As much attention as Glee has gotten lately for its portrayal of gay teens on television, I wasn’t so convinced. It’s great that there’s a main character on a TV show for gay and questioning youth (and everyone else) to see. It’s even better, and more encouraging, that the reponse to gay teens in primetime has been largely positive. Maybe the flood gates will open, and we’ll start seeing a more inclusive depiction of sexuality across the board. Maybe a high schooler somewhere in the middle of the country will think twice about picking on a classmate for being different. Maybe a kid will see the show and get the courage to come out to his parents. Maybe his parents will have a better idea (or some idea at all) how to support their kid.
And that’s great, but it still felt “¦ I don’t want to say disingenuous, but something was definitely off. While we watched Kurt come out to his dad, deal with a violent bully at school, and nurse a crush on his new friend, cheerleader besties Brittany and Santana’s relationship seemed to be played for laughs and titillation alone. First, the fact that they were more than friends was alluded to, and eventually they were shown in bed together, but there was still a sense of sex as performance art. Santana offered to make out with Brittany while Finn watched and every time the girls were flirtatious with each other in public, there was always this sense of a wink and a nudge and look, two girls together, isn’t this hot? Look, they share gum and smack each other on the butt, and they’re even wearing cheerleader uniforms!
Women’s bodies, and women’s sexuality, have been a vehicle for entertainment for far too long. This is especially true for women of color. No one’s expecting a thirty-minute long comedy to shatter thousands of years of bullshit and myth, but if a show is going to position itself as some kind of arbiter of tolerance (as Glee seems to have done), there’s an expectation that what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. You don’t have to show every single shade of the human experience, but if you’re going to write something in you should at least do it justice. I don’t think that’s asking for too much, even for a musical comedy.
The writers on Glee were definitely not doing the Brittany-Santana relationship (“Brittana” to die-hard fans) justice ““ until this week’s episode, “Sexy.” Santana, initially reluctant to label herself or her relationship with Brittany, tries to get her feelings across in a lovely version of “Landslide.” Later, she finally confesses her love for her best friend in a scene that’s absolutely heart-wrenching. “I just want you,” she says. While the whole I’m-just-a-bitch-to-cover-up-my-true-feelings thing is a little pat, Naya Rivera absolutely sells Santana’s vulnerability and enraged disappointment.
That the storyline wasn’t wrapped up in a neat little bow is just the icing on the cake. The writing on this show definitely leads to more than a few WTF moments (the kids think cucumbers can give you AIDS? The damn guidance counselor thinks a “nooner” is dessert in the middle of the day? Really?). On the other hand, the fact that a romantic friendship between two young women is being given such a sensitive, nuanced ““ and as yet unresolved ““ treatment is reason to take heart. (And in the same episode, we saw the most honest, hilariously awkward, touching father-son sex talk that I think I’ve ever seen.) As silly as the show often is, there aren’t many (or really any) out there willing to take storytelling on television in such, well, new directions. I fully expect more WTF moments, but I still can’t wait to see where Glee goes next.