I went into this past week’s episode of Glee, “Prom Queen,” fairly sure that I was going to wind up writing a piece about Blaine singing “I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance With You” because it seemed likely to be such a mess of gender and sexuality weirdness.
But then I got to thinking about the completely random way in which Glee often uses songs (“Candles” as a “we just hooked up and really dig each other” tune? Really?) and figured that while the analysis would be interesting (especially in light of the “predatory gay” thing that the show keeps managing to come back to, much to most people’s dismay), it wouldn’t, ultimately, actually be relevant.
Besides, we got that Sadie Hawkins dance Blaine backstory moment dropped on us instead. For context, especially for those outside of the US, a Sadie Hawkins dance is an event where it is customary for women to invite men to the dance as opposed to men inviting women, as is still the norm for stuff like prom.
While a lot of the people I talk to online either didn’t register the weirdness of the Sadie Hawkins dance reference, or if they did, didn’t know what to do with it, I thought it made a few things that haven’t necessarily made sense slide into place in a pretty cool way.
There are, as far as I can tell, two ways to read the Sadie Hawkins dance information. The first is that because this involved non-traditional asking out behavior, that made Blaine feel comfortable with asking another boy to the event. But that interpretation, while the simpler of the two options, actually requires a greater leap of logic to make work as opposed to the more complex, but I suspect more accurate, interpretation: Blaine’s habit is to imagine himself as the one to get asked out, the one to be courted.
If you watch Glee and you like to get thinky about Glee, you’ve probably noticed that most of the discussions about queerness on Glee center on Kurt. Certainly, Kurt’s gender presentation takes up a lot of space both on the show and in fan discussion. And as interesting as that discussion is (it’s certainly one I’ve enjoyed participating in), focusing that discussion only on Kurt has some pretty significant flaws.
Because gender isn’t just this thing you can see; and it’s also a thing that doesn’t just get defined from the outside in. In fact, despite what people tend to think, gender gets defined internally, regardless of how it gets expressed. So we can all discuss how Kurt’s effeminate or has traits associated with femininity (this piece on the significance of his being a countertenor is about my favorite thing on the Internet this week) all day long, but none of that necessarily has any bearing on either his gender identity or how he defines himself within heteronormative constructs (which, let’s face it, totally impact us queer folks whether we want them to or not).
Similarly, just because Blaine doesn’t read as gay in the same way Kurt does and has an affect we can generally consider to be more masculine, doesn’t mean we should be assuming things about his gender identity and how that identity interacts with desire either. Among other things, it’s sloppy.
It’s also obnoxious and not entirely relevant. It’s a bit like when people ask Patty and I who the boy is. Is it me because I own a bunch of men’s suits and will rant, often at great length, about men who don’t understand what the proper length for their trousers should be? Is it Patty because she handles things like tools and bugs? Or wait, maybe it’s because she’s taller? Then again, I’m always taking her cool places… on the other hand….
See, that gets ridiculous fast. Very, very fast.
So here’s my theory, without getting into gender identity, but definitely with getting into the world of the heteronormative assumptions that even us queer people often labor under just out of habit (and, let’s face it, sometimes they’re a little bit fun): Blaine’s always seen himself as the person who wants to get asked out, who wants to be swept off his feet, who wants to be seduced, which is why a Sadie Hawkins dance seemed the time, to him, to be doing the asking.
And it may also be why it took him so long to get a clue and realize he was into Kurt, because the dynamic there, or, at least what he assumed the dynamic to be, probably looked pretty different than a lot of his fantasies. Of course, then he noticed that Kurt was actually sort of courting him just by being patient with his general flailing about (memo to Blaine: less hair gel, more clue).
Except, you know, maybe not. Because Kurt did ask him to prom. And is definitely taller. So you’d think watching these boys get past some of their assumptions about themselves, we might get over some of our own about each other.
That, of course, is harder than it seems. Just writing this post without reinforcing the things I’m trying to detach from is a challenge I’m not sure I’ve succeeded at. And it’s certainly something that came home to me when I received a tweet from @siscolors late last week.
If you tweet me something about sexuality and gender, I’m probably going to follow your link. And the idea, as presented on Twitter, seemed cool — let’s have an identification system that’s less binary and addresses sexual orientation, gender identity and desire all in one package. Room for me! Always exciting, and then I visited the cheesy website (which, you know, I was willing to overlook) and ran smack into their identity quiz.
Skip down to the end (not that there isn’t fail before that, but there are only so many hours in my day), where it asks about “posturing,” by which they mean “the position you primarily take during intimacy.” Your choices? Male, Female, and Other. I suppose I should be grateful there’s an Other category, but I was too busy wearing my horrified face to get there. In fact, I’m still wearing my horrified face with such intensity that I’m having trouble articulating why. But linking gender and whatever it is they’re getting at there — desire for penetration? assertiveness? whether you like to be on top? — serves no one well. At all. And that’s the kindest thing I can say.
Sexuality and gender and desire are complicated. Our expectations around them are relational and pretty deeply ingrained. And that leads us to make all sorts of wacky assumptions: about our selves, our friends, people on the street, and characters on TV. And often those assumptions involve deciding that loudest person in the room is the most “deviant” and anyone we don’t notice in the same way just has to be like everyone else.
Except that’s really not always true. In a lot of ways the normativity we’re all taught to be so fearful of not having doesn’t even exist.
That’s what I got out of the Sadie Hawkins dance moment, and if that’s the message, it certainly circles back nicely to what we’re seeing in the “Raise Your Glass” performance.