Glee, you really need to get it together. And when I say Glee, what I really mean is Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk really need to get it together. When the first episode premiered in May of 2009 I was incredibly excited about it. As a music major and the Musical Director of the Queer Chorus at UT, the idea of a show about people like me (I was closer to their age then than I am now) was really great. The entire first season was alright in terms of their social justice awareness. Or at least it was alright enough to get me to keep watching until season two.
However, that doesn’t mean there weren’t a few glaring errors. The most noticeable being the old and tired “straight girl falling in love with gay boy” trope. Even then, it was forgivable. But the more and more I’ve watched Glee, the more and more I’ve began to cringe and get angry.
The first season was a phenomenal success. Many praised the show for tackling “queer issues” (which were really gay issues) - and the producers of the show knew that. Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk knew that many people who had little to no knowledge about queer issues were now looking to their show as a means of education. In a country like the United States where many folks are still incredibly homophobic, transphobic, etc, this show had the opportunity to change hearts and minds. Instead of taking responsibility head on, the producers and writers used their newfound popularity to do perpetuate dangerous stereotypes and create more work for the rest of us.
The most egregious examples of this would be the issues surrounding Santana’s coming out and everything about the character Unique. Coming out experiences are something that Glee seemed to take very seriously. There were several episodes about Kurt’s coming out process, as well as the former gay bashing closeted gay character Karofsky. These white gay men’s storylines were handled with the utmost care and respect. There was even an entire episode dedicated to Karofsky’s attempted suicide after the amount of bullying he was subjected to. However, when Santana, a woman of color was forced out of the closet by the pathetic excuse for an “ally” Finn Hudson (another straight white cisgender man) everything was considered a joke. And Santana wasn’t just outed to the other students at McKinley High School. She was outed to the entire state of Ohio as part of a political campaign advertisement before she even had the opportunity to tell her parents or really come to terms with her sexuality.
Anyone who watches Glee knows that Santana isn’t exactly a saint. She’s known for her quick wit and sharp tongue. However, that still doesn’t excuse what Finn did. Nor does it explain why all Finn had to do was sing the worst rendition of a Cyndi Lauper song I’ve ever heard in my life and all was forgiven. Even though it caused Santana to be disowned by her grandmother. Why? Because Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk don’t respect women. Let alone understand their issues or trans* issues. If you’ve been keeping up with the current season, you’ve seen a few episodes featuring the character Unique. We were first introduced to Unique, an african american cross dressing character at the end of season 3 of Glee. Unique told Kurt and Tina in one episode that they wished they could dress the way they felt more comfortable, (in a more feminine way) on the stage with their glee club Vocal Adrenaline. After successfully doing so and transferring to New Directions the year after, Unique was introduced as a regular character onto the show in season 4. Towards the middle of the current season it was revealed that Unique identifies as a transgender woman.
What I would like to know is, as a queer former fan of the show, why Glee would take so much care to tell the stories of white men, but allow the faculty at McKinley High School to call Unique a “she-male” without explaining why this term is horribly offensive? Why the faculty and students at McKinley High School use Unique as a verbal punching bag and say incredibly transphobic things to her on the regular? Why the sexual identities of female characters are not worthy of more than 2 episodes at most? Why the queer women on the show jump from partner to partner and female sexuality is portrayed as something that women “try out” and not something that is concrete? Glee, you still have a chance to turn everything around and become the positive role model you once were. We get it, you're (in some cases) gay, white men. However, I would steer clear from ableism, sexism, racism, and any other ism you haven’t tackled yet if you really want to do anything for the people who actually need help. The queer people and youth of this country who aren’t anything like Kurt Hummel and are ignored by the government, the HRC, and countless other organizations who couldn’t care less. Unique is my sister, and she deserves her chance to not just sing, but be heard too.