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Starling, and now Doves

27 Mar

Since I anounced that Starling will be out from Torquere on September 10, 2014 there’s more news! Its sequel, Doves, will be out on January 21, 2015 also from Torquere.

While working frantically on more projects (seriously, I have a lot coming at you in multiple genres, I’m just waiting for the okay to speak to several of them) we’ve just started to plan some promotional stuff around Starling‘s release.

Erin and I will be on The Hummingbird Place, a romance novel podcast on August 18, 2014; we’ll be talking about characterization, which is the theme of the episode, which will feature several other great guests.

We’ll also be doing an interview with Raine O’Tierney at The Hat Party on September 10, 2014.  We’ll have giveaways around both, and I can tell you that the one for the The Hat Party will involve an actual hat crafted by Erin like the one that serves as a plot point in Starling.

For those of you that are members of Romance Writers of America’s NYC chapter or thinking about it, I’ll be the author of the month at their meeting on October 11, 2014. The topic will be collaboration.  As an aside, I can’t recommend the group highly enough.  They’ve been a huge asset in helping navigate this very fast moving process.  Meanwhile, I have a quick piece up on their blog about Velvet Goldmine, writing, and stardom.

As we move towards a cover reveal for Starling (this summer), Erin and I are putting together a joint blog for our coauthored work.  We’ll announce that soon, once we populate it with some content.

In the meantime, Glee‘s back, I desperately need to catch up on Vikings, and I need to do some serious processing with you all about House of Cards and various patron saints.  I know all the content right now is like “New content soon!” but truly, New content soon!

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Starling

6 Dec

Some of you who follow me on Tumblr may have noticed an increase in random photos of birds, white bedrooms, and gingers.  This is not due to a new pet, a house remodel, or a sudden crush.  It’s actually because Erin McRae and I have written a novel, which we’re happy to report will be published by Torquere Press in 2014 (note: for those of you not familiar, Torquere is a long-time publisher of LGBT romances and there may be some images on that site you may not wish to click through to at work).

Our book, Starling, is a fairy tale about fame and everything that goes right, and ridiculously wrong, when you’re the kid who effectively gets discovered in a diner.  Set in Los Angeles amongst an incestuous group of friends during next year’s television season, Starling is about figuring out how to do life when it feels like the whole world is watching.

Starling is just one of many things in the hopper around here.  I’ve got a bunch of other projects at hand, some with announcements sooner and some with announcements later.  Erin’s working on a ton of stuff too.

Meanwhile, funny story for you:  Always. Check. Your. Spam. Filter.  Because if we had checked ours sooner, we would have been telling you this story a month ago.

Oooopsie.

Luckily, the team at Torquere is lovely.

When we have a specific release date for Starling we will let you know.

 

American Horror Story: Wounds as weapons

7 Nov

Sometimes, I feel like the loneliest person in fandom.  When Tumblr asks Who in the Glee cast would you most like to have lunch with? I always say Ryan Murphy.  That’s not just about avoiding the awkward about cute boys and the intensity of various fandom factions.  I really, really am a huge Ryan Murhy fan, which is a little bit like being a Russel T. Davies fan if you watch British TV — people wonder what’s wrong with you, even as they’re all watching the guy’s show(s).

Being a Ryan Murphy fan and being someone who struggles with the horror genre is, however, particularly frustrating right now.  Because he’s definitely doing some of his most intellectually interesting and uncomfortably confronting work on American Horror Story.  The problem is, I can barely watch it. Not because it’s gory, but because his imagination brings my deepest, darkest intrusive thoughts to visual life with far too much regularity.

I still haven’t, despite strong personal interest, watched AHS: Asylum because of the degree to which medicalized punishment for Otherness is pretty much the one narrative place I don’t quite have the endurance to go.  Mainly, because even if it didn’t happen like that, it still really happened.  It still does.

AHS: Coven, which I am watching, is by Murphy’s own admission, a campier, funnier show.  But it’s still horrifying — and again, not for the gore. This is particularly clear in the way it showcases a litany of female focused horrors: self-injury, deceitful competition between women, the non-metaphorical links between sex and death, the false redemption fame and objectification are meant to promise us.

