Monday, June 16, 2008

Her-story in the making

On January 11, 1997 television history was made. The first prime time lesbian kiss was aired on US TV in the series Relativity, and it got many tongues a-wagging. Some wagged for good reasons and some, the right wing or religious fanatics, wagged 'em tongues for all the wrong reasons. Regardless, it was a television milestone. According to, Relativity also made history for being the series that also offered the first recurring lesbian character who was a central part of the cast.

Sarah Warn of writes:

"Rhonda is played by Lisa Edelstein, who has starred or guest-starred in several television shows and movies, most recently Leap of Faith and Felicity and movies like Keeping the Faith and What Women Want. Rhonda's love interest is Suzanne, played by Kristin Dattilo who currently stars in Showtime's The Chris Isaak Show (and was Janie in the Aerosmith video for "Janie's Got a Gun").

The kiss didn't happen until the 13th episode, named "The Day the Earth Moved" because the theme of the episode revolves around earthquakes, sex, and life-changing decisions. The episode weaves several threads involving multiple characters in and out of each other in a humorous and thoughtful way, and a storyline which follows Rhonda and Suzanne's introduction, their first date (albeit an unusual one), and their first kiss. (For those who didn't see the episode, I've provided an episode recap below.)

Relativity was ground-breaking not only because of the kiss, but for the natural and almost casual way it portrayed the lesbian characters and their relationship with each other, as well as their relationships with other characters on the show. At the time, it was one of the first shows ever to treat its lesbian characters just like the other (heterosexual) characters on the show, with no attempt to sensationalize their relationship or the kiss. The lesbian characters are very likable, and they are treated with affection and supported by the other characters--for once, no one has any "issues" with their sexuality (besides Isabelle's initial surprise at her friend's sexual orientation, since Isabelle had only known her to date men previously).

Also unusual was the show's casual use of the words "lesbian" and "dyke" (in a positive way) in conversation among the characters--another television first (and unfortunately still not that common today).

This episode, like the series, was also a consistent mix of funny, sweet, and serious, with complex characters and an entertaining and realistic storyline.

The series only lasted a few more episodes after this one before being cancelled by ABC due to low ratings--despite considerable critical acclaim--bringing the final total to 17 episodes. None of the subsequent episodes featured the relationship between two women except the last one, in which Leo and Rhonda's grandfather has a heart-attack, and Suzanne accompanies Rhonda to the hospital, where she is introduced by Rhonda to the doctor as "my lover."

Conservative Christians and other critics were up in arms when this episode debuted. Tim Wildmon, Vice-President of the American Family Association (AFA) issued a press release at the time denouncing the kiss on Relativity and criticizing the series for taking television "where it has never gone before" by showing "caressing, nuzzling and passionate, open-mouthed kissing" between two women."

Like I said, tongues were a-wagging! :-)
So, to see that piece of gay history, load it up below and check it out.

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