I have a confession to make. I’ve been a long-time Gleek, and for most of that time, I was a proud Gleek. But recently I’ve had to reevaluate my opinion, and you’re all very lucky I chose to voice my thoughts here as opposed to in a super obnoxious letter to Ryan Murphy. To explain myself, first I need to cover some background items. Then we’ll get to the heart of my upset.
What I really want to talk about is this somehow not universally laughed at idea that Glee is glamorizing gayness, making it so cool to be gay that it’s getting dangerous. I think we may need to start by talking about the fact that being gay isn’t some kind of turd that the media is desperate to polish. It may not be 100% comfortable, or popular, or nationally accepted, but there is nothing wrong with it. Glee isn’t doing anything that isn’t true; guys, it’s okay to be gay. As Gaga says, baby, we were born this way. Sexual orientation is just as inherent as eye color. But look, whether you come to understand your sexuality when you’re six, fourteen, twenty, forty-six, or ninety-three, anyone who identifies somewhere in the alphabet soup has a whole lot of amazing compatriots. There’s Bayard Rustin, who I guess didn’t always remember his dreams, but was still incredibly influential. There’s Andy Warhol, and if you want to hate the gays, I suggest you take down all that cool pop-art in your guest room right about…now. Also big influences? That girl in your chemistry class who tutored you all last semester. That guy down the hall who let you borrow his phone when you got locked out of your dorm room. Honestly, if Kurt Hummel is gay, if Santana Lopez is gay, then that’s all fine. They are who they are. For the purposes of Glee, did anyone notice Santana’s vocal quality decrease after she told Brittany she loved her? Answer: no. In fact, her version of “Songbird” is just about one of the greatest things I’ve ever heard.
So it’s perfectly fine to be gay, or lesbian, or bisexual, or any orientation or none. It’s great even, because it means people who are out are able to be their true selves, and nothing is better than living an honest life. But how is Glee glamorizing it? What are they doing that makes being gay so appealing? Some say that by having gay characters front and center, and making them sympathetic, it’s subliminal messaging the crap out of viewers, and making them think it might be cool to give being gay a try. Because The Gay is a disease, and, as with all infectious contagions, you can catch it by watching television. Hey, that’s how I got my last sinus infection. Damn you, House. One of the glamorizers in question, Kurt, for example, has become the champion of the masses, by facing bullying and standing up for himself bravely. He refuses to shake in his Alexander McQueen boots, and that kind of statement sticks. In Santana’s case, she suddenly got way nicer once she realized her true feelings for Brittany, and chilled out on being the crazy bitchwad we all knew and hated to love. Her lesbian identity has rounded her out, and made Santana a more multi-dimensional character, something Glee is not known for. Moreover, though, some critics are upset that the gay kids are so damn talented. Kurt is arguably a more musically talented character than Finn, played by the overtly Canadian Cory Monteith. Is this show trying to say that being gay makes you better at stuff? Like, you’re more good at things? Well that’s just not kosher! Grumble, grumble, toil and trouble. Angry viewer is angry. Oh, please.
Look, all the arguments as to how Glee is making LGBT identities too cool for the average school are so easily debunked that it hurts. But they’re missing some obvious things. Guys, Glee isn’t glamorizing gay at all. They’re doing a pretty awful job with their queer characters, actually. First of all, way to pressure everyone to come out. This isn’t a group meeting in Harvey Milk’s basement in 1974; this is a high school in Ohio that we already know is unsafe. Karofsky, for one, is clearly uncomfortable, and his persistent denial is an indication that he’s questioning. There are few things scarier to someone who’s questioning than the open assertion of everyone else around that you’re just plain gay and need to own it. In the prom episode, the audience is intended to be just as upset as Kurt when Karofsky refuses to dance with him, and to agree with Kurt that this was Karofsky’s chance to make a statement. But it’s not that easy. Coming out is extremely personal, it takes time and confidence, and, something that gets left out a lot, you have to come out to yourself before anyone else. If Karofsky isn’t positive he’s gay in the first place, it’s abominable to force him into an orientation and demand that he declare it so publicly, so vulnerably. Shoving someone out of the closet can be as damaging as pushing him in, and if Glee wants to be as gay-friendly as it apparently clamors to be, it needs to be aware of that reality. The same thing is happening to Santana, though on a smaller scale. In her storyline, Brittany gets to be the manipulative one for once; the audience knows that all Santana really wants is Brittany, and that gives the blonde a ton of power. Using it to get what she wants, Brittany has been inching Santana out of the closet little by little all season, telling her it’s no big deal because Santana never actually has to say the word “lesbian”; she can just accept a prom proposal, or wear a shirt, or sing a song in glee club. But no matter how supportive Brittany may think she is, she’s made Santana’s orientation all about her. If Santana really loved her, she says, she would do these things for Brittany. Bitch, it ain’t like that! One person’s sexuality is not another person’s treasure. Not coming out doesn’t mean that Santana doesn‘t have true feelings, but when the audience sees how hurt Brittany is, we’re supposed to be on her team and yell at Santana, too. What kind of glamour is that? If I were Santana, or a young person watching who identified with Santana, I wouldn’t feel like the special one on the show at all. I would feel like my sexual identity had become a spectator sport, and that just isn’t a good feeling.
