I survived a childhood in musical theatre. I’m also prone to fanboydom. So when I learned that people were going absolutely hysterical over Glee, I knew I had to stay away. If I watched the pilot, I’d surely end up downloading Glee club versions of pop songs and bidding on Lea Michelle’s throat lozenge wrappers on eBay.
When I finally gave in, I found myself in a situation that was far worse: I began to see a little piece of myself in each and every one of those “born-this-way,” happy misfit characters. Especially the gay one.
If you haven’t watched Glee, here’s the deal: a group of misfit teenagers join the glee club with the hope of raising their self-esteem. Angst? Check. Racial tokenism? Check. Popular kids who secretly struggle to fit in just as much as the weirdos? Check.
Then there’s Kurt Hummel, a deliciously queeny student with an appetite for diva worship. Baby queers get to watch Kurt conquer high school homophobia in a series of after-school special episodes about bullying, falling in line with the It Gets Better Project. Glee has gotten serious cred from gay rights groups like GLSEN, especially after the show featured a boy-on-boy kiss between Kurt and his dreamy prep school boytoy.
But Glee’s most radical move is giving Kurt such an outrageous wardrobe.
I can’t remember the last time I saw a gay character on TV (who wasn’t a villain or a sidekick) wearing lycra, leather daddy gear, or a uniform. In the wake of the homonormative agenda, it seems that many leading gay characters look pleasantly “just like everyone else.”
Will Truman, the successful gay lawyer of Will and Grace, in his butch powersuit:
The gay dads of Modern Family looking painfully boring:
Kurt brings us back to a version of “gay” that’s been left in the dust on television, the kind of gay that blurs gender and brings campy costume pieces to daily life.
Kurt’s church lady hat:
Kurt, however, isn’t a first for queeny teens on TV. Style played an even more critical role for gay characters back when their homonarratives were meant to be under the radar.
Rickie Vasquez played the token GBF on My So-Called Life, the beloved show from the ’90s that was canceled after just one season. Rickie was the first gay teen character on a primetime network and the only one for the next five years. But he never actually uttered the words “I’m gay” until the season finale, which came as a big surprise if you couldn’t read between the lines. The Christmas episode when Rickie’s aunt and uncle kicked him out of the house? Yeah, that happened because Rickie came out.
I didn’t understand the “show, don’t tell” method that MSCL writers used to convey Rickie’s orientation back when the show was on the air. I did, however, recognize that Rickie’s clothes matched those worn by the men I worked with in musicals.
Note the band jacket. His storyline may be on the downlow, but Rickie knows that everybody loves a man in uniform:
Notice how Rickie is rocking the same vest in two different episode. He his a master of layering.
Apparently, the people who needed to get it got it. I was oblivious for the first few episodes, but I did adopt Rickie as a fashion icon. I started collecting bandanas and often wore a single dangling earring.
Like Rickie, Kurt continues to inspire femmey little things who just want to sing Idina Menzel songs in their high school talent show. The website Fashion of Glee tells Kurt wannabes where they can buy the clothes he wears on the show (I’m particularly fond of the bizarre “half-coat”).
Perhaps Glee will give rise to more genderbending boys. For now, I’m content to watch this video for the rest of my life: