I told you about my guilty pleasure: watching that 1980s TV relic, the first of the great night-time soaps, "Dallas". I usually indulge in Dallas only while slogging through that other relic of mine, ironing. But yesterday I was exhausted, and I plopped myself on the couch for a mid-afternoon Dallas fix.
I saw something unexpected: a bit of queer history. The episode I watched, from the first full season (on DVD as Season 2), must have been a very early, positive portrayal of a gay person on mainstream TV.
In this episode of Dallas, young Lucy Ewing is in love with the heir of another oil fortune, Kit Mainwaring. Kit cares for Lucy and tries to make it work, but realizes that he cannot change who he is.
In a plea for advice, he first comes out to Lucy's uncle Bobby Ewing: "I can't marry Lucy. I'm a homosexual." Bobby is shocked, but after digesting the news, he tells Kit that's his own business, but why did he have to hurt Lucy?
Naturally, it gets more interesting. Evil J.R., who has known all along ("There's very little goes on in Dallas that I don't know"), wants the marriage for his own business purposes. He argues with Bobby, insisting that the marriage should proceed - "Lucy? What's she got to do with it?" - and claiming that Kit will be no match for his machinations. To which Bobby replies: "J.R., Kit Mainwaring is more of a man than you'll ever be."
Whoa! Our hero says that about a gay man on 1979 TV! How cool!
When Kit comes out to Lucy and breaks their engagement, he explains that it was only after sleeping with her that he realized he can never change who he is: "I wanted to be socially normal. But I can't live a lie. I have to learn to accept myself the way I am."
Even while she's crushed by the breakup, Lucy invents a story that will prevent Kit from being blackmailed. She knows he did the right thing. No character even hints that it's wrong to be gay - even J.R.
I don't know if this was actually ground-breaking, but I think it must have been pretty cutting-edge at the time.
For most people, myself included, the first gay fictional TV character was Jodie, in "Soap". (Hard to believe that was Billy Crystal, eh? Back when he was funny.) Apparently there were a few earlier shows with gay characters, but none as popular and long-running (1977-1981) as Soap.
Later, "Dynasty", with the openly gay character Steve Carrington, would become a gay cultural icon. (At least it was in New York!) But Dynasty first aired in 1981; this episode of Dallas was several years earlier.
I can't find anything online about possible reaction to this Dallas episode: a strange coincidence makes it difficult to Google. Do you remember the last name of Billy Crystal's character on Soap? He was called... Jodie Dallas.