Don't Gleek on My Parade
For all its inclusiveness, 'Glee' falls short in the 'T' department
By Jimmie D,
8:30AM, Thu. Oct. 28, 2010
I'm not sure how many folks just about up and died when they heard Glee would be doing Rocky Horror for Halloween, but I was among them, along with my kids, natch. I was a little surprised that such a mainstream show would venture into such queer, cult territory, but I suspended any disbelief like the true Gleek that I am.
If you are unfamiliar with the show, just know that it has featured numerous characters with varied abilities and backgrounds; a character with gay dads, the diva of color and size, students with physical and developmental disabilities, and the sartorial gay boy who auditioned for the female lead highlight a few of the cast. The members of the Glee club, dubbed New Horizons, are consistently reminded of their outcast status as they routinely receive "slushy facials" from the football team and other popular kids, yet about half of the club hails from said football team or the cheerleading squad. Their teacher, Will Schuster (recently divorced and dealing with an identity crisis of his own), makes a noble effort to be inclusive and do right by his students. In one episode, he goes so far as to force them to spend time in a wheelchair to truly understand the plight of a Gleemate who they were all insensitive towards. Sounds like practically the only prime time TV show with a consistently positive message, right?
Disheartened doesn't even begin to describe how I feel about last night's episode, but it's a start. As I figured, the decision to even do Rocky in the first place was met with threats from the principal and trepidation from other faculty members. Ultimately, the club ended up performing the show, without an audience. So why the hell did they change the lyric in "Sweet Transvestite" to "I'm a sweet transvestite / From sensational Transylvania"?
Okay, so you've got a Dr. Franknfurter played by a female-identified ciswoman, singing that she's a transvestite, but not from the planet Transsexual? I can only feel like they're somehow trying to say that transvestism is all fun and games, but it's not okay to be exposing teenagers to transsexuality, even when it's a woman playing a man playing a woman. This whole Victor/Victoria scenario is not new to teen media, and is particularly unthreatening when done by characters who aren't even transsexual to begin with. So why would Glee, after being so positive about every other minority group under the sun, choose to censor this particular lyric, given the theme of the entire episode?
I can only postulate the producers' and network's reasons for doing such a thing, but I think it comes down to one issue: it's not safe, and it's not anywhere near the border of safe and likely to get you in a mess of backlash. Gay is okay because it's still gender normative in most of the media's portrayals, but transgendered characters are still, almost always, cast as being victims, or worse, mentally unstable. Why is it that the act of playing with gender can be normalized, yet to actually transcend gender is so unspeakable?
I think I know the answer to this question. If my experience dictates anything, it's that people are afraid of what they don't understand. It's easy enough to get why a person may be attracted to another member of their own sex if you haven't been indoctrinated by fear via a religion that condemns homosexuality. However, it is much less easy for those who live in the gender binary to understand how someone who is otherwise "normal" could possibly feel that they are a different gender than their biological sex without having something wrong with them. So far, Britain is the only nation which has removed transsexuality from their list of psychological disorders. The DSM-V won't be out in the United States for who knows how long, but I do know that homosexuality still continued to be quite the taboo topic long after it was removed from the DSM-II nearly 40 years ago.
I still love Glee, even though I no longer consider it an ally of my causes. Like the love of a parent who tolerates their child but does not accept them, it's a little bittersweet.