Arizona is Leaving Grey’s and Our Gay Hearts are Broken

We’re going to need emergency surgery over here. News broke just before the weekend that this is Jessica Capshaw’s final season with Grey’s Anatomy after ten seasons as the show’s leading lesbian character. AfterEllen took the weekend to track down fact versus fiction, so here’s what we know and what it means for the future of the show, Shondaland, and representation on television.

On Thursday, just as the news broke of her departure, Jessica Capshaw tweeted the following to her followers:

She’s been replying and retweeting fan responses to her character ever since, lying low on providing any context or answers to the surprising news.

It seems like every couple of months brings with it an announcement of new exits of Grey’s Anatomy characters, which is to be expected with a show that has to work to keep these fresh after 14 seasons. But needless to say, this one came as a genuine shock, especially considering Arizona’s character has been a benchmark for lesbian representation on mainstream TV.

When Arizona stepped in as the perky head of peds in the fifth season of Grey’s, she truly came in like a fresh breath of lesbian air. Arizona was confident in her sexuality, she was a kickass doctor, and she was hot as well. Watching her budding romance with Callie was, for so many of us, like watching ourselves. Lesbian or bi, we could all relate to one half of Calzona. When they split and Sara Ramirez left the show, I  must admit I had some skepticism over Arizona’s ability to carry the lesbian torch on her own, but she’s become woven into the fabric of Grey’s Anatomy over the last ten years.

Capshaw’s impact is one of the first lesbian series regulars to headline a primetime network show is massive, and she’s always expressed an outpouring of gratitude to the LGBT community for championing Arizona.

Shonda Rhimes herself tweeted an acknowledgment of the need for LGBT representation, which is great and all, bit she’s also neglected to keep the head of her other TGIT show’s sexuality at the forefront of her character’s identity. Annalise Keating’s bisexuality has barely seen the light of day since Famke Janssen’s brief stint as her on again off again lover, Eve.

After Deadline broke the news of Capshaw’s departure (along with Sara Drew, who plays April Kepner), series Showrunner Krista Vernoff fired back at mentions of significant salary for Ellen Pompeo as a potential reason for the cuts. Vernoff tweeted the following:

Ellen Pompeo also commented on the controversy and backlash surrounding Capshaw’s exit:

Although I agree that the pushback over Pompeo’s raise and the patriarchal strategy of pitting woman against woman stinks a whole hell of a lot, I don’t like the citation of the decision being a “creative one” any better. A decision to remove lesbian representation from a television show is anything BUT creative.

The storyline’s Grey’s Anatomy has given Arizona since Callie’s exit have been lackluster to say the least, often functioning as a spark to bring new characters such as Eliza Minnick and DeLuca’s sister Carina in (and out, regarding Minnick’s short stint). If Carina DeLuca is here to stay, why isn’t there room for both a bisexual and lesbian character to have strong storylines even if they aren’t together?

In a year that has seen the exit of more than one fan favorite lesbian character (Supergirl anyone?),  you can hardly blame viewers for being passionate about getting the opportunity to see themselves as a regular presence on their television screens.

We’ve yet to be provided with any insight as to the manner of  Capshaw’s exit from the show and how the storyline will wrap up. I would hope Grey’s would know better than to kill Arizona’s character off to tie up her tenure on the show, but even that barely puts a Band-Aid on the open wound. As we’ve experienced recently, burying your gays can come in many forms other than death.

RIP Arizona Robbins.