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Glee: sex, contradictions, and Blaine Anderson’s backstory

7 Dec

One of the things about fandom is that it tends to spring up around narratives that need solving. Harry Potter fandom was so explosively huge in part because Rowling does archetypal characters and world-building very well, but it was also huge because the books are structured like mysteries and Rowling wasn’t always edited as tightly as she could have been. As such, fandom appeared to solve what was not yet known while the series was in the process of being published and what continues to not quite make sense now that it is concluded.

Glee, which is often criticized for inconsistent writing, arguably has a similar fandom culture for similar reasons: it presents a compelling world full of archetypal characters along with a whole lot of structural problems to solve. And lately, one of those biggest problems to solve seems to be Blaine Anderson. Specifically, what is going on with him and sex? And I don’t mean Kurt.

Blaine is not appropriate about sex and sexuality, except when he’s too appropriate about it. And neither of those things would be notable or even of any particular interest if his words and deeds around sex since he first appeared on the show weren’t so incredibly all over the map and relatively plot-central.

There’s the inappropriate, yet mature and weirdly responsible, conversation he has with Kurt’s father about Kurt’s own reactions to sex. That seems to mesh with the little-adult version of Blaine we got during his time at Dalton. But it sure as hell doesn’t mesh with the guy who had a crush on an older dude he had coffee with once and then decided to sing a song to featuring a line about sex toys as a way to declare this love.

The seeming randomness of Blaine’s actions around sex don’t stop there: there’s the kiss with Rachel; the attempt at sex in the back seat of the car with Kurt after Scandals; the nagging Kurt about his sexy faces after his failed performance at the random foam party in season 2 (Glee, you are so weird); the perfectly mellow frankness with which he discusses masturbation in season 3; his ever growing list of dubious song choices; his very contradictory responses to Sebastian; and now, his rather intense declaration that he’s not for sale (that is, specifically, a declaration of being unwilling to use sex for approval, and yet….).

So, in summary we have Blaine being uncomfortably forward, often to inappropriate people, about sex, almost always as a bid for approval, regardless of the mode, mixed with defensiveness and anger and assertions that he’s not that guy.

Now I feel a little guilty about this analysis, because it plays so strongly into not just real-world serious business, but so many fandom tropes that I don’t often engage. I’m not judging those fandom trends, but on this one I have to be aware of how my thought process fits in with certain community dynamics.

But my point is that since the spoilers for 3.05 about the fight outside of Scandals first broke during filming, I’ve been looking at Blaine’s behavior around sex and thinking “this guy has some sort of sexual abuse or trauma in his past.”

Of course, there are other explanations for this inconsistency around Blaine; he was originally written neither as Kurt’s boyfriend, nor as a show regular. He also was supposed to be a year ahead of Kurt in school and then wound up being a year behind. So there are plenty of external-to-the-narrative reasons why building a solid profile of just who Blaine is can be a little bit challenging.

But, as an audience member and a fan, I view my part of the creative contract in engaging source material as an obligation to help to find or establish a through-line, most particularly when the property has been unable to do so itself.

This doesn’t need to apply to anyone else, it’s just the way I’m wired around stories. But with Glee and its ever-present, and frankly bizarre, fourth wall problems (and that’s an overdue analysis I owe you guys), this viewpoint feels a little less like a quirk of my brain and more just sort of how you’ve gotta do Glee if you want it to make sense at all.

Which brings us back to Blaine, who (alongside Tina) is arguably one of the most sex-positive characters on the show while also simultaneously dealing with sex in some of the least predictable or reasonable ways. When I combine that with his desperate need for approval, his ability to discuss sexuality in mature and rational ways; the ways in which he copes with his anger; and the little bit we know about his relationship with his absent parents a really clear picture forms for me, with, frankly, less effort than I’d like.

I see Blaine as a guy who had something bad happen to him sexually at a fairly young age. His parents sent him to therapy and that was helpful and gave him the communication style he pulls out both when discussing Kurt’s fears about sex with Burt and when he and Kurt have that chat about masturbation. He’s still got some stuff going on about shame and desire and sex as a way to get praise and approval, but hey, don’t we all. On top of this, Blaine is gay, and his parents (or at least his dad) aren’t super accepting, perhaps because they believe (oh so erroneously) that whatever abuse he experienced may have contributed to his sexuality.

