Red (Meghan Ory) awakens Dorothy (Teri Reeves) with True Love's Kiss. Image Credit: ABC Studios
Friends of Dorothy: LGBT Representation on Once Upon a Time
By Ashley Benson (@MitigatedText)
On this most recent episode of Once Upon a Time, there were canon gay fairy tale characters. I am so over the moon that I am able to write that sentence. In “Ruby Slippers”, Little Red Riding Hood and Dorothy Gale of Oz struck a fast friendship that evolved into something more. By the end of the episode, this couple shared True Love’s Kiss just like any other. I don’t know how to express how happy it makes me to see characters like myself on my favorite show. Not only are Ruby and Dorothy canonically gay, but it isn’t something that’s implied. We are past the fallout from the Hays Code, where reading between the lines to see queer people on television was the norm. There are no longer restrictions or attitudes that require viewers to have to squint to see a same sex relationship and yet it still happens on television to this day, but not on Once Upon a Time. No one cared that Ruby had feelings for another woman and Dorothy wasn’t surprised Ruby had those feelings either. And they got a happy ending, something that has been rare for same sex couples in popular media.
What I loved most is that all these characters; Mulan, Dorothy, and Ruby, aren’t “gay characters”. They are characters who are also gay. It’s Ruby’s story here that speaks the most to me. We’ve seen over this season that Ruby is restless; she always has a hard time fitting in and is always searching for her place. And in “Ruby Slippers” she found where she belonged in a place she’d least expected it; with another woman. To get personal for a moment, this reminds me of when I came out. I always knew something was different, but I couldn’t give a name to what it was. I had crushes on boys; I tried to do the “normal” thing and to fit in. Until one day, I met someone and I realized this funny feeling I had sometimes, the one I couldn’t name, was love. Sure, I cared about the guys I had “crushes” on, but this feeling was a deeper, nagging ache that scared me because I didn’t understand it, because I didn’t have a name for it.
When I was growing up, gay people on television were a stereotype for comic relief, a villain, or a Very Special Episode about AIDS. That was it. The gay people I saw on TV were “bad” and that made me not want to be one. I didn’t know it was ok to feel this way about another woman. But realizing I was gay also gave me hope because I didn’t feel so lost anymore; I knew who I was. I feel that this was the same thing Ruby went through. If my younger self had seen how normal it was for Ruby and Dorothy to become a couple, I wouldn’t have wasted so much time. Watching ‘Ruby Slippers,” I was most impressed with the fact that Ruby and Dorothy were allowed to be as affectionate as any other couple on the show. Their True Love’s Kiss wasn’t a simple peck on the cheek, the pair wasn’t regulated to lighter physical interaction like so many other gay couples on various TV shows (Modern Family comes to mind), but at the same time there was nothing sensationalized about their interactions. Their kiss was for them alone. We didn’t cut to any character being inappropriate in reaction to it. I cannot stress it enough that the normalcy of this pair together is my favorite part about it.
Dorothy (Teri Reeves) and Red (Meghan Ory) bestow new nicknames on each other.
Image Credit: ABC Studios
I will admit I had been rooting for Mulan and Ruby to become a couple. I was disappointed when Mulan didn’t express her feelings to Aurora and more so when it became obvious Aurora didn’t share Mulan’s feelings. It was heartbreaking, but also one of my favorite Once Upon a Time moments because it was real. Once Upon a Time is about fairy tales existing in real life and sometimes in real life the girl doesn’t love you back. And we got to see the toll that took on Mulan and how she dealt with it. And in “Ruby Slippers” we saw Mulan take her experiences and help Ruby not make the same mistake, to not hesitate. I don’t think it’s fair to say Mulan is a third wheel here. She may not be ready for a relationship, but I like to think seeing Ruby take a chance and get a happy ending might give the warrior hope that there is someone out there for her too.
Now, I have seen a few people use the term “token” to refer to Ruby and Dorothy and I don’t think that’s fair. How can they be considered a token when there’s only one episode they could have had an opportunity to be in so far? And I’ve seen people say that this episode was a Very Special Episode because Ruby and Dorothy got True Love’s Kiss by the end of it. But Rumpelstiltskin and Belle got True Love’s Kiss within the time span of “Skin Deep” and a much less happy end there as well. I do love a slow burn romance, but there was something refreshing and joyful about seeing two same sex characters get their happy ending without angst.
It’s important that there be representation on Once Upon a Time as the breadth of gay acceptance expands. Fairy tales are one of those final areas where you see a pairing of a man and a woman, prince and a princess together and that's all. I used to believe lesbians didn’t get happy endings so why bother with a relationship. However, I will say the writers did well this time, but they need to keep doing well. Unless they want to undo everything they did in this episode, they can’t let Dorothy and Ruby disappear forever. Once Upon a Time does have so many characters in and out so it’s understandable Ruby and Dorothy wouldn’t be in a lot of episodes. However, the creators said that they don’t want to have a queer couple to just tick off a box on a list and in order to be true to that, these characters need to come back. It’s in the writers hands now.
Nowadays in television we see queer characters struggle with coming out, or they’re killed off, or they aren’t allowed to express their love physically, or they aren’t allowed to simply be happy. None of that is what happened on Once Upon a Time. Ruby and Dorothy were just allowed to exist and the fact that I am proud and happy about this, the fact that I felt I had to write a reaction to it, says how important it is that there are portrayals on television of queer people just being people. I truly wish my younger self could have seen this, because Once Upon a Time has always been a story about hope and seeing Ruby so accepted and happy would have given more hope than I can imagine.