Queer Girl Friday: The Queer History of ‘Grey’s Anatomy,’ TV’s Longest-Running Medical Drama

GREY'S ANATOMY - "Do You Believe In Magic" - The doctors reach out to Bailey but she continues to shut everyone out; after an incident with Ethan's grandmother, Owen fears the child could end up in foster care; and a new craniofacial specialist (Hilarie Burton) arrives at Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital to work on a young patient; meanwhile, a magician's assistant is rushed into the ER after a magic trick goes terribly wrong, on "Grey's Anatomy," THURSDAY, MAY 2 (9:00-10:02 p.m., ET) on the ABC Television Network. (ABC/Ron Tom) SARA RAMIREZ, JESSICA CAPSHAW

I’m Selina, Awards Circuit’s queer Girl Friday for everything LGBTQIA+ on film and TV! While most film fans are still post-gaming the Oscars (twas a rough one here for Awards Circuit staff, I’m telling ya), I immediately jumped back to the world of TV, where ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy” has accomplished a feat 15 seasons in the making; as of this Thursday, “Grey’s Anatomy” has dethroned “E.R.” to become the longest-running medical drama in TV history. Known for diverse casting, heavy drama and a metric ton of medical talk, “Grey’s Anatomy’s” impact also spread to its steamy romances, which were a ground-breaking mix of queer and straight in the mid-2000s, when voters were still trying to decide if us gays even deserved a right to marriage. Here’s a brief reminder of the great rainbow history of “Grey’s Anatomy,” in honor of its 331st episode.

Dr. Callie Torres, Resident Bisexual Badass, And The Great Gay Love of Callie and Arizona

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Callie (Sarah Ramirez), the tough orthopedic surgeon who finds love with the men– and women — of Grey-Sloan Memorial Hospital, is one of few bisexual characters to have thrived on mainstream television. Originally introduced as the hot, older lover of original series regular T.R. Knight (a.k.a. intern George, R.I.P. 007), Ramirez fit so well into the show she earned star billing by Season 3. Callie was a vibrant, brilliant doctor who, though rich, chose to live in the hospital basement to scoop up more traumas that came through the E.R. She loved her job, specialty women rarely go into, and she wasn’t afraid to make the first move. And when she figures out she likes ladies too, courtesy of one Erica Hahn (Brooke Smith), she goes with her heart and starts dating women too.

Callie and Arizona Calzona Wedding

And then, of course, she meets Arizona Robbins (Jessica Capshaw), the lesbian pediatric surgeon with a heart of gold and super cool wheelie sneaks. The couple have a long, intense relationship with just as much love, lust, and dramatic fighting as every other straight couple on the series. They marry, have a kid, and fall in and out of love throughout their years at Grey-Sloan, earning just as big a fan following as Meredith and Derek or Christina and Owen. (All of this, by the way, is done during that political grey area for queer folx, when we had to rush to the courthouse for the six months gay marriage would be legalized in one state or another. Their big wedding was a huge deal and will always mean the world to me). While the show does have the pair deal with some issues that straight couples don’t face (i.e. Callie’s homophobic parents), their relationship was handled with respect and care to their characters, and to the queer folx watching along at home. Both actors have moved on to greener pastures, but their great gay legacy will last forever.

“Grey’s Anatomy,” Featuring Every Queer and Trans-Affirming Patient Storyline You Can Think Of

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This subheading is not an exaggeration. If you can think of it, “Grey’s Anatomy has covered it. Gay soldiers, separated by a homophobic parent as one tragically dies? Got. Two trans kids in love, with a parent hesitant to approve of their child’s top surgery? Got it. Old gay and lesbian couples making scary medical decisions together? Candis Cayne guest-starring as a hotshot surgeon who’s revolutionizing her own bottom surgery? Got it. That one lesbian teen romance where they both try to commit suicide, seeing that as the only way to be together? Got it, and yes, I’m crying.

“Grey’s Anatomy” has been very generous in its LGBTQIA+ representation, even in episodic, short-term patient storylines. Even Mark Sloan (Eric Dane), who wasn’t exactly known for his tact, never misgendered his trans patients and ensured his interns treated them with respect and used the right pronouns. With every new LGBTQIA+ character that comes onscreen, audiences see our community treated with respect and love, without resorting to tropes. Unlike “E.R.,” which portrayed trans folx as only sex workers or mentally ill children, “Grey’s Anatomy” did not “other” LGBTQIA+ folx, or set our stories apart. In the world of Grey-Sloan’s Seattle, LGBTQIA+ folx are numerous, unique and as normal as the straight, cis patient in the next bed over. Just as it should be.

Still Here, Still Queer (And Trans), Get Used To It

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If you thought the “Grey’s Anatomy” writers’ room was gonna cool its rainbow jets after Callie and Arizona left the series, think again. Continuing its tradition of breaking new ground for the series and mainstream television, Jake Borelli (aka Glasses) and Alex Landi (Hot Ortho Surgeon) were tapped to start the next big gay romance of the series just last fall. Some might think the decision old-hat (gay marriage is here to stay, why keep banging on about the gays?), but Landi made headlines when he became the series’ first asian gay male surgeon. Clearly, people still care, and as Borelli said when he came out last fall, seeing gay people on TV shows like “Grey’s Anatomy” still has serious impact for queer youth.

But personally, I believe that the series’ biggest triumph comes from out trans actor Alex Blue Davis (intern Casey), who’s boarded the series as the first out trans actor to play a trans doctor on the show. Showrunner Krista Vernoff worked closely with Davis and LGBTQIA+ advocacy group GLAAD to tell Casey’s story well, and in a season opener that introduces us to Casey, not Casey The New Trans Character, “Grey’s Anatomy” continued its streak of great LGBTQIA+ representation. For Davis, who cried at the table read for his introducing episode, and for every trans person watching the show, “Grey’s Anatomy” continues its mission to tell stories that resonant and represent the LGBTQIA+ community in a fair and equal right. And that’s something to celebrate.

There Was “The Scully Effect”…Now For The “Grey’s Anatomy Effect”?

Thursday night’s record-setting episode is just one more milestone for a series that’s been running since 2005. I don’t know where or who I would be without the women of “Grey’s Anatomy,” who gave me the chance to see a queer future outside of my conservative, hetero hometown. Seeing Callie Torres, an adult character with an important job and a big life, also struggle with her defining her sexuality, changed everything for me. The scenes above, taken from the fifth episode of Season 6, were the two most important on-screen conversations of my life, because they let me on a little secret: it’s okay not to “see leaves.” Not everyone has some amazing, seminal moment of queerness, and that’s okay; maybe you will someday, and maybe you won’t. But you aren’t broken, your feelings are valid, and you are not alone.

Callie Torres changed my life, and I suspect that a lot of young girls felt the same way. Just like “The Scully Effect,” where Gillian Anderson of “The X-Files” inspired thousands of young women to go into STEM, “Grey’s Anatomy” has surely championed my generation of queer youth to stand in our power, to appreciate our difference without fear of it. I’m glad “Grey’s Anatomy” made history tonight, but its impact has, and always will, go beyond the title of “longest-running medical drama.” Mark my words: there’s a “Grey’s Anatomy Effect,” and it’s inspiring queer and trans youth to live as freely as Casey, Callie and Arizona.

What are some of your favorite queer moments from “Grey’s Anatomy”? Let me know in the comments below!

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Written by Selina Mixner

Selina is a queer, half-Filipina fangirl who loves TV, film and corgis a little too much. She graduated with a Bachelor's in Literature and Psychology from UC Santa Cruz. Her rules for writing are simple: is it tattoo-worthy? If not, try again.


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