Glee’s ‘Teenage Dream’ and the message it sends to gay kids
I’m an admitted “Gleek.” And yes, I love the show so much that I’ll even (grudgingly) use a term that sounds that ridiculous. I think the show walks a remarkably fine line (with 98% success) between absurd caricatures, incredibly genuine and poignant moments, and even a bit of self-deprecating humor.
As any viewer knows, the story line they’ve advanced with the most time, energy and care has been that of Kurt’s coming out and the challenges one faces being young and gay. While the humor around Kurt often relies on stereotypes, they’ve done a remarkably good job of making his emotions completely and totally typical.
For this week’s episode, I’d already seen the Teenage Dream video (at the bottom of this post), so the scene that struck me most was this one.
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It resonated with me because by remaining closeted in high school (though it’s never a simple choice), I was choosing to run. I’m not saying this with guilt or self-loathing, it just struck me that I made a choice and could have had a very different impact had I reacted to my feelings differently and acknowledged them openly. Again, I say this more to comment on how impressive I find openly gay teens rather than to comment on my own experience.
However, that scene struck me because of who and where I am now. When a friend sent me a blog post on Tuesday’s episode today, I completely changed my mind on the scene in the episode that held the most power. From Tom & Lorenzo:
…To the straight people reading us: remember high school? Remember your favorite songs and movies, TV shows and music videos from that period? Imagine if all of that media bombardment telling you what to like, what to wear, and how to be attractive, popular, and cool, imagine that all of that aimed for and addressed everyone else but you. Imagine what it’s like when every sappy love song (or angry breakup song), every rom com, every trendy TV show and blockbuster movie, even every video game, imagine if they all depicted a form of romantic love that simply isn’t available to you. Imagine going through high school without even so much as a hint of yourself reflected in any of the things you watch and listen to, any of the things that literally every other kid is talking about. Imagine the one thing you want more than anything in the world: to be kissed, please god, just to be kissed, imagine you have never seen that depicted anywhere or referred to in any way but as something to be mocked and shunned.
We grew unexpectedly teary-eyed watching this number. Not because sappy teenage pop songs get us worked up, but because the sight of a sappy teenage pop song being sung by one cute teenage boy to another cute teenage boy is still, sad to say, an extreme rarity. All we could think while watching this number was, “My god. What would it have been like to see this at 14?” To have the media offer up a romantic fantasy that actually reflected what we secretly yearned for…
…Gay kids get none of that. Not one bit of it. The fact of the matter is, bullying is the natural result of all that socializing that reinforces heterosexuality as the norm and everything else as… well, so under-represented that it might as well still be a taboo. Teenagers see thousands of murders depicted onscreen by the time they reach 18 but most of them never see a boy kiss another boy or sing him a sweet love song. You want to prevent gay kids from killing themselves? Push for more scenes like the above. Giving a young gay boy the dream that someday Prince Charming will come and sing a love song to him? You cannot imagine. You simply cannot imagine how revolutionary such a thing is.
Reading this, I immediately thought back to the time when I was finally dealing with my coming out and my search for something as simple as songs that reflected my angst and were not gender specific (I didn’t want to give away too much). It sounds like such a small thing, but when you’re at an age when the best way you know to express your feelings is to put your favorite lyrics up on Gchat (AIM was popular at that time I’m describing), it’s isolating. This may even sound ridiculous, but at a time when you’re struggling to express yourself in any way and you can’t even find something in pop culture to relate too, it has an impact.
I do want to note that I disagree with their take on the effect of the It Gets Better Project. They’re right that the campaign has mobilized thousands to speak out and raised incredible visibility to an issue that has been under the surface for far far too long. Suicides among gay youth are not a new phenomenon. Acknowledging, caring and seeing it as newsworthy is what’s new. But we can’t underestimate the effect of so many leaders, media and celebrities getting on board with this campaign. Regardless of what the President has or has not done in terms of policy, seeing him speak out to isolated LGBT youth as part of this project is incredibly powerful. For perspective, when I was coming out, LGBT Americans weren’t just being ignored, we were being used by our President as a wedge issue in elections. The contrast in the words being heard by LGBT youth about their worth couldn’t be greater. The impact of this campaign is, I think, immeasurable. Not because it’s not concrete but because we live in a society where we’re all bombarded by so many messages and this one is simple, effective, and rising above the rest.
And here’s the performance of Teenage Dream:
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