Looking Back on Glee: Fandom Feelings and a Queer Studies Anthology

Given that it is both Asexuality Awareness Week and the week after the anthology I contributed to was finally released, it seems only fitting to take a trip in the wayback machine and talk a bit about my contribution and about my feelings about Glee.

Criticism and critique, of course, but also a heck of a lot of love for the show and its fans. <3

A most excellent cover for what I think is going to be a pretty rockin’ collection. Also, spoiler, if you want wholesale Glee trashing, you’re not going to find it here.

This is honestly a rather odd experience for me, to finally see my work in print (well, once my contributor’s copy gets sent to me, that is – fingers crossed McFarland gave the editor enough copies for everyone, because I can’t afford to buy one) and at a point in time where I am so far removed from when I wrote and turned in the first draft, both in sheer time and in lived experiences, and when I have quit the show and (not entirely purposefully) quit fandom.

But, as I’m not sure saying “weird” over and over again quite counts as a quality post, I want to talk a little about what I wrote, when I wrote it, and what my feelings are now, given that I have been able to catch up with the character I wrote about via the magic of wiki entries. I also want to explain a little, in a personal way, what exactly is up with Glee, since I know a fair amount of people wonder that and could get (and probably still get) very dismissive of the show and its fans without understanding why and how such a flawed work could earn such love and devotion (and, seriously, even with what I’m going to write about, it took me a long time to actually quit watching the show and I do terribly miss being so involved in and a part of a fandom).

So, Glee. The show that fell in love with autotune and out of love with its original direction and promise and whose fandom was, ah, beginning to reach certain levels of toxicity and self-destruction when I left and which it seems has not gotten better.

Yes, there will be gifs in the post. I have the power. And the files.

Seriously. I just tried looking out of curiosity and, well, I think these g1 My Little Ponies are expressing my feelings pretty darn well about how people are treating the organizers of an upcoming Big Bang (fan fic writing event, for those not in the know).

What exactly was going on here that drew so many people in and kept them for so long, whether they’ve left fandom and/or the show by now or not? There is definitely, definitely not a singular answer or even a series of answers, but here’s a bit of the personal and a bit of what I picked up from other people when I was still active in the fandom.

We’re all messed up and that’s okay. Seriously. That was something I found incredibly appealing about that first episode and about the cast of characters we got introduced to and about the original concept and feel of the show. It made everyone feel incredibly real and identifiable and made it mean a lot when those people started to coalesce into a self-made family in the form of the glee club. Which was still messed up, but everyone was messed up together.

Everybody’s queer here. Well. not everybody, but holy moly, this show turned into a queer fest. And this did go a bit astray (or more than a bit astray), even before I quit watching, but it meant a lot to have a show that was on broadcast tv, at a reasonable hour, and that had so very many queer characters in it. And not just one queer character, or one male one. And they dated and had relationships and feelings and ‘complicated’ feelings and there were enough queer characters to have one be a villain too and not have that outweigh the other portrayals. And some of the queer characters were disabled too. And this was on goshdarn broadcast tv, at a regular time, and for a general audience.

This definitely did not always come off well and went rather a bit south in some cases (and where were the cuties of other genders?), but being given all of this was amazing and, I think, contributed/s a lot to people’s love for the show and their continued dedication (especially when you could also have amazing fic writers give you stories where those mistakes and missteps in character handling weren’t made and also wonderful fandom discussions about the same). And to the difficulty in breaking up with the show, even though those missteps (especially bad in the cases of Emma and Santana, for example) were often part of the reason for the necessity of the break up.

Hooked on a feelin’. Yes, I will probably burn in some kind of comic book inspired hell for that, but gosh darn it, the show did a wonderful job of making you feel keenly, intensely alive and joyful and buoyant. Or at least it very often did that to me and it still boosts me up to hear certain Journey songs (even though there are plenty of jokes inside and outside of comments about Glee re: Journey and even though it was my … very much not favourite character Mr. Schue suggesting Journey songs for the glee club to perform). I wasn’t in a glee club in high school, but I was involved with the theater program and club and it was a safe, happy haven for me and something that I was keenly, intensely missing when Glee started and the show gave it back to me in a way. I loved seeing that kind of haphazard group and eventual family again, where everyone is a little (or a lot) weird and broken and different and you have a home with each other even if you don’t totally agree with one another and aren’t actually really okay.

And I’m not really sure if that’s enough or too much or what, but it feels like it’s time to move on to the next part of this post and just hope you’re all a little kind and a little less than inclined to make disparaging comments about Gleeks (Glee fans and a word which I never self-applied, but, you know what, screw it. I’ll do it for the purposes of this post).

So, my essay. Which I won’t give you the title of here, but which should be fairly easy to figure out if you get the chance to flip through a copy of the book, given what I’m going to talk about here. And, well, basically, I called it. I freaking called it and it sucks that I was right. Of course, I already realized I was right by the time edits and second drafts were happening and I had seen the last few episodes of season three, ‘but’, it has apparently only gotten even worse since that second and final draft happened and I quit the show partway through season four.

I just – and this is basically going to cover some of what I said in my essay (because while I haven’t reread it in I guess two years, this stuff is basically burned into my brain) – it was extra terrible for me to watch the increased mishandling and eventual cure narrative for McKinley High’s very ace-reading (and also very disabled reading and canonically disabled) counselor, Emma Pillsbury, because it happened on a show created by a queer person and featuring so very many queer people. But, also, especially at the point I am now, I am sadly not surprised that a show helmed by a cis gay dude and largely written by himself and other men went that direction. And also, as a side note (trying to stay on topic here), had a distinct clear point where it decided to make the clearly and joyfully pansexual star cheerleader Santana Lopez into an angry lesbian who had only dated and had sex with men because she was angry and repressed and in denial (and also had her outed extremely publicly and without her consent and then basically ignored the ramifications of doing that, especially for a queer woman).

