Why Gays Should Have a Problem with "Glee"
Having grown up gay in a conservative household, I set my sights beyond my family to find a solid role model — someone I could turn to for guidance when it came to understanding my sexuality.
I hit the proverbial books in search of a strong TV or film representation of a gay character in popular culture: someone who exhibited a sense of pride and dignity, a character who was something more than just his sexuality. A Harvey Milk of sorts, but without the tragic ending. Someone easily accessible — someone I could find on TV.
I found nothing but critical flaws in every mainstream fictional character I studied. They were all mere caricatures of their sexual identities: Will and Jack from “Will and Grace,” Anthony and Stanford from “Sex and the City,” and Xandir from “Drawn Together.” Compared to their complex, straight counterparts, they fell entirely flat.
When “Glee” premiered last year, it seemed I found a progressive show geared towards teaching kids that ever-important life lesson: it’s okay to be who you are.
But while my inner musical theater nerd was indulged, a larger part of me was offended. As soon as I got to know Kurt, an extreme caricature of a gay teenager, I cringed. Kurt is one of a few adolescent gay characters on television, and perhaps the most popular among tweens and teens. However, every time he does the “Single Ladies” dance or talks endlessly about his skin care regimen I want to fast forward, burning with secondhand embarrassment.
At this point, the show is little more than a politically incorrect “Schoolhouse Rock!,” with each of its misfit characters becoming more stereotypically tied to the archetype he or she was written to portray. Mercedes, a black girl, has grown more ghetto; Tina, the show’s main Asian character, fell for her boyfriend at “Asian camp”; Brittany and Santana, promiscuous cheerleaders, began to experiment with each other’s sexuality out of pure boredom (they already slept with most of the school’s male population). And Kurt, the token gay kid, became increasingly flamboyant.
Kurt dresses in designer clothes, sings iconic gay standards (i.e. “Rose’s Turn” and “Defying Gravity”), and tries out for the football team by stating he’d like to “audition for the role of kicker.”
In light of the recent bullying-induced suicides, the battle over the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, and the overturning of Proposition 8, both closeted and openly gay teens desperately need a strong example of a gay character who can persevere through public scrutiny. Kurt’s character is tricky because it represents an extreme, pushing closeted members of “Glee”’s audience to think the extreme is the norm.
There’s nothing wrong with having a gay character do stereotypically gay things. When those things serve as more than just tiny facets of a whole personality, however, the stereotype is perpetuated.
When Kurt developed a crush on Finn, the show’s straight male ingenue, I couldn’t help but empathize with him. A lot of young gay guys go through this, but it was taken too far. Kurt schemed to win Finn’s affection and only learned his lesson when, in an attempt to spruce up the interior decor of his crush’s bedroom, Finn finally calls him “faggy,” inviting criticism (however crass) upon himself.
Since it has the opportunity, television should provide strong role models for its viewers, and Kurt is a wasted opportunity. Growing up gay is not easy and the last thing closeted kids should get is a cheap, lazy shot at embodying homosexual identity.