10 Times “The Facts of Life” was Really Gay

Every queer lady who was around and questioning life in the early 1980s can probably sing this song for you:

You take the good, you take the bad,
You take them both and there you have
The facts of life!

And when the news broke that someone was consideringFacts of Life reboot, a whole group of middle-aged queers shouted “Make Jo and Blair a couple!!”

For everyone else out there, it was a great big mystery to what on earth has us all so excited. After all, it’s yet another reboot, based on a spinoff of Diff’rent Strokes (yes with Gary Coleman), that takes place in an all girls boarding school in upper New York State. It sounds positively generic, and ‘kids in school’ has been done to death.

Heck, we were just on LezHangOut to talk about this!

My dear queers, let me help explain the passion our generation has with this silly little show.

The Setting

The Facts of Life takes place, as I said, in a boarding school. Eastland Academy is based in Peekskill, New York. This is, by the way, a real town in upstate New York (along the Hudson River), and there are many boarding school setups like this in the area. In the 1980s, it was still relatively common for well-off or upwardly mobile families to send their children off to school as young as 11. Basically 7th grade and on.

In this world, we originally have a boarding house where a group of girls all live, monitored by a house mother, Mrs. Edna Garrett. Girls of all ages live in the same house, sharing space an interacting, dealing with life and boys and peer pressure. The first season concentrated on seven girls and three adults.

But if you ask the queers, it really starts in season two when we meet Jo.

Jo Polniaczek

In season two, we meet the new scholarship student, Polish, Bronx born, Jo. She arrives dressed head to toe in denim, and is straight away confused for a boy:

Seriously, why does Jo have tape hanging off her belt?

In no short order we find out Jo doesn’t want to be at school, but was sent there because her single mother thought she was getting too serious with her first boyfriend, Eddie (who at 17 was in the Navy already). Jo has the highest grades on the entrance exam (her 98 beats Blair’s 96) and she’s very much not en vogue with the rest of the students.

Blair Warner

By contrast to Jo, we have rich, blonde, Blair. Blair is smart, though she lacks common sense from time to time, and she’s absolutely stuck up on appearances. Her mother has been married three times, and Blair is the heiress to Warner Textiles. She’s incredibly proud of who she is (rich) and quite ignorant about everything else. Like cooking.

She’s never cooked a day in her life. 

This is not to say her life is perfect. Blair has lived through her mother’s multiple marriages and divorces, and doesn’t see her father (any of them) all that much. Plus her favourite grandfather (Judge Carlton Blair) was a member and supporter of the KKK.

Ten Times They Were Really Gay

From day one, Jo and Blair were at each other’s throats. They bickered, they fought, they argued, but they also had each other’s backs. They believed each other always when it came to boys, though not always other things. They gave each other hell, but fought against anyone else who did it. 

These top moments are from their high school days. There were many more, and if you check out our Twitter feed, you’ll see some that didn’t make the cut.

When they meet

After that ‘delivery boy’ confusion, 

Blair and Jo introduce themselves. Jo gets grease on Blair's hand, and harasses her about being a prima donna.
Classic Enemies to Friends

Naturally Jo, who has a boyfriend, asks where the boys in town are at, makes Blair a fake ID, and they go to a bar. Of course, this ends up with the school van (which Jo hot-wired) getting destroyed, and now the girls have to live together. Oh gosh.

There’s a brief moment while they’re in jail together, and Jo comes to Blair’s protection.

Eastland is the new black?

And they weren’t even friends yet.

Fighting Over Boys

In episode 3, season 2, Jo gets asked to a cotillion by a boy Blair likes: Harrison. When confronted by Blair (via proxy Mrs. Garrett), Jo immediately offers to back down in respect of Blair’s turf:

Respect!

But Harrison turns out to be a heel and only wants to take Jo there to get laid. Jo socks him one (off camera) and high tails it home, confiding in Mrs. G. While she’s been gone, Blair has naturally been trying on Jo’s clothes, hoping to see what attracts men to her nemesis. 

Blair: I know I'm perfect. But sometimes people need a break from perfection.
Blair is perfect

When Harrison comes back, he’s confronted by Tootie and Natalie (who want to know where Jo is) and then Blair (who wants to see if her new look entices the heel). Only Blair finds out exactly what a creep Harrison is, and wants to deck him.

Of course you know what you’re talking about. 

Lord help any Mister who comes between these two!

The Breakup

Around the middle of season 3, the girls finally pay off the damages to the school van. This results in everyone getting new roommates and living in the normal dorms. Of course, they all miss each other, but no one wants to say it. Least of all Blair who wants to know how everyone is getting on. Mrs. G. knows the truth.

Mrs. G. is a total meddler. 

But when they have to clean up the old room and repaint it, shenanigans ensue. Jo ‘accidentally’ puts a paint tray down and Blair sits in it. Blair paints Jo’s face and then…

The epic fight. 

The part that gets me is the immediate moment of panic Blair clearly has when she thinks she hurt Jo.

When Jo doesn’t get the job

While Blair is dealing with her mother’s breast cancer scare, she still has time to be Jo’s friend. After Jo doesn’t get the job she wants at the bike shop, Blair offers some sage advice.

