“The Secret Life of the American Teenager” tackles lesbianism


This week and last week’s episodes of the The Secret Life of the American Teenager might as well have been called “The Not Really Secret Lives of Not Lesbian American Teenagers But Some of Their Moms Are Gay.” Got that? Now in its fourth season, the saga that began with Amy Juergen’s teenage pregnancy has continued into a web of break ups and hook ups, with several characters now in summer school so they can graduate. (Summer school, for the record, involves walking around the halls carrying heavy textbooks and talking constantly about sex.) For two whole episodes, all anyone can talk about is who is gay, or not gay, or rumored to be gay. Seriously: if you set aside two hours and played a drinking game, with one swig every time someone uttered the word “gay,” you would be beyond plastered.

Last week’s episode, “4SnP,” opens with everyone staring at Amy. Her friends lie and tell her it’s because they’re all talking about her upcoming wedding to Ricky, but in truth it’s because there’s a rumor that Amy’s mom Anne (aka Molly Ringwald — holy crap, yes!) is gay, so, obviously, Amy must also be gay. This is the actual logic that comes out of the teenagers’ mouths, but it only gets worse from there, including a running joke that she has chosen a “gay holiday” to get married: the Fourth of July. (Nouns reasoned to be why Independence Day is really gay pride: sparklers, shorts, hot dogs, fireworks, parades.)

While chatting about the juicy rumor, best friends/roommates Adrian and Grace segue, soft core porn style, into the “Aren’t you curious what it would be like?” conversation. At first Grace bristles and gives one of the episodes many quotable lines, saying “I would never have sex with a girl — they’re dramatic, they’re fickle. It’d be like having sex with myself.” When Adrian confesses that she’s thought about kissing girls, Grace giggles, “I’ve thought about kissing you.” Oh, really? This is immediately followed by raised eyebrows and red cheeks not so much genuine as laugh-track worthy. Even better: when wondering what it would be like to have a gay mom, Adrian quips, “No one would believe my mother is gay. She’s a flight attendant.” (Flight attendants are all bombshells? Bombshells aren’t lesbians? Where does this stereotype even begin?)

After several laps around the halls with various characters, we’re reminded that Ricky’s mom Nora actually is a lesbian (does that make Ricky gay? Teenagers say no, a gay mom doesn’t equal a gay son. Faulty logic again prevails), and Amy’s friends finally let her know that people aren’t gossiping about her wedding, they’re gossiping about her mother being gay (Amy denies this is true), and that Amy is gay, too. There’s a swell of emotional music as Amy’s face registers with ultimate horror. People think you’re gay! Freak out!

I’d like to take one moment here to say that the best character of the whole show, the most articulate and sane person to grace the melee, is Jacob, Grace’s half-brother from Zimbabwe who has come to live with them and basically be awesome and state the truth in all matters (“Why does everyone care so much if someone is gay?”). Give this kid a spin off show. Give him a talk show. Give him everything.

A pie chart of the rest of the episode would be 40% Amy saying “I’m not gay,” 40% Grace fretting about seeming gay because she’s not actually gay but she will kiss Adrian, 10% Amy’s dad being the douche who outed Anne to Grace’s mom Kathleen, and 60% the awful running 4th of July gay holiday joke (more nouns: bandanas, volleyball, Uncle Sam). I know that doesn’t add up to 100%, but there’s just too much going on for fractions to actually be useful here. Has one episode of television been so devoted to characters vehemently defending themselves as not gay? Sidenote: Amy has a two year old son, but is forever well dressed, showered, coiffed, thin, and not carrying him, with vague references to “the nursery.” I’m hoping viewers supplement themselves with a few episodes of Teen Mom for a reality check.

The pinnacle of the whole episode, though, is when Adrian situates herself across from Grace on the couch in their apartment, donning a slinky bathrobe, and Grace asks her to kiss her, for curiosity’s sake. Pillow talk beforehand includes that what made Adrian really curious about kissing girls was the Katy Perry song (at this point I was fake gagging over the side of my couch) and that she’s thought about kissing Angelina Jolie (fair enough). She and Grace touch lips — once, twice —before Grace rears back, flips out, and runs from the apartment.

The next day, Adrian flaunts the rumor-not-rumor of her and Grace’s kiss with pleasure, and Grace begs her sort-of-boyfriend beefcake Jack to get back together with her and have sex, lots and lots of sex, 24/7, to prove she isn’t gay. (Beefcake, of course, says yes.) Grace also calls her mom Kathleen to ask if she has any gay genes. (Insert crack about gay jeans being really skinny here. Yeah, they went there.) By the end of the episode, Amy and her friends are gathered around Amy’s locker, dishing on this new gossip: Adrian and Grace are gay. One friend glares at the other one, “Don’t get any ideas.”

