Golden Girls stars Betty White (1922-2021), Bea Arthur (1922-2009) Estelle Getty (1923-2008) and Rue McClanahan (1934-2010) pose for a portrait in Los Angeles, California, circa 1992. (Ron Davis/Getty)
Much beloved sitcom The Golden Girls is as hilarious as it is heartwarming, and for none more so than queer fans.
All the way back in 1986, Blanche, Sophia, Rose and Dorothy had a gay friend, named Jean. While the ‘friend of Dorothy’ trope originated from Judy Garland’s Wizard of Oz character of the same name being hailed as a gay icon, this Dorothy did also help bring love and light to the queer community.
Dorothy clocked Jean as a lesbian back when the girls were in college, saying: “Jean is a nice person. She happens to like girls instead of guys. Some people like cats instead of dogs. Frankly, I’d rather live with a lesbian than a cat… unless the lesbian sheds, that I don’t know!”
That, however, isn’t the lesbian joke we’re talking about, though it is also hilarious.
The one which permeated pop culture all the way up until it was hijacked by Ryan Murphy for Santana in Glee, is the classic mix up of the words ‘lesbian’ and ‘Lebanese’. Comedy gold.
During the episode in which the joke comes up, Dorothy tells Sophia that Jean is in love with Rose.
The girls start laughing, which wakes up Blanche, and leads to the iconic conversation below:
Blanche: What is going on?
Sophie and Dorothy: Nothing!
Blanche: Come on, I heard you laughing. What’s so funny?
Sophia: For starters, Jean is a lesbian.
Blanche: What’s funny about that?
Sophia: You aren’t surprised?
Blanche: Of course not! I mean, I haven’t known any personally, but isn’t Danny Thomas one?
Dorothy: Not Lebanese, Blanche! LES-BIA-N.
Blanche: Lesbian. Lesbian. (gasps) LESBIAN.
Blanche’s main concern over the news is why exactly Jean would be in love with Rose rather than her; now that’s called being an ally.
Of course, when Jean eventually does come out to Rose, the latter reacts with as much love, compassion and humour as everyone else did.
The joke is still being recycled today – Glee being one example, where Brittany shows a top that says ‘Lebanese’, to which Santana replies: “I’m Hispanic.”
The joke is also referenced in Bend it Like Beckham and Janice Ian in Mean Girls is also referred to as ‘Lebanese’.
The enduring power of the The Golden Girls and their Lebanese/lesbian mix-ups. Truly the best joke thrown at Shady Pines retirement home.