That is simply and thoroughly not okay. And even less so because it seems as though the show basically decided to dance on the grave of what was a wonderfully executed (whether by accident or not), very real feeling and complexly queer character after engaging in the cure narrative and literal healing cock that put her there. I am glad I quit watching when I did because I don’t know that I could handle actually watching Emma marry the man who “cured” who and who had been an incredibly ableist, abusive, boundary-pushing boyfriend and fiance and then have irresponsible, out of character sex with him in a school bathroom so she could get pregnant with a child she never expressed wanting in all the time I watched the show.

Out of all the adults on the show (especially prior to Coach Bieste’s introduction), Emma was one of the, if not the most, functional and the safest for the kids to be around. McKinley High’s hiring and teacher qualification policies make no sense and are really not worth straining one’s brain about (and would have stuck out less, I think, if the show had maintained it’s more raw, messy, black-ish comedy feel), but Emma was a decent and caring person and also honestly a lot better for the glee kids to be around than Mr. Schue.

It thus makes no sense, even ignoring her OCD and related issues, which she had been working on improving when I quit the show (key words: working on), for her to have sex in a school bathroom. Period. And even less so when it’s a regular bathroom, not a faculty one, and she is (was? this is a bit depressing, to say the least) asexual spectrum and working on a number of mental health issues that involve germs and bacteria. Emma is not an irresponsible faculty member, has a strong sense of what is and is not appropriate, and would not freaking have sex in a public restroom no matter how much her mental illnesses improved. And I also never remember hearing her talk about wanting children and we did get to know quite a bit about Emma by watching the show, even if, at the same time, what they did with her character got progressively worse.

And please note that I am not saying that asexual spectrum and wanting kids are mutually exclusive circles on a diagram. Some ace spectrum people want kids, some don’t, and the ones that do will go about having them in a variety of ways and with a variety of feelings about their bodies, gender, and genitals. The same is true of ace spectrum and having sex. They are not at all mutually exclusive and, again, aces have a wide variety of feelings about gender, about genitals, about sex, about relationships, about people who ask ‘if’ they have genitals and if so what or whether they masturbate, etc etc.

The problem is that the show never acknowledged and respected any of that. If I were to put words to it, in a quick and messy attempt to be understood by as many people as possible, I would say that, to me, Emma came off as at the very least sex neutral and more than likely sex repulsed. Even if well written, it might have come off as a bit out of character for her to have sex (or at least to “do sex” the way the show did, meaning insert tab a into slot b), but at the same time – at the very least it would need to be well written and feel organic and justified.

As it was, it did not come off as an ace and a non-ace person respectfully navigating the matter of sex, however they personally define it, and as sex not invalidating someone’s sexual orientation. It came up as both a prize (literally. Emma wearing an outfit heavy on white and bows and presents herself and having sex with her as a prize to Mr. Schue for his glee club winning Nationals) and as a cure and as a transformative act, with a fellow female faculty member passing Emma in the hall the next day and making a comment about how she “seems different.”

And there is honestly a lot else I could say about this (including how Mr. Schue’s ableist, abusive, boundary pushing and violating behaviours got worse the more he thought Emma was available to him – including inviting her abusive parents into her apartment for dinner against her wishes and without warning her first ‘and’ intentionally triggering her OCD), but, well, I’d probably need to re-read and/or somewhat end up rewriting my essay on here and right now the rights to that belong to my editor not me, so I do unfortunately have to say go read the book. 🙂 And I’m honestly not saying that out of any self-serving drive (although why should I feel bad about that if I were? rhetorical question with complex answer involving gender, American culture, personal history, etc 😛 ), since if I earn anything off of this anthology it’s going to be teeny tiny and not actually help in the present with pressing issues like being able to eat and not have power and internet turn-offs (and they are pressing, so if you want to be super cool donations would be awesome 😀 ).

So, I think that’s about it for now and if you’re interested in getting a copy of the anthology for yourself and seeing what I and others wrote about gender and sexuality in Glee, the easiest route is directly through the publisher. 🙂 And obviously I totally did not create the g1 My Little Pony shows so keep that in mind with the gif (covers pony loving butt).

3 thoughts on “Looking Back on Glee: Fandom Feelings and a Queer Studies Anthology

  1. I stopped watching Glee part way through the first season. I was generally enjoying it, but I really didn’t like the Quinn pregnancy storyline and I distrusted what often seemed like shock for shock sake stories. Thank you for this, it was interesting.

    • You are most welcome! And that’s really interesting because Glee originally wasn’t a full (US) tv season, but it did well enough that it got the okay for a full season and suddenly started getting access to a lot more resources .. which I think actually hurt the show and also combined with the problems with the creator (both things like what I mentioned in my post and him seeming to have issues with female characters in general) and with the show seeming to have no show bible and no great degree of consistency in how characters were written and handled. And that could get really messy and unfortunate with characters like Quinn (and with that pregnancy storyline). I think the cast really helped to compensate for a lot but they could also still only do so much with increasingly inconsistent writing and poor character handling and I think it finally reached some kind of tipping point. Although apparently the actors have less than stellar contracts that include(d) having to do three films on top of doing the show so I’m not sure what will happen after the final season.

  2. Pingback: Codeword Manga: Female Gaze, Robo Legs, and a Better, Brighter Day in Comics | Capes and Whips: Where Justice is Blindfolded

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