Glee: West Lima Story

After “Who do you think you are?” the second most popular question I get here at Fanboys of the Universe is “How old are you…exactly?” I understand the confusion. I write very openly and honestly about giving Shakespeare the idea to write in rhyming couplets, fighting in World War II (sometimes even on the side of the Allies), and handing out Wet Ones®  and Ivory® soap to those filthy kids at Woodstock. Let’s just say I’ve seen a lot. But never, in all my years, did I think I’d ever see a couple of gay teenagers do it on network television.

I haven’t been keeping up with Glee this season for two main reasons: 1.) The songs almost never have anything to do with whatever is going on in the story and 2.) The characters make the same mistakes and learn the same lessons in every episode. After two seasons, you really begin to sympathize with the bullies. If I attended McKinley High, I might just be tempted to beat these kids up, too. However, I had to tune into this week’s episode, “The First Time,” because of the much-anticipated and much-publicized coupling of Glee‘s resident same-sex sweethearts Kurt and Blaine. Or Klaine. Or Blurt. I don’t know. I never know how to do those.

This is significant for a number of reasons. First, holy sh*t! Two gay teens are doing it on network television! Not just holding hands. Not just smooching once a season. Doing it. IT! (S-e-x.) In the “family hour” even! Second, I know it’s hard to think about Glee having some huge cultural impact, but imagine for a moment that you’re a gay kid. You’ve grown out of the frustrating platonic nature of Spongebob and Patrick’s relationship. (Spatrick?) And your parents have put a lock on Here! On Demand, so you’re still years away from seeing reruns of Dante’s Cove. Then, along comes Glee, with a portrayal that’s sensitive, without being cloying; sexy, without being exploitative; and powerful without highlighting and underlining its message. Imagine what that’s got to be like for a gay kid to see. Sure, Santana and Brittany have been going at it for years now, but they’re both such cartoon characters, it’s hard to assign any emotional depth to their pairing, though I certainly hope that changes.

Kurt and Blaine, on the other hand, are ever-so-slightly closer to some sort of reality. (Well, as real as anything in Gleeland gets.) The fact that the other power couple in the show, Rachel and Finn (Finnchel?) grapple with the same first-time issues makes a very strong point about the similarities in the human experience of sexuality and relationships. It’s a remarkably affirming and positive portrayal of sexuality, gay or otherwise, and in a political environment that continues to demonize and criminalize gay people, Glee is digging in and refusing to back down. Art, even of the weekly teen musical variety, can provoke, enlighten, comfort and sometimes even change the world.

Plus, the clever use of songs, and the juxtaposition of the kids’ angst and the plot of West Side Story should serve as a blueprint for incorporating songs into a story. Granted, West Side Story has already done most of the work for them, but still, “One Hand, One Heart” and “A Boy Like That” take on significant new meanings as they infiltrate and color the offstage lives and experiences of the characters. Side note: I worked on a hellish production of West Side Story once. Usually, if I’m involved in a musical production, I can go on and listen to music from said production for years to come, no matter how many times I heard it in rehearsal and performance. Not so with West Side Story, which only ever evoked revulsion if I heard it, brining back nauseating memories of that ill-fated production. So, it’s high praise indeed that I found the West Side Story performances in Glee not only tolerable, but effective.

Whenever I see media representations of young gay love, I’m naturally reminded of my own first time and how far removed it was from the sweet and innocent romance depicted on TV and in films. Seedy doesn’t even begin to describe my first time. Sordid would be a better description. At 16, I decided it was time to lose my virginity, and since I had no Blaine of my own to snuggle and try on clothes with, I hooked up with a 40-year-old ex-Marine. Did I mention I met him by calling a gay-youth-in-crisis hotline? And his recommendation for my crisis was to meet at his house for a soak in his hot tub? I warned you. Sordid. You know what’s worse? He put on Kenny G’s “Songbird” to set the mood. Yup, I lost my virginity with Kenny G playing in the background. Just…sordid.

Anyway, I’m glad there’s a Kurt and a Blaine in the TV landscape, showing a sweet, but remarkably mature alternative to the option I went with. I can also see the side of the critics who say it was all a bit too chaste, softly-lit and more implied, than explicit. But this is Glee, after all. It’s not like they’re going to show actual penetration. Besides, it wasn’t that long ago that we had little hope of ever seeing a gay couple kiss on network television, let alone two teenaged boys losing their virginity together. And to all those conservative groups up in arms over this so-called “controversial” episode? To quote Anita (or Yoda): “Smoke on your pipe, and put that in!”

Now, if only Glee could maintain this sort of quality and consistency in future episodes, I’d be a devoted fan again.

How about you? Did you like “The First Time?” Or do you have a “first time” story to share? Feel free to tell all in the comments section.

Glee airs Tuesdays at 8/7c on Fox.

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