Behind the Lesbian Story Line on “Grey’s Anatomy”

This spring, ABC’s Grey’s
introduced a lesbian story line with a romance between the
confident and sexually voracious Dr. Callie Torres (Sara Ramirez) and the
professionally ambitious yet personally restrained Dr. Erica Hahn (Brooke

The story line offered
both the drama Grey’s is known
for and — despite some marginally exploitative threesome talk — a
truthfulness network television has rarely achieved when it comes to lesbian
relationships. For Callie and Erica, the season ended with a kiss, and what
could be the beginning of a passionate romance.

Photo credit: Randy Holmes/ABC

With that kiss, Callie
and Erica became the only regular lesbian/bisexual female characters currently on
network television.
This is also the first time that two regular characters on a network show have begun a lesbian romance, as opposed to one becoming involved with a new lesbian character introduced expressly for that relationship.

To prepare for the story line,
which will continue next season, Grey’s consulted with GLAAD, which
worked with the series’ writers on a previous story line about a transgender
character with breast cancer. GLAAD invited Nikki Weiss, an out producer and
manager also known for her appearance on Oprah,
and Trish Doolan, an out
writer, director and actor best known for her film April’s Shower,
to participate in workshop sessions with the writers and actors. Weiss and
Doolan spoke to about what it was like to work on Grey’s
and what they thought of the story line on-screen.

Nikki Weiss (left) and Trish Doolan When did the people from Grey’s approach you about doing this story line?
Nikki Weiss: GLAAD actually
contacted me in March and said, “The Grey’s
writers really want to write this story line and ensure that they
understand the emotional journey of discovering that you’re a lesbian — or at
least in love with another woman — when you’re an adult.” So I said, “Fantastic!
I’d be happy to help.”

AE: Is this something that either of you have done before, consulting
on another writer’s stories and characters?
Trish Doolan:
Well, I’m a writer; I actually write. So a lot of times
people will just call me to read their scripts. But not to the extent that this
was — coming in for a formal meeting and sitting around with all of the
writers. It was really very well-done … I just thought their need to know and
want to be truthful, and everything like that — it was just really

NW: We actually sat first with the actresses in a room with GLAAD
as well — they were present at all of the meetings … to make sure it was
accurate and fair and inclusive. And first we met with the actresses and
executive producer … and that was like an hour and a half meeting. And then we
were into the writers’ room with the entire writing staff and a stenographer
[laughs], just to make sure they got everything. And they were really intense
on understanding and telling the story line from a source of truth.

AE: What was it like to work with the writers and the actresses?
I was just really impressed that they wanted to tell this story so
honestly. And they really wanted to understand the relationship and the dynamic
— falling in love with somebody of the same gender. And their questions were
really thought out. And the writers were just really invested in that, and so
were the actresses, actually. They had a lot of great questions.

Brooke Smith (left) and Sara Ramirez

Photo credit: Randy Holmes/ABC

AE: What kinds of questions were they asking you?
They asked us how do we identify ourselves: Are we lesbians or did we
just fall in love with another woman? They specifically asked things like, “When
was the first time you were conscious of an attraction to another woman?” “Did
you ever sleep with a man to prove to yourself that you weren’t gay?”

So they really just
wanted to understand the spectrum. “When was the first moment you knew you
were a lesbian, or identified with that? Does it matter?” Specific fears
about coming out. How your friends reacted to it.

TD: And how everyone is now. Did you lose any people in your life,
like friends, family, things like that. And then about our relationship now,
and relationships that we’ve been in, and whether they ended because of someone
couldn’t handle being gay, or was it a normal breakup as other relationships
break up. …

They were really wanting
to be truthful to the two characters they’re focusing on in the woman-woman
relationship … because I think what they were going for is one of the
characters on their show, maybe it’s not that she’s necessarily gay, but she
falls in love with this person. … And that’s actually what was one of my
stories in the past. A woman I was with never was with another woman again. She
just said she fell in love with me. And for her it wasn’t a gender thing; it
was just about a person. And that’s something that they were really interested
in for their story line.

NW: And I think that they didn’t want to stereotype anything,
either, and write from a place where they didn’t understand it. I think that
sexuality is so fluid that they wanted to understand that point of view as
well, of being attracted to a person and telling that honestly, because there
would be a fear in that too, if you own up to, wow, I’m attracted to that
person, regardless of their gender.