Steven Carrington’s Legacy

The two Steven Carringtons played by Al Corley and Jack Coleman.

The two Steven Carringtons played by Al Corley and Jack Coleman.

I decided to watch the first episode of 1981’s Dynasty on Amazon Prime to see if it held up after all these years. Full disclosure: I used to watch Dynasty with my parents and my sister Nancy all the time, then when I was back in college full-time, I attended weekly Dynasty parties where we’d drink cheap champagne and howl over the camp aesthetic of the show. I remember being thrilled that Steven Carrington was a fully realized gay character on a dramatic television show – a first after Billy Crystal’s Jodie on Soap, a comedy. Carrington was played by Al Corley during the first two seasons and then by Jack Coleman for the final six. Corley reprised the role for the 1991 Dynasty Reunion movie.

I forgot what a difference 34 years makes. Steven’s character in the first episode is defiantly his own man, even if he is hesitant to come out to his father, Blake Carrington. Blake already knows and delivers the cruelest line I’ve heard from a fictional television character ever,

Of course. I forgot. The American Psychiatric Association has decided that it’s no longer a disease. That’s too bad; I could have endowed a foundation. The Steven Carrington Institute for the Treatment and Study of Faggotry. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go get married.

Good lord, when I watched that last night I had shivers. Not surprising, it was the beginning of the Reagan years and Blake Carrington represented all we hated about the patriarchy. So actually having a character say those vicious words simply confirmed what we all still felt everyone thought of us deep down inside. My own parents who had hearts of gold and empathy out the wazoo didn’t really come around to me being gay until after I ended my first long-term relationship in 1988. Tolerance first, Acceptance next. It wasn’t until 1990 or so they truly embraced my sexuality as no different from my siblings. But in the meantime they were polite and I was definitely not confused, the polar opposite of Dynasty. Steven vacillated back and forth between men and women like a yo-yo. Why didn’t they just make him bisexual? The ridiculous romantic plot lines are an insult to bisexuals and heart-breaking to watch as a gay man. His relationships with women were stabs in the dark to normalize himself. I fast-forwarded to episode ten of the first season where Steven sleeps with a woman for the first time. He is quietly proud of himself, as I’m sure so many gay people were – thinking they can pass. I’m grateful I never had that sense of self-hatred. Once I figured it out, I was happy and it was other people’s problem if they chose to make it that. I never once wished I was straight. I was thrilled to be gay, even after living through AIDS. But poor Steven see-sawed back and forth through the entire eight seasons. Writer Suzanna Danuta Walters,

Steven—”stalwartly manly and deeply troubled by his homosexuality”—led viewers on a “Hollywood tour of homosexuality” over eight seasons, “from tortured closet case, to ‘cured’ heterosexual husband, and finally to a vague approximation of gay and proud.”[8] She adds that the character’s “persistent attempts to ‘go straight’ and the adamant avoidance of any gay milieu or culture” paint Dynasty as “flawed and compromised,” but acknowledges that the series remains a staple of gay iconography despite its primary gay character being “hardly a role model of self-acceptance and pride.”

A mere ten years later – similar to my family’s eventual embrace, in 1991 Steven’s life and his family’s unconditional love seem finally intact during the Dynasty reunion movie,

By the time of the 1991 miniseries Dynasty: The Reunion, Steven[23] is an environmental lobbyist in Washington, D.C. and is in a long-term relationship with Bart Fallmont, who returned to Denver during the three-year period between the series finale and the miniseries.[7] Steven and Blake finally reconcile when Blake formally accepts Steven and Bart’s committed relationship.

I suppose most of us were more enamored with Krystle and Alexis’s cat fights than we were with Steven’s political incorrectness and self-destructive behavior. The mere fact that an out gay male character was on the show was enough, never mind that he continually tried to turn straight throughout the eight seasons. His unsuccessfulness perhaps cheered us on even more. The 80’s were fraught with chaos – Reagan’s legacy with AIDS is a wound still not healed In fact, HIV and AIDS were never mentioned in the fictionalized world of Dynasty. However Rock Hudson’s appearance during season five caused quite the controversy,

During the season, the series attracted controversy when Rock Hudson’s real-life HIV-positive status was revealed after a romantic storyline between his character Daniel Reece and Evans’ Krystle. Hudson’s scenes required him to kiss Evans and, as news that he had contracted AIDS broke, there was speculation Evans would be at risk. Driven by the new head writer and producer Camille Marchetta, who had devised the wildly-successful “Who Shot J.R.?” scenario on Dallas five years earlier, Dynasty hit #1 that year.[5][7].

And those of us who never grabbed the brass ring during our 80’s ride still don’t understand what was so great about that decade financially? It certainly didn’t make me rich. So why did I tune in each week with my college friends, my family to watch a bunch of privileged white people and their problems? I’m still not so sure, but here I am in 2015 looking forward to the final season of Downton Abbey. Meanwhile Steven Carrington was a trailblazer. He wasn’t a role model. But he was an important step on the road to equality for LGBT characters on television. Bravo to the Shapiros (show writers Richard and Esther) and to Mr. Television himself – Aaron Spelling. I still get goosebumps when I hear the theme music for Dynasty, but after last night realize I am happier keeping that memory locked up tight. Steven Carrington makes me sad, not hopeful, even if his place in television history did indeed lead us to today. I’m grateful and I’m done.

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