Celebrating an extraordinary week of TV for lesbian visibility

 
 

Sometimes you have to call a lesbian spade a lesbian spade. It’s
been a damn good week for lesbian and bisexual visibility on TV. Same-sex storylines on Pretty Little Liars
and Glee culminated with honest,
open, thoughtful discussions about sexuality. And, best yet, they all felt
real. In the U.S.
we had prominent gay storylines on two popular shows, which resonated with
viewers – gay and straight, old and young. All that, and it wasn’t even sweeps
month.

On Pretty Little Liars,
Paige confessed
her unspoken truth
to Emily in a scene many of us have seen play out in our
own lives – even if only in our heads. It’s the fear so many of us had about
coming out that, as she put it, If I say it out loud, if I
say I’m gay
— the whole world is gonna change.” Because, in fact,
she’s right. Those two little words, “I’m gay,” spoken out loud can change the
world. As Emily answers back, “Yeah, it will.” But as she also says, “Whatever
else happens, I don’t have to worry about it anymore.”

It felt authentic because it was authentic. You’d think the
writers had been reading our high school journals, or perhaps stood in the
middle of a bedroom while being honest to themselves for the first time. That
sort of open discussion about acceptance and how difficult it can be to come
out makes a difference. It also acknowledges not only the external factors that
keep us closeted, by the internal ones. This kind of conversation between two
teens, one out and one still closeted, is still an extraordinary thing to see
on primetime American television.

Just as extraordinary this week was Glee. For a show not known for its deep characterization of
adherence to continuity, Glee allowed its gay characters to not only grow but
expose their feelings in ways we haven’t seen before. Make no mistake, this is
groundbreaking. Two major gay storylines ran through a major American TV show that
was watched by almost 12 million viewers.

The first, more expected, storyline was Kurt and his father.
The relationship between these two has been one of the continual bright spots
on this show. It’s almost always pitch perfect and the best way of showing –
and not just telling – parents everywhere how to relate to their gay children.

Try to think of the last time you saw “The Sex Talk” between
parent and child handled in such a loving, relatable way. It wasn’t about just
the jokey uncomfortableness that often permeates such scenes, but the real
message that sex should be special. I’ve never seen a parent tell a gay child
that he should respect himself and his body in such a direct way on primetime U.S.
television – ever.

The second and more surprising of the gay storylines on Glee was that of Brittany and Santana.
The Cheerio best friends had been a bit of an in-joke for two seasons. It
started in the first season’s fall finale episode “Sectionals
when in a conference call we got the casual bombshell that “sex is not dating,”
because otherwise Brittany and Santana would be dating. Since then the duo’s
friends-with-benefits relationship has been eluded to, even teased with some
sweet lady kisses and cuddle time in bed. But would they ever become more?

When Glee co-creator
and writer Brad Falchuk tweeted
confirmation
that “Brittana was on,” a mix of excitement and skepticism
spread among fans of the show.  Was this
real life? Was it another tease?

Well it wasn’t a tease. And it was more than most of us even
hoped for. This wasn’t about titillation. There was no hot girl-on-girl action.
It was just about feelings, real ones, the ones we’ve all felt when we were
finally brave enough to give our naked, fragile heart to another person. The
experience of falling in love with your best friend is a nearly universal one
for gay teens, and even many adults. The heartbreak when they don’t love us
back, or perhaps just aren’t ready to love us back, is just as potent. That
second “please” from Santana to Brittany,
came from the deepest past of her heart: “Please say you love me back. Please.”

What Glee also did
expertly was address the fluidity of sexuality between Santana and Brittany.
Santana’s resistance to labels – and Indigo Girls concerts – and Brittany’s love for both
Artie and Santana represents a spectrum of what it means to be gay. If there’s
another line that will stay with me for a long time, it’s a shocked and spurned
Santana crying, “He’s just a stupid boy.” Oh, honey, we’ve all been there.

As an underrepresented minority group in this world, we gays
have become hyper vigilant to our representation in the media. We see ourselves
so infrequently, and often so inaccurately, we need to police what is being put
out there. It matters how we’re shown on TV shows because that might be
someone, somewhere’s only exposure to a gay person. (Side note: It’s not. We’re
everywhere, darling.) So groups like GLAAD
and this site have a responsibility to lay a righteous smackdown when we feel
we’re being portrayed unfairly.

But just as important as calling out the media when it gets
things wrong, is praising them when they get things right. It’s that old carrot
and stick. And this week, on primetime U.S.
television, Hollywood
got things very, very right. We had a good week, let’s hope for many more to
come.