At its heart, of course, all of Murphy’s work is, arguably, about trauma survivors.  It is as clear in Gabourey Sibide’s Queenie on AHS as it is in Chris Colfer’s Kurt Hummel on Glee.  It’s hardly surprising.  After all, Murphy is also working on bringing The Normal Heart to HBO.  Because while marginalized people are always, arguably, trauma survivors, the tight generational bond some of us share because of queerness and AIDS and activism is particularly illustrative.  It is one of the other things that often makes me feel lonely in fandom; I burst into tears every time I see the All My Friends Are Dead dinosaur, and yet when I try to talk about these experiences I often get the message — from myself as well as others — that I shouldn’t.

Weirdly, however, Murphy’s obsession with trauma and its transformative nature may be something he most clearly articulated during the nearly unwatchable, often annoying, and now cancelled reality TV show The Glee Project, in which contestants competed for a role on the FOX show.  With the exception of Alex Newell, the most interesting performers didn’t win (I’m looking at you, Charlie Lubeck).  But in the sea of all that, one interesting thing Murphy always seemed to ask the contestants, over and over again, was What is your wound?

Most often, this generated people talking about the things in their lives and the reception of their identities and experiences that most hurt.  It led to more than a few Tumblr conversations where people tried to identify and craft elevator pitches for their own wounds.

But last night, when I watched Queenie slash her own throat and dip her hand in a glass of acid to inflict the wounds produced on others, I finally understood.  When Ryan Murphy asks his potential actors What is your wound? what he means is How are you going to kill me?

Valerie’s Letter Day

5 Nov

It’s Valerie’s Letter Day, and so I’m posting it again, the way I always do, despite the fact that I have not reread the graphic novel in years or rewatched the movie ever.  Mainly, because I’m afraid to.

Both forms of the story hit at sort of terrible moments in my life.  The college situation, when I first read the graphic novel, I’ve talked about before to probably the fullest extent I’ll ever want to; it leaves out a lot.  The day I watched the V for Vendetta film, alone at a crappy theater in Chelsea, was the day I got sick.

At I first thought was food poisoning, what my baffled doctors suggested might be anything from gall bladder disease to cancer, and what ultimately turned out to be my far less scary but seriously unpleasant celiac disease.  But, for the first week, before all that happened, I thought I was have a psychosomatic reaction to the film’s long montage-based sequences of medicalized torture as political punishment.

When I read Valerie’s Letter, I know grace, poetry, survival, and pride.  When I engage with its larger context, however, I just feel afraid.  As much as that’s terrible, it’s also probably should be.

I’ve whispered I was born in Nottingham in 1957, and it rained a lot to myself more times than I really know how to explain.  I’ve wished that to be something I’ve been less needful of, and over time, it’s even been true; the world as I experience it today is, as relates to Valerie’s letter, barely recognizable from 1989.  And as glad as I am of that, that we have roses (again) and that Valerie never quite was, I am also remain so damn glad of that sentence about a place I’ve never been and a year fifteen before I was born.

I don’t know who you are. Please believe. There is no way I can convince you that this is not one of their tricks, but I don’t care. I am me, and I don’t know who you are but I love you. I have a pencil. A little one they did not find. I am a woman. I hid it inside me. Perhaps I won’t be able to write again, so this is a long letter about my life. It is the only autobiography I will ever write and oh god I’m writing it on toilet paper.

I was born in Nottingham in 1957, and it rained a lot. I passed my eleven plus and went to girl’s grammar. I wanted to be an actress. I met my first girlfriend at school. Her name was Sara. She was fourteen and I was fifteen but we were both in Miss Watson’s class.

Her wrists. Her wrists were beautiful.

I sat in biology class, staring at the pickled rabbit foetus in its jar, listening while Mr. Hird said it was an adolescent phase that people outgrew… Sara did. I didn’t.

In 1976 I stopped pretending and took a girl called Christine home to meet my parents. A week later I moved to London, enrolling at drama college. My mother said I broke her heart, but it was my integrity that was important. Is that so selfish? It sells for so little, but it’s all we have left in this place. It is the very last inch of us…

… But within that inch we are free.

London: I was happy in London. In 1981 I played Dandini in Cinderella. My first rep work. The world was strange and rustling and busy, with invisible crowds behind the hot lights and all the breathless glamour. It was exciting and it was lonely. At nights I’d go to Gateways or one of the other clubs, but I was stand-offish and didn’t mix easily. I saw a lot of the scene, but I never felt comfortable there. So many of them just wanted to be gay. It was their life, their ambition, all they talked about… And I wanted more than that.

