Are we too tough on gay TV teens?

Another possible reason for the hostility is that our TV-viewing experience now extends far beyond our televisions. Every show has its own fandom, and every fandom includes forums and fan fiction and inside-jokes and debates and alternative narratives. Every fandom also includes shipping wars. If Brittany and Santana fill your heart with joy, but Brittany spends a whole episode bonking Artie, it will probably bum you out. So you turn off your TV and teleport back into fandom, where you go from bummed to livid in a matter of seconds when you encounter the neener-neener-neeners from Artie/Brittany shippers.

Then, of course, there are our bygone times with lesbian and bisexual teens on TV. It’s hard to be optimistic when you live inside our historical frame of reference. Skins may be trying to examine sexual fluidity in an honest, authentic way. But when we see Tea eying Tony, our mind jumps to Alex going nutso-bananas on The O.C., Gia acting completely out of character and cheating on Adrianna on 90210, and Melrose Place trotting out Ella’s bisexuality for Sweeps week. And then: All of them, back to men.

Finally, maybe we’re so hard on TV teenagers because we forget that the characters are meant to be teenagers. It is the most natural thing in the world to project your own hopes and fears and dreams and desires onto fictional characters. Stories have always added structure to people’s lives. (Why do you think the Christian Bible is 90 percent narrative?) The danger of doing that with teenage characters, though, is that we’re often projecting the wisdom of adulthood onto characters who are still learning to navigate the world.

Here’s a pretty interesting tidbit from The Adolescent Brain: A Work in Progress:

The greatest changes to the parts of the brain that are responsible for impulse-control, judgement, decision-making, planning, organization and involved in other functions like emotion, occur in adolescence. This area of the brain (the prefrontal cortex) does not reach full maturity until around age 25.

“Lack of impulse control” could be New Directions’ tagline.

I was in my mid-twenties before I finally had a good grasp on my own sexuality. So it’s not really fair of me to project my 31-year-old knowledge onto 16-year-old Tea. (That’s not to say you can’t know you’re a lesbian when you’re an adolescent. Certainly you can. But many teenagers wrestle with their sexual identities well into their grown-up years.) Similarly, I’ve been in and out of love dozens of times in my life. So it’s not really fair of me to expect that 17-year-old Emily Fields would stay with her first girlfriend forever. And I still am not sure I know what it takes to make a lasting romantic relationship work, so how in the world can I expect Brittany and Santana to just get it together?

Add up all of that stuff and the sum is quite a conundrum. We need authentic lesbian and bisexual teenage characters to validate our own sexuality, to bolster tolerance, to increase visibility and ensure equality. And dammit, we need to win a shipping war every now and then!

If we really are in the middle of TV’s gay-teen revolution, we have to use these characters as a springboard for dialogue. The problem is, we’re living in a culture that doesn’t reward rational, benevolent, intelligent conversation. The political climate is unchecked rage and talking points. And the internet has created a cesspool of caustic commentary. It’s hard to have a nice chat with someone who is pointing a pitchfork at your neck.

But what if the gay community could lead a revolution in more ways than one? What if we understood why we feel the way we feel about gay TV teens? And then what if we used our words to explain it instead of our fists? What if we stopped shouting long enough to listen? What if we demanded better from TV writers by actually being better?

Maybe Brittany S. Pierce was onto something. Maybe it’s time for us to stop the violence.

Pages: 1 2

Tags: , , , , ,