In Defense of The New Normal's Lesbian Jokes

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
Sept. 14 2012 4:53 PM

In Defense of The New Normal's Lesbian Jokes

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Ali Adler, executive producer of The New Normal and out lesbian.

Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Alyssa, I love you, and I’m eternally in awe of, and solidarity with, your tireless quest for justice and diversity in the world of culture, but you’re wrong about the dyke jokes in The New Normal.

June Thomas June Thomas

June Thomas is a Slate culture critic and editor of Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section. 

Yes, lesbians are underrepresented on scripted television—whereas we might be a little overrepresented on daytime talk couches and among the home-improvement projects on DIY Network—but that’s no reason to treat us with kid gloves.

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If I read Internet comments right, the negative stereotypes of lesbians are that we’re ugly, sexless, and humorless. I don’t know that I’ll live long enough to see lesbian aesthetics appreciated by the mainstream—that’s OK, y’all’s loss—but Ryan Murphy has done more to offer up images of attractive, sexy lesbians with Glee’s “Britana” couple of Britney and Santana than anyone this side of Lost Girl. He also gave out lesbian actress Jane Lynch an award-magnet (and often stunningly tin-eared) role, and yes, he was responsible for some hideous plot lines for out lesbian actress Dot-Marie Jones’ Shannon Bieste character.

But why are we referring to The New Normal as a Ryan Murphy production? As you noted, Alyssa, out lesbian Ali Adler is the show’s co-creator. There’s also another out lesbian on the writing staff: Karey Dornetto, whose credits include Portlandia, Community, Arrested Development, and South Park. So, let’s not ignore the women and give all the blame—or credit—to the dude. And with so many lesbians on the creative team, let’s not take dyke jokes off the table.

And were those jokes really so bad? Beyond subjective judgments, let’s look at your charge that The New Normal portrays lesbians as “uglier, less cool, and more boring than gay men.” The show’s aesthetics are so elevated that what style arbiter (and Ryan Murphy proxy) Bryan (Andrew Rannells) finds attractive— “lady pants” and tops that give off a Mary Tyler Moore vibe to name just a couple—might well appear unattractive to others, and vice versa. And who described that lesbian couple (who really did look like lesbians, by the way, perhaps because one was played by out lesbian comedian Julie Goldman) as “ugly men”? It was bigoted hate-speaker Nana, the ultimate unreliable narrator. What’s more, that lesbian couple that so outraged Nana were the loving parents of a baby—in other words, they were in the exact situation that Bryan and David so devoutly crave. Bryan and David would love to be as uncool and boring as those lesbian moms.

Of course, gay writers don’t get a free pass for homophobic material. The new CBS sitcom Partners, which premieres Monday, Sept. 24, also has some gay in its DNA, since the story of two longtime friends and business partners—one straight, one gay—mirrors the partnership of creators David Kohan (hetero) and Max Mutchnick (homo). And yet, the second episode is riddled with some truly lame lesbian jokes. When Joe (David Krumholtz) tells Louis (Michael Urie) that he hasn’t had relations with his fiancée for nine days, Louis exclaims, “Your sex life can’t be dead yet; you’re not lesbians!” I do give points for Joe’s follow up, “Gay guys and straight guys have such different views of what lesbians do,” but the line fails because it’s pure meanness—there are no dykes around to defend themselves from charges of lesbian bed death.

Later, when he’s advising Joe’s fiancee, Ali, to cook for her man (gotta love the CBS demographic), and Ali explains that Joe gets home from work earlier than she does, Louis tells her, “I didn’t realize you were an undergrad women’s studies major experimenting with lesbianism.” It’s the most gratuitous and unfunny line in the show, and that’s quite an achievement, given that a major theme of the episode is balls-shaving.