If you’ve been following the spoilers for Glee‘s upcoming prom episode “Prom-asaurus” and spend any time on this blog at all, you can probably guess that I’m having a pretty great time with the gendered stuff that seems to be coming up around Blaine in this episode.
It’s not a plot line, probably because it’s never going to be a plot line, except for how it intersections with the history of Kurt’s bullying and the way gender is always central to status at William McKinley High School. But what may read (and be intended) as nothing more than a running joke for most audiences, not only continues to say some very interesting things about Blaine, but reinforces the criteria by which gender is determined at WMHS and its surrounding environs. Delightfully, despite my comments on Kurt’s trousers in “Choke” this tends to have almost nothing to do with what’s in your pants.
Currently, there’s a bit of a Tumblr frenzy around Kurt, Blaine and Rachel singing “Big Girls Don’t Cry.” While the song is likely intended to focus on Rachel’s circumstances after the events of her audition in “Choke” there’s some lovely, bittersweet content in it between Kurt and Blaine, and Tumblr has noted that according to song lyrics, last year Blaine was a little girl at prom, and this year he’s a big girl.
While Glee often doesn’t use song lyrics in ways that are necessarily plot-relevant (and Darren Criss singing too many songs not originally intended for a female vocalist would probably seem weird to long-term fans at this point), there’s been a persistent link between Blaine and songs that identify the singer as female not through an assumption based on a male object of attraction, but through explicitly female words.
In “Prom-asaurus” we also see Blaine positioned as female in another way, and not for the first time: other people feel that there’s nothing abnormal about telling him how he should look. From Brittany’s Blaine-directed hair gel ban, to Kurt’s bronzing moisturizer stunt, to Cooper’s complaint about Blaine’s outfits and Santana’s crack earlier in the season that puts Blaine off wearing bow ties for a while — people feel perfectly at ease directing Blaine’s appearance. If you’ve ever been female in public, you probably know exactly what I mean; I’m just waiting for the moment someone tells Blaine to smile.
Of course, two of those items — the stuff about Blaine’s hair and the stuff about the bronzer, also have clear racial implications, which brings us back to biyuti’s remarks that Blaine is bakla. Now that the race and gender stuff around Blaine is intersecting so vividly that a lot of discussion is going “I don’t know if this is about this or this,” the answer, increasingly the answer seems to be about and not or.
But Blaine’s feminine positioning in the show is about more than what songs he sings or about how neither he nor Kurt are quite what they seem to the untrained imaginations of WMHS. Rather, an inclination towards performativity is what positions characters as female on Glee, and Blaine is nothing if not a consummate performer.
I know, you’re saying, “But everyone on Glee sings!” And that’s true, but not everyone on Glee performs the same way. When Blaine performs, he’s playing a character; when Kurt performs, most times, he’s just playing himself. Authenticity on Glee is positioned as masculine (something we’ve explicitly seen Kurt move towards over his arc) and performativity is explicitly seen as female (which is why Kurt’s stint with Mellencamp fails, and why he regains his masculinity when it does).
This is partially why the boys of the football team freak out when they are required to join Glee and Dave Karofsky’s plotline so effectively highlights a frequently present common root in homophobia and misogyny.
Girls wear makeup, boys don’t and this dichotomy around the construction of appearance is constantly underscored in the structure and staging of of performances on Glee, and is really only subverted and complicated (and thankfully so, because the world is more nuance than the limited number of boxes presented at WMHS) thanks to Wade/Unique, wherein the authentic, feminine self is also introduced as a performative self.
The other central tool of gendering on Glee is about neediness. Narratively needy characters are feminine; self-suficient characters are masculine. This is why Blaine’s a girl in Glee‘s lexicon, but Kurt hasn’t been for a long time. This is why Rachel is “man hands” Berry; Santana is more traditionally-femininely portrayed than Brittany; and why Quinn never seems to stop being punished for her gender. It’s why Puck was fantastic with Lauren; Finn struggles constantly with ideas of leadership and being a man; Sam’s sex-work stint actually earns him the respect of the other dudes; and Artie is often the Glee club’s most clearly masculine member and Sugar Motta is its most feminine (because, what isn’t she performing?).
Ultimately, as much as Glee‘s structure and unsettling humor relies on clear gender dichotomies, accusations and misunderstandings, and as much as Glee is often about terrible people who say terrible things in a terrible place, the show is, on a subtextual level, deeply generous about gender in the degree to which it actually rejects the stereotypes that drive its setting. Glee lets us know people are complex mixtures of things, not just boys or girls, and not just combinations with stark lines drawn down their centers (as Kurt is in “Le Jazz Hot”).
But for all that subtle progressiveness, Glee is still sure of one thing: that being a girl, regardless of the gender you were assigned at birth, is a terrible thing. It will get you beat up, bullied, pregnant, uncertain about your future, and nursing a wounded heart.
People on Glee talk about becoming men, because that’s a positive goal, but never about becoming women, because that isn’t — at least not in Lima, OH.
Season 4, however, isn’t just going to be set in Lima, though. It’s also going to be set in New York, and possibly New Haven, which means Glee‘s going to have to make a critical decision about whether the world hates women, or just the small pond that originated its characters.
One choice will necessitate a radical tonal shift for the show, giving it a second act that celebrates femininity and places dread and misery around masculine identities. However, if Glee takes the other choice available, we’ll be confronted with a show that’s position on misogyny may be indistinguishable from actually being misogynist itself.
Glee has to decide whether it can get better — not just for queer kids (here, it seems to be optimistic), but for girls — and the decision it makes will largely tell us whether we’ve spent the last three years watching the beginnings of a victory march or a tragedy.
For me personally, as someone who lives in New York City and feels like I’ve seen more progress in my lifetime in terms of safety and respect as a queer person than as a woman, I’m not sure which path I want the show to follow. Because both will hurt and feel like betrayals of the realities I know. But maybe that’s always been the point of Glee: all the moments where you can’t tell if you’re laughing or crying.
After all, in fiction, that’s when we’re usually we’re most alive.