Why “Glee”‘s Brittany and Santana are my queer icons

 
 

I’ve never really had any TV characters I could identify with, who seemed to represent my personal experience of sexuality. But then I discovered Brittany and Santana on Glee.

To be honest, I didn’t feel an immediate kinship with the two Cheerios. Unlike the ubergay Kurt, their queer nature wasn’t telegraphed from episode 1. In fact, it wasn’t even until halfway through Glee‘s first season that the first hint of queerness was even mentioned. But as the characters got more and more fleshed out through the second half of season 1, I started to find myself drawn to the two of them and their unconventional — yet, for me, totally relatable — relationship.

From the outset, Brittany and Santana are portrayed as nearly inseparable best friends: they do almost everything together, from cheerleading, to trying to sabotage glee, to having an anesthesia-fueled hallucinations. But it turns out their relationship isn’t of the platonic sort: in the episode "Sectionals," Brittany offhandedly reveals that she and Santana have sex — though, she adds, this doesn’t mean that they’re dating.

Brittany and Santana probably aren’t lesbians — their numerous dalliances with boys make that pretty clear — but they’re definitely not straight. Maybe you’d call it bisexual, maybe you’d call it heteroflexible, maybe you’d call it bicurious: whatever they are, it’s definitely a bit queer. And as a girl who’s been attracted to men, women, and everything in between, it’s thrilling to see this sort of sexual fluidity represented on one of the most popular shows on television.

It’s Brittany in particular who embodies this openly sexual vibe. While Santana’s only acknowledged queer connection is her relationship with Brittany, on multiple occasions, Brittany’s voiced some sentiments that definitely aren’t straight: from her admission in "Bad Reputation" that she’s made out with multiple girls, to her desire to touch Coach Beiste’s breasts, to her fawning over Britney Spears in "Britney/Brittany," it’s clear that Brittany has more than a passing attraction to women. And yes, her same sex attractions haven’t amounted to a full on, official relationship — but then again, neither have her encounters with boys. Brittany is, if you will, an equal opportunity slut: one who’s willing to make out with whatever hotness crosses her path, regardless of gender.

Now, granted, my reading of Brittany and Santana is not universal. Even Fox, the network that broadcasts Glee, does not see the two as bisexual — in GLAAD’s list of (network-reported) queer characters on broadcast networks, both Kurt Hummel and Sam Evans are listed as gay characters on Glee, but neither Brittany nor Santana warrant a mention. And among fellow fans of the show, my designation of Brittany and Santana as queer icons has met with some derision: their relationship is played for laughs, I’ve been told. They’re just straight girls making out for male attention. They’re not really queer.

Except I don’t really buy that. Though there’s no doubt that some women use same sex dalliances as a way of attracting male attention, there’s been no indication that Brittany and Santana fall into that category. First of all, the sexual component of their relationship is hardly public: when Brittany first reveals that she and Santana have sex, it seems clear from Santana’s reaction that this is somewhat of a secret.

In fact, with the exception of their joint date with Finn, Brittany and Santana have hardly been shown using their relationship to win over boys. Even during said date, they’re far more interested in each other than anything Finn has to offer: sure, they’ll let him watch them make out, but it’s more to get him to open his wallet than to get him into bed. Yes, Brittany and Santana know that their relationship has a certain appeal for high school boys — but that doesn’t mean their relationship exists solely for those boys’ benefit.

For me, Brittany and Santana represent a new mode of queer figure, similar to the adolescents described in Ritch Savin-Williams’s The New Gay Teenager: fluidly sexual, comfortable with same sex contacts, and more interested in finding happiness than finding the right label. They may not fit into the rigid strictures of traditional sexual identities, but they’re comfortable enough with themselves not to care.

It remains to be seen where Glee will take Brittany and Santana’s relationship—though with rumors of a kiss between the two during the second season, it seems fair to say they won’t be abandoning the sexual element. It’s possible that the two will become more queer identified, or even — gasp! — explore a more public relationship. But wherever they end up, I hope that the powers that be allow them to remain the fluidly sexual, queer women that I adore. Hey, a girl’s gotta have someone on TV she can relate to.

This post originally appeared on Jezebel. Republished with permission.

The author of this post can be contacted at lux@fleshbot.com.

 
 

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