Why Glee Deserves a Comeuppance For Its Coming Out Story
Most often, Glee‘s heart’s in the right place–but just as often, its shortcomings make it necessary to say its heart’s in the right place. Last week’s episode, “I Kissed a Girl,” was a culmination of gay angst welling up for Santana Lopez (Naya Rivera), a teen struggling to stay in the closet while her friends try to pry open the door. Although the show’s gotten some well-deserved props for handling the Coming Out Story with sensitivity and authenticity in the past, its management of Santana’s suffers from one glaring flaw: she doesn’t have much of a say in the matter. In fact, Santana is essentially forced to come clean about her sexuality due to the persistence of another character, turning what could have been a largely great storyline of self-determination into a cringe-inducing display of Santana being dragged, nearly kicking and screaming, into her new identity.
Admittedly, most of “I Kissed a Girl” aptly handles the complexities of the coming out experience. After Santana gives an emotionally wrenching confession of who she is and how she sees herself to her grandmother, she’s immediately disowned. Once Santana is outed to her school, male students fetishize her sexuality, one of them even going so far as to say her preference arouses him and that he can make her “normal” with a night of straight sex (spurring her hetero allies to make a touching leap to her defense). Although the episode oddly keeps Santana’s reveal to her parents off screen, her coming out is mostly handled with a bittersweet balance that explores a realistic range of reactions from those around her. However, the writing sacrifices some of its own credibility when it comes the sanctification of Finn Hudson (Cory Monteith), the classmate whose “compassionate” efforts to make Santana comfortable with her sexual orientation actually cross sensitive personal boundaries and condescend to a character with every right to come out at her own pace.
While it’s not necessarily unrealistic for Glee to show a straight character pushing too hard for a gay character to be proud, it’s a bit strange that the show asks the audience to condone it. According to the (lack of) reactions from most of the characters, Finn’s staunch insistence that Santana embrace her sexuality isn’t overbearing or potentially damaging, but rather perfectly appropriate and even commendable. The thrust of the episode comes from Finn pushing his glee club classmates to sing songs written “by women, for women” as a way of celebrating Santana’s interest in them, and on paper, Finn’s actions have moral merit: the whole school knows about Santana’s sexuality already, a local TV ad is days from further outing Santana soon anyway (long story), and Finn can’t bear the idea of Santana going down a self-destructive road due to self-loathing. However, Santana tells Finn more than once that it’s not okay for him to yank her out of the closet against her will, and also that she would never physically hurt herself over this issue. But Finn fails to take what’s much more than a hint, and steamrolls over Santana’s feelings for his personal sense of satisfaction, keeping her sexuality smack dab in the center of the glee club’s attention for the full week.
A little more disturbing is that Finn actually broached the subject of Santana’s sexuality publicly in the previous episode–and in the context of retaliation. After having enough of a slew of insults thrown his way by Santana, Finn tells her to come out of the closet in front of dozens of students within earshot, inviting consequences unimaginable to him as a straight male. In “I Kissed a Girl,” it’s a bit awkward that when Santana tells Finn to back off on the matter, not only do her glee club friends opt to support Finn’s approach anyway, but the glee club teacher fails to say anything like, “Hey Finn, it’s cool to let her know you’re there for her, but you should probably drop this until Santana’s ready to talk about it.” Overall, Finn and other glee club members essentially tell Santana how she should feel instead of respecting how she does feel. And the fact that Santana is eventually worn down by Finn’s gestures to the point of thanking him halfway through the episode puts the audience in the awkward position of having to be okay with his methods in order to somewhat enjoy the rest of the story.
With “I Kissed a Girl,” Glee seems to hint that anyone who has yet to come out of a glass closet should expect the door to be shattered sooner or later, and that it might even be done by trusted friends. But instead of touting characters who break the pane to pieces instead of beckoning in front of it, Glee could have sent a more powerful message: that good friends–true friends–will notice the window but respect the lock, and stay close enough to show that company’s closeby should that door ever creep open someday.
Photo courtesy of the FOX Broadcasting Company.
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