Work improved. I got small film roles, then bigger ones. In 1986 I starred in ‘The Salt Flats.’ It pulled in the awards but not the crowds. I met Ruth working on that. We loved each other. We lived together, and on Valentine’s Day she sent me roses, and oh god, we had so much. Those were the best three years of my life.

In 1988 there was the war…

… And after that there were no more roses. Not for anybody.

In 1992, after the take-over, they started rounding up the gays. They took Ruth while she was out looking for food. Why are they so frightened of us? They burned her with cigarette ends and made her give them my name. She signed a statement saying I seduced her. I didn’t blame her. God I loved her. I didn’t blame her… But she did. She killed herself in her cell. She couldn’t live with betraying me, with giving up that last inch.

Oh Ruth.

They came for me. They told me that all my films would be burned. They shaved off my hair. They held my head down a toilet bowl and told jokes about lesbians. They brought me here and gave me drugs. I can’t feel my tongue anymore. I can’t speak. The other gay woman here, Rita, died two weeks ago. I imagine I’ll die quite soon.

It is strange that my life should end in such a terrible place, but for three years I had roses and I apologized to nobody. I shall die here. Every inch of me shall perish…

… Except one.

An inch. It’s small and it’s fragile and it’s the only thing in the world that’s worth having. We must never lose it, or sell it, or give it away. We must never let them take it from us.

I don’t know who you are, or whether you’re a man or a woman. I may never see you. I may never hug you or cry with you or get drunk with you. But I love you. I hope you escape this place. I hope that the world turns and that things get better, and that one day people have roses again. I wish I could kiss you.

- Valerie

David Bowie is: Infestation

19 May

A month before my fifteenth birthday, I saw David Bowie’s Glass Spider Tour with my mother at Madison Square Garden.  She came with me because I wasn’t allowed to go to concerns alone then, and because she loved him.  In fact, my mother loved David Bowie so much, she forbid my father to come with us, lest he be uncomfortable with her excitement.

The Glass Spider Tour and the album it was in support of, Never Let Me Down, aren’t terribly well-reviewed or considered significant in the canon of Bowie’s work, and I knew that, even then, holding my breath for the older songs – like “Time” and “Heroes” — I had fallen in love with largely because they were on the cheapest cassettes for sale at Tower Records.

But the show had no less mesmerizing impact on me for all that, in large part because of the work done by choreographer Toni Basil and a character danced by Melissa Hurley, who, during “Bang Bang” is seemingly plucked out of the audience.  Chosen, she then rejects Bowie; then once he is chastened, goes after him, and leads him in something resembling a tango.

While the ruse was obvious, and I had even read about the moment in a music magazine in advance of the show, it still had the barest tinge and hope of authenticity to me. After all, I was a teenager and there was no mainstream commercial Internet at the time, so I had not read a description of this exact moment appearing night after night as a reminder that I would never be that girl.  With my dark curly hair, a dress at home that looked like the performer’s, and too many hours spent in dance classes, I had a tiny bit of hope, that one day….

I’ve had a lot of daydreams though, and that one faded faster than many it seems.  Certainly,  it was something long forgotten by the time I went to the David Bowie is exhibit at the Victoria & Albert in London last month and had what is certainly the most extraordinary museum visit I have ever experienced.

Even as the exhibit is far too crowded (it is sold out; without advance planning, the only way to get in at this point is to have, borrow, or purchase the same day a year long membership to the V&A) and chaotic in its isolation (as a guest you wear headphones for most of the journey that trigger music and interviews to scatter across your ears depending where you are in the exhibit) it is a trove of memory, evidence and technique that spans Bowie’s history and puts tangibility to details you may only have heard in passing: Diamond Dogs was supposed to be a stage musical; he performed on SNL with Klaus Nomi; he uses a computer program that cuts up sentences from other sources into his song lyrics.

This archive of sketches, sound and video clips, costumes, and artifacts, however, is not actually the highlight of the exhibit.  Rather, it’s the other people there with you. 