Those high waisted pants are pretty wrong… 

Good enough for Jo indeed.

Jo Doesn’t Want to Eat with Boys

One of Blair’s brilliant ideas was to have a box dinner plus date with the girls sold for charity, to raise money for starving people. That sounds lovely, right? Really Blair was using it to get a date with a new boy. While Jo is dragged into the mix, she makes an intentionally terrible box meal (in an oil filter box).

No dinner with anyone, thank you. 

When a boy actually bids on it, Jo ponies up $5 to shut him up and be left the hell alone.

Jo’s Cousin

Speaking of Jo, her cousin Terry is two years younger and two tons more butch than Jo. She’s adorable, raised by a widower father and two older brothers, and asks the only girl she knows for help girling it up. Jo. Who is not prepared. So she calls her ace in the hole.

An expert who is always available for her Jo. 

Yet another example of Blair and Jo leaping to help each other. And I can’t possibly explain the way Blair answered the phone. Sadly the episode ends with Terry’s family not being okay with the new girl her, and there’s a lot of misogynistic garbage.

Blair Saves Jo

In the fourth season, the show opens with the rude news that trickle down economics has caused a pinch, and Jo’s scholarship will cease to exist. After running herself ragged and trying everything she can, there’s only one option. The Warner Family Scholarship. Naturally Jo doesn’t apply, but just when she gives up hope, she finds out she won it. Immediately Jo thanks Mrs. Garrett, but it wasn’t she who submitted the application.

It was Blair.

Blair doesn’t care about pride? Since when?

That look at the end is just so sweet.

Blair’s Abusive Boyfriend

No, he didn’t hit her. He was emotionally abusive, strung Blair along, cheated on her, and more. After he ditches her at a dance, he ‘apologizes’ by telling her there might be room in his car for a ski trip up to Vermont, but she has to call him back by 7 the next morning. Everyone tries to help her go the 16 hours without calling Chad, by any means possible. Which led to Jo doing this for Blair:

Can you believe Jo let that happen? 

But their plans didn’t really work, as Blair couldn’t sleep that night and thought about calling him. Of course Jo got up and caught her, and the two had a heart to heart. Blair finally confesses she liked that he didn’t think she was perfect.

Would Chad have stayed up all night with you? 

The two end up spending the night on the couch until 7:22am, and they celebrate Blair not calling Chad. Only for Chad to call and invite her along. Blair finally realizes she doesn’t want to go. When Jo offers to tell Chad no, Blair takes the phone and hangs it up for herself.

Jo wants to be a nun

Jo is about to go down to Yale for her first ‘college weekend’ with a boy and has put on a skirt to do so.

She looks great in jeans, though. 

But the mess starts when Blair’s step-sister Meg (played by the Brady Bunch‘s fake Jan) comes to visit, and reveals she’s joining a convent. Due to travel shenanigans, Meg drives Jo to Yale, and when her boyfriend has the mumps, Jo decides to spend the weekend with Meg. At a retreat.

Way to hide your feelings there, Blair.

Worst of all, Jo decides she’s going to be a nun herself. Which leads to Blair goading Jo.

Blair goads Jo, asking her to prove god exists with a sign. Jo responds with a right hook to Blair's face.
Jo has a mean right hook…

Interestingly, not even Tootie breaking Jo’s things got a rise out of her. But Blair? In the end, Meg talks Jo out of being a nun (thank God), and Blair accepts Meg being a nun. 

If you didn’t know this was about religion…

Even in context, it’s incredibly gay.

Graduation

Over graduation, the girls have to deal with their parents. Jo’s father is trying to pamper her mother to say thank you for single-mom raising Jo. Blair’s mother is pissed off her father blew off Blair’s graduation for work. When they calm their parents down, Jo has a small panic attack mere minutes before her valedictorian speech.

When Blair gives her a little reminder of the content, Jo remembers it’s about the people who support you, who help you, and who love you. Like Blair.

Friendship and love.

I know they did the pink colour for all the flashbacks, but come on. Really?

What about you, fellow kids? What were your favourite Jo and Blair moments from Eastland Academy for Girls?

About Mika A. Epstein

Mika has been deep in fandom since she could say 'Trekkie.' With decades experience in running fansites, developing software, and organizing communities, she's taken on the challenge of delving into the recesses of television for queers long forgotten. Making this site with Tracy is nothing short of serendipity. Mika lives with her wife and their cats in Southern California. Of course she has a hybrid, but she'd rather ride her bicycle.

4 thoughts on “10 Times “The Facts of Life” was Really Gay

  • LOVED the podcast and the article. I always forget JUST HOW non-gay-but-really-gay that show was. Also, if you want to know where the fanfic is- it’s on http://www.ralst.com (they have a huge section for just FOL fic.)

  • The episode where Jo borrows Blair’s watch and returns it broken and doesn’t think it’s a big deal. Jo’s thinking is that Blair has plenty of watches. Blair takes Jo to court. Blair is is so hurt by Jo not respecting her. After they process their feelings in the courtroom they go for coffee. A wlw relationship in 21 minutes.

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