Memory Lane

The gays are fondly recalling this Family Guy character’s gay era

The year was 2009. The show Family Guy was in its 7th season, and whether audiences wanted it or not, they were about to be treated to an almost unthinkable pivot: Peter Griffin’s gay arc.

In the 8th episode of the season, titled “Family Gay,” we got a glimpse of just how gay life was seen in the bleak era of TV when we depended on Modern Family and Glee to give us our queer representation.

Starting with a timely Dragon’s Lair joke (the Don Bluth game that ate a million quarters back in the day thanks to its nearly-unwinnable gameplay), the show launches quickly into a scenario in which Peter, the Griffin patriarch, enters a medical trial and develops gaynesia. You’ve heard of it—it’s exactly like amnesia except instead of experiencing trauma and losing your short-term memory as a result, you wake up gay. It’s happened to Matt Berry in Toast of London, and it also happened to Peter Griffin.

Basically, after Peter Griffin makes an impulse purchase of a brain-damaged horse who causes chaos at the track, he winds up so in debt that he needs to take on a second job. At least, that’s the plan, until he hears about a paid study that promises to “isolate genes” and study them.

As soon as we arrive, the doctor starts experimenting. Holding a syringe full of what he describes as “the gay gene,” he explains that “if we’re correct, we will have successfully proven that homosexuality is genetic, and not a matter of choice or environment.”

Seems pretty forward-thinking for 2009 so far…but just wait.

“Are you crazy!” Peter interjects. “I don’t want to take a chance on being gay!” The doctor notes that he’ll be paid $125, and Peter’s worries are instantly dispelled.

From there on, we get a long parade of sassy gay outfits, as well as a total personality change in Peter.

Not only do we get this incredible neck scarf, we get this gold earring-and-patterned shirt combo that shows up right after Peter starts talking about how he wishes he were Beyoncé. (Remember: this is 2009, the time when media thought that being gay and being trans were exactly the same thing.)

Everything is going fine, and the family overall seems to appreciate Peter’s transformation from an obnoxious straight man to a fashionable gay who bakes muffins. Except for Stewie, the actual gay/closeted character in Family Guy, who out of nowhere starts spouting anti-Prop 8 talking points.

Not only is the episode a daring (for the time), if deeply-dated send-up of gay stereotypes, it shows us how much better Peter would be as a father, husband, and friend if he had a gay sensibility. Not only does becoming gay make Peter a better dresser, it makes him a better person overall: call it the Mrs. Doubtfire effect. After receiving the “gay gene,” Peter basically turns into Tom Hollander’s version of Truman Capote. He’s a giggly, gossipy queen who everyone loves and who’s never without a b*tchy quip. But Lois, worried that Peter will be “treated differently” now that he’s queer, starts to have second thoughts. Especially after Peter comes home with a hot boyfriend.

“I am Peter Griffin, homosexual!” Peter proclaims, while wearing a lime-green button-down. A few scenes later, we’ll see him simultaneously watching The Sound of Music while reading VC Andrews’ campy potboiler “Flowers in the Attic.” Because that’s what Seth McFarlane thinks gay culture is? I mean, he’s not far off.

This fun reading sesh is interrupted by Stewie and Brian (the dog) kidnapping Peter and sending him to a conversion camp. It goes about as disastrously as you could imagine, and more importantly, it doesn’t work. Peter remains as gay as blazes.

But sadly for Family Guy viewers, Peter Griffin, homosexual, was too pure for this world and had to be brought back down to Earth. After we learn from the doctor who administered the gay gene shot that it wears off after 2 1/2 weeks, we already know what’s coming. Peter reverts to heterosexuality in the middle of an 11-some, and runs away screaming to find himself in the middle of a very gay play party.

Radical it’s not. Funny it’s not. Is it entertaining? Barely. This is Family Guy we’re talking about. But is it accidentally iconic? Yes it is.

And for everyone wondering whether or not Peter’s queerness is ever revisited in the series, I invite you to peruse this thread, which posits that the entire Family Guy cast is bisexual. And honestly, they are not wrong!

Stay tuned for next week, when we’ll be discussing the time Homer gets “the surgery.”

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