Saturday, November 19, 2011

Becoming in Glee: The Problem of Outing

I've written about Glee before. I have a love-hate relationship to the show. Sometimes I really love it and find it rather enjoyable while other times I hate it for its constant move to the normal. It is overall a corporatization of multiculturalism, but as such it speaks more than it dare admit. Difference is all the rage and difference these days pays. Not all difference of course, some difference is simply inappropriate to show, at least in any positive light. We, of course, glimpse this at moments in Glee particularly when the gay issue emerges. From the episode "never been kissed" to "the first time," representation of gay desire sets off a firestorm from the socially conservative and religious right.

This season (the 3rd season) has been particularly disappointing. However, with the episodes "The First Time" and "Mash-Off" I was reminded how provocative the show can be. Now, don't get me wrong, Glee is not a provocative show but it has moments that touch on the provocative. In "The First Time" we may not get to see the students lose their virginity on screen as the camera shows us only feet mingling and a little kissing before panning to the burning fire - forcing us to imagine the "fire" in the loins of these youth as they embark on their first "sexual" encounter. Overall, it was a rather sweet episode, filled with the typical anxiety and fears of losing one's virginity. It illustrated the similarities between the "hetero" couple and the "homo" couple as they decide to wait, then decide to experience this momentous moment with one another.

But, I don't care to write about that episode. While it was one of the first TV shows I can remember that showed gay teens deciding to lose their virginity, I want to focus on "Mash-Off". It is in this episode that Santana is rather violently outed by Finn. Finn in his attempt to strike at Santana because of her own mean ways attributes this meanness to her being a closeted lesbian. This is nothing new. The psychological attribution of "lashing out" is often seen as a defense mechanism against accepting one's sexuality - namely homosexuality.  As Finn exposes Santana in the hallways we are confronted with Santana face-to-face. We see, we think, the shame in her eyes as her "secret" is exposed.

While we might read this scene as exposing Santana's closetedness (outing her, have you), I want to read it slightly differently. I am not concerned with the obsession with "accepting one's homosexuality" and more interested in the process of "becoming a homosexual" - this of course reminiscent of Michel Foucault's own engagement with homosexuality, particularly in his interview entitled "Friendship as a way of Life". As he says there "we have to work at becoming homosexuals and not be obstinate in recognizing that we are" (136). Working with Foucault, I read the look in Santana's eyes as a look of loss. It was not a loss of her closeted identity, but the loss of having the space and time to invent herself. She became via Finn sedimented in her identity. Now, as we see play out in the episode, she becomes defined as a "lesbian". She did not seek to be obstinate in recognizing she is a lesbian, rather throughout the show she has been working on becoming  something as she navigated the terrain of high school life, love, friendship, and loss.

In the moment of her outing, she is not ashamed of that project of becoming. She is, I think, horrified that she has to, as it seems many "gays" must, be reigned in by the project of the closet. She must become intelligible as a subject and that requires an identification with the given identity categories (e.g., gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual). Her anger cannot be attributed to the normative drives of identity politics (i.e., that one should be "out" and "proud) or the homophobia that is seen as keeping people in the closet (i.e., fear of ostracism). Rather, her anger is attributed to her inability to "accept" who she is, to embrace her being a "lesbian".  Her anger is a personal issue according to Finn's psychological assessment. It, her anger, is not seen as an issue of the limiting ways in which she can imagine her life. Her account, an account she is not able to give, is foreclosed by the normative ways in which we allow "identities" to be claimed, particularly in high schools. We see here that it becomes the job of the straight white male, threatened by the woman's sharp tongue, to bring her back into line, even if the crooked lesbian line. It is far more dangerous to allow her to be unintelligible and for her sharp tongue to reveal that which is does explicitly rather than an hidden closetedness THAN it is for her to occupy the position of the lesbian. A position that then becomes utilized in a political campaign ad for one of Sue's rivals. The "lesbian" is by no means a "safe" identity to inhabit BUT it is more intelligible, something people can grasp onto, than the position of unknown that Santana inhabited before her outing.

As the episode ends this becomes even more visible. We see Santana's emotional struggle as she sings in the mash-up of Adele. She croons with her fellow ladies "rumour has it"putting to song the rumours that are now, in her paranoid mind spreading about her while she also sings "don't forget me, I beg". We might ask who it is she is singing to. Does she sing to her now negated self that worked or was working at becoming "homosexual", who must now become and struggle with the labels imposed on her by the outside and in doing so able to find love - perhaps in Brittany - but recognizing that such love is always, in part, a fantasy of the love she could have had if the world were different. She was, of course, in love with Brittany already but that love changes when it become defined by the outside - seen perhaps in her asking to hold Brittany's hand while simultaneously covering it up. She wants Brittany's love but it is a love she does not was limited by the normative gaze of the public.

The episode ends as she confronts Finn, paranoia full force, slapping him for what has become of her - a pawn in the political game that would have never recognized her before until she was, with his outing, made intelligible within the political sphere. She is a lesbian. A lesbian promoted to co-captain of the Cherrios and now disparaged for an identity she refused to take on entirely. Her refusal is not one of shame, but one of inventiveness as she refuses to go quietly into the state of lesbian-hood but prefers to struggle to invent new ways of relating to the other.

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