Thursday, November 11, 2010

Glee and Gay Bullying

I've already "respectfully criticized" Glee a few times on this blog, although I really do love the show. I finally managed to watch Tuesday's episode tonight (I got a break from lesson planning for one night, oddly enough, because the class is apparently playing games for being "good" this week. They weren't "good.") I pretty much raised my hands to the sky and cried, "Thank you, Jesus!" after watching this episode, though.

This episode centers on Kurt -- the only out of the closet gay kid in his small Ohio school -- and the struggles he faces. We watch Kurt get pushed into the lockers, teased, and not taken seriously by his fellow Glee clubbers. This has happened occasionally throughout the series, but this episode in particular zooms in on Kurt's tears and the torment that he faces daily. I don't think I've ever seen a popular TV show portray homophobic bullying from the perspective of the victim so realistically.

Kurt, being pushed around in the hallways
Maybe it's because Ryan Murphy is gay, and being bullied in high school was one of the things he had to endure? Maybe it's because of all the media coverage of the suicides by gay teens lately? Maybe it's because it's an issue that affects everyone in some way? Whatever the reason, I'm so ecstatic that a hugely popular television show has chosen to address it. 

Furthermore, this episode showed a kiss between two males. Two males. Kissing on TV. Kids watch this show. Um, remember what happened to Adam Lambert when he kissed his band mate on television? Okay, in fairness, it was more of a makeout kiss (Kurt endured a peck). And in Glee, Kurt "gets" kissed, whereas Adam Lambert actively initiates the kiss. Anyways, many parents who watched Adam Lambert were outraged -- they complained because their children were watching the show -- the opposing argument was "you shouldn't be letting your kids stay up past 10PM to watch a live music awards show." Therefore, I can only guess at the astronomical number of parents who probably complained about their kids watching Glee --a show whose audience is comprised mostly of young people-- and is pre-scripted and pre-taped. So, really, Glee deserves a thousand thumbs up for portraying a same-sex kiss, knowing full well that many parents would most likely be outraged. I'm surprised that Fox allowed it, when saying "transsexual" (like I mentioned in an earlier post) is not allowed, and must be censored.

This episode also features a new character named Blaine, played by Darren Criss. I mentioned my love for Harry Potter in the beginning when I started this blog, in particular my love for A Very Potter Musical. It's an awesome & hilarious play performed by University of Michigan students, and is hugely popular with Harry Potter fans. Darren Criss wrote music for the play & its sequel, and also released an EP on iTunes. I love his music, and I thought he was fantastic playing Harry in the Harry Potter musicals. When I heard he was going to be on Glee, I was so excited. It was great watching an everyday guy in YouTube videos (who does covers of Disney songs on his guitar in his bedroom!) make it big & land a role in one of the most popular television shows today. The only problem I have is that I have to restrain myself from saying to every person I pass on the sidewalk, "I was a fan of Darren Criss before he was famous!!!"

Blaine is older than Kurt & attends an all-boys school with a rival glee club to Kurt's. He becomes a mentor to Kurt -- telling him that he too was bullied for being gay, and never stood up for himself, and now regrets it. He sends Kurt texts that say "courage" and even shows up to Kurt's school to talk to a kid who's been bullying Kurt. The best part about the Blaine character is that he is not stereotypically "gay." The show is actually demonstrating that being a gay male doesn't necessarily mean that you're like Kurt: flamboyant,  diva-esque, snobby, "feminine," and fashion obsessed. Blaine wears his generic black school uniform, and is not overly "girlish". Thanks Glee, for actually breaking one of your stereotypes.

Mr. Schue swooping in to restore heteronormativity!
At the same time, coach Beist -- the super-huge, butch-like football coach who I thought was a man in the first episode-- establishes to Will, the glee club teacher, that she's "not gay." This confession seemed irrelevant to me and made me go, "okay..." Really, is it important that we determine that? Is it important that the audience knows that she's never been kissed, and that she's not gay? I found that adding that little piece of info at the end was sending the message that Coach Beist isn't gay AND has never been kissed. This situation is dire. At least if she were gay, she might have a good reason, like Kurt. Also, I found it slightly disturbing that Will had to kiss her in the locker room to prove that she is "lovable." It's like one of the only strong, confident women in the show has to be validated by the attractive male to be shown that she is a "real" woman. Sound familiar? Oh wait! Yes, the other strong, confident, authority figure -- Sue Sylvester, the cheerleading coach -- was discovered last season to deep down, really want a man to love her and break her tough exterior. And again, Mr. Schuester saves the day. He pretends to seduce Sue, she falls for him and proves to the audience that she is really a soft woman underneath, who just wants to be loved. Thanks Mr. Schu, for coming in to save the day when these two characters cross the line just a bit too far, and get mistaken for being too "masculine." 

