As part of our regular profiles of LGBT individuals helping shape the narrative of LGBT people in media, we’re happy to share with you this post from Adam Roberts, a TV writer for the new ABC comedy, The Real O'Neals. Adam wrote tonight’s episode, which airs on ABC at 8:30 | 7:30 p.m. CT. Be sure to watch!
My first impressions of gay people were mostly formed by the Police Academy movies. I remember watching with my friends in 4th grade as Sweetchuck, Mahoney, and Hightower stumbled into the Blue Oyster Bar and had to dance “El Bimbo” with a bunch of leather-clad, hairy-chested gay men with leering looks on their faces. For the straight male cops at the center of the series, this was the ultimate humiliation: a fact that wasn’t lost on me, burgeoning gay soul that I was.
By the time I did come out—my junior year of college, 1999—depictions of gays in media had slightly improved. There was Ellen’s coming out episode, the debut of Will & Grace, and a string of movies that explored queerness through cursory characters (Reality Bites), unlikely sexual combinations (Josh Charles and Stephen Baldwin in Threesome), and the lens of frustrated female desire (Cher’s crush on Christian in Clueless). Still, it would be years before a character I could really relate to as a newly-out-of-the-closet gay kid would appear front and center in movies or T.V.
Which is why it’s such an honor to work on a show like The Real O’Neals. Noah Galvin’s performance as Kenny perfectly captures the joy and exuberance that was sorely lacking from the gay media landscape when I was growing up. As much as he struggles with his conservative mother, played by the brilliant Martha Plimpton, there’s nothing tortured or mopey about Kenny. He is, in his way, a celebration of himself; a living, breathing embodiment of gay youthfulness, a still-radical notion for a network TV show, even in 2016.
Tonight’s episode, which I was lucky enough to write, is an exploration of that exuberance. Kenny’s dad and brother, played by the delightful duo of Jay R. Ferguson and Matt Shively, are going camping and they assume that Kenny doesn’t want to come along. Why do they assume that? Well, there was that incident at a Butterfly Sanctuary a few years ago on a class trip (you’ll see). But, more likely than not, they don’t consider Kenny manly enough. Which raises the question: what does it mean to be manly when you’re gay? What about when you’re straight? Is manliness something that’s truly innate or is it something that we perform?
I’m grateful that we were able to explore these issues on a show like The Real O’Neals. I can only imagine what it might have been like to have a character like Kenny on TV when I was growing up. It’s definitely a far cry from the cartoonish leather daddies of Police Academy and certainly less icky than watching a Stephen Baldwin three-way. I hope that our show demonstrates to young gay people everywhere that not only does it get better, but that sometimes the process of it getting better can actually be a lot of fun.