Glee: Sex, gender, desire, and what was that about a Sadie Hawkins dance?

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.

35 thoughts on “Glee: Sex, gender, desire, and what was that about a Sadie Hawkins dance?”

  1. So, @sisgender has the great idea to construct a “less binary” identification system, and they do that by letting you chose between “male/female/other.”

    So either you fall into the traditional dichotomy, or you are “other”?

    Well, way to fuck up your own basic idea.

    It’s not just annoying on the question you mentioned. It’s annoying on all of them. Hell, they did not even include “bisexual” as an option, they have to pick “other,” too. As do us asexuals. I mean “the gender you prefer in a partner” is not even a question that applies to me (though I could apply to other asexuals, if the test didn’t ALSO fail to make a distinction between romantic and sexual attraction). And if you pick “other,” the suggestions are “bisexual, trisexual, pansexual.” We could not even get a MENTION?

    The site purports to have a new, useful way to talk about gender identity. How does it help ANYONE to know I’m pink-pink-pink-purple-purple if that can mean I’m a cisgendered female asexual who prefers no sex as easily as that I’m a cisgendered feamle pansexual switch?

    The only people this categorization is useful for are those who already fitted the gender binary anyway, if maybe not in the traditional way.

    1. The whole thing is a COMPLETE disaster. That gets more disaster-y if you fill it out and then get the things condescending response, but I couldn’t make myself write a post all about it, because it would have been full of seething FOREVER.

      1. I did fill it out and got my “results,” but they made no sense – basically, the thing just repeated my own answers back to me. “Oh, you filled in female-female-female-asexual-none”? Well, your results are female-female-female-asexual-none!” The only difference was that they helpfully color-coded me as pink-pink-pink-purple-purple. (And I hate pink and am not too fond of purple.)

        Did you get more? Am I missing something? Because that seems a tad on the underwhelming side, but from the text and the “How To,” it looks like that’s what I was supposed to get.

        I’m half-considering sending them an e-mail explaining that a system where Jack Harkness and Sherlock Holmes gets the same result is very, very flawed. (Okay, I’m making a few assumptions about each here. But the way I think they’d fill it in, they’d get the same code, for very different reasons.)

        I’ll have to wait to send anything till I calm down, though. But then, thinking about it will probably just make me ragey again.

        And that’s before I even get into their brilliant idea of “othering” as many test-takers as possible…

  2. >Your choices? Male, Female, and Other.
    Horrified face here, too. Sex, gender, roles, and so many other things – it might be hard to come up with the *perfect* set of options, I’d imagine, but that seems almost the worst possible.

    Re: Sadie Hawkins: I understood the reference but hadn’t really stopped to think about what that meant for Blaine. Your points are super interesting and make tons of sense with the way I read Kurt & Blaine together.
    [Oh, total tangent – I wonder if this has some relationship to why so many people think that Blaine letting Kurt rage in the hallway and not comforting him was weird, when to me it seemed entirely in character (*and* the right reaction to the other character) for both of them.]

    Another link about gender and sexuality and ways that assumptions serve no one well:

  3. Ah, thanks for writing this. I got so annoyed earlier because I was reading an analysis of the prom episode where someone complained that Kurt should have been ‘leading’ (or as the original author wrote, ‘being the man’) when they were dancing, based solely on the fact that he’s taller than Blaine. This despite all the ways in which making this complaint fundamentally disregards the characters themselves, and also the narrative arc that led to the moment when Blaine asked Kurt to dance. So basically I just love that you wrote this piece, and that Glee gets complicated with this stuff, even if not everyone watching is getting there, too. Thanks for helping me feel less ticked off at the world today.

    And also, even though it was a lead-in to a serious discussion, I was kind of tickled by the mention of a “Sadie Hawkins Dance” because it has that retro vibe that’s so Blaine.

  4. That website is horrifying. Not for me so much about the conflation of gender identity and topping or bottoming (although that’s bad) but the fact that it’s all radio buttons and not clickybuttons.

    Apparently I can be attracted to “male” “female” or “other”. Not two of them. Not all three. Just one choice –I can like masculinity, femininity, or something that isn’t either.

    This? Is problematic. I am not pleased by the bisexual erasure. At _all_.

    [After reading the above comments] Oh. _oh_.

    Apparently someone is “attracted to females” “attracted to males” or “bi/tri/pansexual”.

    That is _amazing_ in how unhelpful it is.


