06/15/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Teens Coming Out on TV Is Important, but Can Be Problematic

It could be coincidence that 2010 has been the year of the teen gay on TV, or it could be that television writers have just moved on from gay sob stories to ones with happier endings.

Last week, Ugly Betty made sure to give Justin (Marc Indelicato) his due moment before the series finale. The fashion-obsessed 15-year-old queeny kid from Queens stuck his hand out to a boy standing nearby, offering a dance on the floor with his family and Betty's co-workers. He twirled, he smiled, he looked incredibly happy in his gold blazer. Later, his mom agreed with his choice saying, "Austin is a cutie!"

Aw, shucks, mom, you're embarrassing him!

On 90210, Rumer Willis plays an out and proud lesbian named Gia, who won the heart of Adrianna (Jessica Lowndes) after they bonded in AA. (It is Beverly Hills, after all.) Adrianna shared her newfound bisexuality with friends by bringing her new love interest on stage during a performance with her band, The Glorious Steinems, and kissing her in front of everyone. That's a way to make a statement.


This week, United States of Tara had Marshall doing his best to thwart his homosexuality by having sex with his "girlfriend." It was less than passionate for both parties, and so the teen realized he could not put off the inevitable and came out to his father.

When dad Max (John Corbett) told his wife, Tara, (Toni Collette) she said "Officially? Aw, Marshmallow!" I can't think of a better response from a mother.

It shouldn't go without noting Glee's Kurt (Chris Colfer) is also a major player on network TV (Fox and the CW). Kurt in one of the gayest shows on television. He came out to his father last year, which went over well, too.

It's all been OK for the teens coming out this year, which may be a sign of the times or just the fact that TV writers are wising up to the idea that sad coming out stories ending in disgruntled parents and homophobic slurs are tired and yawn-inducing. (Hopefully they will figure that out about the "pregnant lesbian" storyline next.) But it's arguable if we need to see these "coming out" moments at all. We knew Kurt, Marshall and Justin were gay, but is it imperative that their storylines begin before they say it to the people around them? Will we evolve to the point where there can be gay teens existing in entertainment without them having to come forward and there be a focus on their struggle to say or act on it?

Gia on 90210 for example, was always a lesbian. It was in the character description (and, come on, her name was Gia. Every gay girl has seen the Angelina Jolie film where she makes out with Elizabeth Gilbert and throws her naked self on a fence.) She has already had a relationship with another girl, so she is secure in that she knows she likes girls. Adrianna, then, becomes bicurious, but is at first scared to let the relationship be anything other than secret. I'm sure this is the experience of many young girls (and boys), but it would be incredibly refreshing to have Adrianna not have to fall for the self-scrutiny and confusion that is so often portrayed on TV. This storyline has happened on Once and Again, South of Nowhere, My So-Called Life, Degrassi, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Gossip Girl — and these are just the teenagers. There have been several similar situations from adults in TV, as well, more recently including Grey's Anatomy and Guiding Light.

The good thing is that today's teen characters are met with positivity from the people around them when they do make their definitive statements. No one's prom is canceled and they aren't kicked out of their homes. Of course, these things still happen in real life, but if the adage that life imitates art is true, than here's hoping parents and friends and teachers take note of shows like Ugly Betty or ABC Family's 10 Things I Hate About You where the lesbian teen character didn't come out as much as say "Meet my girlfriend" before running off with her.

I'd really love for them to watch Skins actually, where the teens swear, have sexual relations and come out to their parents by shrugging their shoulders and saying "I like to shag girls." But until we catch up with the UK, Americans will have to settle for a slow dance and a shy smile.

We live in a society where Ricky Martin comes out and 50 percent of society applauds him while the other half questions its relevance. Yes, we already knew he was gay, but you wanted to hear him say it, to be proud of it, to embrace it - at least if you were a fan - to be true to himself and not part of some ex-gay conversion group/Fred Phelps' clan. Celebrities can bring in an entirely different element. As public figures, we feel they owe us something. Ricky needs to be out and proud so that we can be out and proud - whether it's out and proud of being gay, of being Hispanic, of being left-handed, of being who we are. And we should be able to see that on a regular basis on our televisions, from the characters we come to love as people in our lives. Pop culture is a direct reflection of us, no matter how femmey the women of The L Word are and how straight Lance Bass tried so hard to be.

Whenever there's a discussion of gay and lesbian portrayals of fictional characters (or even the characters that are on reality TV), it's difficult not to align them with how to "be gay" in your daily life. So while my hope is that any member of the LGBT community represented on TV will be written as comfortable and proud of who they are, it has a lot to do with my ideas of living as an openly gay person. My ultimate dream is for no one to have to "come out" in a revelatory and sometimes painful way, but for any gay or lesbian teen to feel free to take the hand of a boy standing nearby and lead him to the dance floor, only to be embarrassed by his gushing, doting mother.