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December 12, 2016 12:17 AM   Subscribe

I just described Six Feet Under in an offhand manner as "one of the first and weirdly also one of the last shows to follow an adult coming out of the closet". Could that be right?

To be clear, I said it not as a definitive statement of fact, but marveling at the particular place the show occupied during the early 2000's: premium cable, so they could talk about stuff network shows didn't want to touch, but also appealing to a mass audience rather than marketing itself specifically as a show about LGBT issues. The show also bridged from an era where mass culture *really* didn't want to talk about homosexuality to an era where being a white middle class thirtysomething gay man in a major city was barely worthy of notice.

I'm sure there must be other examples. Queer As Folk and The L Word must have had some closeted or barely out characters over the years. Ellen sort of counts. I can't decide if Sex And The City characters' one-off queer sex/dating experiences should count or not. I'm not looking for examples of gay characters on TV unless their main arc dealt with coming out. I'm also not looking for TV guest stars who played a one-off character who comes out in order for the hetero main characters to learn about/discuss homosexuality.

What other TV shows have had coming out narratives as important sources of main character development?
posted by Sara C. to Media & Arts (33 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I think Santana in Glee meets those parameters?
posted by jojobobo at 12:33 AM on December 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

There are much earlier examples. In All in the Family a friend reveals he is gay to Archie. In Family I remember an episode where the older son's friend cones out and the dad talks to the younger brother about it.
Hill street blues had a gay character coming out episode / character as well.

So not the first, but perhaps fairly early for major character, ongoing plot in the USA?
Also in my examples these are subsidiaries who force the main character to go front something. And the characters are "the gay character", not so nuanced.
posted by chapps at 12:43 AM on December 12, 2016

Jack on Dawson's Creek was not technically an adult but it was a pretty groundbreaking plot arc to have a main character come out at the time. (Greg Berlamti/Kevin Williamson have written and talked a lot about how they wanted to do this, as gay men themselves.) It was a BIG story arc for Dawson's.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 12:47 AM on December 12, 2016 [7 favorites]

Buffy had this as a very important plot point/character arc with Willow.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 12:50 AM on December 12, 2016 [10 favorites]

Was there are multi-part coming out arc in Tales of the City?

And surely Degrassi (though not about adults)..
posted by chapps at 12:51 AM on December 12, 2016

The character Nancy (Sandra Bernhard) came out as a lesbian on Roseanne. Very late in the series Roseanne's mother, Bev (Estelle Parsons), came out as lesbian but I had long stopped watching the show by then and have no idea if the writers spent any time on Bev's storyline. The other queer TV character I remember from that era is Rickie (Wilson Cruz) from My So-Called Life, who was rejected by some of his family members for being gay and lived with the Chase family for a while to avoid being homeless.
posted by BicycleFace at 1:01 AM on December 12, 2016 [4 favorites]

Please Like Me centres around a young man realising he's gay, coming out, and navigating his sexuality.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 1:04 AM on December 12, 2016 [4 favorites]

This has been a big plot for Supergirl's sister in the current season of that TV show.
posted by retrograde at 1:20 AM on December 12, 2016 [4 favorites]

Ali's and Sarah's storylines on "Transparent" fit the bill.
posted by Charity Garfein at 1:56 AM on December 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

posted by Sonny Jim at 3:21 AM on December 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

Grace & Frankie
posted by warriorqueen at 4:06 AM on December 12, 2016 [4 favorites]

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (currently running on the CW) has a supporting character who is a divorced 40-something man with a daughter from that marriage. He realizes that he's bisexual over the course of the first season, and pursues a relationship with another man.
posted by Johnny Assay at 4:24 AM on December 12, 2016 [6 favorites]

Will Lexington's coming out arc was a major storyline in Nashville.

