Monday, January 17, 2011

"Screw that, Kids!"

I'm posting about this because in 10 or 15 years (oh, who am I kidding? 15 months) I may not remember the back story, but this kid, Chris Colfer plays an amazing character in Glee...
An out-of the closet gay high school-er who is a singer and a dancer, who cannot pass for straight; who is bullied, but strong, temperamental, bitchy, compassionate and complicated.

The part was written for the actor after he auditioned and the creators realized they didn't have a part for him, but they wanted this guy in their show. (Gay boy's dream come true, right?) It is a fun show. There are a lot of goofy, funky, fun, ridiculous things about Glee. But sometimes, watching what Chris's "Kurt" is dealing with and seeing how he moves through life is the main reason I watch this show.

In terms of showing a fully textured character that is gay, there has never been anything like it on TV. As a lesbian, it floors me. I am simultaneously happy and grateful that this show and this character is on TV now. AND I'm a little disgusted that this is ground-breaking and controversial in 2011.

As a mom, I always keep Kurt in the back of my head and heart. Protecting my kids means supporting them so they can stand on their own
AND watching helplessly as they make their own courageous way thru life
AND teaching them to respect others
AND teaching them when to fight and when to work on "their art" and when to chill out.

The content of this show can practically be boiled down to two things: singing and bullying.

Glee shows - with an appalling lack of subtlety but an obviousness that lends itself to symbolism- that the kids (and sometimes adults) that put their creative, yawning, sappy hearts out there can be halted and invalidated by someone who says, "THAT'S GAY!" quicker than the snapping shut of a metal Zippo lighter. Even if the implication is put out there (What you are saying or how you are acting is GAY, Queer weird, strange, stupid, and out of the normal range) and the anti-gay slur is omitted, the effect is the same. I've seen it happen in political discussions. I've seen it happen in the work place. I've seen teachers do it to students. I've seen parents do it to kids. And countless times, I've seen kids to it to other kids.

The threat of being called gay is one thing that shuts a lot of people down: gay kids, people in the closet, heterosexuals that have nothing against people that are gay. Name-calling often stops people in their tracks, without the silenced person knowing why. Being called "Weird" is not the same as being called "Gay". But some would claim (see politicians who go on and on about how "everyone is bullied for something" and therefore "gays" don't deserve "special protections") that only "super sensitive gay kids" care so much, and take it so personally.

But isn't all bullying really about checking to see if you can make someone feel inferior and alone in a way that historically meant being called "gay"? No matter what the incident begins with, bullies just want to see if they can make you cry or beg for mercy- so then you are either a baby or a fag (or if you are a girl and you don't cry, maybe you're a dyke.) In our society, there is no bigger schoolyard insult- worse than being poor, ugly,stupid nerdy, fat, or the "wrong" race or religion. In all those groups, you are far better off to not also be perceived as gay.

All the kids in the glee club on Glee endure, submit, and occasionally stand up to bullying. And all of them have made a choice to be who they are in spite of that bullying.

And Kurt is no different. He has bravely made a choice to be who is he and not pretend or hide even- though that comes with a lot of shit, and sometimes requires him pretend that he doesn't care or pretend that he is stronger than he is. The show does all of this without denying that stereotypes are based in reality, without trying to make him some perfect "who wouldn't like him" character. The show lets him be bitchy sometimes and immature sometimes. They dress him (or let Chris dress?) in such a way that meat-heads in the fly-overs will look at him and say, "of course he gets his ass kicked" and twinks throughout the land say, "I LOVE WHAT HE'S WEARING!"

But Kurt is never a punch line. He has a "real" father on the show that loves him no matter what and is honest about how hard is is to be so different from your son. He has a small group of friends that support him completely, and are terrorized on some level by bullies themselves, but they mostly know that he is in this alone because they cannot understand the more difficult aspects and internal struggle of being gay.

Nearly every time I watch the show (and its calculated plots, random singing, bizarre antics, silliness, absurd fantasy nonsense) it ends with my mouth agape for the realization that this show and Chris Colfer's character is probably literally saving lives: Kids who see themselves for the first time in him. Kids who realize that they shouldn't bully someone for how they dress or act or for being gay. Parents who see a role model for how to protect their gay kid without asking him or telling him to hide his uniqueness. Everyday people who aren't gay or particularly prejudiced who don't think that there should be anti-gay laws, but don't see the particular harm in churches or hate groups lobbying against what will someday a non-issue (2 or 3 generations down the road).

Now they have Kurt to admire, protect, worry about, and love- despite his flaws. They have Kurt who is unapologetic, but always one bad day away from completely falling apart. They have Kurt who is as honest, smart, and brave (and more talented) than any football player or soldier or "perfect son" you have ever seen on TV.

We have Kurt to better measure our prejudices and to help us assess how inclined we are to get up off the couch and stand against people that are teaching our children that gay children (and the adults they grow into) should be stopped, feared, changed, fought, pitied, lobbied against, kept separate...

We have Kurt.
And Now Chris Colfer has a golden globe.

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