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On the Issue of Kurt: The New Age Homophobia
When the FOX network launched their primetime television juggernaut, GLEE in the spring of 2009 an estimated 9.619 million viewers were introduced to Kurt Hummel. Though his personal life was not featured prominently in the first two episodes he was undoubtedly the gay teenager amongst the musically inclined misfits. Since then he has come-out to his friends and family, lead an entire football team in an impromptu 'Single Ladies' dance in the middle of a football game and become the embodiment of the 'It Gets Better' campaign of 2011. In three years, his character has been celebrated by GLAAD, PFLAG and several other LGBT and liberal organizations while being targeted as a dangerous tool of the propagators of the gay agenda by religiously and severely right-winged institutions; such as, One Million Moms and MRC Culture and Media Institute. It would seem Kurt has become the sole face of the gay youth of America, a positive role model for the Twilight generation.
Should any character be given this societal power? Does he actually represent the majority of gay teenagers in North America or is he another gay cliche? Could this brand of homosexuality be damaging to the gay rights movement in the long run?
In the four years I attended secondary school there was only one out gay student in the entire school, of upwards to three-hundred students. Since graduation, nearly eight years ago, I have learned through the grapevine of friends of friends of people you're sure you saw in the cafeteria that twelve schoolmates have since come-out as gay or lesbian. Nowadays there seems to be a gay teenager coming-out every twenty-three minutes, they are on the buses, in the streets and exploding supreme homosexuality in your faces at all times. There doesn't seem to be the same level of stigma associated with being gay or lesbian that there once was. Could this be associated with the desensitization of the North American youth in regards to violence, sex and sexuality? Parent groups have been screaming about this for years, perhaps they were onto something. While the young LGBT community have Kurt as an 'out and proud' role model (along with a slew of other gay primetime television characters), the gay youth of the late nineties and early two-thousands had Jack McPhee and the memories of the horrifically tragic death of Matthew Shepard, keeping us sealed in our respective closets.
There is something inherently satisfying about a young gay (or lesbian) couple depicted on national television, especially for a gay twenty-something who prayed for cancer in exchange for heterosexual, at twelve. It is deeply heartening to know the younger generation of gay, bisexual or questioning youth are able to watch gay couples featured equally alongside their straight counterparts because it was not always the way. In November 1989, ABC aired an episode of thirtysomething depicting two gay men in bed together (the first scene ever) and the backlash cost them an estimated $1.5 million dollars, when controversy caused several advertisers to pull their commercials from the episode.
My issue with Kurt does not lie within his underlying message of 'It Gets Better' but with how Ryan Murphy, a gay man himself, chose to construct the character; he seemingly built this teenager on the foundation he would be gay. There is nothing phenomenal about Kurt, nothing particularly strikingly extraordinary about his personality nor does he have any interests or talents you may not expect from a homosexual boy, he is undoubtedly the ultimate cliche. From his personal interests (fashion, makeovers and musicals) to his religious views (atheist due to several religious institutions denouncing the homosexual lifestyle) to his overarching storyline (overcoming adversity, especially homophobic bullying) to his love Madge (well, 'nuff said), all of them constructed outwardly from his sexuality.
So, with that said, why are we joining the celebration of this 'groundbreaking' character? Is it because he's an out and proud gay teenager in an American school who dares to sing show tunes? Have our standards sunk so low we find cause to celebrate someone simply because they choose to be honest about their sexuality, on a television show? There was nothing truly unique or different about Kurt in the beginning, his coming-out story has been done ad nauseam and the only reason it gained such traction was the mirroring of the 'It Gets Better' campaign, which the writers mercilessly exploited. He is an easy character to like since he is a shallowly written who easily fits into every gay stereotype and does not stray far from them; he is what the American people expect him to be.
I understand the purpose of having the issues gay children face out in the real world portrayed in the lives of their television counterparts; television dramas are a comfortable breeding ground for acceptance and tolerance. You are able to get your message across to millions of people without asking them to attend a rally or vote on an issue but simply relying on them to grow attached to the gay characters on their favourite television shows; those will be the faces they remember and the lives they will discuss with friends and family and other fans. However, the time for comfortable cliches is rapidly coming to an end and I find it rather insulting Murphy, being a forty-something gay man, saw fit to create such a shallow character.
In 2012, we don't need painful coming out stories marred with violence and despair but write in the vein of 'Grey's Anatomy' 'United States of Tara' 'Brothers & Sisters' 'Greek' 'Nurse Jackie' 'Modern Family' and 'Ugly Betty' who have simply introduced characters who happen to be gay into their respective worlds without getting weighed down in the societal politics. These characters deal with the same issues of their straight counterparts without the added underlying subtext "... this is so much harder for me because I am 100% gay". I would never say being gay as a teenager is easy - it's not - but I would argue it's counterproductive to shove acceptance down the throats of the public.
The LGBT community cannot ask the world to treat them the same as the same as everyone else and have their sexuality treated as a nonissue but continue to write characters whose main defining traits is their homosexuality. The community has made several advances in the last eleven years and acceptance of LGBT people have been coming in leaps and bounds but I am bored of the cliched characters on television, I would rather see someone I can relate to.
I believe we are ready for characters who does not let their sexuality define them on television, we have some fantastic celebrity and political role models to draw inspiration from. It is time to move beyond the coming-out storyline's and attempt to write a character, similar to Marshall of 'United States of Tara', who is simply accepted as being gay. I am aware we are not beyond LGBT youth having to come-out to their friends and family but reusing stories about gay/lesbian teenagers losing their families due to religious or political beliefs is not the path we want to continue on, times have changed. It still happens, nobody is denying that, with disheartening news coming out of Russia, Santorum's views on homosexuality and several outspoken religious-based organizations leading protests to strip the LGBT community of their rights; nobody can deny being gay is hard.
With that said, however, to have every gay, lesbian and transgendered character on television scrutinized, ridiculed and ostracized (sometimes solely because they are written as being unable to relate to their friends or family due to their sexual orientation) because it makes for great dramatic television is not necessarily the message we want to send to the youth of America.
It just breeds more fear and shame. I can only imagine how difficult it must be to convince your parents you have not changed, that your sexuality is such a small part of your personality, when the only image of gay they are able to conjure up is Kurt Hummel, from 'Glee', you know, the one who wore the skirt a couple of episodes ago.