Saul, the uncle/ father-figure to the family in Brothers and Sisters, comes out in his 70s.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 4:27 AM on December 12, 2016

"The War Widow is a 1976 television film starring Pamela Bellwood, Frances Lee McCain, Tim Matheson, Maxine Stuart, and Nan Martin. Originally broadcast by KCET, Los Angeles (then a PBS affiliate) on their dramatic showcase series, "Visions KCET", the film is set during World War I. It is the story of Amy, a proper, but lonely housewife whose husband is away at war. She finds solace in a friendship with a more worldly female photographer, only to have her entire world turned upside down when the friendship becomes genuine love and she is forced to choose. The first lesbian love story on mainstream American television, it is written by Harvey Perr and features direction by Paul Bogart." (Wikipedia)
posted by Carol Anne at 5:44 AM on December 12, 2016

Nthing warriorqueen--Grace and Frankie is a REALLY good show and does a great job of detailing all of the repercussions (both obvious and unexpected) of two men who came out later in life and ultimately left their wives to be together.

Also, not a TV show, but I feel like the movie In & Out is about the only movie I can think of that told a coming out story in a way that was funny and lighthearted rather than heavy and tragic and wrought with angst, which I think was an important milestone in the overall cultural shift around coming out narratives.
posted by helloimjennsco at 6:26 AM on December 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

In the UK, Taggart (STV) had DC Stuart Fraser coming out in the 1996 episode 'Angel Eyes'; and Dalziel and Pascoe* (BBC) had DS Edgar Wield doing the same in the 1998 episode 'Child's Play'. In both cases, these were already established main ensemble characters who remained as such, and some repercussions of their coming out were evident in later episodes.

*Based on the Reginald Hill novels, but altered somewhat for TV.
posted by Morfil Ffyrnig at 6:52 AM on December 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

I would say that (mid-late-90s) Ellen doesn't just "sort of" count. The entirety of the 5th season was literally Ellen navigating life as a newly out gay woman after coming out at the end of season 4.

Another one is Dr. Weaver on ER.
posted by needs more cowbell at 6:57 AM on December 12, 2016 [6 favorites]

I'm sure there are examples of gay characters treated with respect prior to 6FU, but part of the value of David's arc in that show was how they treated not just his coming-out to his family, but his relationship with Keith. I remember remarking that it felt like one of the most realistic and honest portrayals of any growing romantic relationship I'd seen, gay or straight.

That it WAS of a gay relationship was clearly groundbreaking on its own, though.

(My favorite line about this was from Michael Hall (who played David), in some interview at the time, when he said something like "Nobody ever asks me if I'm really a mortician.")
posted by uberchet at 7:13 AM on December 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

Ellen!! (the 90's sitcom)
posted by bearette at 7:29 AM on December 12, 2016

ETA: oops, I saw that you mentioned it in your question; why do you say it "sort of counts"? It was a HUGE part of the show and also a HUGE deal at the time in mainstream culture.
posted by bearette at 7:30 AM on December 12, 2016

The Real O'Neals on ABC is about a boy in a religious family coming to terms with his sexuality. This 2nd season may be its last because, like many shows, its ratings are not so great.
posted by blackzinfandel at 7:39 AM on December 12, 2016

Nurse Mount in Call the Midwife.
posted by threetwentytwo at 7:58 AM on December 12, 2016

TV Tropes on coming out. Randy and Mr. Lahey's coming out on Trailer Park Boys is hilarious, especially with Randy still calling him "Mr. Lahey."
posted by TheGoodBlood at 8:34 AM on December 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

In All in the Family a friend reveals he is gay to Archie.

To be clear, I'm asking about shows where a MAIN character had an ARC that dealt with (their own) coming out, not this phenomenon, where a never before seen neighbor, coworker, or classmate comes out in order to educate a straight main character about homosexuality. Or a comparable storyline on a "crime of the week" or "medical emergency of the week" type of show.

