Fidelity & Family Values — On Network Televsion

The reconciliation episode on Brothers & SIsters was truly a “monument” in network television coverage of gay couples and their family lives, in many ways. First, Kevin’s family members treated their relationship as a marriage — without any differentiation between theirs and the siblings’ straight marriages. In some ways I wish they would have indulged in a bit of differentiation from straight marriage presumptions (most gay couples I know are quite a bit less shattered by a confession of infidelity than what was shown here), but on the whole the high level of family acceptance is admirable. Second, all of the siblings, and mom especially, rallied to help the couple figure out how to resolve their issues. Rather than negating their partnership or ignoring it, the extended family (including the gay uncle) openly and lovingly pitched in to help, for better or worse.

Third, and to me the most significant aspect of the story, is that rather than continuing to demonize the unfaithful partner, in the end it emerged that he was reacting in an understandable way to a series of mutual dissatisfactions in the relationship — including some fairly eggregious dishonesty by his partner. As a result, his “infidelity” was rightly reframed as a piece of a larger relationship drama, with neither partner being a perpetrator or a victim. Armed with this new revelation, with mom’s prodding, the “faithful” partner admitted his dishonesties, and the healing between the couple could commence.

There is much to criticize in this episode, mostly in its hyper-normalization of the gay couple’s attitude towards fidelity and monogamy, but far more to praise. The men are allowed to have sexual feelings and desires — with each other and with others — and the emotional context of marriage is explored in terms of the couples’ inner needs and feelings, as well as how their relationship functions in the larger world of their extended family

I’m not sure how many of my friends or clients would turn to their mom for help in these situations, but as network television goes, it’s a new day.

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