The structure of the exhibit renders nearly everyone completely silent.  If they make sound, it is unlikely that you will hear them.  Yet, sometimes I caught a random peel of laughter, or looked to my left or right and found someone staring open-mouthed at the video of a performance video of “Boys Keep Swinging.”  Then, unavoidably, I was put in mind of Velvet Goldmine when the character of Arthur fantasizes about pointing at a television performance of the film’s Bowie avatar Brian Slade and shouting, “That’s me Ma!  That’s me!”

But the true magic is in he penultimate moment of David Bowie is that leads viewers into a large, multistory room coated in video monitors.  There are some exhibits scattered throughout this space, but they are secondary to the visual and auditory display and the many seating areas provided finally for guests.

Everyone stares up, mouths open yet again (we are tiny birds, there to receive this very fundamental piece of pop-culture nourishment and benediction; after all, one of the exhibits main arguments is that Bowie is in everything, including us).  Eventually, people realize the sound is no longer coming through their headphones, but is piped into the room directly, and the isolation of the exhibit structure has gives way to the communal concert experience.

A woman near me laughed at the wonder of it, and a security guard tried to shush her, but the crowd told him no.  A man to my left had tears tracking down his cheeks.  I had to look away from a monitor close to the floor that showed 9/11 footage during a performance of “Heroes,” which for me in high school was a song about how I felt I would never be loved.  Later I had to sit down as the whole of the room lit up with that long-forgotten performance of “Bang Bang” on The Glass Spider tour.

Exiting the exhibit one is given the proof, no longer needed, that David Bowie is in all of us.  Photos of artists who have borrowed, begged, and stolen from Bowie’s various incarnations and looks, or even echoed him seemingly accidentally and disturbingly (Tilda Swinton must be noted, especially), line three walls.  A periodic element chart of figures relevant, some as influence and some as influenced, is painted on the desperately meaningful fourth. Sometimes I would see names – Harvey Milk – and have to look away.

David Bowie is argues aggressively that Bowie’s presence, if not his work itself, is necessarily political in our cultures, and personal in the way that it does not just inspire, but infests.  It reminded me of the relief I felt as little more than a child to see portrayals of desire and loss and otherness that I was entitled to access in private amongst the public.

And it reminded me that there are some strange gems in the Bowie’s canon, not just in the truly great albums (Aladdin Sane, Diamond Dogs, Young Americans, and the Berlin triptych), but in the lesser ones.  In fact, I walked out of David Bowie is with an obsessive need to revisit Never Let Me Down, and while I (re)discovered an album with many legitimately forgettable tracks and an excessive abuse of the signature-80s unnecessary sax solo, I also found in it the feminine counterpart to Diamond Dogs through “Bang Bang” and the rather spectacular “Time Will Crawl” that clearly returns us to the unresolved narratives of Hunger City.

David Bowie is runs through August 11 at the Victoria and Albert in London.

Queers Dig Time Lords: A Celebration of Doctor Who by the LGBTQ Fans Who Love It

29 Apr

Queers-Cover-web-194x300I’m really happy to finally get to post about Queers Dig Time Lords: A Celebration of Doctor Who by the LGBTQ Fans Who Love It, edited by Sigrid Ellis (Chicks Dig Comics) and Michael Damian Thomas (Apex Magazine). It’s being released on June 4, 2013, already seems to have great buzz, and has one of my essays in it.

While the stuff I write is always personal on some level, my piece in this volume touches on a lot of things I tend not to talk about in public (yes, those exist) — including being Sicilian, wanting to be a boy, and the age of AIDS — because they’re just too difficult, too close, and too specific in my day-to-day life.

The through time and space nature of the Whoniverse, however, and Jack Harkness’s long-life on 20th century Earth have meant, however, that I couldn’t get away with contributing to this volume without telling my story in ways I’m a lot less practiced at, which is an opportunity I’m incredibly grateful for.

I think this volume is going to be incredible. It contains work from a lot of people I know, and a lot of people I know of, and I’m super excited to get my hands on it.

You can pre-order it at Amazon and other major booksellers, and it will also be available for early purchase at Wiscon.

Glee: Queerness, danger, and desire

27 Nov

While pondering the latest entry in the decline and fall of the Warblers, which is something I don’t think I’m going to comment on until after I see what “Whistle” looks like in 4.08 and how it intersects with Hunter’s introduction as “not even a little bit bi-curious” (which may not mean what you think it means), I started thinking about danger and desire on Glee, and how that linkage isn’t universal, but instead centered on the queer characters both as givers and receivers of risk, threat, and damage.

