Alternate Takes on Glee Sexuality

Written by  //  March 11, 2011  //  Media & Popular Culture  //  1 Comment

Unless you’ve been hiding out in a bomb shelter or are too ragingly-heterosexual-male for your own good, chances are you’ve come across the pop cultural blitzkrieg that is Glee.  This is the show where an  earnest schoolteacher rallies a group of misfits and popular kids to come together as the high school’s show choir team, in the face of stiff opposition from a scheming cheerleading coach, better-equipped-and-prepared rival show choir teams, and most fiercely of all, from amongst themselves.

Oh, and they do most of this through song.

I noted last year how Glee had given us what was probably the most well-defined gay character on television, in the form of Kurt, played wonderfully by now Golden Globe winner Chris Colfer. The one point of criticism I did have with his character was how he was always necessarily the sanctimonious little saint, always the victim – and always ran away with the sympathy vote. While it’s great that television was giving us this wholesome gay lead character, some part of this portrayal ultimately rang untrue. What also didn’t quite fly with me were the “sweet lady kisses” that cheerleaders Brittany and Santana would occasionally exchange : the show treated this development with an  annoyingly casual indifference, leaving the struggling viewers to scope out where this part of their sexuality fell within the spectrum of their varied dalliances.

Which is why the second season of Glee in general, and the latest episode featuring a guest-starring Gwyneth Paltrow in particular, has me so kicked. In the middle of a hugely inconsistent string of episodes, the writers have managed to recalibrate these characters in some fascinating ways, instantly making storylines involving their sexuality into the more memorable moments of a show where showstopping musical numbers are thrown at you before every commercial break. So what  is it that the trio of Ryan Murphy, Ian Brennan and Brad Falchuk have done so wisely ?

To start with, Kurt finally gets called out for his victim complex. The road to the character coming to terms with his sexuality was plagued with him taking fault at his (perfectly reasonable) father’s bonding with his straight fellow-Glee clubber Finn. This was further complicated by Kurt’s own coming onto Finn, in a refusal to settle for the understanding that Finn could infact be perfectly heterosexual. Finn’s resultant anger at Kurt was then bluntly categorized as homophobia, without any attempt to negotiate the much finer undercurrents cutting through these relationships. This season, though, not only is Kurt forced to confront his own internalized set of prejudices when it comes to questions of sexuality, he also gets to interact (platonically for now) with the voice-of-reason gay classmate, Blaine.

“Sure, I’m in love with him, but atleast this time he’s gay !”

Also catalyzed by Blaine, Glee gives us what is possibly the best inter-generational discussion on sex I have seen on any medium, as Kurt’s father pushes aside his discomfort on the topic to do the best he can with his son. What results is a surprisingly moving take on this classic pop culture trope :

“You’ve got to know that it means something. It’s doing something to you, to your heart, to your self-esteem, even though it feels like you’re just having fun…. When you’re ready, I want you to be able to do everything, but when you’re ready, I want you to use it as a way to connect to another person. Don’t throw yourself around like you don’t matter. Because you matter, Kurt.”

If that wasn’t enough, look at the wonderful work that was done with Santana’s character on this last Glee episode. The season one finale informed us about Santana and Brittany’s occasional lesbian encounters, introduced as a little side bauble of a joke, to be occasionally brought back at the fringes only for further laughs. And then, without warning, Gwyneth Paltrow makes her second appearance in the Glee-verse and catalyzes a dialogue between the two of them. Cue an achingly beautiful cover of Stevie Nicks’ Landslide, as Santana tearfully implores “time makes you bolder, children get older … and I’m getting older too“. A moment of epiphany follows, and with it, another wonderful, wonderful little conversation as Santana finally opens her heart to Brittany. Again, the writers deftly manoeuvre conflicting ideas of alternate sexuality and love :  Brittany reciprocates Santana’s feelings, but is also tied into a heterosexual relationship that she feels equally strongly about.

There do exist other commendable representations of alternate sexuality on major network shows – Grey’s Anatomy and  Brothers and Sisters to call out 2 prominent ones – but what Glee does with its blazing marriage of music and emotion is something more unique and powerful.

I for one, cannot wait to see where the road to these representations of alternate sexuality takes us.

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