Watch Santana’s plaintive plea to Brittany: “Please say you love me back. Please.” Didn’t you flash back to the first time you handed someone your exposed heart and asked them to be gentle? Or look at Paige’s confession to Emily: “If I say it out loud, if I say I’m gay – the whole world is gonna change.” Remember when speaking those words seemed like the end of the world as you knew it?
These moments, these confessions – they’re as close to universal as it gets for the GLBT community. Sure, we all have differing ways out, ways in, first loves, last loves. But we’ve all had (or will have, youngsters, take heart) the first time we were finally brave enough to tell someone we loved them and hoped desperately they’d love us back. And we all had the worry that simply admitting our undeniable truth would change everything forever. And it did, but for the better.
The thing about the gay teens on TV right now – from Brittany and Santana to Emily and Paige to Kurt and Blaine and even poor dear Tea – is that, like it or not, their stories feel honest. They’re about discovery and heartbreak, confusion and acceptance. They’re not about just the static afterschool moment: See Jane. See Jane become gay. They’re about what it’s like day in, day out – especially at the start. There’s no perfect way to be gay or come out or understand yourself. Life has no script, yet we all still fumble our lines. So the complexity of their experiences, it’s important to see on TV. It helps people. It helps me even today.
Entertainment Weekly recently wrote about the gay teen revolution on TV and it’s true, there are more than before. But it’s not just that there are more gay teens on TV all of a sudden. It’s that there are more gay teens acting like real gay teenagers on our TV all of a sudden. This isn’t about sweeps month kisses or ripped-from-the-headlines storylines. They’re not just there to jazz things up for an episode or two. They’re in it, we hope, for the long haul.
Certainly, there have been good gay teen characters on TV before. Rickie Vasquez on “My So-Called Life.” Jessie Sammler on “Once and Again.” Willow Rosenberg on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Spencer and Ashley on “South of Nowhere.” And they’ve all made a difference. But to have so many right now, with so many varying experiences right, is kind of special.
The reason these teens are touching people, making a difference, mattering so much is because their stories are really everyone’s stories. When you’re older, truly universal moments are fewer and far between. We won’t all become pregnant lesbians (regardless of what TV writers seems to think). We won’t all become adoptive parents (or wear clown costumes at our child’s first birthday). We won’t all get married (or civil unioned, which, gosh doesn’t that sound romantic). We won’t all work for law firms or the FBI or cranky yet brilliant doctors. And unless I’m greatly mistaken about reality, none of us will become vampires. Sure, many of us will want those things (OK, perhaps not the vampire thing), but they won’t necessarily happen.
But aside from the tiny little difference of sexual orientation and the enormous difference of societal acceptance, we all – gay, straight and everything in between – go through adolescence. The teen experience will always be a more relatable. We all grow up. We all have firsts. We all stumble our way towards adulthood.
In the end, what we want from our gay characters – teen or otherwise – is simple. We want to see a little bit of ourselves, our lives, our loves. And, just as important, we want the world to see our lives and our loves and that in the end we really aren’t so different after all. Because if there’s one thing the entire universe can agree on, it’s that being a teenager sometimes really sucks. And then there are other times, even when it hurts, it’s beautiful.