With the long, magic-less summer stretching in front of us, we've been writing about the plot points and character moments we'd enjoy seeing on Once Upon a Time Season 3. Today, we want to discuss a change that we think is more pressing than any mystery resolution or redemption arc: OUAT needs to add a gay love story.
We're not talking about any specific relationship here. Should Emma and Regina actually get together? Are Aurora and Mulan practically canon already? Those are debates for a different day. Our issue is not that certain characters aren't making out, it's that Once Upon a Time's world is deeply heteronormative, and in the context of this specific show on this specific network, that sends a message that we don't think the writers intend.
To be clear: This article is not meant to insult the showrunners or writers. We don't think they're homophobic or intentionally avoiding writing a gay romance; they've just prioritized other stories. Normally, that would merely make OUAT yet another show in an infinite line of TV programs without gay characters. But given OUAT's themes and positioning, the implications become more problematic than the usual underrepresentation of LGBT people on TV, and, ultimately, more hurtful.
Once Upon a Time airs on ABC, a network that ranks fairly well on GLAAD's annual responsibility index, which evaluates how inclusive TV networks are in their programming. ABC's lineup includes some of network TV's best gay and bi characters: Modern Family's hilarious Cam and Mitchell, who appeal even to more conservative viewers; Grey's Anatomy’s Callie and Arizona, whose romance is as epic as anyone's on that show; Happy Endings's Max Blum, one of the least stereotypical gay characters we've seen on network TV; Revenge fan-fave Nolan Ross, whose "three on the Kinsey scale" identity has panned out quite deliciously. And that's just to name a few.
This list is encouraging in a broad sense, but it makes OUAT stand out more than it might on another channel, since ABC is clearly open to LGBT stories. That alone wouldn't be enough to raise a red flag particularly high — it's not the only ABC show without gay characters — but then we remember what the show is about.
Here's the key: OUAT is a show about the power of love. Romantic love and familial love. Love is quite literally magical, and so far it appears to be the only source of happy endings in OUAT's many worlds. This is a show that's constantly telling love stories, in the past and present. They're everywhere you turn, and every single one is between a man and a woman. Eventually, the pattern starts to feel pointed, even if it's not intended that way.
Add to that the fact that OUAT is one of the few true family shows on air — it genuinely appeals to children and adults alike — and the omittance becomes a problem. OUAT's thesis is that love and family are the key to happiness, and by failing to include a single gay character, it subtly suggests love and family are the domain of straight people alone. Happiness is the domain of straight people alone. And that is not OK, especially on a show young kids are watching, even if it's not what the writers mean to say.
The solution is simple: Add in a romance between two characters of the same gender. That could mean gender-swapping a classic fairy tale, creating a same-gender love interest for a character whose sexuality isn't a factor in their original story (who says Jiminy Cricket can't fall in love with a man?), imagining up an entirely new love story, or, yes, getting together two characters we already know. After all, if Scandal can feature a gay republican White House Chief of Staff, why can't Mulan and Aurora fall in love?
Do you think Once Upon a Time should make adding a gay couple a priority? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Rebecca Martin is an editor at Wetpaint Entertainment. Follow her on Twitter @BeccaDMartin.