affection, removing any opportunity to perceive entangled characters as anything but queer.
Examining the history of queer kisses on TV lets us see the evolution from the censorship of queer romances to the explicit representation of queerness in entertainment. Though not long-ago queer characters were written as one-note villains, they have since evolved into viable love interests.
Here is a brief glimpse at some staples in queer representation on TV that demonstrate the cultural climate of their time and show the silver screen’s push for better representation.
L.A Law (1991)
L.A. Law is a US legal drama that features primetime TV’s first official lesbian kiss between characters C.J. Lamb and Abby Perkins—long before some of the more well-known firsts in queer TV history.
In the episode “He’s a Crowd,” the characters share a light but intense smooch. As a show known for touching on difficult and controversial topics, the show is evidentially willing to practice what they preach by having two women kiss on-screen and show interest in pursuing a relationship.
Despite showing a ground-breaking scene, the show didn’t follow through with the romance.
Nevertheless, it demonstrates a cultural shift in TV and was pivotal in shaping the landscape of US media. This episode of L.A. Law helped pave the way for shows to push the boundaries and begin representing intentional queer couples.
Xena: Warrior Princess (1995-2001)
Xena: Warrior Princess doesn’t just have one queer kiss to focus on, but several kisses peppered throughout the show. While the eponymous character Xena and her companion, Gabrielle, are acknowledged as love interests by viewers today, the show portrayed these characters as good friends while allowing kisses through clever writing that disguised the characters’ romantic aspirations.
The queerness of these kisses was hidden with a variety of magical excuses, with Xena and Gabrielle kissing to save each other’s lives or transfer magical abilities to one another. In one case, Xena inhabits the body of a man and kisses Gabrielle. Though the kiss was written to mask a queer scene with a heterosexual appearance, the romantic intent is clear.
With a pair of strong characters and clear queer coding, this show remains iconic in the queer community for its genuine attempt to portray a lesbian relationship between Xena and Gabrielle at a time when homosexual relationships weren’t normalized in mainstream media.
Dawson’s Creek (2000)
The kiss between Jack McPhee and his love interest, Ethan, is among one of TV’s first gay kisses in season three finale, titled “True Love.” While Topher Grace and Joseph Gordon-Levitt previously shared a kiss as Eric and Buddy in an episode of That 70s Show, this kiss is between a gay character and heterosexual character, and mostly played for a joke.
The kiss between Jack and Ethan is part of a more progressive storyline. With both characters being gay and romantically involved, the kiss comes as a part of a larger romantic storyline that spans a whole season rather than being limited to a single episode’s narrative arc.
This kiss helps normalize gay affection in TV by having a gay character demonstrate his romantic feelings in a serious manner with his queerness on explicit display to viewers.
The positive feedback from viewers showed production studios that audiences were interested in shows that featured gay romances. After this episode of Dawson’s Creek, more shows began to portray genuine queer romances that were not written to be jokes, but instead serious plotlines.
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