Originally posted on the Washington Blade, September 30, 2009.
What’s not to like about the television series "Glee"? It seems like a lot of people like the show, especially Twitterati who tweet approval during the telecast or later, as they view it online or in Hulu. The morning after this week’s episode, "Glee" was a top ten trending topic in Twitter. And why not?
Fox touts their new offering as “a new comedy for the aspiring underdog in all of us.” It tells the story of an overly optimistic and naive teacher, Will Schuester, who tries to save a high school’s glee club from extinction and in the process, rekindles his own dreams and lifts up the usual misfits – the nerd, the gay, the goth, the overweight, the disabled. Along the way to redemption, he and the kids face hurdles set up by the scheming cheerleading coach and Mr. Schuester’s own aspirational wife.
Glee’s got it all: hit songs, dance, laughs, intrigue and gays.
And there’s the rub. The gay protagonist, Kurt, is effeminate and quick at the retort: “A soprano who hits a high note in fashion,” according to the program’s Web page. In other words, a stereotype. The other gay character, the former glee club moderator, is also straight out of a mold: a bald headed, middle aged man dressed in preppy pastels and fired for inappropriate behavior with a boy. Both are default media images of the homosexual male. Although the cheerleading coach is not outed (yet), she is aggressive and abrasive and a phys ed teacher. Flamboyant. Old and lecherous. Butch and rude. These characters are one-dimensional clichés. Depth and substance is reserved for main heterosexual characters.
Although Kurt is endearing, he does not give a real picture of our diversity. In any given school, not all gays are like Kurt. There are those who appear and act just like any other teenager. There are gay overachievers, leaders and yes, athletes and cheerleaders. LGBT youth need to see more than the hackneyed “role models.” They have to realize that being gay does not mean having to be fey and fashion forward, or that being lesbian means acting masculine and not caring for skirts. We need to let them know that in this day and age, they can rest in being themselves.
A gentleman I follow on Twitter also points out another issue: “Glee puts a gloss on high-school homophobia.” He was reacting to the relative ease by which Kurt joins the football team to prove to his dad that he is not gay. Indeed, the over-the-top, unitard and headband-clad boy is treated with kid gloves by the football players and for that matter, the rest of the fictitious youth of McKinley High. The ugly truth is that in the real world, Kurt would have most likely been bullied mercilessly, possibly beaten and conceivably driven to suicide.
However, "Glee" is a television show, and meant to be an escape. I doubt its creators ever intended it to be a documentary showcasing the joys and angst of teen life, gay or straight.
Although I still object to LGBT stereotypes propagated by the show and wish that more writers and producers would look around them, their families and communities for inspiration and material, I applaud the show's inclusion of gay characters and themes.
It gives us more visibility and underscores the fact that we are part of society with a rightful place in it. One of its main characters is played by Jane Lynch, an out and proud lesbian. The more people get to know us and get used to us, the more they will realize that we are not that different.
"Glee" also promotes the positive treatment of LGBT people. Although it's be expected that girls would like Kurt and run around with him, it is refreshing to see the popular jock befriending the gay boy. In a way, the show reflects the changing dynamics among today’s youth. More and more teens see LGBT peers as they would any other. But there is still a long way to go, and shows like this one can only help change minds and hearts.
Finally, the show documents the fear, loneliness and pain felt by Kurt - how he has to deny who he is out of fear of rejection. He defensively utters, “I’m not gay!” as many of us have way too often. In the last episode, Glee offered catharsis and hope to many of us, young and old, when the boy finally admits to his father that he is gay. Who didn’t tear up when his dad said it was okay and that he loved him? Who didn’t smile at the thought that it can only get better?
You can follow Erwin on Twitter: @ErwindeLeon.