I grew up in a household with only three television channels, one of which was French. Daytime drama pickings were slim. You could watch Coronation Street (a solid choice for those who liked listening to British accents), you could watch Another World, or you could watch All My Children. Our family watched Another World. I only had a vague awareness of All My Children in the background of my life. If you’d asked me back in the day, I probably could have only named one character. She was played by Susan Lucci, and her name was Erica Kane.
As the nineties wore on, and my inner gayness started perking up its ears, I subconsciously sought out gay storylines on TV. It was a semi-ideal time for that. Sure, we still had advisory warnings on episodes with meaningful same-sex eye contact. We still had the camera panning away from Matt’s kiss on a particularly daring Melrose Place. But things were in motion, and there was no going back.
With Another World cancelled in 1999, and with Days of Our Lives failing to hold my interest (one can only watch Stefano lock Marlena up so many times), my soul was left wanting for its familiar sudsy goodness. What a perfect time for All My Children to introduce a lesbian character!
They didn’t do it halfway. They didn’t bring in a new character to teach the everyday players a Very Important Lesson About Tolerance. No, they went another way entirely. They brought a character named Bianca Montgomery back to Pine Valley. This character was already well known to fans of the show, and beloved. She was the sweet and innocent teenage offspring of the show’s most popular character. She was Erica Kane’s daughter.
One of Erica Kane’s best known traits was her love of men. By this point in the series, she had been married upwards of ten times (albeit not to ten different men). She was a rich and powerful and glamorous woman. She was also somewhat of a controlling parent, wanting her children to reflect the perfectionist image she strove to embody everyday. The absolute last thing she needed was a lesbian daughter.
I didn’t glom onto the show entirely at first. It was hard to dive in without knowing any of the characters or their dynamics or pasts. I watched with detached curiosity as Bianca confided in her friend about her fear at coming out to her mother. I caught episodes here and there. Soaps draw everything out painfully slowly, so you can tune in a few times a month and follow more easily than you might expect. At any rate, I did catch the scene where Bianca finally came clean to her mom about being gay.
It didn’t go well.
What followed was the long, drawn-out process of Erica trying to come to terms with her daughter’s sexuality. Gay people weren’t a complete mystery to Erica, as she had plenty of gay associates and employees in her fashion company. But somehow this was different. She did not want her daughter to be gay, and she made that known.
It got better over time, but slowly, and not without bumps. One of those bumps was a girl named Frankie. Frankie was a rough-around-the-edges teenager that Erica accidentally hit with her car one night. When questioned, Erica swore up and down that Frankie had jumped out in front of the car on purpose. Frankie denied this, and most people felt inclined to side with the girl in the hospital bed.
It wasn’t long before Bianca encountered this supposed con artist. They met for the first time in Frankie’s hospital room. I picked up on a vibe instantly, and I hoped against hope that they were going to take this storyline where I wanted them to.
They did. Bianca befriended Frankie, and the two spent endless time together. It became obvious that Bianca felt an attraction for Frankie, and (although she wasn’t making any declarations about her own sexuality) it seemed like Frankie had similar feelings. The two grew closer, had deep conversations, painted each others’ nails, made eyelash wishes. One day, they kissed. Some time after that, they spent a nondescript night together. We saw a drunk and crying Frankie sobbing and hugging Bianca after dark, and we saw the two having a serious talk the next morning. It was never explicitly stated how far they had gone with each other, but I had my suspicions.
(This was still 2001, after all. It would be years before we would get satisfying, straightforward lesbian storytelling. We had to settle for heavy-handed hinting and longing glances.)
Back then, in 2001, these girls are in the beginning stages of a passionate love affair. Bianca is on cloud nine at having finally found a girl who loves her back. And Erica is not at all happy at this turn of events. Bianca sees this as an unwillingness to accept her sexual orientation, but Erica insists that she simply doesn’t trust THIS girl, who is clearly a con artist, and who is only pretending to love Bianca because she has some self-serving end game in mind. Mother and daughter will never agree on this.
