Today is Lesbian Visibility Day and as I’ve been rewatching Grey’s Anatomy (what a surprise), I want to take a look back at my favorite WLW couple on television.
I remember watching Grey’s with my mom in junior high school. More specifically, I remember talking to my friend in home room in 8th grade and my teacher hopped in the conversation with a hearty “Your mother lets you watch Grey’s Anatomy!?” No one was talking to you Ms. Jackson, please mind your own business.
Anyway, I remember thinking the show was unlike anything I’d ever seen, mostly because I was like 12 years old and was watching stuff like Kim Possible and Spongebob, so what did I know. I remember the scene from the season 2 finale of Grey’s where Callie is upset because she told George she loves him and he didn’t say it back. They fight in the hallway and George tells her “give me time to mean it.” At age 12, this was revolutionary for me. Based on every grown-up movie and TV show I’d seen since then, I assumed when someone said they loved their partner, it was just expected for the other to say it back. This was the first time I’d seen that exact plot line not followed; I wasn’t even aware that you could fall in love at different times.
Now, you’re probably wondering why I’m talking about Callie and George for Lesbian Visibility Day. And if you’ve never watched Grey’s, you’re probably even more confused. Don’t worry, this all has a point.
The show has been on since the dawn of time, and it’s come into my life at multiple influential times. The first I can remember was the aforementioned prom scene between Callie and George, and another was a few summers ago when my mom, sister, and I decided to start Grey’s from the beginning, because why not.
Rewatching the show was fun because there were lots of episodes I remembered from when I was a kid, or the last few minutes of an episode that I’d catch when my college friends and I would have Scandal watch parties and turn the station on a few minutes early. Eventually we got to episodes that I’d never seen and it felt like a completely new show. The melodrama, the ridiculous plots, the absurd characters. It’s everything I crave, a truly perfect and chaotic dumpster fire of a television show.
By the time we got to season 6, George was dead (hit by a bus) and Callie was divorced and dating women. A lot had happened to these surgeons in 6 years, including a bomb exploding at their workplace and Meredith Grey, the titular character, dying, hanging out with some ghosts, and coming back. But season 6 will always hold a special place in my heart for many reasons, but mostly for the development and expansion of my all-time favorite queer lady couple, Callie and Arizona.
Gay, bi, straight–Grey’s Anatomy does not discriminate when it comes to the trauma it puts its couples through. Callie and Arizona’s relationship was fantastic before Shonda Rhimes decided to personally victimize me and destroy them. But when they were good, they were good. It was my first time seeing a queer woman couple on TV, and at the time I was still trying to figure out my own sexuality. It felt good to see them episode after episode, whether they were at the forefront breaking new ground in medicine or in the background bickering about something stupid.
Every episode I would get excited to see what new things developed in their relationship. Arizona encouraged Callie to hear her dad out after she came out to him. Callie supported Arizona through a rough surgery with her favorite patient. They argued about what color they should paint their apartment. They fought about having kids. They broke up. They got back together. They got married. They had a daughter. They fought some more. They got together some more.
The great and tragic thing about this preposterous show is that since it’s been on so long and since each season has like 500 episodes, we get deeply complex and personal storyline about the characters. Over the course of Callie and Arizona’s tenure on the show, we got to see a lot of their life together develop. And watching their relationship unfold as I wrestled with my own feelings and my own sexuality was nothing short of serendipitous. It came at exactly the right time and was exactly what I needed.
Callie and Arizona’s relationship was representative to me of what queer relationships with women looked like. Callie’s bisexuality being explored through her homophobic parents, her confused friends, Arizona’s occasional biphobia, and her own struggles and eventual acceptance of herself was surprisingly layered for a show as messy as Grey’s. The depth and nuance in the relationship was surprising to see, among surgeons sneaking away from work to have sex in closets and doctors getting impaled by icicles. And there was absurdity and downright dumb storylines in their relationship too. The show gave us a full scope of how these women interacted with one another; how they fell in love, how they fought, how they tried to fit together when sometimes they didn’t, and, yes, even a musical episode that will go down in the annals of history as one of the best hours of television ever.
Like most Grey’s Anatomy characters, they were both eventually written off. Arizona’s final episode hinted that the two may get together in the off-screen universe, which–fine, I guess. After a certain…plane crash and resulting leg amputation, a shocking lack of therapy, and just a smidge of cheating, the relationship came crashing to an end and lesbians everywhere revolted. Well, I don’t know that for sure since by the time I was caught up on current episodes, the whole thing was over. But I definitely revolted! I mean, how could I not? They were the first WLW couple I’d seen so thoroughly developed on television. Not only was Shonda killing off literally all my favorite characters, but she was breaking up the only gay couple on the show!? It was hard to not feel personally slighted.
But as I rewatch the show, which I do almost constantly, and I rewatch these two women fall in love on TV, it’s hard not to recall my first time seeing them on screen. I feel the same fluttery feelings again, the same emotions I felt as I discovered more about myself through a television show. It’s hard to put into words what this silly show, what these fictional characters meant to me, and what they mean to me.
Grey’s Anatomy, shockingly, is on season 17, and there isn’t any definitive end in sight. Over nearly 2 decades, many beloved characters have exited the show, some in nice and peaceful ways, others being eaten by wolves or shot to death. The show is fast approaching nearly 400 episodes, and with such a long and twisty history, it’s easy for old storylines and events to be forgotten. But I will always hold a very special place in my heart for this silly, beautiful, tragic, ridiculous, delicate fictional couple. After years and years of hiding myself, of being scared to admit my truth to myself and everyone around me, of torturing myself over what my loved ones would think of me, this show helped me feel free. And even when Grey’s Anatomy ends in 2075 and they start doing episodes on the moon, I will always look back at these two characters with love and gratitude for helping me become myself.