Thursday, March 10, 2011

And a child shall lead them

Gay teens on TV are kicking the ass of gay adults on TV right now. Like, it’s a serious beat down. No contest. Throw in the towel, grownups. In the past week alone, lesbian storylines on “Glee” and “Pretty Little Liars” have struck a resounding chord with gay viewers young and old.

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.


Sandra said...

This?? Thank you Dorothy, this? has truly made me tear up and feel soo happy inside.
Your words are full of so much emotion and truth that it breaks my heart to think of a time when characters like us were not visible on TV; however, the fact that we stopped being shown for comedic or solely for entertainment values and are now being portrayed as true and real characters makes me feel good because it gives a confused teenager or confused adult a chance to feel, even if for a second, something true and real.

Sara said...

Ms snarker you are made of win! Great social commentary in praise of the importance of visibility. To be honest it's what I expected to find at AfterEllen and I'm amazed to find it mysteriously absent there after the number of articles discussing how badly lesbian characters have been written. Maybe it's on the way? I'm glad to find it somewhere and so well written :) x

Anonymous said...

Excluding Tea, I'd agree that yeah they all feel honest.

Bri said...

A beautiful article, thank you Dorothy. This made my morning.

Ava said...

I cannot stop thinking about Santana & Brittany, and how important & ground-breaking their story is. Not only because it's a beautiful, truthful representation of what it is to be young & in love for the very first time - and it just happens to be between two girls. This happened on a popular prime time show on a major network in the 8pm time slot. A show watched by literally millions of people. It wasn't on cable (like South of Nowhere) or on a niche show on a second-tier network (like Buffy) or part of an "adult" program at 10pm. This is a show that teenagers watch with their parents. I've already read so many posts around the Web from young people who were watching Glee with their parents, and because of this show they have hope that their parents will accept them when they come out. Or they actually did come out. It's really amazing, the power that media can have. I hope the writers realize what an important, wonderful thing they have done for gay teens, and continue to develop these stories with compassion & respect.

Anonymous said...

This was such a wonderful post. I had to read it a couple of times because it was so good. It made my morning too. I read every day but I don't comment often. I should though because you do a damn fine job. Thank you, thank you for everything you do.

Amy G said...

I love reading your blog but I really wish you'd put some spoiler warnings in. As a British viewer our Glee episodes are only as far as regionals and as I stopped on by for my regular dose of Dorothy, I got a huge Brittana spoiler :(

Generally, keep up the good work, bit if you could keep it up with some warnings for us poor Brits, that'd be super!

URBAN Sapphic said...

I agree with your article. It's about time a lesbian or Gay television character showed some emotional maturity. Goddess know that I am over Callie's emotionally abusive treatment of Arizona, but I wrote MONTHS ago that Emily and Maya's storyline far surpassed that of anything I saw on network television.

I am nonplussed by Paige on PLL though, I almost feel that she was introduced just because she is a white characer, thus more palatable t xenophobic viewers, besides she fluctuates between cute and fugly to often.

In addition despite one's chronological age, I don't like to use the word: "Teen" when describing an individual who possesses depth in the context of their character.

URBAN Sapphic has been writing for months about how the lesbian story arc on Pretty Little Liars surpasses the Calizonia lesbian story arc on that train-wreck: Grey's Anatomy.
I reserve the use of the word: "Teen" for that vapid waste of television time: Skins (U.S.).

I mean seriously, Tea? I was intrigued with her character when she slept with women (For all of ONE episode). Then she cheats one he friend with her friend's boyfriend, gets an STD and all while looking into the camera with a blank expression. So while Skins successfully captures the nuance of stupidity of children who play adults w/o understanding then ramifications of their actions, are the constant blank expressions the camnera shows supposed to indicate that they are reflecting on something profound?

See if the characters on Skins don't exhibit emional growth then how is the viewer to discern that a stupid gaze into the camera is anything more than a stupid gaze into the camera?

