‘Golden Girls’ was vastly more progressive than it is given credit for. The blanket of nostalgia that snuggles the show often overtakes the messaging that it really hit on.
The show is glamorized as a group of older ladies simply enjoying their time together. You imagine it to be some slapstick hijinks and overt sexual references, because that is what your memory paints. The fact of the matter is that the show was, and is, a very organic and progressive take on many topics. It went direct-to-consumer with messages on interracial relationships, extramarital affairs, LGBTQ+ representation, and many (many) others.
That list is just in the first 20 or so episodes!
One such episode was “Strange Bedfellows,” in the third season of the show.
It aired Nov. 7, 1987 — for the “this stuff wasn’t on television in my day” crowd — and plays back like it could air today.
The Girls were backing a political candidate, Gil Kessler, who was struggling to gain traction — or confidence. Kessler is played by John Shuck. Throughout the episode, Kessler is made to be meek and even admits that he is a wimp.
Where the episode takes its first twist could be straight from the headlines today. Kessler is caught in a political sex scandal. It would be a viral moment, it even came with him being the one leaking the photo of a woman to the media. The image described would be revealed as Blanche.
The commentary that followed was two-fold. Both Rose and Dorothy use Blanche’s sexual history to victim-blame her, even after Blanche denies her involvement in the affair multiple times. The other side was the power given to the candidate, who is now viewed as more masculine because of his affair.
At the end of the episode, Kessler comes clean. He confirms that the story Blanche had told the other Girls was true and admitted that he liked the power it afforded him.
The second twist was Kessler revealing that he had been assigned as a female at birth.
He says that he was once a “mild-mannered house wife” named Anna Maria Bonaducci. And that he who underwent gender reassignment surgery.
Where the payoff for a classic ‘Golden Girls’ episode comes in is with the final one-liner. The setup was laid earlier in the episode when Sophia said that she knew Kessler had a secret. After his admission of being transgender she celebrates her “told ya so” moment by being shocked that his secret was being . . . Italian!