I don’t care if you don’t like Glee. I have something important to say.
Most people don’t like Glee because they think it is unrealistic and shallow, or because it’s too “gay”. That’s fine. You are entitled to your own opinion. I’m going to tell you why I like it. Even if Glee touches on gay culture in often unrealistic ways, I’m glad it is standing up to say anything at all. I still feel like we haven’t integrated gays into the film and television scene to the extent that we should. Obviously.
Glee does not represent all gay teenagers but they do touch on a few key points that many experience going through middle and high school such as bullying, high suicide rates (one-third of all gay youth have attempted suicide at some point), low self esteem and confusion about sexual identity. Whether you feel they do this accurately or not, at least they have started the conversation. This is all well and good as we observe the Blaine/Kurt and Santana/Brittany relationships in Glee. But what really blew my mind in season 3 (16th episode), was the arrival of Wade ‘Unique’ Adams.
Wade/Unique is a transgender student played by actor Alex Newell. At first, the character is part of the “enemy” singing group, Vocal Adrenaline, but in the fourth season transfers to McKinley High to be part of the New Directions. During the school day, the character dresses as Wade Adams but when she performs on stage, is most comfortable performing as Unique- heels, dress, wig, falsies and all. It’s shocking, it’s fascinating and it’s ABOUT TIME. I haven’t yet heard of a high school that openly encourages their transgender students to dress and express themselves the way they feel most comfortable if it challenges the gender norms. That is unfortunate. There are so many students that feel they can never be themselves at school for risk of discomfort, bullying or worse and it’s a shame.
I’m grateful that Newell has taken on the role as Unique because he is a new hero/heroine for those transgender kids who feel alone, different and unrecognized. It’s a brave move to take on such a controversial role and he should be applauded for that. As should be expected, Newell has already received some flak. Bill O’Reilly expressed concern that children watching the show unsupervised might be encouraged to experiment with alternative lifestyles. Newell commented, “That was my favorite, when Bill O’Reilly said something. My mother said, ‘If Bill O’Reilly said something about you, you are doing something right.’ He just showed the public and conservative viewers me. There are more people seeing me now. This is what is happening. They just can’t shut it out. There are people like Wade and Unique, and [they’re] being themselves. If kids want to go and do that, that is them expressing who they are”. Parents watch in fear as their children mimic Unique because they think it will make their children transgender. That’s not how this works. Children grow up to be what they feel they are on the inside and hopefully they are allowed that with little outside repression.
I’m glad to see that more gays are being represented on the screen because we need this to remind people that we exist. With time, I think the characters will become less cliché. But I’m not too concerned about that at the moment. More importantly, I think we need MORE transgender roles being represented. These teens (and adults) need more role models, more voices telling them that they are not alone, and most importantly that they will make it out ok. I know that this is a slow process but I congratulate Newell on taking on this role as Unique. Because it’s more than a role, it’s a way to shout out, “We’re here!”.
And now, check out my favorite performance by Unique: “Blow Me One Last Kiss”
And DON’T MISS Newell’s performance of “And I’m Telling You”