Rescue Me’s Unusual Coming-Out Scene

 
 

Before
you jump
to the conclusion that Rescue
Me
is a tower of enlightenment,
however, let me assure you, it’s not: this is the same episode in which
the (male) firefighters in Tommy’s unit have a contest to see whose
erect penis is the longest.

But it’s exactly this odd juxtaposition of the best and worst of male
behavior that makes Rescue Me
so interesting. The worst includes Tommy’s efforts to sabotage his
wife’s new relationship; an older firefighter’s embarrassment with his
gay son; and the continual treatment of women as sex objects by most of
the firefighters.

The best includes a firefighter who, for a time, was secretly writing
poetry about 9/11 (“I wish it had been porn,” laments his wife upon
discovering his secret); a cocky young African American firefighter who
inherits a five-year-old daughter he never knew he had and finds he
just can’t walk away from her; and Tommy’s support of Colleen’s lesbian
relationship.

Like most of the show’s storylines, this is not
the kind of “lesbian” storyline
you see on television very often. When Colleen gives her father the
impassioned speech about her girlfriend, it’s not about her right to have
a girlfriend as much as it is about her right to not have her
relationship with her girlfriend held to a different standard than
heterosexual relationships.

The assumption underlying her indignance — that of
course
her relationship deserves
equal treatment — and the casual way she imparts the news
about her lesbian relationship are rarely seen on TV.

This storyline is unusual for another reason: with the exception of
The L Word
, TV lesbians are
almost always marked firmly as lesbians, and bisexual characters are
virtually nonexistent. While Colleen may simply be experimenting (with
either lesbianism or heterosexuality), on the surface she appears to be
one of the few sexually fluid characters on television.

The word “lesbian” is not used by Colleen herself, only by her parents
(although Colleen doesn’t rush to refute the label when Tommy uses it,
either). Colleen says only that she has a girlfriend, whom she “really,
really, really likes.” Since she had a boyfriend only a few episodes
before (whose name she tattooed on her ass), it’s anyone’s guess
— including probably Colleen’s — exactly what her
sexual orientation is.

But this is yet another way Rescue
Me
challenges the status quo and
presents an alternative (and arguably more realistic) representation of
sexuality. Colleen’s apparent lack of desire to label herself and her
casual expression of her feelings for her girlfriend reflects the
tendency among many teenagers today to see sexuality as more fluid, and
less black-and-white, than most adults do (even gay ones).

All of which is likely to make the character of Colleen a challenge to
many of the show’s two million adult viewers (the highest total in the
coveted “adults 18-49″ demographic for a new basic cable show), and a
breath of fresh air for lesbian and bisexual viewers who are finding
themselves nearly invisible on television this season. This may also be
a small step towards more TV storylines that include lesbian and
bisexual characters who are past the coming-out process.

The character of Colleen is only a supporting one with little screen
time each week, so she can’t make up for the lack of any new scripted
full-time lesbian characters on TV in the 2004-2005 season. But it
helps.

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