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Glee - First Time

by Raffi Sarkissian


In this scene from the fifth episode of Glee's third season, the students at McKinnley High put on a production of "West Side Story." There was a considerable amount of buzz in anticipation of this episode as it was strongly suggested (as the episode title refers) that two of the show's leading couples - heterosexual pair Finn and Rachel and gay couple Kurt and Blaine - would be having sex for the first time (except for Finn, all the other characters would be losing their virginity).
While this should ostensibly be a progressive step forward for LGBT representation on broadcast television - gay sex on TV! And gay teens no less! - the narrative structure of the plotlines for the two couples leaves much to be desired, particularly when considering gay depictions of gay sexuality. For much of broadcast television's LGBT history, gay characters have remained virtually sexless compared to their heterosexual counterparts, largely due to fear that depicting anything more than the suggestion of sex between two men or two women would be deemed too offensive by the commercial advertising that drives network business. Sex has been the domain of heterosexual characters and couples.
It would seem like a big step, then, that Glee would take their prominent gay couple to that place. Yet, as the episode overall, and this final scene in particular, demonstrates, the ability to show two teenage boys have sex - or rather suggest it, as we don't actually see anything remotely explicit here - is to still confine it in heterosexual terms. In other words, in this case, the only way Kurt and Blaine get to have sex is if it is paralleled with Finn and Rachel also having sex. The politically correct, liberal reading would probably go something like, "gay relationships are the same as straight relationships, there is no difference; hence both the gay and the straight couple having sex." But by always aligning the gay relationship - and gay sex, in this case - with the heterosexual equivalent, there is another message being sent that it is still not okay for gay characters and couples to be sexual on their own, without the sanctioning that comes with running their story alongside the heterosexual counterpart.

It's not only in the narrative structure of the episode, but rather driven home in this montage that intercuts both couples together. And is layered even more by the song that is being played/performed all throughout, "One  Hand, One Heart" - not only are two in a relationship made one, but these two relationships, gay and straight, are made one as well. This parallel is repeated in the fourth season of the show in the also ingeniously titled "Break-Up," in which Finn/Rachel and Kurt/Blaine both break up, and are again intercut together in a montage set to No Doubt's "Don't Speak" - but this time with split screen parallels, putting all the characters side by side on screen.

It is great that gay characters - and gay teens at that - are being developed this far on broadcast TV, but there is still quite a long way to go to break free from heteronormative conventions that dominate representations of sexuality on TV.



Glee - Heteronormative Sexuality

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This clip is a scene from "The First Time," the fifth episode of television show, Glee's, third season.

from Glee (2011)
Creator: Ryan Murphy (creator), Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (writer), Bradley Buecker (director)
Posted by Raffi Sarkissian