While pondering the latest entry in the decline and fall of the Warblers, which is something I don’t think I’m going to comment on until after I see what “Whistle” looks like in 4.08 and how it intersects with Hunter’s introduction as “not even a little bit bi-curious” (which may not mean what you think it means), I started thinking about danger and desire on Glee, and how that linkage isn’t universal, but instead centered on the queer characters both as givers and receivers of risk, threat, and damage.
That’s not to say that desire doesn’t have big scary consequences for everyone on Glee. Even without being anything resembling the teen morality play the show often seems to be mistaken for, heterosexual sex and desire does have some admittedly serious consequences. After all, Quinn does get pregnant, and it’s worth remembering that Will and Terri Schuester were terrifyingly toxic together; Puck has arguably experienced statutory rape; Jesse’s a creep; Bieste had that domestic violence story, and a whole lot of friendships have been upended over and over again thanks to the heterosexual musical chairs at WMHS.
But all of that — from the realistic plotlines to the ones that would earn a side-eye from a soap opera — has nothing on the rather consistent darkness that seems to come with and from desire for Glee‘s queer characters. Where the straight characters risk heartbreak and being laughed at, queer characters face injury and violation as the result of desire, including desire from queer peers. This association is present from early on in the form of “predatory gay” Sandy Ryerson.
However, the link between danger and queer desire on Glee is present around far more than one unfortunate and fairly misleading stereotype. Kurt, for example, knows that being queer makes him seem dangerous to those who feel threatened by his desire, as when he and Finn have a showdown over his crush when the Hudsons first move in with the Hummels. Kurt also receives danger through desire in his interactions with Karofsky. And, of course, Karfosky’s not just a potential danger to Kurt, but to himself.
Closeted classmates aren’t the only way in which this link between queer desire and danger is present on Glee. Blaine, for example, identifies the desire of others as a threat to Kurt if he remains uneducated about sex in his chat with Burt. Additionally, Blaine is also injured by Sebastian, who aggressively indicates his sexual interest in Blaine in the episodes that lead up that event. Blaine also links danger and desire in his own interactions with Kurt when he gets drunk and sexually pushy with him after their visit to Scandals. And, of course, there is his Sadie Hawkins backstory.
Meanwhile, queer women on Glee aren’t exempted from this desire and danger link. Certainly, it’s hard to look away from the fact that when sexual assault clearly enters the Glee narrative it is through the queer female characters. Brittany, who is bisexual, frequently references events that seem to point to a history of non-consensual sex, while Santana deals with a threat of corrective rape once she can no longer avoid being out at WMHS. Additionally, she winds up in a disturbingly sexual confrontation with Sebastian in response to Blaine’s injury.
These events are not only different from the consequences of heterosexual desire on Glee mentioned previously, but also stand in stark contrast to events, such as Sam’s work as a stripper, that could be part of a narrative on the danger of desire, but aren’t, seemingly because they involve non-queer characters. In fact, when it comes to Sam being a stripper, it’s takes one of the queer kids (Blaine) to perceive and name the at least hypothetical danger present in that situation. Similarly, Puck’s interest in casual sex and sex work is played for laughs in a way that it’s not around Blaine’s random hookup and Santana’s promiscuity prior to coming out.
That this pattern seems to exist around characters and couples (Kurt and Blaine, Brittany and Santana) that have also received criticism for the chasteness of the on-screen portrayal of their romances and desires (Kurt even gets a narrative about finding sex scary, off-putting, and at odds with romance), despite the fact that both couples are canonically known to be sexually active as fairly significant plot points, is notable. It underscores how queer desire, or at least the portrayal of it, has not thus far seemed possible in the world of Glee without the presence of danger.
This association of queer desire and danger reflects, I think, not just the reality of some of the risks many queer teens experience when they express desire or are desired (and here we should all be keeping an eye on Unique when it comes to the next installment of this type of danger on Glee), but an older queer narrative as well. The presence of this particular narrative reinforces the ongoing discussion that Glee in general, and Glee‘s queerness in particular, is targeted not at current teen audiences but at 30- and 40-somethings who of course wanted a boyfriend who loved Bryan Ferry or Vivienne Westwood or a girlfriend who was just like all those cheerleaders on the cover of Sweet Valley High books.
This older queer narrative is, of coruse, one where queerness is identified as a mode of transmitting danger and can be considered to reference both historical, non-assimilationist queer culture and the way in which that non-assimilationism was both reinforced through and broken down by the specter of AIDS. Arguably, for someone who came out in the ’80s the links between queerness, danger, and desire were not only obvious then, but remain clear now, in a highly specific and and largely unvaried mode.
For a show that’s been rich in passing-related narratives that have often, but not exclusively, been centered around queerness, this link between queer desire and danger on Glee suggests a passing story taking place out beyond the fourth wall. In a world we often like to pretend is post-AIDS, and post-Matthew Sheppard, Glee shows us beautiful, young queer couples being publicly happy through America’s most public transmission-based medium. Yet, a the same time, Glee is also unable, or unwilling, to avoid the link between queer desire and the transmission of danger that too many of us watching (and presumably creating) the show grew up on.