The expectation of universal representation: An analysis of Glee and Sherlock
[This is my second Sherlock/Glee ‘crossover meta. See the first Sherlock/Glee meta here].
Many who believe John and Sherlock will become romantically involved are familiar with this Mark Gatiss quote:
I think when the day comes that you have a big detective show where the first half hour was this man at work, and he’s a maverick, and all the usual things… and then we went home and his boyfriend says, ‘Are you alright?’, [and] it was just a thing… then something would have genuinely changed. I think the problem still is, [being gay] becomes the issue. I think the thing with gay characters is that it has to be an issue, as opposed to being part of everyday life — which of course, as we all know, is what it is.
- Mark Gatiss
Loudest-subtext-in-television wrote about The BBC’s 2009 LGB Research Commission and the report published by the commission. The report basically examined tyhow they could include more LGB portrayls on tv (The BBC decided they should do a different report on trans portrayals; I should see if that was ever completed). LSiT included various quotes from respondents surveyed for this research. This quote stands out to me:
Being gay is such a small part of who I am, so I hate the thought of being singled out because of my sexuality. I don’t want ‘gay storylines’, I want ‘storylines that happen to include gay people’. When drama is promoted within the parameters of gender and sexuality, it perpetuates the idea that my lifestyle is carnivalesque. The struggle for Civil Partnerships becomes ‘that gay wedding!’, and the representation of homosexual intimacy becomes ‘that gay kiss!’. There is a fine line between inclusion and representing stereotypes…I’m not always convinced the BBC, or indeed other channels, strike that balance.
(Male, 25-34, gay)
I think this echoes the sentiment Gatiss expressed in his quote.
Once I was convinced that John and Sherlock are going to become romantically involed, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool if there was little to no discussion about their sexualiies - if they just decided to enter into a romantic relationship?”
EDIT: I started writing this article a few days ago, when I was still finishing season four. I’ve finished the whole series since then, and I read this article which seems to describe the relationship between two guys we meet in season 6. This is what I originally thought Moffitiss should do with Johnlock :
Spencer’s (Marshall Williams) and Alistair’s (Finneas O’Connell) blossoming romance has been dubbed the “post-modern gay” relationship. The label is based the idea of two openly gay characters falling in love without having to go through the coming out of the closet story arc. It allows TV shows to focus on the specific relationship rather than the social politics of the couple’s sexual orientation.
“One of the coolest parts of this seasons is that it’s a benchmark in how far the pop culture world around ‘Glee’ has come in its sixth season,” O’Connell says to Zap2it. “I think it’s rad that there’s this openly gay high school football player and openly gay art student named Alistair and they’re falling in love with each other as characters instead of as gay characters.
However, we gets hints that John is uncomfortable with his bisexuality. I originally did not see these signs, Once I saw John’s internalized biphobia, though, I realized Moffitiss is going to address this.
At first, I thought this was going to represent queer individuals poorly; we’re living in an age where the queer community shuns shame. Sure, some stories about queer teens deal with issues of self-acceptance, but once any character is past their teennage years, we see they are typically more confident in who they are.
But then again, male bisexuality/multisexuality is virtually non-existent in the mainstream media. I guess other multisexuals (besides myself) do struggle with deciding to ‘come-out.’ I decided to move across country - back to where my family lives - after I finished college. Though I’ve been attracted to butch women for years, I identified as ‘straight’ before college, one the Kinsey scale, I’m still a ‘one,’ but after I developed feelings for my female friend’ I changed my label. I don’t feel the need to ‘come out,’ but if I wind up in a serious relationship with a female, or if anyone asks about my orientation, I’ll tell them I’m queer. John may not have wanted to come out as bisexual, because he assumed he was going to end up with a woman, just as I think I’ll probably end up with a guy.
Yet, we don’t know if John struggles with this specific issue; he may have known there was a chance he would end up with a male, and maybe just pure shame keeps him from coming out.
I don’t want to spend too much time on John’s hesitation in coming out. Instead, I want to focus on why fiction writers still feel the need to deal with a queer character’s sexual identity right away. I really think I can best illustrate this by examining the Glee characters, Artie Abrhams and Sheldon Beiste.
