Glee paves way for serious representation of gay characters

It looks like love is in the air on Glee.

Romance is by no means out of the ordinary on the Fox series, but this time, it’s a little different.

Kurt Hummel (Chris Colfer) and second-season heartthrob Blaine (Darren Criss) finally united in last week’s episode, “Original Song.”

Besides offering some long overdue happiness to the endlessly victimized Kurt, who has spent much of his screen time this season on the verge of tears, the relationship is an important step for gay characters on network television.

Glee has already received praise and media attention for its portrayal of gay teenagers. The anti-gay bullying plotline, in which Kurt was abused by a homophobic classmate, directly acknowledged national concern over last fall’s tragic number of suicides by gay teens.

One of the youngest gay characters ever to appear on television, Kurt was praised for “changing hearts, minds, and Hollywood” in a recent Entertainment Weekly cover story regarding gay teens on TV.

Now Glee is pushing the envelope for network TV once again by beginning to explore Kurt’s burgeoning sexuality, something the network was already done with most of the straight characters.

Even as gay characters started to become a more regular fixture on network television in the ’90s and early 2000s, they were often portrayed as asexual or lacking love lives, especially when compared to straight characters.

If gay characters, especially men, were in relationships, they were often sterilized, and any display of affection was unrealistically absent so as to remain palatable to mainstream audiences.

Consider Will & Grace. Grace went through her share of men in the show’s eight-year run, but Will’s love life was notably lackluster.

Although the sitcom was groundbreaking in the centrality of its gay characters, it was severely limited in its depiction of gay sexuality or romance.

Even Modern Family, which many praise as progressive for its portrayal of long-term partners Mitch and Cameron, caused some controversy for its failure to show the couple kissing.

Their parenting and relationship problems mirror those of the straight couples on the show, but unlike the other couples, the two men rarely display any physical affection. It wasn’t until the second season that Mitch and Cam finally shared an innocent smooch.

And until very recently, Glee fell into this same trend of seeming to be progressive but really playing it safe.

Kurt remained largely asexual, and the show’s most significant foray into same-sex romance was between Santana (Naya Rivera) and Brittany (Heather Morris), who were occasionally shown making out in their short-skirted cheerleading uniforms.

The show recently began seriously exploring the possibility of actual romantic feelings between them, but the two actresses effectively serve as eye-candy, and their physical encounters offer an easy means of attracting male viewers who enjoy physical interaction between women. With the male characters, it’s not so easy.

Two of the latest episodes of Glee began to directly address the issue of gay males hiding their sexuality. When Kurt’s father expresses discomfort with Kurt having a romantic encounter with a guy, Kurt asks him, “So it’s not being gay that upsets you, it’s me acting on it?”

This is exactly the message shows like Will & Grace send when they edit all the sex out of homosexuality.

But last week, Kurt and Blaine finally shared not only one passionate kiss, but two. And legitimate kissing, not just a passionless peck.

Two good kisses, some hand-holding and a monogamous relationship might not seem like anything to get worked up about, especially for a show that tends to be quite gratuitous in depicting and discussing straight teenage sexuality.

Glee seems fully aware of the precedent in gay representation on network TV, and it is poised to break the boundaries that have been set and give us something more real.

Here’s to hoping Fox won’t lose its nerve, and Kurt and Blaine can experience the same kind of happiness and drama afforded to the rest of Glee’s heterosexual cast.

Cara Dickason is a senior majoring in cinema-critical studies and English. Her column, “Cine File,” runs Tuesdays.

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