    (I am also displeased, for that matter, by the switch erasure. I do not take the “male” or “female” position in bed. I don’t even know which the male or female position _is_. I take the top or bottom, or sometimes neither, and when I’m very lucky both. Not being able to click multiple buttons is awful.)


  5. Yes, thanks for this. I don’t watch Glee and am only vaguely familiar with the characters (mostly from your blog). Your analysis and insights are always very interesting. For me this stuff is complicated as well. Sometimes I’m so very frustrated by the differences in treatment of genders and just what people assume by appearances, etc.. I am keenly aware of this as a quite capable female in the still male dominated profession of IT.

  6. HA! I followed the sisgender link, got to the intimacy question and just closed the tab. While the other questions had felt a bit funny, with that one, I didn’t even know where to begin.

    I LOVED how Blaine just allowed Kurt to work through what had happened… in fact, that’s considered a typically feminine trait — listening, not solving. And after you were talking about Sadie Hawkins on Twitter earlier, I was thinking about how Blaine specified that he asked his friend to the dance.

    But I also thought a lot about how gender is taught. Maybe Blaine’s one of these guys who had a lot of personality shaping done by gender policing. I mean, he had the crap beat out of him at a dance, and his dad isn’t supportive. I know I spent most of my teens and twenties working very hard at being girly, because being otherwise had made me unpopular at school and at home to the point of bullying and *disappointment*.

    Oh! And re: Candles. I really took it that the song itself was plot for Rachel/Quinn/Finn, and just a really awful song for the boys to sing to each other and throw the competition. And hey, Kurt was impressed. 😉

    1. Also, doesn’t Blaine have an incoherent line somewhere about “knowing how to sell the songs” but not otherwise knowing what the hell he’s doing?

      When I wrap the rest of this new data into that (and letting Kurt just burn off his initial reaction about it, like you say, really ties into that; it so much easier for Blaine to be all “we’re going to do what you want to do” and sound like he means it than it is for Kurt int hat episode), there’s a lot of “please don’t don’t ask me to take the lead in this thing” in there.

        1. Probably, but since I watched the entirety of both seasons in like 72 hours, it’s all one big blurry Klainebow for me. I should really do a measured rewatch so I can actually distinguish episodes.

      1. From “SLS”:

        Blaine: Look Kurt… I don’t know what I’m doing. I pretend like I do, and I know how to act it out in song. But the truth is… I’ve never really been anyone’s boyfriend.

        1. Hmm, the wording here also seems significant? I personally would have thought it would be more natural to say “I’ve never had a boyfriend”, but “I’ve never been anyone’s boyfriend” seems more passive and suggests the desire to be courted rather than to court.

          Of course, since SLS comes before BIOTA, there’s also an implication here that Blaine hasn’t dated anyone at all, and there’s always that question at the back of his mind as to whether he could be bisexual.

          1. That is a fantastic catch. There’s enough of these little pieces floating around, that I actually wonder if this going to become a more overt subject somehow.

  7. Oh.

    On poking around otherwise, I find this “charming” passage:

    Example 1 is Dean who was born a biological male, lives full-time as a woman and refers to him/herself as transgendered. He/she is tri-sexual (colloquial term for liking females, males and transgendered individuals)

    There are transgendered people who consider themselves male.
    And some that consider themselves female.
    And some that consider themselves queer or other.


    Also, _classy_ use of “his/her” there. Clearly a trans woman who lives full time as a woman might possibly need the male pronoun.

    I think I need to send an angry letter about this.

    ((Also, increasing amounts of rage at the “female = submissive” idea. Fuck that shit!))


    1. Christ on a fucking pogo stick it gets more awful!

      Example 5 is a Andrea who has undergone GRS (Gender Reassignment Surgery). She was born a male and has had her male gentalia reconstucted to look like a female, however she is not a fully functional genetic/biological female. We have chosen to categorize her as “Other / GRS” in the presenation category because her surgery was more for appearance rather than biologically function to have children.

      I don’t think you get to choose other for her presentation if she has had surgery in order to appear as a woman, and therefore present as a woman. You…this…GAH!

      I’m going to close that tab and not look at it anymore. Sorry for so much ranting in your journal, just gah.


      1. The worst and most complex part of all of this? Is the site purports to be designed by members of our community.

        1. I once was in the bizarre position of speaking publicly with a homophobic trans woman who asserted that she would never menstruate because she’d started taking hormones so late in life. I am rarely left speechless, but this brought me pretty close.

          “Members of our community” can mean so little.