Now, I want to note I don’t think Ryan Murphy always portrays minorities in the best way. I don’t remember Artie explictly saying he’s straight, but considering that it seems to me as if Murphy writes from a cis/heteronormative view of the world, I think Murphy expects us to assume Artie is straight.
Artie’s sexual orientation is not what makes him different; his physical disability does. The first story which focuses on him is featured in the episode, ‘Wheels.’ Mr. Shuester, the teacher in charge of Glee club, anounces his disappointment with the kids. When travelling to competitions, the kids take buses without wheelchair lifts; it costs $650 to rent an accessible bus for the week. The team saves money by having Artie’s dad drive him to competitions.
This exchange goes on in the choir room:
WILL: Anyway, I wanted to say something to you guys. I was a little disappointed at how you were all so willing To take the bus to get to sectionals And make artie drive by himself with his dad. We’re a team, guys. We’re in this glee club together.
RACHEL: Artie doesn’t care. His dad drives him everywhere.
ARTIE: I do care. It kind of hurt my feelings.
RACHEL: We didn’t think you would take it personally.
ARTIE: Well, you’re irritating most of the time, But don’t take that personally.
WILL: I don’t know if you guys really understand how much harder artie has to work just to keep up.
Mr. Shuester informs the kids they are going to have the bake sale to raise $ for the bus, and:
WILL: For the next week, each of you is going to spend three hours a day In a wheelchair… And we’re doing a wheelchair number.
The rest of Artie’s story in this episode deals with the bake sale and the kids’ experiences in their wheelchairs.
I want to make two points:
The Glee writers could have focused the first Artie-centric story about something not related to his disability.
Yet, this show is about ‘being different;’ Murphy et. al. wanted the word to see the adversity minorities face. In showing these struggles, the audience sees most individuals find difficulty woth ‘fitting in.’ As a result, viewers are more accepting of ‘different’ individuals. It’s possible that, at that point, the Glee writers didn’t know if Glee would be renewed for a second season; therefore, they wanted to make sure audiences were exposed to these stories of adversity.
Moffitiss is doing the opposite. Sherlock’s unaired pilot was much gayer than the first episode The BBC aired on television.
At the end of Sherlock series one, we saw this:
[Sherlock rips off the semtex vest that was strapped to John].
JOHN (staring blankly ahead of himself): I’m glad no-one saw that.
(Sherlock had temporarily lowered his hand long enough not to be risking accidentally shooting himself in the head, although he had terrible jitters as he held the gun down by his side. Now he lifts the gun again as he raises his hand to rub his chin while looking down at John in confusion.)
JOHN (still not meeting his eyes): You, ripping my clothes off in a darkened swimming pool. People might talk.
SHERLOCK: People do little else.
(He looks down at John, then grins. John snorts laughter, then leans forward and prepares to stand up. But before he can move, the beam from a sniper’s
laser begins to dance over his chest. John looks down at it and his face fills with horror.)
JOHN (anguished): Oh …
(A door near the deep end of the pool opens and Jim comes through, clapping his hands together and turning to face our heroes.)
JIM (cheerfully): Sorry, boys! I’m soooooo changeable!
(John grimaces in disbelief. Sherlock keeps his back to Jim, looking up into the gallery to try and judge how many snipers there might be up there. It’s becoming clear that there are quite a few because there are at least two laser points hovering over John, and at least three more travelling over Sherlock’s body. Jim laughs and spread his arms wide.)
[The scene ends with a standoff, where Sherlock points his gun at the semtex vest John was wearing earlier].
I suspect Moffitiss wrote the ending this way in order to allow the possibility of ‘Johnlock becoming canon’ in S2. However, once Moffitiss realized Sherlock’s audience would be interested in watching series after series for years to come, they decided to wait to get Johnlock together. In making us wait for canon Johnlock, the audience becomes more attached to John and Sherlock. For many, Johnlock will be a lovely surprise, and the surprised will realize the importance of queer advocacy.