Libby said...

Thank you for this article. I would like to gush about its impact, but instead I'll just revel in it.

Maxine Dangerous said...

"And unless I’m greatly mistaken about reality, none of us will become vampires" made me LOL. :) Great post! :)

Anonymous said...

As a person which finally (and recently) came out rather late in life and didn`t have all those TV-storylines as a teenager to support me, I am very grateful they exist nowadays, they feel truthful, enlighten me and make my life worth living. Thank you very much for this brilliant article!

Anonymous said...

@URBAN Sapphic

I hate to burst your bubble, but Paige replaced Maya because Maya's story line had run its course. PLL wanted to tell a coming out story that was even more dramatic than the drawn-from-the-books arc that Emily went through. And they have. I mean, wow, they knocked it out of the park on Monday.

It's not Lindsey Shaw's fault that she is white. She's a great actress with a history of working for ABCFamily. That's why she got the part. Talent & connections.

Breanna said...

Jessie and Katie from "Once and Again" were pretty much the catalyst for me realizing I was gay. As scary as it was, it was nice to know I wasn't alone. Glad the writers and producers of that show were brave enough to explore that storyline and they made it so real. Evan and Mischa were perfect in those roles.

Thank you for this. Beautiful words. It's all too true. You now have a new follower.

Get Set.Go said...

I am in awe of how TV has changed to help out social reforms. I used to feel so alone thinking that I never find anything to relate to in the media and now I cannot get enough of it! Hopefully this is going to end up giving me the power to fully come out one day

Anonymous said...

thank you for the posting,

i guess, when people say that,

the people's minds are change i think,

instead of the world.

see you tmorrow~

Shula said...

I came out a little later in life thanks mainly to Willow and Tara in Buffy. In fact I met my wife because of that show. Still I am so happy that we are getting more genuine gay relationships shown on TV and treated the same (almost) to straight relationships. True, I wish they were there when I was growing up, but I'm happy they are there for my kids to watch.

sara said...

I wish I could shake your hand for this. I'm 19 and have had my hand on the closet doorknob for the last year or so, and these kids on tv give me so much hope that, by the time I muster up the courage to come out to my family, society will be more accepting of people like us. Maybe I'm a sap, but this article made me cry. There is so much hope for us. Thank you.

toodles said...

Dear Anon (at 3:23)

Don't waste your time engaging with Urban Sapphic. She's just being contrary and negative to troll up some visitors to her blog.

Lanu said...

I just happened to be listening to Yiruma's "Sometimes...Someone" when I read your blog... :) the two totally complimented each other. I thought my heart would fly out and fall into the pit of my stomach at the same time :P
beautiful, what you wrote :)

Emily said...

I couldn't have said it better myself. :) Those quotes in the second paragraph were my favorites from Glee and PLL this week- both of these shows are amazing me with how raw and emotional they have been lately. I'm so glad that I'm going through adolescence right now; since I don't know very many real-life lesbians at all, it's encouraging to see "myself" portrayed so wonderfully on TV and to kind of look up to these girls in a way. It's a beautiful trend that I hope only goes up from here.

suuu said...

i loveee paige!!!

omg she's soo cute, i have wired tastesin girls!!! ahahha

i love paige from pll

and love emely from skins!!! omg ahahha *.*

cute girls*

Lisa Mac said...

Keep running across your posts lately and really appreciate them. I am 43 and just lately coming to terms with the fact that I can drop my exhausting attempt to "fit" with men and start exploring dating relationships with women. This post in particular made me think about the "shared experience" of (loving, warm, and kind but nonetheless...) rejection by my straight best friend- not 20 years ago- but about 10. The Brittana thing, oddly since I literally did not own a TV til I got hooked on Glee online one week, has been revolutionary. Your analysis is so helpful , as is the honesty of your readers. Goes without saying I, too, sure would have loved to have this show while stumbling through a series of high school crushes on girls. Well. It's another new day!