Then all of this gets tangled up with how Blaine relates to authority figures in fairly messy ways — and when Blaine transfers to McKinley, suddenly everyone is an authority figure, even his peers. Cue: our consummate performer is also an awkward boy shifting between personas that don’t fit well; he’s uncomfortable in his own skin and completely unable to figure out what to do to get people to like him; and it shows up in weird ways and at weird times, even with the person he trusts most.

Do I think I’m right? Well, I’d be a little shocked if Glee actually went there, but then Glee shocks me fairly often. But the fact remains that I can’t unsee this particular theory, and neither can a lot of other people with whom I’ve been having exchanges around the “What is going on with Blaine?” theme.

Unfortunately this means that I’m now watching with an impulse towards confirmation bias, which I feel like we got in spades tonight — Blaine lashes out at Sam (and he may or may not know about the stripping — it’s not like Finn would have told him), yes, but what he says and how he says it reads as so much more about himself than Sam that it’s a little startling. Even if I hadn’t been nursing this theory for weeks, I think I would have been after that scene.

Frankly, because I’m inordinately fond of Blaine, I want to be wrong. But because I love when breadcrumbs lead somewhere other than an empty clearing, I also hope I’m right. Sexual abuse is, sadly, something that happens all too often — it wouldn’t be an uncommon story, just one uncommonly told, especially as something other than a central trauma narrative, but just a thing in the landscape of a kid growing up. I don’t know that I trust Glee with a plotline like that, but I know I want to trust Glee with a plotline like that.

But considering how often Glee acknowledges, but doesn’t necessarily investigate consent issues (to name just a very few — Dave and Kurt; Brittany’s “alien invasion” remark; various plotlines technically or explicitly involving statutory rape; the outing theme; Blaine and Kurt after Scandals; Sebastian; the awkward predatory vibe of the Warblers in “Uptown Girl”; and Quinn’s attempt to get Puck to get her pregnant again), I’d be surprised at this point if the show doesn’t go there.

Because, increasingly, it feels like it wants to.

So who said this was a comedy again?

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28 Responses to “Glee: sex, contradictions, and Blaine Anderson’s backstory”

  1. epaulettes December 7, 2011 at 2:13 am #

    While I’m with you 100% that Blaine’s inconsistency with sex and sexual expression is moving really traceably into the abuse experience territory, especially in the clinical ~coping mechanisms~ way that he talks about it most of the time. But I’m not entirely sure I can follow you into childhood trauma. For one thing, we already had the bombshell dropped that Blaine was violently attacked at his old school. Personally, I feel like that was an abusive enough situation, and it’s sadly easy for me to believe that Blaine experienced some kind of sexual harassment before or during his attack at Sadie Hawkins. Especially since when Blaine first talks to Kurt about his bullying experience in NBK, it’s the taunting he remembers/shares/becomes visibly angry about, which seems relevant now that we’ve seen Blaine lose his temper again. We witnessed Kurt’s bullying experience take on scarily sexual tones, so if Glee were to ever actually go in this direction, I feel it would be more likely they’d build on what they’d already established. Not that continuity means anything in Glee. SIGH.

    • Olivia February 17, 2013 at 10:52 am #

      Here’s my take on it after reading this post. Now I have a gay uncle who was sexually abused when he was younger and he said that it was how he started figuring out his sexuality. He didn’t want it. But it made him think, and he realized he was Gay. My dad also experienced similar abuse and questioned his sexuality but in the end turned out to be straight. I do not believe for a moment that abuse changes your sexuality but if Blaine’s parents are a bit homophobic, have some guy abuse their son in a sexual way, and then have him say that he’s gay, they might interpret that as what my dad went through as opposed to what my uncle went through. This could also explain Blaine’s bi-sexuality crises. He has possibly his first semi-intimate encounter since he was abused, it doesn’t feel to bad, it’s consensual, and he’s had his parents whispering into his ear about how he’s not really gay, he knows he likes boys, but what if he wrote girls off a little to soon? But after a sober kiss he decides he really is gay. (He also glances at Kurt over her shoulder, interpret that how you will.)