Murphy et. al. had valid reasons to introduce their characters with their ‘differences,’ but it would have been nice if we got to know the characters before we were presented with stories that dealt with their differences.
I also want to point out that these stories do not reflect the feelings of all social minorities. For example, as a wheelchair user myself, I thought it was silly to have Mr. Shue require the kids to host a bakesale; that’s too much work; I value laziness. Of course, it sucks that Artie can’t ride on the bus with the other members, but so what?
I though it was even sillier that Artie said ‘preach’ when Mr. Shue said, ‘I don’t know if you guys really understand how much harder artie has to work just to keep up.’ Of course, when you’re in a wheelchair, you need to work harder to keep up, but I think it’s stupid to dwell on that. I don’t think my friends realize how difficult it can be to deal with being in a wheelchair either. The hardest aspect of living in a wheelchair is dealing with people who misperceive the extent of your disability. One day, my group of friends were discussing our childhood experiences, and one of our friends asked if anyone’s else experienced childhood abuse. Two other people did. I then said, ‘People treat me like I’m stupid every day,’ and my friend told me to ‘Shut up,’ as if she thought my life wasn’t that difficult. I know that friend thinks her life has been harder than everyone else’s, and she hates it when people complain about their lives, but I now realize it’s stupid to think that my life has been more difficult than most, other, lives. Frankly, it wastes energy to think about that.
Yet, I think like this, in part because of my personality; Artie has a different personality. Many viewers are going to assume every handicapped person feels the same way as Artie because they are not exposed enough to disability, just as they probably assume every gay kid has a life like Kurt’s, or that every Broadway geek is like Rachel.
Sherlock fans are sensitive as shit, and regardless of how Johnlock happens, fans are going to complain. Even though, as I previously mentioned, it would have been nice to see Johnlock just get together, and not have to del with John’s internalized biphobia, Moffitiss is going to address this. Yet, I realize every queer person has his/her own story, and Moffitiss decided to adress this struggle some bisexual men experience. You may want to argue, ‘writers should address the stories most middle-age, bisexual men experience;’ people who argue this may assme most middle-aged, bisexual men have already accepted themselves. Though I believe this is the case, we must ask, ‘What is the typical experience?’ There’s no way we can know. What is ‘typical,’ anyway? Moffitiss cannot depict every queer person’s experiences, just as they cannot depict every human experience.
In a way, this storyline is more comparable to the Johnlock romantic arc; coach Beiste transitioned from female to male five years after the character was introduced. Though I appreciated the fact that we were seeing a butch woman on tv, I was happy we actually were seeing a transition in the mainstream media.
I read about the transition while I was just starting to watch season 1 of Glee. I suspected such a storyline would throw folks off, and they wouldn’t like it. I didn’t think these folks would necessarily be transphobic in real life; they would just be very confused and a tad ‘weirded out;’ such fans knew Coach Beiste as a woman for five years.
I then came across articles that quoted Dot-Marie Jones’s thoughts on the storyline. She said:
I was a bit disappointed at first, to be honest, because I just didn’t want to let down the girls who are straight and tomboys that my character represented the last four seasons. But I got the script and I was, like, ‘Oh my God. This is amazing.’
Though I thought Dot’s concern was valid even before I finished the series, I realized how valid it was as I watched more and more of the series; I saw that Beiste seemed to identify with her female side.
In Never Been Kissed, Beiste finds out a lot of the kids think about Beiste when they make out with one another - in order to cool down. After realizing the kids had been acting odd, Beiste asks Will what the hell is going on, and Will spills. Beiste tells him she’s leaving, but Will goes and talks to her. This is a part of their conversation:
WILL: Didn’t make you for a quitter.
BEISTE: Don’t, Will. You have no idea what it’s like.
WILL: For what it’s worth the kids feel awful. They like you. They respect you.
BEISTE: Isn’t that just what every girl wants to hear from a guy? Nah, screw this. I’ll find my bliss somewhere else. I need a life change. You know, maybe I’ll get a job as a cooler at a honky-tonk bar. I don’t know, maybe an ice road trucker.
