A little over a year after popular Brazilian soap Women in Love (Mulheres Apaixonadas) featured a controversial lesbian storyline, another Brazilian primetime soap, Lady of Destiny (Senhora do Destino), is pushing the lesbian envelope again—this time by showing two women sleeping in the same bed.
The scene is the culmination of a storyline that was laid out very carefully by the writer, Aguinaldo Silva (an out gay man), on a series that has broken every Brazilian ratings record. The scene of the girls' first night together topped even their usually high ratings, and the clip of that scene became the most watched video on the network's website.
Twenty-five-year-old Eleonora (Mylla Christie), nicknamed "Leo," is a dedicated doctor, loving daughter and a very likeable person who's always helpful and generous. Twenty-year-old Jenifer (Bárbara Borges) is a straight-A physical therapy student who is the pride and joy of her father (the most popular character on the soap for his funny lines and comic sequences).
Silva's strategy appears to have been to introduce Leo and Jenifer as very likeable characters before they became involved with each other (and before the audience became aware of their sexual orientation). Then he dropped hints about their burgeoning relationship over time: the very tight friendship the women developed practically from the first day they met; the sidelong glances; the inevitable gossip about them spending so much time together. Lady of Destiny wanted the audience see what the girls seemed to ignore: they were falling in love.
Later, we learn Leo is not that naive about the comments people are making about them, and that this isn't her first lesbian experience—she had a previous relationship with a friend from college and is very aware that her feelings for Jenifer are far more than feelings for a friend.
Jenifer, on the other hand, seems totally clueless, although it is obvious she has developed deeper feelings for her friend as well. She feels betrayed by Leo when she learns that the unpleasant rumors being spread about them are not entirely false; when Leo tells her about her feelings, Jen is shocked. But she recognizes that she, too, has feelings for Leo that go beyond friendship. She plays the denial card as long as she can—tries to act more "normal," to study less and go out more—but it all seems useless. After a few months of total misery, she accepts the fact she is in love with Leo, and ostensibly, so does most of the audience, who by now feels sympathy for the women after all the pain they have endured.
By the time the women finally became a couple at the end of November, the audience was actually cheering them on. But once they began dating, the women, who often kissed briefly on the lips as friends, didn't seem to be allowed to do so as lovers, except on the internet. Either mistakenly or as a way to test the waters, the scene showing the two women in bed together (presumably after sex) was 40 seconds shorter on TV than on the official website. The seconds that were cut from the TV version included a very brief kiss and a sultry Leo inviting Jen to take a shower with her.
However, on the December 6th episode Jen and Leo did kiss briefly after making plans to meet later that day to spend the night together, so there has been some progress towards treating the lesbian relationship similarly to the heterosexual ones on the show.
But the storyline is headed back to safer ground soon. In the coming weeks, Leo will find an abandoned child at the hospital where she works and decide to adopt him and raise him with Jen, as they move in together. With this development, the show is poised to initiate a national discussion about gay couples adopting children (which is currently against the law in Brazil).
In the short term, the series will focus on the reaction of family and friends to Leo and Jenifer's relationship. According to the papers, Jen's father will overcome his initial shock and give his blessing to their relationship. On Leo's side, however, things won't go as smoothly. Her father Sebastiao, a very correct but extremely conservative man, will express distress and disappointment with his once-favorite, perfect daughter by calling her terrible names and making it very clear that he can't accept her relationship with Jen. Through this character, the writer gives voice to the criticism conservative viewers have of homosexuality, both as a way to give them an opportunity to air their arguments against homosexuality, and as a way to counteract them.
Sebastiao will eventually see that his daughter is far more than her sexual orientation alone and reconsider his position, accepting Leo for who she is. By showing how a very conservative man, a man of inflexible principles, comes to terms with his gay daughter, a few inflexible minds in the audience may change as well.
Even if that's not the writer's goal, it's certainly the hope of lesbians in Brazil.
For Portuguese speakers: more details on the storyline
and links to clips here.