      Anyway, that’s my take on it.

  2. Julia December 7, 2011 at 2:26 am #

    I can’t work out what Glee is actually saying when it brings up consent. I’m leaning towards “the world is gross and unsafe and in no universe is this a comedy.” But I’m fascinated by the way character’s experiences with violated consent do not define their characterizations or plots.

    Aaaaaaaand, I’m leaning towards “someone fucked Blaine up” as you describe, but, complementary/alternate theory: the reason Blaine was bullied in public school? Summer after eighth grade, he’s not out, but the scenario he describes to Burt happens to him. Now, on top of consent issue there, and any previous ones in his life, everyone knows. Things escalate, Sadie Hawkins, and either he misses a lot of school or he transfers to Dalton right after.

    Times like this make me think I need a fandom name to use on wordpress too. >_>

    • Julia December 7, 2011 at 2:40 am #

      …er, that should read “I’m fascinated by the way character’s experiences with violated consent do not define their characterizations or plots except for, apparently, possibly, Blaine.

    • Cal December 7, 2011 at 7:18 am #

      Summer after eighth grade, he’s not out, but the scenario he describes to Burt happens to him. Now, on top of consent issue there, and any previous ones in his life, everyone knows. Things escalate, Sadie Hawkins, and either he misses a lot of school or he transfers to Dalton right after.

      This the scenario I’ve had in my head ever since ‘Sexy’ and that scene at the garage. Blaine knows about that possiblity happening to Kurt because it happened to him. Combine that with the way gossip gets around in schools, and then the assault after the dance…and cue some issues for Blaine.

      • Julia December 7, 2011 at 1:33 pm #

        Especially if his Dad’s solution is “let’s fix a car.”

        • RM December 7, 2011 at 1:36 pm #

          The car thing, which can also be read as Blaine misinterpreting his father’s emotional clumsiness (we have no way of knowing without even having met the dad), is just _so_ egregious in any of the scenarios discussed here: “People are just like things! They’re only supposed to work one way, and when they get broken you fix them.” So bad.

          • Julia December 7, 2011 at 1:43 pm #

            Or as a way to dispel rumors, or keep his son safe, or…

          • Cal December 7, 2011 at 7:50 pm #

            Interesting how that contrasts with Kurt using the garage as a safe space where he can go to talk with Burt – they’re doing the exact same activity, fixing cars, but the subtext is completely the opposite, perhaps because we know that talk is happening and the car fixing is just something to do with their hands while they talk?

            • RM December 7, 2011 at 7:59 pm #

              I think we see this sort of symmetry/meeting in the middle with Kurt and Blaine a lot. They both keep arriving at the same place, it seems, from different directions — the passing/gender/orientation stuff seems to work this way too — we’re largely seeing a more conventionally masculine Kurt this season but a less conventionally masculine Blaine, despite how that West Side Story thing worked out.

              • Cal December 8, 2011 at 12:03 am #

                Indeed, and I love that dynamic wherever it shows up! Plus, I know some people thought that ‘I Am Unicorn’ was the series’ ‘reply’ to the Ramin Satoodeh business, but I’m more and more sure that Kurt’s whole storyline this season is going to be the actual reply. ‘I Am Unicorn’ just set up what was being replied to (not only Beiste/Artie/Emma, but in a way also Burt).

  3. Aes_Nox December 7, 2011 at 2:41 am #

    Thank you for this. So much.

    This is exactly what I was thinking throughout this episode–“I’m not for sale” was such a ‘whoa’ moment for me. I had to sit back and reevaluate a character that I’ve spent a lot of time with–watching him in canon and reading him and writing him. I haven’t (thank anything and everything) had any personal experience with sexual abuse, so when I saw on the K/B comm and on Tumblr that seemingly no one else was coming to this conclusion, I was wondering if I was exaggerating things too far in my mind, or not understanding the situation properly. But then you came out with this….

