Last week on Chicago Fire, Kelly Severide agreed to donate sperm to his lesbian roommate Leslie Shay so that she could have a baby. She told him that the entire process would cost a staggering (and unrealistic) $10,000. She did not have that amount of money so, after Gabriela Dawson told her that “nature had come up with a cheaper way” Shay asked Severide, in one of the most uncomfortable scenes in the show’s history, to agree to “Plan B” in which he would sleep with her. By the end of the episode Shay’s father told her he would pay for the insemination and Plan B went away.
After the episode aired, I was angry, I felt betrayed by the show which had begun by offering us a lesbian character who was at the center of many of the episodes. She was smart, funny, capable, loyal, confident, and well-rounded. Her lesbianism was unquestioned and was never a problem with her co-workers who seemed only worried about her questionable taste in women and inability to commit after a breakup left her heartbroken.
Shay’s description of how she and Severide would make a child was the most graphic description of a sexual encounter the show has offered. She told him that after he prepared himself with the use of whatever pornographic aids he might required he “would be mounted” and that after he “finished inside her” she would retreat to her own room where she would require time alone to cry. Her obvious discomfort at the prospect of having sex with a man was intended to be funny. Severide, for his part, after being shocked by her description can be seen smirking at the thought of their sexual encounter.
Later, when Shay’s father comes through with the money she needs to the gold-plated insemination, Shay is relieved and Severide looks disappointed that it means he won’t be living out the straight male fantasy of doing a lesbian.
Some of my anger at this story arc had abated by the time the brain trust behind the official Chicago Fire twitter account (@NBCChicagoFire) starting stoking the fires of my rage. First, they started by retweeting several fans.
After these retweets I was disappointed that the show did not realize the extent of the hurt and anger it had caused for some members of the lesbian community. But I’m not an idiot, I understand that there are fans, perhaps a significant number, who ship Shay and Severide. They see them as great friends, with good chemistry, and can imagine them together. Two pretty people who would make a pretty couple. The show wants people to watch, period. Without rating they aren’t going to be on television anymore and reaching out and stoking the Shayveride fandom is a way to do it. I don’t like it but that doesn’t mean I don’t understand it.
But then it got worse. Then, instead of retweeting a couple of fans to make a few fans happy and stoke the fans, Chicago Fire
As you can see from the number of retweets and favorites, the number of people who want Plan B to happen vastly outnumber the people who want Plan A. Here are a few of the other responses to the tweet.
The last response in that set, the one in which the tweeter wishes for Severide to “turn her into a heterosexual” jumped out at me. Sadly, when I was scrolling through the sea of responses (Plan B dominating all responses) I came across a few other gems.
What these tweets illustrate is the reason why this storyline is irresponsible. For many people in this country and around the world, they do not have any LGBT people in their real lives. They don’t know any lesbians so the lesbians they see on television become their proxies. When they see Ellen and Portia on TV looking adorable, being sweet to each other, and being so completely relatable as people they feel like they know lesbians. We’re not some scary group of people; we’re in their living rooms every day dancing, singing, and being hilarious.
When Santana Lopez comes out to her grandmother and is rejected for it, people who don’t know any lesbians can understand in that moment the fear and anguish of having to tell someone you love who you are with the risk of losing her forever looming over the conversation. Santana is a person they can root for and love and when she cries it hurts them too.
For some fans of Chicago Fire, Leslie Shay was their lesbian representative. She was strong and funny, kind and loyal. She was good at her job, confident in her sexuality, and looking for a woman to love her as fiercely as she loves. But now, this show has offered those viewers a version of what it means to be a lesbian that gives them license to believe the notion that a lesbian is just a woman who hasn’t found the right man. A lesbian is a chick who is just one good fuck away from changing her mind. A lesbian is a tiger who can change her stripes.
For parents of lesbians who wish their daughter would outgrow the phase and just meet a nice boy, this show is offering them a sense that the right guy can “turn” her, that she can be “cured” by simply finding a guy she can like well enough. For many people, this show, and this way of thinking that lesbians are something that can be turned straight are a frightening and harmful fact of life. If the only lesbians your family and friends “know” are the ones on television you have to hope for characters who are true to life and not ones that perpetuate the idea that lesbians can be “fixed” by finding the right man.
There’s nothing wrong with me. There’s nothing wrong with you. You don’t need to be “fixed,” “turned,” or “cured.” Any suggestion that we do is irresponsible and dangerous, especially in a world where people are thrown from their homes, bullied, harmed, killed, or suicidal because our culture tells them they are wrong and that if they just tried hard enough they could change.
I am a lesbian because it is who I am. I am a lesbian for the same reasons that I am right handed. I just am. It’s not because I hate men. It’s not because I haven’t found a man who would love me. It’s not because I’m ugly, or too damn smart for a man to find attractive. I’m not a lesbian because I’ve never slept with a man. I never slept with a man because I’m a lesbian.