This week’s installment of Vulture’s “Secret History Of Television” looks at the tired “lesbian-kiss episode” trope. As a ratings stunt, television shows used to have a heterosexual-identifying female character kiss some random lesbian or bisexual woman, only to have them disappear and let the straight girl get back to kissing dudes. Remember when Winona Ryder showed up as Rachel’s former sorority sister on Friends and the two locked lips, only for Ryder to never appear on the show again? Yep, that’s a lesbian-kiss episode.
The video starts with one of the first instances of a lesbian-kiss episode from back in 1991, when C.J. and Abby kissed on L.A. Law. Abby was written off a few episodes later. In 1993, Picket Fences had a one-off lady kiss, followed by Roseanne in 1994. Then, at the turn of the millennium, the lesbian-kiss episode really kicked into high gear, with Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Relativity, Party Of Five, and Friends all using the trope as a stunt. Sex And The City did it twice.
The lesbian-kiss episode is hardly progressive and rarely explores sexuality and gender. It’s a cheap stunt used for ratings that erases and diminishes female sexuality and queerness. In the early 2000s, the lesbian-kiss episode continued to pop up during sweeps week, but as television started becoming more representative of LGBTQ communities, the trend died down. Now, when two girls kiss on television, they usually like it enough to, well, keep doing it in subsequent episodes or even—gasp—start a relationship with the other person.