That’s not to say that desire doesn’t have big scary consequences for everyone on Glee. Even without being anything resembling the teen morality play the show often seems to be mistaken for, heterosexual sex and desire does have some admittedly serious consequences. After all, Quinn does get pregnant, and it’s worth remembering that Will and Terri Schuester were terrifyingly toxic together; Puck has arguably experienced statutory rape; Jesse’s a creep; Bieste had that domestic violence story, and a whole lot of friendships have been upended over and over again thanks to the heterosexual musical chairs at WMHS.

But all of that — from the realistic plotlines to the ones that would earn a side-eye from a soap opera — has nothing on the rather consistent darkness that seems to come with and from desire for Glee‘s queer characters. Where the straight characters risk heartbreak and being laughed at, queer characters face injury and violation as the result of desire, including desire from queer peers. This association is present from early on in the form of “predatory gay” Sandy Ryerson.

However, the link between danger and queer desire on Glee is present around far more than one unfortunate and fairly misleading stereotype. Kurt, for example, knows that being queer makes him seem dangerous to those who feel threatened by his desire, as when he and Finn have a showdown over his crush when the Hudsons first move in with the Hummels. Kurt also receives danger through desire in his interactions with Karofsky. And, of course, Karfosky’s not just a potential danger to Kurt, but to himself.

Closeted classmates aren’t the only way in which this link between queer desire and danger is present on Glee. Blaine, for example, identifies the desire of others as a threat to Kurt if he remains uneducated about sex in his chat with Burt. Additionally, Blaine is also injured by Sebastian, who aggressively indicates his sexual interest in Blaine in the episodes that lead up that event. Blaine also links danger and desire in his own interactions with Kurt when he gets drunk and sexually pushy with him after their visit to Scandals. And, of course, there is his Sadie Hawkins backstory.

Meanwhile, queer women on Glee aren’t exempted from this desire and danger link. Certainly, it’s hard to look away from the fact that when sexual assault clearly enters the Glee narrative it is through the queer female characters. Brittany, who is bisexual, frequently references events that seem to point to a history of non-consensual sex, while Santana deals with a threat of corrective rape once she can no longer avoid being out at WMHS. Additionally, she winds up in a disturbingly sexual confrontation with Sebastian in response to Blaine’s injury.

These events are not only different from the consequences of heterosexual desire on Glee mentioned previously, but also stand in stark contrast to events, such as Sam’s work as a stripper, that could be part of a narrative on the danger of desire, but aren’t, seemingly because they involve non-queer characters. In fact, when it comes to Sam being a stripper, it’s takes one of the queer kids (Blaine) to perceive and name the at least hypothetical danger present in that situation. Similarly, Puck’s interest in casual sex and sex work is played for laughs in a way that it’s not around Blaine’s random hookup and Santana’s promiscuity prior to coming out.

That this pattern seems to exist around characters and couples (Kurt and Blaine, Brittany and Santana) that have also received criticism for the chasteness of the on-screen portrayal of their romances and desires (Kurt even gets a narrative about finding sex scary, off-putting, and at odds with romance), despite the fact that both couples are canonically known to be sexually active as fairly significant plot points, is notable. It underscores how queer desire, or at least the portrayal of it, has not thus far seemed possible in the world of Glee without the presence of danger.

This association of queer desire and danger reflects, I think, not just the reality of some of the risks many queer teens experience when they express desire or are desired (and here we should all be keeping an eye on Unique when it comes to the next installment of this type of danger on Glee), but an older queer narrative as well. The presence of this particular narrative reinforces the ongoing discussion that Glee in general, and Glee‘s queerness in particular, is targeted not at current teen audiences but at 30- and 40-somethings who of course wanted a boyfriend who loved Bryan Ferry or Vivienne Westwood or a girlfriend who was just like all those cheerleaders on the cover of Sweet Valley High books.

This older queer narrative is, of coruse, one where queerness is identified as a mode of transmitting danger and can be considered to reference both historical, non-assimilationist queer culture and the way in which that non-assimilationism was both reinforced through and broken down by the specter of AIDS. Arguably, for someone who came out in the ’80s the links between queerness, danger, and desire were not only obvious then, but remain clear now, in a highly specific and and largely unvaried mode.

