I try to avoid Fox News, and I'm not a fan of Bill O'Reilly. Anyone who has read anything I've written on The Huffington Post is probably not surprised by either of those facts. But as the mother of a self-identified gay 7-year-old son who has a crush on Glee's Blaine, the most recent media controversy involving Mr. O'Reilly caught my attention.
In his show on Thursday, April 19, Mr. O'Reilly and his guests discussed a recent episode of Glee portraying a transgender teen, and how the show as a whole was encouraging teenagers to experiment with "alternative lifestyles." Oh, where to begin?
Being gay is not an "alternative lifestyle." Are the majority of people gay? No, of course not. The majority of people don't have green eyes. The majority of people aren't left-handed. The majority of people aren't double-jointed. But I don't know of any organizations devoted to forcibly implanting permanent brown-colored contacts or disabling left hands to make people properly right-handed, or special therapy developed to make a double joint perform in a singular manner. Being gay is not something a person does but a part of who he or she is, just as much as eye color or anything else.
Mr. O'Reilly and his colleagues made the claim that Glee "glamorizes" being LGBT to the point that kids might start trying it out. If this is occurring, so what? Teenagers experiment, especially when it comes to romance. Very few people marry the first person they ever kiss, their first boyfriend or girlfriend, or even the first person they get down and dirty with. Being a teenager is all about trying to figure out who you are. Sometimes, a person's journey isn't on the beaten path. There can be twists and turns, many unexpected, that lead young people to discover themselves. Hopefully, our next generation of adults will know that love isn't bound by the majority or social norms. As long as teenagers are respectful of themselves and their partners (including practicing safer sex) as they "experiment" with their own identities, then more power to them. When they figure it out, they will probably be much more comfortable and confident than the generation before them.
And then there was the portrayal of a transgender teen on the show in question. One guest on the show, Gretchen Carlson, complained, "Now I get to explain this to my 8-year-old, if i want her to see a nice family show with some nice music." I found this particularly funny, because when I write about my son and his crush on Blaine, one of the most common criticisms I receive is that Glee is inappropriate for my 7-year-old child. Well, I agree, it can be. That's why my kid never watches the show without my husband and me screening it first. We decide what he is and is not allowed to watch. It is part of our job as parents. In this episode we decided our son could watch an edited version. (The storyline concerning the filming and release of a sex tape involving two students wasn't in his version. But for parents of teenagers, this would be a good opportunity to talk about this issue. A lot of kids were doing this before Glee mentioned it.) Our son was allowed to watch the parts of the episode concerning the trans character. Why? Because there is nothing inappropriate about the existence of transgender people, and no reason that they should be hidden from him.
We even had to have a conversation about it:
Son: Why is that boy dressed like a girl?
Me: Well, some boys like to wears girls' clothes because they think it's fun. And some boys, like this one, feel like they are girls on the inside, so they are more happy and comfortable in girls' clothes.
Son, after thinks for a minute: I'm a boy on the outside and the inside.
Me: That's great, baby, but some people are different, and that's great, too.
Son: OK. [After a minute] Mom?
Me: Yeah, baby?
Son: Do we have any cookies?
If that is a horrific conversation, then I am going to sail through his teenage years.
I understand that some people may see my own son as an example of how young people are being influenced by Glee. After all, his crush is on Blaine. Well, a few months ago I had the pleasure of speaking to Michelangelo Signorile (the editor-at-large of HuffPost Gay Voices) on his Sirius OutQ 108 radio show. He spoke of his crush as a young boy on Davy Jones of The Monkees. Last time I checked, The Monkees didn't have any gay characters or glamorize anything other than boy bands in the '60s. But that didn't stop Michelangelo from thinking Davy was pretty darn cute.
It seems like the goal of those like Mr. O'Reilly is to make sure as few people are gay as possible. They seem to think that the less people know about being a gay person, the fewer people will be gay. But that doesn't make any sense. The same number of people will be gay, no matter what they see on television. Hopefully, the more common and three-dimensional LGBT characters are in the media, the more secure and comfortable all people will become with who they are. I don't think that's a bad thing.