    I just don’t understand how such fragmentation about one topic (that is, sex) could exist in one character, who seems otherwise, if not consistent (in that he has different personas/characterizations/responses to different people because he’s a people-pleaser), then at least stable (in that he’s not Quinn, for example).

    And I mean, just in this sexual-assault line of thinking, we have 1. Blaine’s offer to tell Kurt what he knows about sex; 2. (#1 in contrast with) his admission that he’s never been anyone’s boyfriend*; 3. his weirdly specific talk with Burt about getting drunk and fooling around (and, presumably from the way he framed this, regretting it); 4. his confrontation with Karofsky in Night of Neglect during which Karofsky called him “buckboy” and Blaine subsequently pushed him physically (the first time, I think, that we saw Blaine get into a physical altercation); 5. his very very very strong negative response to Sam about selling sex, i.e. “I’m not for sale.”

    I think it’s especially interesting that the only two times we’ve seen Blaine get physically violent (which is such a contrast with his usual calm / mature / puppy ness) happen after someone mentions selling sex. That just seems…disturbingly specific. But given what we know about the cost of Dalton and the look of Blaine’s room, that just wouldn’t make sense….

    It’s like–are there other viable ways to explain this, outside of some kind of unconsensual sex? I’m sure there are. But if my mind jumps straight to sexual assault, and that’s not somewhere I even want to go with Blaine because I love his character half to death, then I think the writers must be leading somewhere.

    *Obviously not to say that sex outside relationships is automatically traumatic or something–just, there’s some wiggle room there that wouldn’t be as obvious if Blaine had offered to teach Kurt what he knew and had already been “somebody’s boyfriend.” If Blaine had had a boyfriend before, I figure most of us would say Blaine and his ex had had sex and this was the sexual knowledge that Blaine alludes to.

  4. April December 7, 2011 at 3:37 am #

    Oh my goddddd I’m so glad you posted this. When I watched the ep, the sexual abuse theory was (to my horror) the first place my brain went to when Blaine got all riled up in the choir room and said he wasn’t for sale. I am so NERVOUS about this, in part because I adore Blaine to pieces and couldn’t they have found a less traumatic/less triggering backstory for him? And also in part because hello, GLEE, who isn’t always known for handling storylines in the most responsible way. He just got so ANGRY so fast, and it wasn’t particularly provoked … Externally, anyway, but I totally felt the internal provocation. Ugh, RIB, please do not fuck with my favorite character… I want Blaine and Kurt to live in a happy fairytale for the rest of their days, is that too much to ask? (I’m sure the answer is yes…)

    (but, an aside… If this storyline brings more sweaty!angry!Blaine, the very horrible, superficial part of myself will not mind too much, because that? Was kind of hot. My ovaries jumped and let out kind of a Wheee! Feeling. And now I’m going straight to hell…)

  5. nancy December 7, 2011 at 5:15 am #

    I’ve read your glee postings for awhile and always find your ideas interesting and engaging. Like the ones you put forth here. I just want to address a point or two and maybe add another voice to the discussion.

    I didn’t have a problem, really, with Blaine’s reaction to Sam. First of all, I would assume Finn and/or Rachel would have told someone or everyone about Sam’s stripping because, seriously, they’re high school kids. Remember the scene when Brittany thought she was pregnant by Artie and told Santana and Santana swore to tell no one? The didn’t get 10 feet down the hall before everyone knew. So I felt Blaine’s line about “not for sale” was just an insult hurled towards Sam in anger because he knew about the stripping.

    And as far as Blaine being angry, I thought it was made clear in the coffe house scene how Blaine felt about Finn’s treatment of him and Finn dismissing him at every turn. They did kind of show this building since episode one. So seeing Sam come back and be embraced by Finn while having his own ideas shot down by Sam (“boyband”) was the last straw. Plus Finn enthusiastically supported Sam’s sexy moves idea.

    I love Glee but am aware of it’s flaws *cough, continuity, cough*. And I adore Blaine. I just feel that maybe in this instance, what we get on the surface is just all there is to get – and I’m fine with that.