For a show that’s been rich in passing-related narratives that have often, but not exclusively, been centered around queerness, this link between queer desire and danger on Glee suggests a passing story taking place out beyond the fourth wall. In a world we often like to pretend is post-AIDS, and post-Matthew Sheppard, Glee shows us beautiful, young queer couples being publicly happy through America’s most public transmission-based medium. Yet, a the same time, Glee is also unable, or unwilling, to avoid the link between queer desire and the transmission of danger that too many of us watching (and presumably creating) the show grew up on.

Pitch Perfect: Fannish fixations as film structure

21 Oct

Last night I finally caught up with Pitch Perfect, which was obscenely enjoyable and ridiculously tightly scripted for what’s really just another entrant in that somewhat weird genre of arts competition movies (see: the Step Up franchise; Bring It On, if you’re willing to call cheerleading an art; and the pretty fabulous Drumline). Formulas work for a reason, and Pitch Perfect might as well be the textbook on why.

That said, the film does have a few surprises, and I don’t mean vomit as a key and startling plot point (really, you have been warned). Aside from lacking any real villain — obstacles are largely just the complexities of individuals trying to decide how to prioritize their own happiness in response to the expectations of others — Pitch Perfect somehow manages to bring the world of lesbian subtext in a way that doesn’t, actually, feel like it’s for the male eye or irrelevant to actual women gay or straight.

Now, I’m not a big fan of subtext as the reason to watch something. We no longer live in a world where we have to do that, and I find myself increasingly exhausted by narrative subtexts that don’t go anywhere — it’s one of the reasons White Collar and its associated fandom has exhausted me; despite containing a canonically gay female character, everyone fixates on the subtext in the relationship between what the show pretty clearly presents as two straight men. It’s a fun show, but it’s not quite my thing and subtext is not enough to keep me hooked. Quite the opposite, really; mostly, I find the insistence that it should be tiring.

But Pitch Perfect delivers both at least one gay woman, as well as some subtext between a range of characters that read at various points along whatever arbitrary queerness spectrum exists in my head. Seeing the film in a movie theater filled mostly with women, who, statistically, I tend to assume were mostly straight, and watching them laugh with (not at) that innuendo, applaud one character’s particularly awesome breasts, and cheer for a host of awesome women being hot, was really cool, if a bit strange.

On one hand, there’s probably stuff to say about what women have learned from the male gaze and objectification and how that may or may not be toxic. But, not my department, at least today.

What fascinated me was how profoundly this was a film that seemed structured to appeal to the narrative preoccupations of fandom (homosocial content with a sexual charge; narratives that are more slice of life than obstacle-driven; in-jokes and low impulse control as defining character traits; obsession as a driver of connection and excellence). The film felt like everything fandom always wants, but (as is often not the case) about women.

The boys were an afterthought both on the screen and in the audience; the women in the film frequently used deeply masculine terminology to talk about their bodies and sexual desires; and yet no one — on screen or off — seemed to get squirmy in the bad way or feel the need to use words that relegated the films queerness or homosocialness to the safe zones of bromances and girl crushes.

Someone finally wrote a movie for fandom and somehow it’s female-focused, atmospherically deeply queer, and yet recognizes its ability to be completely maintrstream.

It’s also ridiculously funny. Glee fans who read this blog will appreciate the many pointed and deserved digs at the show. Fans of the arts competition genre will feel satisfied for the tradition of campy absurdity this continues as well as possibly recognize a few nods to films as strangely diverse as Zoolander and Strictly Ballroom. And really weird people like Patty and I will leave the theater whispering “I ate my twin in the womb” at each other.

Glee: Passing and the ongoing disappearance of Blaine Anderson

11 Oct

Over the last couple of days, I’ve dug through all the Glee related entries I’ve posted here for mentions of passing. There are a lot of them, and they’re mostly related to Blaine around sexuality, gender, and race. They’re also mostly about my hope that Glee would deliver an actual plot line around passing.