Later in that scene, she says:
BEISTE: I know I can be a little intimidating sometimes, but deep down inside where no one can see, I’m just a girl. Am I nuts that I just want to be reminded of that sometimes?
And then we see A Very Glee Christmas. Artie finds out his girlfriend, Britney, still believes in Santa. In the interest of preserving her innocence, he acts like he believes in santa, too. The Glee kids go to visit a Santa at the mall and Brittney asks Santa to hlp Artie walk. At the end of this episode, the kids have Beiste dress up as Santa. This exchange between Brittney and ‘Santa’ took place:
BEISTE: Brittany, do you remember what you asked me for for Christmas?
BRITTNEY: Yeah, I asked for Artie to be able to walk.
BEISTE: Is there anything else that you want? I mean, like, anything?
BEISTE: Well, see, Santa’s trying his best, but that one’s a little hard.
BRITTNEY: But you’re magic.
BEISTE: Sometimes what Santa wants to give a good girl like you is patience, because, believe it or not, there are even some things that he can’t manage. You know, there was a girl a little younger than you and she was a little husky. She was always asking Santa for the same thing: to make her look more like the other girls. She wasn’t asking to be pretty or nothing. But she just didn’t want to stick out so much. Santa just couldn’t do it. So instead Santa gave her patience.
Here, it seems as if she wished/still wishes she could look like ‘an average girl.’ Lots of trans people wish they were ‘normal,’ but for them, ‘normal’ would entail ‘being born in the right body.’
After being friends for a while, we see Cooter Menkins, a college football recruiter, ask Shannon on a date:
COOTER: Dang it, Shannon, can you just, can you drop the weights, please, and talk to me for a second?
BEISTE: Man, you ever just have something you really wanted to get out, and you just couldn’t seem to do it? I had a chigger in my thigh once. It was the size of a Tic Tac.
COOTER: I want to take you out on a date. A real honest-to-God sit-down date where you dress up like a lady and I dress up like a gentleman. Yes or no?
BEISTE: Why are you doing this, Cooter? Somebody put you up to this?
COOTER: Geez. Why don’t you get that I’m attracted to you?
BEISTE: Because you’re the kind of man that could have any pretty girl he pointed at, and I don’t look the way pretty girls look.
COOTER: Well, good ‘cause I don’t date girls. I just date women. Beautiful women. Like you. So, take the flowers. Go on.
At this point, we are supposed to like Cooter. Here, we see him affirm her beauty as a woman; he’s making her feel like a woman, and we’re supposed to think positively of that.
When he comes out as trans, however, he says this:
BEISTE: Kiddo, I know this may seem sudden to you, but it doesn’t to me… I’ve felt like this my whole life. Growing up, I was I was really confused. I thought I was just a tomboy. So, I got into sports, I started coaching football, and I wrestled hogs in my free time, but no matter what I did, I never felt at home in my own skin. I never felt like my body fit who I was on the inside. I don’t hate being a woman, and I don’t regret the things I’ve been through, because they’ve made me the person I am today. A person strong enough to go through with this transition. I got to do it for my own peace of mind. I got to get my body in alignment with how I see myself.
There’s no doubt every trans person has their own journey with gender dysphoria. It’s quite possible that, even though, as she said, ‘I never felt like my body fit who I was on the inside,’ she appreciated ‘being able to feel like a woman,’ at that time; maybe she just appreciated the love. Yet, this does not seem to be the average ftm story. I ultimately believe Murphy et. al. originally wanted her to be the cis-butch female, and they decided to change her identity in the last season; they saw they had the opportunity to insert more trans representation in the mainstream media, and they took it. I would say Sheldon’s decision is ooc, but that ooc is worth it in the end.
Regardless of if Shannon stayed as Shannon, or if he decided to transition to Sheldon, I think Coach Beiste’s character would be/was written well. Sherlock fans are going to complain about the beginning of canon Johnlock, no matter how well the story is written because we all have different expectations. Expecting the Sherlock fandom not to complain is like expecting to win the lotto, but I guess I just want some folks to remember Moffitiss cannot represent everyone.
BTW Glee Fandom: You guys need better transcripts.