Lesbian “Friends”: Legacy of a Sitcom

Although the writers wring laughs from Ross’s ongoing discomfort with Carol and Susan’s relationship, they also arguably give voice to Ross’s fears in order to dismantle them, to show how silly they ultimately are.

In Episode 1.23, Phoebe acts as this Voice of Reason in a scene when she, Susan and Ross accidentally get locked in a hospital closet together while Carol is giving birth down the hall:

ROSS: No no no, believe me. No one has been waiting for this as much as I have, ok? And you know what the funny thing is? When this day is over, you get to go home with the baby, ok? Where does that leave me?
SUSAN: You get to be the baby’s father. Everyone knows who you are. Who am I? There’s Mother’s Day, there’s Father’s Day, there’s no… Lesbian Lover Day.
ROSS: Every day is Lesbian Lover Day.
PHOEBE: This is so great.
ROSS: You wanna explain that?
PHOEBE: I mean, well, ’cause when I was growing up, you know my dad
left, and my mother died, and my stepfather went to jail, so I barely
had enough pieces of parents to make one whole one. And here’s this
little baby who has like three whole parents who care about it so much
that they’re fighting over who gets to love it the most. And it’s not
even born yet. It’s just, it’s just the luckiest baby in the whole
world. (pause) I’m sorry, you were fighting.

In Episode 4.18, both Ross’s
friends and Carol challenge Ross when he fears that Susan might convert
his new girlfriend Emily while she is showing Susan around London.

“They’re going to the gym
together!” he complains to his friends. “Two women! Stretching! Y’know
they-they take a steam together! Things get a little playful
— didn’t you see Personal Best?”

His friends point out that
unlike his ex-wife, Emily is straight, but that doesn’t calm the
once-burned Ross, who then confronts Carol with his suspicions:

ROSS: So umm, any word from Susan?
CAROL: Ooh, yeah! She said she’s having sooo much fun with Emily.
ROSS:
Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Uh, by the by, did it uh, did it ever occur to you
that, I don’t know, maybe they might be having a little too much fun?
CAROL: What’s too much fun?
ROSS: Y’know, the kind of fun, you and Susan had when we were married.
CAROL: Oh my God, you are so paranoid!
ROSS: Am I?!
CAROL: Yes!
ROSS:Am I?!
CAROL: I can’t speak for Emily, but Susan is in a loving, committed relationship.
ROSS: Uh-huh, Carol, so were we. All right, just-just imagine for a
moment, Susan meets someone and-and they really hit it off. Y’know?
Say-say they’re coming back from the theatre, and they-they stop at a
pub for a couple of drinks, they’re laughing, y’know, someone
innocently touches someone else… There’s electricity, it’s new. It’s
exciting. Are you telling me there isn’t even the slightest possibility
of something happening?
CAROL: Maybe.
Ross: OH MY GOD!! I didn’t really believe it until you just said it!!

But of course nothing happens
between Carol and Emily, and when Ross gleefully notes to Carol “no
tongue, that’s a good sign!” when they go to pick up Carol and Emily at
the airport and see Emily and Susan hug goodbye, we’re meant to laugh
along with Carol as she rolls her eyes at Ross.

This is one of the many moments
over the lifetime of the series where the audience is invited to
identify with the lesbian character instead of the straight man. In
Episode 3.17 when Ross barges in on Carol in a dressy outfit while
she’s preparing a romantic dinner for her and Susan, we sympathize with
Carol’s distress and Ross’s insensitivity as he drones on about his
problems with Rachel and begins eating the supper Carol has prepared
for Susan.

But Carol is presented the most
sympathetically in Episode 2.11, the 1995 episode which featured the
first lesbian wedding on television.

When Ross learns that Carol and
Susan have decided to get married, he is initially upset at the news,
asking petulantly “They already live together, why do they need to get
married?”

But Monica chastises him,
reminding him (and the audience) that Carol and Susan’s relationship
functions similarly to heterosexual relationships and deserves the same
respect: “They love each other, and they wanna celebrate that love with
the people that are close with them.”

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