I hail from a small southern town and a super Baptist extended family, so I was shocked a couple of weeks ago when I told a 12-year-old cousin at a family reunion that I’m gay and she responded by high-fiving me and saying, “Oh my God, I didn’t know you’re a lesbian! I ship Fimogen so hard!” For the uninitiated, “Fimogen” is the portmanteau of Degrassi‘s lesbian super-couple Fiona Coyne and Imogen Moreno. Their relationship began in July 2011, and after two seasons of lighting up the screen together and breaking ground in every direction, they said goodbye to one another in last Friday’s season 12 finale.
Fiona and Imogen’s relationship was revolutionary for lesbian and bisexual visibility in lots of ways. They weren’t Degrassi‘s first lesbian couple. That honor falls to Paige Michalchuk and Alex Nuñez, who began their journey all the way back in season five, but Degrassi is a very different show now than it was in 2006.
For starters, Degrassi made a move from Canada’s CTV network to the more youth-oriented MuchMusic in 2010. It also began airing episodes simultaneously on TeenNick, which increased the show’s audience exponentially. Fiona and Imogen were the first lesbian couple aimed at the 11–19 year old age demographic in America. (South of Nowhere appeared on The N, Nickelodeon’s precursor to Teen Nick, but the network was reaching for an older teenage audience at that point.) Also in 2010, Degrassi changed up its format in a big way. Instead of producing hour-long episodes to air once a week, the show began producing half-hour episodes to air every day, like a primetime soap opera for pre-teens. So Fimogen became part of a Degrassi model that was shootng for a youngr audience, four days a week, all across Canada and the U.S.
And while all of those stats set Fimogen apart, what made them so groundbreaking is that they were so normal. They started out as frenemies — the would-be queen bee and the eccentric outcast — who gradually opened up to one another and became friends. When Fiona developed a crush on Imogen, she tried to deal with it by setting up Imogen with one of their guy friends, but she eventually confessed her feelings to Imogen on top of a Ferris Wheel at a winter festival (“Frostival!”) and they took turns kissing each other and saying they’d both wanted to make a move for a long time.
They gradually came out to their parents and to their friends, and with the exception of a couple of jocks who wanted to see them make out, their relationship was a non issue to the people in their lives. In fact, the jock storyline was some pretty scathing commentary on the idea that lesbians exist to satisfy the male gaze, but it was handled with a gentle storytelling hand. Fiona identified as a lesbian, and Imogen seemed to identify as either bisexual or sexually fluid. Labels were of no consequence to her. She just loved who she loved, and who she loved was Fiona. Actually, Fiona’s coming out is one of my favorites: “I like girls. I guess I’m gay or lesbian. I haven’t chosen nomenclature yet.”
Fiona and Imogen grew individually, and together, and during last week’s season 12 finale, they faced the very average teenage dilemma about what would happen to them when Fiona graduated. Imogen freed her girlfriend to follow her design dreams to Europe, and they parted with a kiss.
You probably noticed I’ve written the word “kiss” a lot in this article. And that’s because Fionna and Imogen were always as affectionate with each other as the straight couples on Degrassi. They saw more action in one season in an early evening timeslot on a network aimed at adolescents than Brittany and Santana saw on a sex-ed up network in a sexed-out timeslot on Glee over the course of three years.
Here’s another crazy thing that happened at my family reunion last month: When my 12-year-old cousin shouted, “Oh my God, I didn’t know you’re a lesbian!” her father, a full-on Baptist pastor, whipped around and stared at us. I thought for sure he was going to come over and give me a stern talking-to about my deviant lifestyle. But it wasn’t the word “lesbian” that jumped out at him. Instead, he told my cousin to say “gosh” instead of “God” because of the Ten Commandments and all that. Later, my cousin’s mom (a Sunday School teacher!) said, “My daughter could use a good role model like you in her life.”
Me. The raging homosexual. A good Baptist role model. Fiona and Imogen didn’t just normalize being gay for a whole generation of pre-teens. They normalized being gay for parents of pre-teens too. In her valedictorian graduation speech, Fiona had a message for both demographics: “Don’t be afraid of change, no matter how scary it seems. If I can make it through, so can you.”