    • Ethel December 7, 2011 at 4:39 pm #

      I agree you, that Blaine was exasperated that the guys all jumped on the stripped move over Blaine’s idea. I think the rest of the ND guys didn’t realize it was a sex worker move, and Blaine somehow did know. (Dalton boys been to strip clubs? seems like rich boys do that sort of thing for their 18th. word gets around.) And he was like, seriously? We’re being crass now? And Blaine hates crass, and knows Kurt does too.

      I like the OP’s reasoning, but I’m not sold on abused!Blaine. I think his bullying in jr high and his old high school is enough to explain his issues.

  6. Penthea December 7, 2011 at 10:29 am #

    Thank you for writing this! My brain didn’t exactly go there, but I absolutely think you are justified in thinking there’s something there.

    Before this episode, I attributed a lot of Blaine’s weirdness about sex to being a queer kid thing. Does that sound awful? Because his contradictions line up very well with a certain set of experiences I had (granted that’s ten years ago now), that I think are perhaps specific to LGBT teens. There’s this thing where your identity is suddenly about sex that you’re not ready to have, and you get exposed to a language and thinking around sex that’s clinical and counselor-ish and too grown up. And at the same time, there’s a lot of extra issues around your actual sexual experiences.

    You know, that thing where you’ve kissed a girl and done some things that you’re not exactly sure what they were that there are no easy words for, and you’re conflicted and a bit ashamed and confused about what you want, and you find yourself thrust into this surreal universe of support groups and safe sex and pretty soon you’re 17 and acting as ersatz therapist to the really fucked up suicidal ones, and you know all about dental dams but you haven’t actually had sex yet (you think) and you’re still working on coming out to your parents?

    No? Just me?

    Anyway, I thought that was Blaine, but the “I’m not for sale” reaction does point towards something more.

  7. prettypinkdyke December 7, 2011 at 1:08 pm #

    I love how your posts are always followed by equally awesome and thoughtful comments. I agree with so much that has been said above — about how Blaine’s two instances of violent reactions were around sexual comments, about how perhaps his talk with Kurt’s dad was fueled by personal experience, about how there’s a level on which queer kids have to grow up sexually in a different kind of way than straight kids, but also how Glee sucks at following up on storylines, so I don’t want to get my hopes up that they’ll continue (or even notice) this trend. I can live with the surface-level “Blaine was annoyed Finn was treating Sam like ND’s savior,” as long as fandom provides me with insightful posts like this. Because let’s face it, even if Glee did try to delve into this, we’d still need people like you to deconstruct their mixed messages and tell us what the episode was supposed to be about…

  8. influencings December 7, 2011 at 4:24 pm #

    Alternative interpretation for the hell of it: I’ve only watched it once and was doing some other things, so I might be getting the scene wrong, but isn’t this RIGHT after they start talking about emphasizing their masculinity? Even without that context, “boyband” seems like this huge dogwhistle for, well, being a queer. Effeminate. Not a real man. Etc. So Blaine goes from being the hero of the magical, tolerant, twirly Warblers to hearing that what he does, what he’s good at, the way he performs, all of that isn’t what anyone wants here; maybe even that in fact it makes him less of a man or inadequate at passing.

    And someone trying that hard to be what people want him to be is probably good at reading people too. Maybe it’s less “Blaine is pissed about the idea of stripping” and just “Blaine lashes out and goes for the thing he thinks will hurt Sam.” Plus, I guess, if you feel like your masculinity’s being dismissed in favor of someone else’s, stripping is an easy target to hit back at someone ELSE’S masculinity.

    I want to believe that instead because if that’s the only thing going on, it makes me slightly less angry at the way it was swept under the rug at the Finn and Blaine scene. Only less angry, though, because it’s still fucking ridiculous how much they’re sending that guy in to sweep the poor bitter broken gays under his comforting straight white wing. Finn’s role in the last two episodes makes me seethe way more than his fuckup in 3×06, even.

    • Ethel December 7, 2011 at 4:45 pm #

      Yes, this. It didn’t matter that Blaine was gay in the Warblers, he was still their leader and respected. His dance moves were cool and awesome. Now his suggestions are getting blown off and Finn, who’s a total idiot, is being listened to. And if you’ve ever worked for a boss who’s an idiot, you know how it’s only so long you can be quiet before you want to scream.