To clarify, Ellen only sort of counts because prior to Ellen's coming out on the show, the audience doesn't know she's in the closet. It's not really a story about coming out, it's a story about a Seinfeld knock-off where controversy about the main actor's sexuality led to the final season being a show with a lesbian main character.
posted by Sara C. at 10:06 AM on December 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

Ian Gallagher, the red-headed 2nd son on Showtime's "Shameless," is 15 or 16 during the first season. The audience finds out he's gay in the first 15 minutes of the first episode, and follows him as he explores his queerness and comes out to other folks during subsequent seasons. It's really well-done and one of my fave coming out stories on a TV series.

(Ian is gay in the original British version of Shameless as well, but I only saw a couple of episodes of that one so can't say much about his arc there.)
posted by mediareport at 11:33 AM on December 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

That first episode of the U.S. "Shameless" has a really good coming out arc in itself, if you want to get a flavor of how the writers handle things.
posted by mediareport at 11:36 AM on December 12, 2016

In Once and Again the character played by Evan Rachel Wood has a detailed storyline about falling in love with another girl.
posted by BibiRose at 11:44 AM on December 12, 2016

Billy Crystal's character in Soap!

Which is totally problematic as only the seventies can be. The characters initially plan a sex-change to allow them to go public. But I remember that being framed much more as blindly trying to grok being queer without a community rather than poking fun at the drag or trans community.
posted by politikitty at 11:49 AM on December 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

part of the value of David's arc in that show was how they treated not just his coming-out to his family, but his relationship with Keith.

I'm asking about shows where a MAIN character had an ARC that dealt with (their own) coming out

This might be beyond the brief, but uberchet's comment made me think of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. A main character (Titus) is a self-awarely-stereotype-ticking campy gay* man. One of the arcs in the second season involves his relationship with Mikey, a construction worker who is coming to terms with being gay (as well as coming out to his family, etc.)

So, it's not a main character arc (unless Mikey becomes a main character, which I would approve of). And everything is very much played for laughs (as a straight female I'll let others be the judge of whether said laughs are respectful). But Mikey, could have easily been a throw away character, and instead his relationship with Titus has been a multi-episode thing that is also influencing Titus as a person, so.....

*the show touches on Titus's coming-out, but that is very much a one-off, which the show hangs a lampshade on by Titus fretting over the fact that Mikey gets to give the "coming out speech" to his family that Titus was too cowardly to do.
posted by sparklemotion at 12:31 PM on December 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

So, you pretty much described the third season of the Norwegian high school series Skam (Shame). No, seriously, you have to watch it, it is the biggest sensation in Scandinavia right now and the best TV show I have seen all year.

The two first seasons have teenage girls as the main characters, but the third season is focused on a 17-year-old guy who falls in love with a guy and tries to figure out his sexuality. And the best part is that the story is treated in a totally normal way, where the conflicts don't lie in his homosexuality but rather normal teenage love/angst type things.

You can watch the series free on NRK (Norway's BBC), but you need English subtitles – there are some ways to make it work on this Reddit thread.
posted by coraline at 1:03 PM on December 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

These are all so good! Thank you!

Also, the debate about whether Ellen "counts" has just inspired me and a couple of other LGBT comedian friends of mine to decide to start an Ellen re-watch podcast where we talk about the show itself on its own merits (especially the early pre-coming out seasons), LGBT text/subtext, and its impact on queer culture in the 90s. Both myself and one of my cohosts were teenagers when Ellen came out via the show, and that moment had a massive impact on our understandings of our own sexualities. We also have a third host who is in her 20s, and who doesn't have "Ellen Degeneres Comes Out" as a major cultural moment in her life.

I'll probably add the ensuing podcast (which doesn't have a name yet) to Projects when it all comes together. Thanks again for inspiring something cool!
posted by Sara C. at 1:41 PM on December 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

Brothers (1984 TV series) wiki
posted by Lanark at 3:27 PM on December 12, 2016

The L Word character arc you probably want is Dana in the first season, though there was also Tasha's don't-ask-don't-tell battle later on.

Callie Torres on Grey's Anatomy, maybe.
posted by sigmagalator at 11:33 PM on December 13, 2016

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