Little do I (nor myriad lezzie shippers) know, the Frankie character is only a means to an end for a bigger plot point. She gets murdered, and my heart breaks alongside Bianca’s. Why on earth did I start watching this stupid show?
This isn’t the end for Bianca and women. She remains on the show for years, having plenty of typical lesbian experiences. She falls, hard, for a heterosexual friend (who also happens to be Frankie’s previously unmentioned twin sister) who doesn’t return her feelings. She eventually moves on and starts seeing a beautiful Polish woman named Lena. Just as she’s settling into that loving, adult relationship, her hetero friend (Maggie) reveals confusing feelings of attraction for her. Bianca stays loyal to Lena, but her feelings on the matter are complicated. Maggie, on the other hand, feels lost and lonely, which resonates with me big time.
But it’s still a soap opera, which makes it impossible for me to resonate with all of it. On the Fourth of July, Bianca gives her girlfriend a kiss, heads home with a smile on her face and a song in her heart, and gets raped. The rape results in pregnancy, and a trip to an abortion clinic, where Bianca ultimately decides to keep the baby. She conceals her pregnancy from her loved ones, out of fear that they won’t understand her choice.
She gives birth in a cabin in the middle of a colossal rainstorm. Her close friend, who also happens to be just about the same amount pregnant, also gives birth in the storm. After a series of misunderstandings and deliberate deceptions, Bianca’s baby gets given to the other woman, and Bianca is told that her baby has died. She grieves for months, and on the day she finally discovers the truth about her baby, she gets pushed off a balcony and ends up in a coma. (Soaps!) She wakes up on Christmas Day, her baby placed in her arms at last.
As so often happens on soap operas, Bianca’s story drones on and on until it stops being interesting. The character gets a lovely send-off, riding into the sunset with Maggie to start a life together in Paris. But rather than leave that happy ending intact, the show eventually brings her back, via the unfortunate plot device of Maggie having cheated on her. She falls in love with a trans woman named Zoe, but that relationship goes nowhere. (Zoe was more or less a PSA that lifted out of the show pretty easily.) Bianca then falls in love with a woman named Reese whom she ultimately marries in daytime’s first ever same-sex wedding, but that relationship goes south as well (due to Reese kissing a dude right before the wedding).
By the time Bianca starts seeing a woman named Marissa, the actress has been recast and I have long since stopped tuning in. So it goes. Lesbians can bore us as well as any other characters. But it’s worth noting that, from the moment she was reintroduced onto the show as a teenage lesbian, Bianca was a main character. She was given the luxury of complex thoughts and feelings. She was allowed to have romantic relationships. She was allowed to express sexual interest in women. She could be seen kissing them, and caressing them, and waking up in bed with them.
Don’t get me wrong; it wasn’t perfect. Even in the later years, Bianca’s love scenes were always noticeably tamer than those of her heterosexual cast mates. She didn’t even get an onscreen kiss until she started dating Lena, while elsewhere the show was littered with hot & heavy (hetero) sex scenes. The rape plot line also raised a few eyebrows. It was well acted, and done about as tactfully as a soap opera can manage, but viewers couldn’t help but wonder if it was a ploy to delay (or all together avoid) showing physical intimacy between Bianca and her girlfriend.
Taking the genre as it is and allowing for its innate flaws, the only real criticism I would make about Bianca Montgomery as a character was that she was portrayed as too perfect. She was a goody two shoes to the core. They had to do that back then, I think. When gay characters first made it onto the airwaves, they had to be flawless so as not to send the message that gay people were bad. It went too far the other way, portraying them as less flawed than the typical human. But the Bianca effort was a solid one. She was connected to major characters, she was on TV for years, and she got major storylines. Plus, they didn’t kill her!
They made her kind and sweet and funny and relatable because they wanted us to love her. And it paid off. I mean, her infant daughter got stolen from her and handed off (in error) to a hetero couple, and fans everywhere desperately wanted that baby back in Bianca’s arms. Her lesbianism was a non-issue.
Not bad for a soap opera, right?