‘Desperate Housewives‘ new stripper-with-a-heart-of-gold, Robin (Julie Benz), has a not so shocking secret: she’s a lesbian. The pole dancer turned elementary school teaching assistant will be romantically paired with Katherine. So DH, a show created by an out and proud gay man, is playing on both the old crazy lesbian stereotype and the hot lesbian stripper stereotype. Wisteria Lane is home to the refreshingly ordinary Bob and Lee, who show that gay men can can be middle American suburbanites too. As far as we know, Bob and Lee came out as young adults and have identified as gay ever since. That is how it is for all television gay men, from ‘Glee’s Kurt to ‘Brothers & Sisters‘ Kevin. The sole straight male to ever kiss a guy was ‘Gossip Girl’s Chuck Bass, who did it as part of a kinky game, before revealing himself to be heteroflexible with the immortal line, “Do you really think I haven’t kissed a guy before?”
Katherine, on the other hand, fits into the peculiar television archetype of adult women who, after years of heterosexual relationships, suddenly develop an attraction to a woman. Yes, this occasionally happens in real life — ‘Sex & The City’s Kim Cattrall is one high profile example. But in general, most women’s sexual identities are no more malleable then men, despite the fantasies of many guys that their girlfriends are a couple of margaritas away from agreeing to a threesome. On television it has become the norm. From ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’s Willow — who was at least a plausibly young college student — to ‘Grey’s Anatomy’s Callie, straight women on TV tend to become lesbians the same way they might become vegetarians. Female sexuality is portrayed as situational and malleable. Sure, Callie and Arizona are in a serious, committed relationship complete with steamy shower sex. But it’s hard not to notice that she still has more chemistry with her best friend Mark.
DH’s Katherine has never shown any romantic interest in women. She has been so obsessed with Mike for the past two seasons that she ended up in a psych ward. Prior to that she was married to a man played by Nathan Fillion. Nathan Fillion! Granted, he does have the power to ruin a woman for all other men. But that was obviously not the case since she fell hard for boring Mike. This looks like another instance of television having its cake and eating it too — claiming it is being progressive and inclusive while providing titillation for men who like to see hot women kissing. The show generated a lot of buzz for a two-second joke kiss between Gabrielle and Susan last season. DH loves to recycle stories. The plane crash is the tornado redux, complete with the lack of longterm consequences. Orson’s paralysis is just like Carlos’s blindness. Lynette and Tom have been rehashing the same work/children issues for six years. Katherine and Robin are replaying Gabrielle and Susan on a larger scale. If only the writers of DH let their characters evolve like the characters on ‘Mad Men’ or put as much effort into coming up with ways to revitalize the show as the writers on ‘Lost.’
Benz is spinning her storyline as realistic — or at least as realistic as a plot involving a woman inheriting her ex-husband’s strip club and deciding to let one of the strippers move in with her can be. In an interview with After Ellen she said, “I think it’s a great story. Katherine’s journey is very interesting and it’s current in what we’ve seen with recent years with older women discovering that they’re gay later in life. Like with Meredith Baxter recently — coming out publicly. It’s a very current topic. It’s an interesting thing to explore.” Meanwhile, Dana Delaney played up the sexual aspects the storyline, “This is the first time on Wisteria Lane that you’ll see two women doing more than just kissing.” Fans of girl-on-girl action, set your Tivos!
Note that we have never seen Bob and Lee in any sort of romantic scene. James Denton (Mike) addressed the double standard. “Our country is so conservative that it would be interesting to see how people would respond if we had a real Queer As Folk heavy-duty gay storyline. I’m not sure that anybody wants to risk it. We’re not making independent film and we’re not on Showtime, so there are certain parameters that we have that other shows don’t, for better or worse.” Denton is hardly an expert on the issue. An hour later Kevin and Scotty get to kiss on ‘Brothers & Sisters.’ But ABC has never run an, “OMG! Two men are going to kiss promo,” in their honor. In fact, the network did no advance publicity when it ran a gay love scene during the daytime soap opera ‘One Life To Live.’
It remains to be seen whether this storyline will make the character of Katherine rootable again, or whether it will turn out to be another desperate stunt in a season that’s full of them.