Much has been written about the legacy of Friends and how, viewed in hindsight, it was problematic in how it depicted and distrusted homosexuality in particular. Remember the episodes where Ross rejected the male nanny and tried to dissuade his young son from playing with dolls? When Chandler agonised over how he would be seen if he wore Joey's ostentatious gold gift, and his possession of what was discussed repeatedly as 'a quality'? Or when Joey was mocked endlessly for carrying what was actually a very elegant bag? Or the One Where Ross photoshopped Chandler into gay pornography as a prank? There are actually far, far too many examples to discuss here. But these many, many examples seem all the more strange when you discover that, on some level, the writers were open to the idea that Joey himself was gay.
Bear with us. We know it seems unlikely that Joey Tribbiani, the most womanising man in the group, was quietly nursing homosexual desires. We know that Chandler seemed the more stereotypical, cliched candidate thanks to his aforementioned 'quality', or that Ross's explicit homophobia could in fact shield unconscious desires. But it's true: Joey was the one who the writers explicitly referred to as gay in one episode, before deleting it in the final draft.
This occurred in The One With Ross's Wedding, when most of the friends flew to London to see Ross marry Emily. Phoebe, however, stayed home. She was in the third trimester of her pregnancy, after all. Rachel stayed to look after her, and to work, but she realised suddenly that this was not the true reason. Rather, she realised that she was still in love with Ross, and that going to his wedding would be too painful.
'Phoebe,' she insisted at first. 'I'm going to Ross's wedding because he is my ex-boyfriend and that would be really uncomfortable. Not because I'm still in love with him. I mean, hey, y'know, I like Ross as much as the next guy, y'know? Clearly I have feelings for him, but feelings don't mean love. I mean, I still have loving feelings for Ross. Yeah! I have continuing feelings of love, but that doesn't mean that I'm still in love with him. I have sexual feelings for him, but I do love him. Oh! Oh my God! Why didn't you tell me?' Phoebe is shocked. 'We thought you knew!' 'We?! Rachel asks, incredulous. 'Yeah, we all know! We talk about it all the time... It's so obvious! God, that would be like telling Monica, "Hey, you like things clean."'
That's as far as Phoebe goes in the scene that we have all seen. But the original script - published in the tie-in book which printed the entire original script, gave Phoebe an addition: 'Or, "Hey, Joey, you're gay."'
Weird, right? We know that this statement doesn't mean that the writers planned then abandoned a storyline where Joey truly does put women behind him and comes out as gay. But the joke, at the very least, shows that Phoebe - the most insightful of the six when you think about it - thought that Joey's amorous exploits was clearly be a subliminal smoke shield hiding his true self.
The fact that the writers deleted the joke naturally means that they decided that the joke was inconsistent, inappropriate or just not funny enough to keep. But we like the idea that somewhere, in an alternate universe, Joey and his loving husband are raising their two young sons, Chick and Duck.