The last thing that made me tilt my head --like one of my former pygmy goats when hearing the sound of their food being dropped into a pail-- was the fact that the main bully who pushes around Kurt for the entire episode, is also suggested to be gay. Kurt, filled with the courage that Blaine gives him to stand up to his bullies, confronts the bully in the locker room and demand that he cease from tormenting him. An argument ensues, where Kurt says, "Hit me!" and the bully ends up kissing him instead. I said to my self, "Really?!?" It's a kind of twisted way of portraying gay bullying, by suggesting that Kurt was only being teased because the bully himself is having problems coming to terms with his own sexuality. In reality, most bullies who target gay teens probably are not gay themselves, but rather just homophobic, fearful, and ignorant. It would have been nice if Glee would have shown Kurt confronting a straight bully on his homophobia -- not a bully who is somewhat excused because, "oh, well he's gay himself, so that's why he's a bully. It's understandable."

A final note on this longwinded post is what I've noticed since I've been teaching in a high school for my placement. I've noticed that every week, the "boys club" and the "girls club" have their own meetings and activities. The boys club is a place where boys can "hang out," eat pizza and drink pop, play video games, and "be boys." In the girls club, they learn how to apply makeup, they make jewelry, and they gossip and read magazines. Although having clubs where kids feel like they belong and can make friendships is great, it made me wonder: What happens if you identify as neither boy or girl? What happens if the sex that's been assigned to you does not match the interests that you're supposed to inherently possess? What happens if I'm a girl who would rather play video games and eat pizza, or a boy who'd rather make jewelry and read magazines? The school I'm at does have Pride Central logos all over the place, and they constantly mention the gay-straight alliance events on the morning announcements, which is great. So, it's not all bad.

Thanks for bearing with me! I don't really care if nobody reads this -- I wrote it for myself. And if you still have no idea what Glee is and can't stand any more posts related to it...well go watch it, for crying out loud!


  1. i LOVED this episode of glee. i loved it. :D
    you're right, that most people who bully gay kids/teens/adults probably aren't gay. but i think that most people who bully are insecure about SOMETHING, so i think it still delivers the same message. does that even make sense? i mean, maybe they just did it for the twist, but i thought it worked. :)
    and that scene between the two of them is so intense and they were both SOOOOOOOO GOOD! i was flipping out!
    keep the glee posts coming!!!!

  2. I fully agree with you. I was all about the greater message of this episode but didn't appreciate the bully kiss, nor the kiss with Coach. It was strange and not terribly realistic. I get that bullies are people too, but I didn't appreciate the forced, "well he's feeling trapped in his sexuality" empathy. Badly done.
    That being said, Blaine is a super hottie and he and Kurt better hook up for real or I'm gonna be pissed!

  3. Again, I haven't seen this issue, but it deals with some important issues. It's good to see a gay character portrayed as something other than the camp stereotype.

    I'm going to go off on one a bit - bear with me. The thing is, I am gay. But I think I left it so long before telling anyone, I can't shake off the mask I spent so long protecting, and I don't really want to. I don't want to be camp or effeminate, because it's not really me.

    At the same time, it does mean I don't really fit in. Gay clubs make me uncomfortable - and I remember hearing a gay friend say they didn't invite me to the gay night at uni because I wasn't gay, I was a 'straight boy who liked men'. It's weird. Sometimes, groups can go so far in defining themselves as different that they risk becoming exclusive - so it's great that Glee is showing that being gay doesn't require the mannerisms and lifestyles that are so often associated with it. Am I making sense? Probably not...


  4. Episode, not issue. Seriously - bed. NOW.

  5. Jess - Yay! I'm happy you love Glee as much as I do. I will try to have more Glee posts if I think they are worthy to talk about. At least I know you will read them :)

    Jennie - I am sooooo hoping for Kurt & Blaine to hook up too! They sing a duet of "Baby It's Cold Outside" for the Glee Christmas album (which you can preview on YouTube) and I can picture them wearing Christmas sweaters and holding hands while serenading each other in front of a background of gently falling snow.

    TbR - I really appreciate you sharing your personal views on this. I agree with you about gay clubs being prone to becoming exclusive. It's unfair for people to say, "Well, you're gay, so the gay club is where you belong." It's not like there's necessarily a "straight club" (although one could argue that society today is practically a straight club). As much as I adore the camp stereotype (Frank-n-furter) I know that it's exaggerated and not representative of a typical gay man. Unfortunately, that's how the media often portrays same-sex relationships -- stereotypically. Booooh.

    I love that I can actually post stuff like this and you guys don't roll your eyes at me -- like people normally do in real life!