01.13.09

The Gays Go All the Way in Daytime

Without any warning or drama, As the World Turns took an unexpected turn this week and went where no soap opera—and few primetime shows—has dared: showing two post-coital men.

As the World Turns took an unexpected turn this week and went where no soap opera—and few primetime shows—has dared: showing two post-coital men.

On June 1, 2007, the character of Noah Mayer made his first appearance on As the World Turns, the daytime drama that has aired daily since 1956. He was a military brat turned heartthrob, who quickly hooked up with a fellow intern at the local television station. She fell for him—and so did her openly gay best friend, Luke Snyder.

It took a while for Noah (played by Jake Silberman) to admit his own attraction to Luke (Van Hansis), who had come out the previous summer. On August 17, 2007, Noah and Luke shared a groundbreaking kiss—the first gay male kiss in the history of American daytime dramas. Overnight, the clip went viral.

This Christmas, Noah presented Luke with a watch that was engraved, "Worth the wait."

Since that fateful exchange of spit, the characters have naturally faced countless obstacles. At first, their mutual friend was caught in the crossfire of Noah's sexual identity crisis. Noah had to come out to his homophobic father, who (after killing his wife) soon conned Luke and Noah on a fishing trip where he shot Luke, paralyzing him from the waist down. But since this is daytime, where characters are known to have seven lives, it wasn't a surprise when Luke walked again thanks to the devotion and optimism of Noah's steadfast support. Even more twisted: Noah briefly married an Iraqi refugee to keep her in the country after she claimed his father saved her family. Luke and Noah stole kisses but fear of being discovered by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency drove their otherwise openly gay rapport back into the 1950s.

As the months wore on, the sexual tension between Luke and Noah (affectionately dubbed Nuke and Loah) grew. They kissed increasingly frequently and with decreasingly little fanfare from blogs, but they never went all the way. They did talk about sex—and what their first time would be like—but it never came anywhere near their horizon. Like everything in their relationship, intimacy was shown through incredibly compelling dialogue.

The inseparable pair talked about everything. Their feelings were always expressed (thanks in large part to head writer Jean Passanante, who happens to be responsible for two other gay characters in soap history) if not physically acted on.

Luke and Noah's dynamic escalated on New Year's Eve, when the night finally seemed right. Except for one elephant in the room: Luke's step-grandfather, who had kissed him during Thanksgiving. To make a convoluted story short, Luke got drunk (not a good thing when you've had a kidney transplant, too) after seeing Noah console his ex-girlfriend, and then he kissed his step-grandfather. Of course, Noah was a witness and threw a punch to protect "his love." When Luke confessed to initiating the kiss, Noah walked out, leaving Luke alone to read a note written from Noah, which was meant to be read the next morning, when they would have been together in bed.

For fans, it appeared, as usual, as if Luke and Noah had gone a few steps forward and many more steps back. Sure, they would recover over time. Like most soap "supercouples," they were meant to be. I was prepared for the long haul of relationship rebuilding.

It's difficult to explain to non-viewers how earnest and well-drawn Luke and Noah's relationship is. It was a task I felt ready to tackle after mildly (okay, very) obsessively watching the program (and getting hooked on the other plot lines in the process) for nearly two years now.

This weekend, I intended this article to be called "Why Daytime's Main Gays Should Abstain." It was going to be an attempt to explain how this couple is revolutionizing the portrayal of gays on television. They have had their share of media attention—beginning with their first kiss, a conservative outcry, and including a brief write-up in the New York Times—but nothing seemed to get at the heart of the matter.

For me at least, what makes Luke and Noah unique in television—and especially daytime—is that by not jumping in bed together, they're defying a classic gay stereotype. Indeed, many critics and gay bloggers accused As the World Turns (and Proctor and Gamble's production company) of having a double standard, since straight characters are routinely promiscuous.

In my view, the writers were holding the characters to a higher standard that should be applauded.

Who needs to see them shirtless between the sheets and read between the lines? As the World Turns is not The L Word or Queer as Folk. And for all its cliché, it's not as stereotypical as Will & Grace or Sex and the City when it comes to gay characters. Nor is it Brokeback Mountain.

As the World Turns seemed removed from that pressure—and in on the joke. This Christmas, for instance, Noah presented Luke with a watch that was engraved, "Worth the wait."

When I ran into stars of the show around New York City, I'd congratulate them for subtly making a difference. It seems as though more than gay-targeted programs, daytime shows have a special accessibility that allows them to win over hearts and minds. And they were (mostly) doing it via hearts and minds, not exposed nipples and wet chests.

Their epic relationship has lasted over a year. If that's forever in daytime (especially considering their collegiate age), it's an eternity in gay years—and, let's face it, that's a really long time to wait.

There is something to be said about a couple that shows its true colors (yes, Cyndi Lauper had a guest-spot during Pride Week) by their commitment, tenderness, sincerity, and loyalty in the face of so many odds, not because they wanted to get it on.

The more I watched As the World Turns, the less I actually wanted them to have sex.

So it came as a quite a shock, when on Monday's episode they rekindled their broken union by...having sex.

Without any warning or hysterics, the show took that unexpected turn and went where no daytime drama—and few primetime shows—has dared: Luke and Noah were shown post-coital, sheets ruffled.

And you know the best part? The person responsible for getting them back together after the fallout from Luke kissing his step-grandfather was his grandmother, the show's matriarch (played by Elizabeth Hubbard for the past 25 years), who was also the most understanding when Luke first came out.

So not only is this not your grandmother's soap, leave it to the grandmother-who-unwittingly-played-a-beard to get the boys back together.

She even delights in sharing their post-sex ice cream sundae.

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Henry Seltzer is a homepage editor for The Daily Beast. He previously worked at UsMagazine.com and The Huffington Post and filed for Gawker and Wonkette.