A couple of months ago — before Dan Cathy ruined the greatest meal on earth with his homophobic rhetoric — I ordered a Chick-fil-A #1 combo from a high schooler who looked just like Kurt Hummel. His hair, his voice, his speech patterns. The whole Hummel shebang. In fact, when I was like, “I’m sorry, but has anyone ever told you that you—” he just grinned and finished my sentence with “look like Chris Colfer?” I nodded. The fullback-looking teenage dude who was working the register beside him said, “But like season one Colfer. Not teen heartthrob Colfer.”
I live in rural north Georgia where it’s still kind of brave to be openly gay, or even openly gender atypical, but here was a 16-year-old guy with an angelic voice and slightly effeminate mannerisms and no inclination to mask either one of those things. And why would he? He looks and sounds just like teen heartthrob Chris Colfer.
Weeks later, when I saw the queue of “family values” Christians wrapped around the restaurant twice, I realized that when it comes to Glee, I may have made the terrible mistake of missing its music because of its missteps.
It’s no secret that gay people have a love/hate relationship with the gayest show on TV. And not in that way where your best friend clowns on you for not having any game when you’re out in a bar so you punch her affectionately in the arm and go, “I hate you!” But more like when a lion escapes from the zoo and knocks your baby out of your arms and gobbles it right up so you punch it in the head and go, “I HATE YOU!!!!!” But then there’s the love. Oh, so much love. For two straight years, Glee actors and actresses have dominated our AfterEllen and AfterElton Hot 100 polls. Brittana and Faberry and Klaine continue to win every couples contest on both of our websites. Gleeks dominate Twitter and Tumblr and Facebook. Over at fanfiction.net, Glee has inspired 15,000 — fifteen thousand! — more fanfics than the next most popular show.
Look, Glee has problems. I know it. You know it. People who don’t even watch the show know it. It has problems with continuity, problems with tone, problems with consistent character development. It tries to straddle the line between pathos and peculiarity and often ends up teetering over the edge into absolutely absurd. But then so does Pretty Little Liars. So does Once Upon a Time. And so does Lost Girl and True Blood and so did Ugly Betty and Skins. Yet none of us are hurling pitchforks and hammers and hockey sticks at those beloved shows.
What is it about Glee that sets off gay people so much?
I think it’s two things: 1) When Glee gets the gay thing right, it gets it right-er than anyone ever has done. When Glee resonates, it resonates. It lands, it sticks, it gets inside us and acts as a balm to our weary souls. Gay people face certain agonies and triumphs and hopes and trials that straight people will never know, and when Glee is able to capture those singular queer experiences and reflect them back at us with candor and honesty, it is absolutely magical.
And 2) Because Glee has the ability to light our hearts on fire, we heap all of our personal stuff onto the writers and characters and go, “OK, and show me how this Gets Better too!” But when Glee misses, it’s a belly-flop from the high dive. And instead of writing it off as a momentary sting like we would with most other TV shows, we act like Ryan Murphy tried to drown us. The show is better than the flops! We’ve seen it be better than the flops! We’ve watched it soar! It healed us once! How dare it not heal us again!
I’ve been as angry at Glee as anyone, hurling stuff at the TV and cancelling it from my DVR and bitching about it to anyone who will listen and rolling my eyes until they almost pop out of their sockets. And then crying over it and adding it back to my DVR and caressing the TV screen and downloading the music to my iPod. But this year, I’ve decided to take a new approach to Glee: I’ve decided to embrace it as a hot mess and love it anyway. I’ve decided to view it with the same kind of compassion I use when watching the other absurd shows I love.
See, because for all the bizarre creative choices that happen on-screen, there are a bazillion positive ripples for LGBT viewers off-screen. There are lesbian women of all ages and ethnicities all over the world who have come out because Santana had the courage to come out. There are bisexual women who don’t have to shy away from the label anymore because Brittany breaks the stigma. There are gay teenagers who believe they can find love because it happened for Klaine and Brittana. There is a teenage guy working at a Chick-fil-A in the foothills of the north Georgia mountains who doesn’t have to hide who he is because he’s seen himself on TV and he is a teen heartthrob. Even when Glee makes me grimace, it is making a positive impact for lesbians and gays all over the world.
Glee‘s creators could never have known how apt “Don’t Stop Believin'” would be when they chose it for the show’s main theme. But, well, I am just a small town girl livin’ in a lonely world. And I’m taking the 9:00 train to Lima, Ohio.
Will you join me in starting anew for Glee‘s fourth season?