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?