The next major problem I have is with the last episode of this past season. Hopefully all y’all have already watched it, because I hate being Spoiler Girl. I gave you a solid week and a half, so no excuses, I guess? It had been forever since any episode had really given us a lengthy look at Brittana, and Klaine had been virtually invisible since Kurt transferred back to McKinley High in what was a deceptively triumphant, short-sighted return. So when we finally get to New York, out of stifling Ohio and into fresh, rather gay air, I think a little bit of all us hoped we would see some resolution, or at least more development, of the storylines handling gay relationships on the show. Did we get our wish? Not even a little. The way Glee threw some slapdash scenes in at the end was downright offensive. “Oh, right,” it seemed to say, “the gay ones.”
Glee has taken such pains to convince its audience that the on-again-off-again romances and dizzying formations of Glee-cest are worth agonizing over and keeping track of. When the couples reach major milestones, the show has treated them like special moments in the personal lives of every viewer. Who could forget (without extensive therapy) Tina’s tear-stained rendition of “My Funny Valentine”, lovingly dedicated to Mike Chang? Rachel went to pains outside most school districts’ budgets to show her love for Finn after he broke up with her in the Christmas episode, remember? The heavy “I love you”s and intense triangles have been legendary for Glee. But only among the straight couples. Though Blaine has been an incredible draw for the show, his relationship with Kurt stopped mattering, it seemed, to the producers the moment it began in earnest. Infuriating enough is the fact that despite weeks of trying to convince audiences that Blaine wasn’t necessarily a love interest, that Kurt might just need a mentor, the producers eventually let the only two out gay characters on the show fall right into each others convenient arms. Worse than that, right after their kiss, it started to look like Glee had washed its hands of its gay quota and moved on to some other implausible straight pairing within the group. The New York episode focused almost exclusively on the Finn, Rachel, and Company love polygon, then quietly slipped in what should have been a beautiful moment when the glee club returned home. Toward the end of the episode, we see Kurt and Blaine at the local coffee shop, nursing some lattes like lovers do, chatting excitedly about the complete fail that Nationals had been. After a sweet explanation of why Kurt seems less than bummed about the team’s loss, Blaine gets all doe-eyed and casually murmurs, “I love you.” Cue three or four seconds of sappy music, then a surprised but sincere parroting on Kurt’s part, then oh, boom, they’re interrupted by the important part of the show, Mercedes and Sam barging in and hoping no one notices they’re on a super secret heterosexual date. The straight couple literally overpowers the gay couple, and dominates them despite the fragility of Mercedes’ and Sam’s blooming romance compared to the milestone Blaine and Kurt had just reached. The show comes so close to allowing equal intensity for Kurt and Blaine’s “I love you”s, but just when it gets to the tipping point, they have to straighten up, literally. We’ve all watched Blaine and Kurt grow together, and come into their own as characters and a couple, but every time Blaine makes a statement that furthers their relationship, it’s predicated on something entirely mundane and fabricated. We never see any substance, just declarations that feel empty compared to the elaborate dates Finn takes Rachel on, or the fights he gets into for her. Blaine fell for Kurt in the span of a Beatles song; he says he loves him after a story about loving his trip to New York. Sure they get air time, but how substantial is it? What kind of depth is Glee allowing a gay relationship to have? Really, none.
The cop-out royale that was the season finale’s handling of Brittana was even worse, and came close to ruining the entire series for not only myself, but some friends I’ve spoken (read: ranted) to since the episode aired. Brittany and Santana have been a whirlwind of sexual tension, awkward admissions, and inappropriate responses all season, so it would make sense for their season to end with some kind of actual decision. Maybe a cliffhanger, maybe something physical (you’ll notice there’s still physical intimacy among straight characters who aren’t dating, but we haven’t seen Brittany and Santana get close in months), maybe a deep conversation about where they stand. What the producers seemed to be going for was that last suggestion, a real discussion of their relationship status. But what we got was just pitiful. It was rude, honestly. Brittany comes up to Santana’s locker, they briefly bitch about Nationals, and then Brittany has an uncharacteristically enlightened moment, postulating on the nature of friendships in glee club. Now, what the hell do friendships have to do with Brittany and Santana, you may ask? I applaud this question. Someone on the writing staff should have asked it. Because even though Santana asks Brittany where they stand, all we get is another empty assertion of love, no promise of any real relationship, and then the single worst thing ever. “You’re my best friend,” says Santana, who is painfully in love with this girl, who has displayed feelings for her that are more human than anything Quinn and Finn ever conjured. Best friend? What kind of bullshit is that, Glee? In four simple words, the show went from demonstrating two teenage girls exploring the fluidity of female sexuality and finding their places in that flow, to basically writing it off as experimentation among friends that didn’t really mean anything but was still normal to have happened. “They’re just best friends,” the show says. “Don’t worry.” When Brittany says “anything is possible,” it may seem like she’s giving Santana hope for the two of them, but it’s a safe bet that she was really giving herself an escape clause, and we won’t see a bit of Brittana next season. If anything is possible, Santana could be straight after all. Once you go Trouty Mouth, you’re not allowed to back.
Maybe Glee is glamorizing some aspects of the uncomfortable realities of high school. It allows the nerds to be popular; it allows awkward overachievers to have three boyfriends in as many months; it makes transferring in and out of schools seem like a cake walk on clouds. But when you pay attention, it doesn’t do much of anything for its queer contingent. There is no glamour whatsoever in the constant threat of being outed. There is nothing alluring about having your milestone moments discredited in favor of a budding romance we all know probably won’t last. No viewer is envious of a character’s sexual identity having been a hoax the entire time, an experimentation that ran its course and can just be simple friendship now. Visibility is a great first step, and I do applaud Glee for having as many LGBT characters as it does. But if it wants to really impress me, it’ll have to treat them as outlandishly as it does its straight characters.