Notes & Queeries: The Undiscovered Country

 
 

Notes & Queeries
is a monthly column
that focuses on the personal side of pop culture for lesbians and bisexual
women.

After at least seven episodes of buildup, the
budding lesbian romance on ABC’s Grey’s
Anatomy
took a significant step out of the closet in the Oct. 16 episode, “Brave New World,” when Dr. Erica Hahn (Brooke Smith) and Dr. Callie Torres
(Sara Ramirez) finally went out on their first date.

But although the two women dropped a lot of baseball
metaphors at dinner, we didn’t get to see either of them getting anywhere near
first base.

Given that the two women already shared a passionate kiss at
the end of last season, viewers understandably might be disappointed that the
episode came to an end before Callie and Erica even ordered their dinner.

But what “Brave New World” did give us was something that I
think we would do well to savor: a sweet, lingering beginning.

How striking that we can see that on television now: a
largely positive launch into a same-sex romance, avoiding, so far, any
homophobia. Instead, we have two women who have never been in love with another
woman before, and when their eyes open to that possibility, whatever fear they
feel is trumped by a thrill of anticipation. That is quite a change from the
coming-out tales of the past.

In those story lines, one or both of the women involved
would struggle with her sexual orientation, thus turning her first same-sex
relationship into an often painful lesson in self-acceptance. Though sometimes
those relationships did lead to happy endings, they also tended to lack the
spine-tingling, birds chirping sensations of a good old-fashioned romance that
doesn’t involve an identity crisis.

The other kind of lesbian storyline typically
seen on television these days is the cable TV variety, predominantly on The L Word, in which seduction is
generally limited to a few snappy words before the couple falls into bed with
each other. That may be revolutionary in its own way — yes, lesbians can be as
impulsive and sexually voracious as gay men and
straight folks — but it does lack a certain charm.

Instead of taking one of these two well-traveled paths, Grey’s Anatomy has mostly skipped the
after-school special part of the coming-out story in favor of building a
spine-tingling romance. I have no idea if it will continue in this direction,
but for now, I’m surprised to say that I’m enjoying its relatively glacial
pace. It allows us time to linger, to look at the women involved, and to
remember what it’s like in the first blush of any relationship.

It was a very brief scene in “Brave New World” that drove
this home for me. It occurred when Dr. Bailey (Chandra Wilson) caught Erica watching
Callie enter an elevator. Bailey is uncomfortable because she can see Erica’s
heart written on her face: When she looks at Callie, she looks like she is
seeing a whole new world, and it is a beautiful one.

It is this kind of moment that makes real-life romance
worthwhile: the moment when inchoate emotions sharpen into a real,
three-dimensional experience. This is when your heartbeat quickens; this is
when you lose your breath; this is when your palms grow damp.

It was unexpected
— it was uplifting — to see this moment between two women on a TV show.

Although the relationship between Callie and Erica is rife with
the potential for destructive melodrama, it has so far avoided imploding on
itself by inserting some well-placed and well-written humor. That lends a
grounding, human touch to the storyline that makes it all the more real.

Earlier in “Brave New World,” Callie reveals to Bailey that
she and Erica were going to go on a date. “What if I’m not into it?” Callie
says a little desperately. “What if I’m horrible at all that stuff south of the
border? ’Cause I’ve never been south of the border — with a female. I’ve never
even been over the, uh, northern mountains, you know what I’m sayin’?”

Her anxiety echoes the fears of many first-time lesbians,
and Ramirez’s delivery gives the words an endearing vulnerability. Who hasn’t
had a moment of panic when first crossing into the uncharted territory of a new
relationship?

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