Of course, hindsight is 20-20 and in fandom’s mad and excellent scramble to figure out what Blaine’s choices in “The Break Up” were about, it’s become clear, of course, that Blaine’s passing wasn’t just a bit of seasoning or a tease at a story that could be told. Rather, the narrative was — intentionally or not — unfurling all along.

In a show that’s ostensibly about underdogs, Blaine Anderson has always been a bit of a conundrum. Doesn’t he have too much going for him for us to really care about his problems? Certainly he’s been easy for a lot of viewers to resent, whether it’s been the “too nice, too boring” charge of my friend Shanna over at Don’t Turn It Off or just a general distaste for his prep school manners and privilege.

Blaine’s not, as far as I can tell, a character people have ambivalence about, because if Glee is about the triumph of underdogs, why does this dude, who really seems to have fewer obstacles than most of his WMHS peers get, among other things, all the solos?

But the fact that Blaine seems to have so many fewer problems than most of the other WMHS kids, is something that’s embedded in the character not just in the Doylist sense, but in a Watsonian sense as well. Blaine’s fine. Why worry about Blaine?

But Blaine isn’t fine; he just passes for fine.

Just like he’s gay, but can pass for straight at WMHS. We can argue (as a few enthusiastic people in my Ask on Tumblr often do) that Blaine can’t possibly he choosing to pass with those ridiculously short trousers and the bowties. Yet the fact remains that his outfits are based on classic menswear style, and he is seen being accorded masculine status (usually in opposition to Kurt) on repeated occasions.

From Bieste’s reaction to Blaine during the auditions for West Side Story to the choir room guys (particularly Puck and Artie) treating him like a “bro,” to Sam’s inaccurate insistence that Blaine isn’t into “gay” things that, canonically, we’ve seen that he’s absolutely in to — Blaine is, whether he wants to be or not, viewed as at least an honorary straight guy. We even see it when Kitty and her bullying friends pick on a group of New Directions members and Blaine’s sexuality doesn’t even merit a remark. WMHS hasn’t become suddenly not-homophobic; rather, Blaine just doesn’t ping their anxieties because he doesn’t visibly step out of boxes regarding gender and desire that trigger their discomfort.

In short, when it comes to sexuality and gender concerns, Blaine passes whether he wants to or not, just as Kurt doesn’t, whether he wants to or not.

But the matter of not being seen for what he is doesn’t end there for Blaine. Racial passing is also a theme in his narrative, even if its one that’s been given markedly less attention. However, aside from establishing his background with Rachel’s offhand “vaguely Eurasian babies” remark in Season 2, matters of race (and skin tone) have popped up around Blaine repeatedly. After the topic not having appeared at all this season, it shows up twice in remarks from Brittany during the election process in “Makeover.” In hindsight, that placement seems a critical reminder just before the shock of 4.04 that no one ever seems to see Blaine for what he is.

He’s gay, and passes for straight.

He’s a person of color who passes for white.

He’s gotten seriously physically hurt in canon twice, but there are no visible scars or wounds that force anyone to remember or acknowledge it happened.

These three items, combined with his talent, means he’s offered opportunities to perform, given the benefit of the doubt in social situations, and pursued as a friend and lover in ways that characters who can’t pass — Kurt, Mercedes, Artie, Santana and Becky (just to name a few; I have no idea what the show is doing or intends to do with Unique and the passing issue) — often aren’t.

But the thing is, Blaine’s not straight. He’s not white. And he’s not scar-free.

And those aren’t the only things he passes for. He also passes for responsible, supported, accepted, and just fine. With everyone. Even his boyfriend.

But Blaine’s not, necessarily, responsible (see his relationships with alcohol and sexuality). He certainly seems to be lacking in family support. And he’s not accepted by his peers, because the guy they often give acceptance to isn’t really him.

And he’s not, at the end of the day, fine, and that was clear to a lot of us by the time he performed “Cough Syrup,” if not sooner.

Blaine’s not fine because the passing is killing him.

But the thing about passing is that it’s complicated. It is not innately good nor bad. It’s a thing that some people can choose and some people can’t avoid. It’s a thing that can help some people be safe in some circumstances. It’s also a thing that can put a person at risk or make them feel like they are disappearing.

And disappearing is exactly what Blaine Anderson has been doing. His very existence is (in a marvelous bit of rubbing up against the fourth wall commentary) an exercise in persona. And, despite the people around him seeming to sense that something is wrong, the things they have done to help have either reinforced the disappearing Blaine is experiencing or underscored the futility of outside intervention in the construction and deconstruction of his identity.

