Dear Nancy McKeon,
My name is Rhea Butcher. I am a 31 year old lesbian woman living in Los Angeles, who does stand up comedy. You probably don’t know me but you made a huge impact on my life. I grew up in Akron, Ohio. It is a modestly sized city/town that was once known for it’s rubber factories (made popular recently by the rock band The Black Keys) though it never quite recovered from the 70’s-80’s manufacturing recession, into which I was born. These days, it’s mostly known as the town that LeBron James and The Black Keys left. I was an only child and an only child that grew up in the early days of cable, when syndication was just starting to get it’s legs. At age 5, I was already a huge fan of Soap and Three’s Company.
Since I lived in the same house as my grandparents as a kid, we had tons of cable before cable was as ubiquitous it is today. One of my favorite channels was USA, mainly because they played tv shows I’d never heard of before. One of those shows that I IMMEDIATELY fell in love with was your show, “The Facts Of Life”. There were not a lot of tv shows with kids that were about kids but not necessarily educational or where the kids were just there as jokes (Good Times, Punky Brewster, etc). “The Facts Of Life” was mostly about the kids in the situation of the comedy and all of those kids were girls. GIRLS! You had to be kidding me, Ms. McKeon. I was a girl! Or at least, kinda was. I am still mostly on the fence about this, even to this day. Don’t worry, it’s a fun fence.
From the moment your motorbike roared in the distance at Eastland, my life was changed. Your character, “Jo” walked into the all girl academy with a helmet on and an auto garage style body suit. I COULD NOT BELIEVE MY EYES. Blair thought you were a boy. EVERYONE THOUGHT I WAS A BOY. Even me. Being from the “wrong side of the tracks” myself, I loved your grit and rough edges. I also walked like you. I sat like you. You talked like me. You did things like I did! People gave you a hard time for being so brutish, so “tomboyish”; ultimately, people liked you. And they liked you for YOU. Even when you had that crazy blowout in the later seasons.
I later attended an all girl Catholic school for elementary school, which as a lesbian kid, was like being an alcoholic at a wedding with an open bar. It was rough. I was also too small to have a motorbike to arrive on, but later brought many photos of me with my Honda MiniBike to school which I am pretty sure elicited at least 1 out of 10 swoons from other girls at school**. Thanks for the heads up! Work wear goes well with everything.
There has been many a debate as to whether Blair and Jo were in love. Well, despite what ANYONE says, to me, they were. I have not watched Rizzoli & Isles but I have yet to ever see a show depict such a perfect lesbianish-friend-romance-love relationship*. And I’ve watched The L Word. A LOT.
So I write this letter, not to complain but to compliment. I am speaking only for myself but I have talked to a lot of lesbians (especially butch ones like me) whose lives were greatly impacted by your existence on the glowing squares who raised us as gay kids. More than Big Bird, more than Cookie Monster (but maybe not Miss Piggy). You are a lesbian icon from a time where lesbians couldn’t really be on tv or in movies, lest we be so ashamed of our sexuality we kill ourselves, marry a man, or just stay in the closet for the rest of our lives despite being a really high profile actress that has garnered many Oscars and Golden Globes yet refuses to say the word gay on national television***.
Thank you Nancy McKeon, for playing a lesbian kid on tv. Even if you don’t think you did, you did. And I really appreciate it.
And thank you, Jo Polniaczek.
31 year old lesbian woman in Los Angeles
*Orange Is The New Black, but hey, I was trying to make a POINT up there.
**It’s just a Fact Of Life, we’re 10% of the population. For now.
***No one in particular.