In his much-noted Meet the Press appearance Joe Biden praised Will & Grace for furthering the gay rights cause and NBC has picked up a show about gay men having a baby called The New Normal, so that means it's time for some sort of glancing trend piece about how gay people are on TV now and no one's fussing about it and isn't progress wonderful. Sigh.
The current example of this perennial article is Brian Stelter's "Gay on TV: It's All in the Family" in The New York Times, which marvels at the fact that gay weddings on Grey's Anatomy and gay parenting on Modern Family aren't being denounced on Fox News all day. Mitt Romney likes Modern Family, it's been said, so how about that. Well, what about that? (Actual gay people are another issue for Romney: Richard Grenell was forced to quit as the campaign's foreign policy spokesman after Christian activists freaked out.) There's nothing wrong with being excited about representations of diversity on television going unprotested — that's a good and progressive thing. But good grief do we have to read the same article every time some sitcom introduces a harmless gay character who is deliberately designed to not offend and then ends up not offending? It's not that the cause isn't worth writing about, it's just that it's gotten so boring to read about.*
And it's not exactly accurate. Sure, no one objects to soft focus nuptials on Grey's Anatomy or the milquetoast, mincing gay dads who barely ever kiss on Modern Family. But the minute you make queerness actually, y'know, queer, well then celebrated bobblehead Gretchen Carlson is going to say that Glee is making kids gay and probably on drugs. So there is still push back, isn't there? Stelter cites that Fox News segment and also the recent One Million Moms campaign against J.C. Penney after it hired fearsome lesbian Ellen DeGeneres to be its spokesperson, but sort of dismisses them because, eh, they didn't really do anything. But they did exist! They existed, so, again, to write at the top of your article "What’s missing? The outrage," and then provide examples of said outrage seems a little, well, pointless.
I've no doubt that Modern Family and Glee and that nominally gay guy who never dates anyone on Happy Endings (his plotlines usually involve food) are doing something toward normalizing acceptance (while also perhaps perilously normalizing queer people, which we can debate about another time) and putting out positive examples and whatnot. But the gains, at this point, seem not radical enough that filling up media and television sections of blogs and other publications with yearly softballs about how a gay guy is on TV and no one bombed Stonewall fall a little flat. Tell me, what do the North Carolinians who just voted overwhelmingly to constitutionally ban gay marriage AND civil unions think about Modern Family? How many inroads have Cam and Mitchell made in the darker corners of that state?
You'll have to excuse the bitterness, it's just kind of a crappy morning to be gay. Sure there was, like, gay hugging or something at the Glee prom last night, but it doesn't quite salve the bigger political sting. New York Times, we appreciate that you're excited about all the nice gay people on TV that aren't stoking political uproar. It's just that, well, actual gay people still are.
* Oh, and, full disclosure: I am guilty of writing these kinds of posts myself.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.