      So Blaine finally gets to put on his old role, finally gets the respect he *deserves*, and in two seconds this homeless stripper takes it away. I think Blaine had an ugly moment of classism there.

  9. Stephanie December 10, 2011 at 9:07 am #

    I posted this on deconstructingglee, but here it is too. I’ve been an avid reader of your blog for a while now, but haven’t posted before. =)

    At first, I wasn’t sure if I’d go as far as sexual abuse, but Blaine definitely pings as someone who has had some issues with the subject, and has come to terms with it in a rather clinical fashion though it rears its ugly head every now and then.

    I agree with a lot of what you and Aes-Nox are saying. It’s interesting to note that the last time Blaine reacted this aggressively was when Karofsky called him a buck boy. A lot of the bullying that goes on with gay male teenagers employs sexual shaming, that they’re just desperate for some dick. Glee wouldn’t go there, but I find it an entirely believable premise that he’d be approached by jocks who thought they could have some fun with him because obviously he was gay and wanted it, didn’t he?

    At the very least, I do think his taunting involved a lot of sexual connotations that played on gender – I think Blaine is very comfortable accepting that he’s gay, but it’s all tied up with his issues about being seen as weak and less of a ‘man’. His dad trying to straighten him out by working on a car, his dismissiveness over being beaten up and the immediate need to assert that it was just a sore spot, the self-loathing over having run away. He’s got some stuff to work out there, and it seems to make him defensive.

    There was a marked difference between this and what the Warblers did with Animal. That was sexy in an innocent Disney channel-esque way – winks and shuffling and googly-eyed school kids. It also put Blaine and the Warblers firmly in the position of power, it was coy but not cheap.

    The show has employed some blocking in the past to make Blaine seem less short, so I did find it interesting that they used shots in that boxing scene that emphasized just how much smaller he was than Finn.

  10. Johan August 6, 2012 at 7:25 am #

    I think it’s interesting what you’re reading into Blaine’s story, but personally I see so much of myself in Blaine that I have to disagree. Someone from an upper middle class with a lot of insecurities when going from child to teen (his from bullying, discovering his sexuality, parents. Mine from bullying, weight issues). If you are uncomfortable about sex because, frankly, it’s a scary thing, you might, as I did, go for the “sex is something dirty” line of thought, people that use sex to get success are cheap, you’re still a virgin at an age where many have lost theirs, you know enough to talk the talk in a grown up way, you “invent” experience to seem like less of a freak and finally you really want sex and the experiences that surround it, but have no idea how to approach it and you need to loose your inhibitions with alcohol before going there.
    This post might not make sense (english is not my first language) but I wanted to post it, because people might be uncomfortable and inconsistent about sex without being abused.

  11. rebecca August 6, 2012 at 2:04 pm #

    I think your ideas are insightful and justified, and I do get the idea that something about sex sits uncomfortably with Blaine, but in my opinion, I think it’s more to do with the fact that Blaine appears to be quite a high class person anyway. He is incredibly dapper and proper about everything he does, especially indicated by the fact that he went to an expensive private school, wears expensive clothes, has polo trophies in his bedroom, etc. I think he is very proud of who he is, and that he considers using sexual dance moves to be very ‘unclassy’. Also, in the recently released video for ‘I want you back’ by Sebastian and the Warblers, Blaine specifically criticizes them for not having any class, because of all the hip-thrusting during the number. Really, I think that the reason Blaine can talk about sex so maturely, yet be uncomfortable with Sam wanting to perform it is because it makes him seem low class and he thinks he’ll lose respect for it. Remember that he was quite keen to get the Warblers to be sexy back in season 2, and that’s probably something he regrets now, so he just doesn’t really want to embarrass himself again by trying to be sexy when he knows that it probably won’t end well for the ND. As for your other observations, I think if Glee were a more intense and plot-centric show, these random reactions about sex would be crucial and important, but I get the feeling that the Glee writers don’t really look into these things all that seriously, and I think a lot of these things us fans pick up on are really quite unintentional, and we do often look into things a little too deeply considering Glee’s inconsistency…but hey, we’re fans and that’s what we’re here for 😉

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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