One scene I keep lingering on in the wake of 4.04 is the argument Kurt and Blaine have in Emma’s office during the debacle with Chandler at the end of Season 3. One of the weirder and funnier things Blaine snaps at Kurt about is Kurt sneaking bronzer into his hand lotion.

“It looks weird,” Blaine says, “if a person just has tan hands.” Blaine is disappearing, and Kurt senses this, but can’t truly identify it and hasn’t the faintest clue how to actually stop the process. All he can do is hold on by what little he can reach.

The disappearance metaphor is heartbreaking in part because of how it ties into Blaine’s passing problems.

It’s also intriguing, because it reminds us again of the question of how much of the passing story regarding Blaine in Glee is Watsonian (in this case, internal and intrinsic to the story) and how much of it is Doylist (specifically, how convenient is it to a commercial narrative to feature a character who can be perceived as both gay and/or straight as well as PoC and/or white as individual audience members desire based on their own biases and narrative needs)?

Being a cypher, and being able to pass, seems, quite clearly, to be killing Blaine Anderson in the Watsonian sense. But it’s arguably, and unsettlingly, something that may well be being considered as quite useful in the marketing of the character.

Glee: Welcome to the land of the dead

5 Oct

One of the things I, and pretty much everyone else who analyzes Glee a lot, talks about is the idea of WMHS and/or Lima, Ohio as hell, the underworld, the afterlife, or purgatory. It’s not a nice place, and we don’t want to live there. And it must be a physical landscape, a place to be escaped, or else we wouldn’t have just had three seasons about a bunch of kids struggling to be something other than “Lima Losers” and I wouldn’t spend so much time talking about the Ferryman or crossing the river.

But glee is also a feeling you carry with you. Brittany, perhaps, knows this most clearly. Yes, earlier in the season, she draws Rachel and Kurt “in Heaven,” but she’s also a member of the Left Behind club, carrying a portable, practice run at The Rapture (and let’s pause to take in all the meanings of the world “rapture”) in her backpack. You can’t escape hell without carrying things from there with you — that’s like the most basic premise of any horror movie.

And a horror movie is, on some level, explicitly what the show becomes in “The Breakup,” not because the episode was filled with so many things we didn’t want to have happen (the anguish on Tumblr is palpable, heartrending in its own way, and also at times frustrating), but because it was, like a horror film, filled with so many inevitabilities. You can shout at the screen all you want for people to not ignore the warnings (Kurt), go into the basement (Finn), open a door (Rachel), or have sex (Blaine), but they’re still going to do those things with their expected consequences.

Death, the little and the large, is all over the episode — in the song lyrics (Rachel has a particularly memorable moment on this, and the eternal youth discussed in “Teenage Dream” is a death too in a live fast, die young, leave a beautiful corpse sort of way); in the story of Finn’s gun; in the profound and constant way Blaine is untouched; and in Kurt’s remark, delivered almost casually over a cup of coffee, that he feels like he’s dying. That is what it feels like, of course, when these things happen, but it was eerie for me to see the boy so narratively associated with death say that so casually.

There’s a lot to untangle in the wake of “The Breakup,” from the many possible implications of the name “Eli” to the obvious necessity to revisit “What’s wrong with Blaine Anderson?” to speculation about what happens next. Even without trying to figure that out, confirmed spoilers for future episodes hint at some deeply rich symbolism.

Blaine as “Teen Angel” in Grease is just one amazing detail when reflected against his role as Tony in “West Side Story” and the function sexual activity has played in the narrative around both casting and performance moments. While likely (and appropriately) exiled to permanent subtext, the metaphors embedded here around a young gay male about sex as life and sex as death are significant, harrowing, and appropriate, at least if you are in the part of the Glee viewership that recognizes and remembers Kurt Hummel and Blaine Anderson as having the preoccupations and fashion sense of gay teens circa 1987.

Also potentially on the table? Kurt finally getting that gay mentor that Blaine turned out not to be once the writers realized what they had on their hands with Darren Criss and “Teenage Dream.” Chase Madison, who Tumblr is already considering as having a possible interest in Kurt, I’m looking at you.

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