There’s no B in G-L-E-E

This originally appeared in BCN issue 106.

Is the High School musical show dodging the bi bullet?

The too-popular-to-be-cult TV show set around an American High School singing club touches on bisexuality and sparks a storm

Glee.  As disposable teen TV shows go, it’s very now.  And they’ve just hit queer headlines over one of their two bi plotlines, so let’s take a look at what has been going on… are they helping to keep bisexuality down, or is it all just a storm in an internet teacup?

For those who’ve never seen it, the most important thing to know about Glee is that while there are songs and spin-off albums a plenty, it’s another high school drama, with all the need for unlikely relationship twists to maintain the drama that suggests, and plenty that is unexplained and just happens to support the central action.  So there’s ongoing dramatic tension about whether the glee club (school choir) can raise money to do enter this or that competition, but never any question about where the orchestra members or backing choirs come from.  So as a show it’s firmly tongue in cheek, knowing, even to the point of referencing slash fiction about itself.

From early on in the first series, Kurt is an out gay teenager, with fun character development between him and his father, who is instinctively homophobic but also very clear that no-one is allowed to bully his son.

While Kurt is alone as the only gay in the vill- er, school – eventually he finds a potential love interest, Blaine, at a rival school’s glee club.  So as viewers we know that Kurt and Blaine are the “gay couple waiting to happen” – since they met, Kurt has been mooning after Blaine like an eager puppy, his hopes dashed by Blaine’s attentions being focused on some other guy after another.

Midway through the second series, in episode Blame It On The Alcohol, the central characters get sloshed and teenage drama ensues, with a bisexual twist for previously-only-into-guys Blaine.  At the end of a duet Blaine kisses Rachel and, as we’re all obliged to these days, finds that he’s kissed a girl and he liked it.

Slices of the bi blogosphere rose into fury, which as the programme is screened over here a few weeks after it’s on in the USA.

And yet… when it aired here at the start of April, really, it wasn’t so bad.  After the kiss sends Blaine into a spiral of doubt about his sexuality, he declares to Kurt his intention to kiss Rachel again and see if it still feels good, and where it might lead from there.  Kurt accuses him of leading Rachel on…

Blaine:  “When we kissed it felt good”
Kurt:  “You’re gay, Blaine”
“I thought I was but… I’ve never even had a boyfriend before.  Isn’t this the time you’re supposed to figure stuff out?  Maybe I’m bi”
Kurt: “Bisexual is a term that gay guys in high school use when they wanna hold hands with girls and feel like a normal person for a change”
“Why are you so angry?”
“Because I look up to you. I admire how proud you are of who you are… I know what it’s like to be in the closet and here you are about to tiptoe back in.”
“I’m really sorry if this hurts your feelings or your pride or whatever.  But however confusing it might be for you – it’s actually a lot more confusing for me.  You are 100% sure who you are.  Fantastic.  Well, maybe we can’t all be so lucky”
“Yeah, I’m so lucky.  I was really lucky to be chased out of high school by a bully”
“And why did he do that?”
“Because he didn’t like who I was”
“So exactly what you’re saying to me right now, isn’t it?  I am… searching, OK?  I am honestly trying to figure who I am.  And for you of all people to get down on me for that…”

And because we need a comedic payoff to such a tense scene, it ends:
Blaine: “I’ll see you.  I’d say ‘bye’, but I wouldn’t want to make you angry”.

A moment later Blaine and Rachel kiss a second time – but now without the alcohol or the magic of that particular moment, the spark isn’t there.
“Yup. I’m gay. 100% gay. Thank you so much for clearing it up for me Rachel”
“That was amazing. I just had a relationship with a guy who turned out to be gay, that is songwriting gold!”

Up to this point there is a lack of clear bi characters in Glee, it’s true.  And a remark from one of the people behind the series doesn’t help: “Blaine is not bi.  He is gay, and will always be gay.  I think it’s very important to young kids that they know this character is one of them” (Ryan Murphy, lead writer for the programme).

So on the one hand, Kurt gets to hear a verbal put-down on his dial-a-cliche version of bisexuality, but on the other, the plot then reveals the “I think I’m bi” character to quickly decide that he’s gay after all.  Biphobia may have been taken down a peg, but the assumptions it led to still got proved right.  The notion of bisexuality as a moment of confusion, a brief experiment you can quickly put behind you, all fits this plot.

On balance I like what happened.  I feel that if you’re going to tackle an ‘issue’ like bisexuality, you pretty much have to have characters being crappy about it.  Otherwise it’s just “oh, (issue)” “oh, cool”.  And ‘doing’ bisexuality as an issue probably demands something like Kurt and Blaine’s argument: crucially, rather than Kurt trotting out his negative lines, they are then neatly ripped apart by Blaine.  Blaine may not end up bi, but he takes down a big slice of the biphobia many people hear from the gay community – and even if he doesn’t wind up as a bi character (and rather easily persuaded that he’s not bi) he gives a loud clear signal that bisexuality exists, and underlines the hypocrisy of biphobia from within the gay community.

Well, that’s the boys in Glee, who can find out whether they are into girls in the space of two kisses.  Hopefully by next BCN the girl/girl relationship plotline slowly unfolding between Santana and Brittany, both of whom have also dated guys, will have become clear enough for a look at that!