  8. I was hoping for this post after our little bit of discussion yesterday. I completely had similar thoughts about Blaine, his role/where he sees himself, but just hadn’t had time to really process them yet (too busy dealing with my own weirdness involving high school flashbacks). This all rings so true, and like you said, if Blaine indeed sees himself as being the one to BE courted, it explains and expands a lot (and just makes me identify with him even more, but that’s beside the point.) The writers could have just said it was “a” dance, any dance, homecoming even, but they specifically used Sadie Hawkins. So it’s not something we can ignore, it’s there for a reason.

    This whole nonsense of “who is the man” IS ridiculous, because in most relationships I’ve been in or witnessed, even supposedly hetero-normative ones, nothing is standard and people rarely conform completely to any presumed gender roles. Queer or not, it can be layered and complicated, and I wish more people could understand that.

    1. >Queer or not, it can be layered and complicated,

      Right! And, in fact, it *is* often layered and complicated whether that is acknowledged or not, and not understanding that complexity is possible also means not understanding a lot about others, including partners, and possibly/probably your own self.

  9. Can we start differentiating between sexual attraction and romantic attraction too, while we’re at it?

    As a side note, I advocate replacing “other” with “too complicated to explain in a radio button”, no matter how many other options you have when the question of gender or orientation comes up.

  10. Wow, that website is a mess. The system doesn’t seem very consistent, either. It says that “presentation” means physical appearance, which sort of makes sense even if it’s a narrow take on “presentation,” yet in the examples, they don’t consistently use it that way.

    I didn’t even understand the “posturing” thing. I assume they mean whether you top of bottom during sex, which, yeah, is a mess on so many levels, both in the wording (male, female, other, wtf?) and the nature of the question itself. I think can’t think of a meaning that isn’t a mess.

    Plus, I don’t buy that that system is an accurate, full way of mapping out someone’s identity. I mean, if I absolutely had to say what gender I prefer, I’d say women. But I’m still bisexual, and that’s still an important part of my identity.

  11. Did you happen to check out the forum on that website? Only two sections (M to F trans person and Crossdresser) are available. The only topics available are two unpleasant comments form the forum administrator talking about how crossdressers don’t know how to dress in fashion, and trans women clearly don’t know what they want because they get upset when other people use the wrong pronoun and don’t appreciate straight ‘curious’ guys treating them like ‘male lite.’

    I went to the store section and gave every product a single star. I figure I might as well do what I can to undermine them.

  12. Holy crap. Okay, normally I try to avoid actually thinking too hard about Glee. I know, that’s terrible, but Glee is my happy place in the universe. It’s my escapism. If I want to think, I deconstruct the seriously concerning messages being sent to teenaged girls in the Twilight series, or start a conversation with my father about race and class in American society.

    BUT. Your post made me consider something I’d never have noticed about Glee, and now my wheels are turning and I’m thinking about things in the whole Kurt-Blaine relationship that I’d never even noticed before, and I find that it’s actually making watching Glee MORE fun, not less. So now I have to thank you, and go read more of your writing.

  13. I may be a fanfic addict and writer, but I love the thoughtful commentary as well, maybe even more. For the record, I am a straight married 44 year old and most people would wonder why the topic of gender norming and “alternate” (god I hate that word) sexuality even occours to me, and why it is something that is very important to me.

    I grew up knowing that my uncle was gay, well before I really knew what the word meant. He and Rob have been together as long as my parents have and it was never a topic that was shunned, but it was never really discussed in depth. When my grandfather passed away after I got out of college it was the first time I really spent any time with them as a couple. I appreciated the love and the relationship and the depth that was there.

    My sister was a “Karofsky” without the bullying. She was a sports star in HS, varsity in 2 sports as a freshman, and when she went to college she was publically scared at the fact that supposedly college female athletes were inevitably gay. She never really came out, she and my now “sisterinlaw” were roommates that progressed to buying a home together, taking in 2 foster kids, and eventually adopting them as well as a child I gave up to them.

    In college I was the head of our schools Gay/lesbian support group. Two of my best friends were gay, one made Kurt look like a heterosexual male stereotype, and the other was a tough as nails butch punk rocker. We spent our weekends at Gay bars in Columbus, OH and Mark looked better than I did in my leather mini skirts. I helped frioends through coming out, relationship drama, and all out hate campaigns.

    That is why I worry. Why I worry that my small minded county in Maryland doesn’t even have a Pflag chapter or any type of GBLT support group, even at the 2 colleges in the area. It is why I worry about the kids here that have nowhere to turn to, who try to fit themselves into the “required” heteronormal perceptions. OK so I have flown all over the place here, and I apologize. Well written and insightful

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