'Hi Honey, I'm Homo!' — new book traces the history of queers on sitcoms

  • by David-Elijah Nahmod
  • Tuesday July 11, 2023
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author Matt Baume
author Matt Baume

One might not think of "Bewitched" when talking about queer characters on sitcoms, yet that's exactly what Matt Baume does in his new book "Hi Honey, I'm Homo! Sitcoms, Specials and the Queering of American Culture." Though "Bewitched" is now known to have several queer cast members, there wasn't a single gay character on the show. (Well, maybe Uncle Arthur.) Yet Baume, who is himself gay, convincingly argues that "Bewitched" was a thinly disguised metaphor for the conditions that queers were forced to live with in the 1960s.

"Bewitched" was a light, fun show about Samantha (Elizabeth Montgomery), a beautiful witch who fell in love with and married Darren, a mortal (Dick York, later Dick Sargent). Samanthan and Darren lived the American dream in their comfortable suburban house, where Samantha dutifully did housework while Darren went to his ad executive job in the city.

On the surface they were a typical married couple of the time, but they harbored a deep, dark secret. They were forced to hide the fact that Samantha was a witch, just as LGBT people were forced to hide who they were during the more conservative, less tolerant 1960s. According to Baume, this led to the show's deep resonance with LGBT viewers, making "Bewitched" the first TV show to garner a sizable queer audience.

Baume's book is divided into twelve chapters, with each chapter focusing on a particular sitcom. The shows are presented in chronological order. As Baume journeys through the decades, he beautifully traces the evolution of queer characters on sitcoms, from the deeply closeted Samantha and Darren to "All in the Family" and "Barney Miller," which were the first shows to have recurring gay characters, to "Soap," the 1970s show that featured Billy Crystal as Jodie, a gay man who fought, and won a child custody battle.

Baume documents the very public coming out of Ellen DeGeneres, both in real life and on her self-titled show "Ellen," to the out loud and proud characters of "Will & Grace" and "Modern Family." Twelve shows in all are examined.

Baume points out how ahead of their time some of these shows were, such as "All in the Family," a show that dared to go where no show had gone before. As early as 1971, a time when coming out still wasn't safe, "Family" presented an episode titled "Judging Books by Covers," in which lovable bigot Archie Bunker (Carroll O'Connor) comes to realize that his macho, beer drinking ex-football playing buddy is gay.

A few years later "Family" introduced it's audience to Beverly LaSalle, played by San Francisco drag artist Lori Shannon (who was also a Bay Area Reporter contributor in the 1970s).

Beverly was a drag queen who didn't always change into male attire after exiting the stage. Beverly made three appearances on "All in the Family." In her "Family" swan song she was gay-bashed to death, which leaves Archie's wife Edith (Jean Stapleton) so shocked and heartbroken that she refuses to go to church on Christmas Eve.

As Baume so eloquently points out, most of these shows were never afraid to approach serious topics.

Of course no study of queers on sitcoms would be complete without mentioning "The Golden Girls", the beloved show about four women of a "certain age" sharing a home in Miami. Baume points to a groundbreaking episode in which a lesbian friend (Lois Nettleton) visits the house and develops a crush on Rose (Betty White).

Baume also writes about something we already knew, that all four "Golden Girls" actresses were staunch LGBT allies in real life. When she passed on, Golden Girl Bea Arthur left $300,000 to the Ali Forney Center, a shelter and halfway house for LGBT youth.

"Hi Honey, I'm Homo!" is a delightful book. Easy and fun to read, and documents important moments in television history that LGBT people should cherish. Baume sprinkles his history lesson with real-life incidents that tie in with the shows he's writing about, such as the fight for marriage equality.

He also documents the efforts by right wing conservatives to block the airing of shows that presented the LGBT community in a positive light. In his introduction to the book, Baume recalls the mad anti-gay frenzy that took place before "Soap" aired its first episode. The religious right was so against the show they protested it sight unseen.

If you're looking for something good to read, something that will educate you about queer media history, this is the book you've been waiting for. At a time when anti-LGBT sentiment is on the rise, Baume's book is more important than ever.


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