The Unexpected Brilliance Of 'The Young And The Restless's' New Same-Sex Love Match

This is the first time the show has gone this far with two major characters of the same gender.
08/10/2017 09:46 am ET Updated Aug 13, 2017
Mariah (Camryn Grimes) and Tessa (Cait Fairbanks) on The Young and the Restless
CBS
Mariah (Camryn Grimes) and Tessa (Cait Fairbanks) on The Young and the Restless

The love that used to dare not speak its name is once again blooming on daytime television. This time, it’s giving “The Young And The Restless,” TV’s number one-rated soap since the late ’80s, a fresh burst of color.

The slow-burning storyline has gone like this so far: Girl meets girl who begins dating chronically unlucky-in-love Noah, the brother of the first girl, Mariah. Meanwhile, Mariah gets close to young billionaire Devon, her boss’s ex-husband. Before long, she and Tessa, the second girl, start exchanging longing, loaded looks.

Last week, Mariah and Tessa’s slow dance culminated in their first kiss, which, naturally, made some “The Young And The Restless” viewers go ballistic. How dare they show two adult women kissing on TV in the middle of the afternoon?! Despite decades of advancement in real life and myriad LGBTQ characters on prime-time TV, moralizing conservatives are still singing the same decades-old tune.

Despite decades of advancement in real life and myriad LGBTQ characters on prime-time TV, moralizing conservatives are still singing the same decades-old tune.

But there’s a new twist in the romantic melody that’s currently playing out on TV. Two women are falling in love, and so far, there hasn’t been any mention of either’s sexual orientation. Although they’re both clearly surprised and confused by their burgeoning feelings, neither Mariah nor Tessa appear to be struggling with their sexual identity or trying to define it. At the moment, they’re just two women falling for each other and attempting to make sense of it without putting a label on it.

In fact, when Mariah finally uttered the L-word after that first kiss, it wasn’t “lesbian” – and she was saying it to Devon, who, incidentally, didn’t say he loves her back. It’s refreshing that “The Young And The Restless” up to now hasn’t made race an issue in that particular romance: Mariah is white and Devon is black, but no-one has ever brought up their interracial status. It appears to be as much of a non-issue, at least onscreen, as the fact that Mariah and Tessa are both women.

No doubt that will eventually work its way into the storyline (at least one major character will have to speak for society’s bigoted, right?), but the boldest aspect of its genesis is how gender almost seems to be an afterthought. The primary drama currently hinges on two things: Tess is dating Mariah’s brother, and Mariah is in love with Devon... at least she thinks she is. They’re playing it just as they would if Mariah were falling for her mother’s new boyfriend.

That’s been the true accomplishment of this story, both pre- and post-kiss. It’s backing up an assertion some of us have been making forever: Two men or two women fall in love the same way a man and a woman do. Love is neither “gay” nor “straight.” Love is love, regardless of the gender(s) or sexual orientation of the people falling into it.

Of course, despite the moralizing tendencies of some viewers, daytime TV has made significant LGBTQ strides in recent years. In 2015, “The Bold And The Beautiful” revealed that ex-con-turned-supermodel Maya Avant was born male, making her the genre’s first transgender character. The previous year, “Days Of Our Lives” made history of its own when it featured the first legal wedding between two gay men, Will Horton and Sonny Kiriakis.

Of the four remaining daytime soaps, The Young And The Restless” is actually the last to fully commit to an LGBTQ-related narrative. The late grand doyenne Katherine Chancellor nearly had one in the ’70s, but the powers that be killed it before it got to first base after viewers cried foul. More recently, another straight, since-departed character, Adam Newman, had an implied dalliance with a minor gay character for business benefit.The Young And The Restless”’s Mariah and Tessa (“Messa”?) move is the first time the show has gone this far with two major characters of the same gender. But don’t start waving those rainbow flags just yet.

Two women are falling in love, and so far, there hasn’t been any mention of either’s sexual orientation.

In a new interview with Daytime Confidential’s Jamey Giddens, the show’s former head writer Sally Sussman says when she presented the idea of Mariah falling in love with a new female character last October, the executives at the soap’s network, CBS, “enthusiastically approved” it while expressing concern about viewer reaction. But, she insists, although both characters are women, she had no LGBTQ agenda.

“This is a love story; it’s not a gay story,” she says. “It’s about falling in love with a person, not a gender.”

Sussman announced last month that she’s leaving the show to focus on directing documentaries, and current executive producer, Mal Young, has succeeded her as top scribe. He’s a UK-bred showrunner who is known for his dedication to gay characters during his years overseeing British soaps like “Brookside” and “EastEnders,” so this story isn’t likely to fade away or flounder on the backburner when his work begins airing in October. Take that, moral conservatives!

Let’s just hope it continues to play out like a universal love story, without the handwringing over sexual orientation that usually accompanies daytime-TV forays into same-sex romance. There’s already inherent drama in two siblings falling for the same person, even if it’s not two sisters or two brothers. Who ultimately ends up with whom doesn’t have to be as life-defining or character-defining as the unplanned pregnancy currently complicating another “Young And The Restless” storyline.

Yes, coming-out angst is a fact of LGBTQ life, but “The Young And The Restless”’s new writing regime would be wise not to predictably fall back on it. I’m dreading having to watch poor Noah get his heart broken again. But if “Messa” can bring us closer to demolishing those tired old distinctions between “gay” love and “straight” love, it’ll be worth his pain.

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