Some of this confusing homophobia is addressed in this week’s episode, “Love is Love,” after which I’ve decided that Adrian’s mom can totally join Joshua on the spin off show, along with Anne (who, after a trip to Paris, admits she is gay), and Ricky’s gay mom Nora, and Ricky, too. Anne returns to find the whole town whispering about her lesbianism (by the way, there’s no secret life of any American teenager anywhere here; kids talk about gossip and sex with their parents more than an after school special), and Grace has fully moved out of the apartment, consumed with fear that she’s a homo. Her mother Kathleen brings her a piece of chocolate cake and some comforting advice (um, I would have loved some chocolate cake when I came out!) Her mother says Grace could be questioning her identity, but tapers this with that she doesn’t really think Grace is gay, and that she hopes Grace isn’t gay because life is so much harder for gay people, especially in high school. Grace quips that this isn’t really true because it is “so cool to be gay.” Across town, Adrian’s awesome flight attendant mother is schooling Adrian in how her publicity stunt is really insulting to the LGBTQ community, hasn’t anyone told her that? Adrian rolls her eyes that that one girl who is gay hasn’t said anything. “That girl has a name,” her mother retorts. (High five!)

Amy then descends upon her parents’ house in a fit of privilege and brattiness, wishing to see her jetlagged mother.

She then sits down at the kitchen table with Molly Ringwald to talk about her upcoming wedding, but Anne has bigger news, and tells her that she’s gay. Amy goes into supreme homophobic jerk mode, telling her that it’s ridiculous, and that she doesn’t want her mom to be gay. “You’re not going to be happy being gay,” she snaps.

Enter Ricky, who chastises Amy and congratulates Anne on expressing who she really is. Amy leaves in a huff (her child has been conveniently entertained by someone else this whole time), and back at their home, Ricky tries to get Amy to see that she’s being cruel, and that while Amy may want her family to remain the way they were growing up, that’s not going to happen. Especially not since Amy’s father is leaving Anne for his first wife, Kathleen, which is what Amy’s parents hash out in the most heartwarming scene of the whole thing. Anne explains how she knew she was gay all along (the secret? Gay dreams. She was having gay dreams, you guys), kissed a woman in Paris, and wants to be happy. Describing the kiss with the woman, she gushes, “It was exciting and my heart was racing, and I felt like one — free, happy, excited, like everything is brand new.” There’s an amiability between her and her soon to be ex-husband that’s a little fantastical, but, hey. It’s Molly Ringwald. She’s playing a newly gay mom. I’ll buy it.

Grace, meanwhile, is deeply entrenched with her possible gayness, so denies Jack the 24/7 sex fest she earlier promised him. He, in true beefcake fashion, wants her to see sex with him as a litmus test as to whether or not she’s gay. Plus, how dare Grace tease him with that lesbian stuff? “I’m just a red blooded american guy, and you got me all worked up telling me about that kiss.” Grace actually apologies, but instead of falling into bed with him, demands to be brought to Adrian for another kiss. Adrian is currently being dumped by her boyfriend Omar, who points out that kissing a girl is still cheating (Adrian, of course, disagrees), and in walks Grace, who demands another kiss. More lip touching blah blah blah (don’t girls who want to kiss really want to actually kiss?), now with male audience.

Nora, Ricky’s gay mom, then waltzes into Anne’s house and helps herself to a bowl of soup in some weird neighbor ritual I don’t understand, and then practically leaps out of her skin with joy when Anne tells her she came out. Somebody’s getting a toaster! Best dialogue of the night is when Nora jumps the gun on Anne, assuming she’s asking Nora out, and says, “If you’re experimenting, I have already put in my time with experimenters.” Preach, girl.

Anne, meanwhile, just wants to have soup and talk. The next day, Amy apologies to her mother (let’s credit Ricky for that change of heart), Grace goes to school in cargo pants, motorcycle boots, trucker cap, and — my personal favorite — fake tattoos, and Adrian gets schooled, again, by Fern, the school’s actual lesbian who calls her out on her attention-getting BS. (Kudos to Fern for taking one look at Grace’s ensemble, looking nonplussed and offering a pleading, “Dude.”) Grace’s sexuality is supposedly hanging in the balance now, and some fans are hoping that Grace and Adrian get together as a real deal lesbian couple. Unfortunately, that will mean one of them, at least, will have to be a real deal lesbian (or bisexual teenager — god forbid someone tells these teenagers that they could be bi!). Next week’s episode says more will be revealed. As long as they shoot that Fourth of July gay holiday joke once and for all, I’ll consider tuning in.

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