Skip navigation

Monthly Archives: June 2011

A blog about same-sex marriage was in the queue, but given the recent developments in New York it’s suddenly extra timely . . . so here it is now ahead of schedule.

I find that the straight people I know are way more excited about gay marriage than the people I know who might actually enter into one. Maybe it’s just the very queer lot I hang out with, and maybe I should just speak for myself: I am decidedly ambivalent about same-sex marriage.

“It must be admitted from the outset that there is something unfashionable, and perhaps untimely, about any questioning of marriage as a goal in gay politics.” After all, “at this point the only public arguing against gay marriage, it seems, are those homophobic dinosaurs,” the usual, selective-Leviticus-reading suspects, so “why join them?”

Michael Warner wrote this in 1999 (on pages 119-120 of his “Normal and Normaller: Beyond Gay Marriage“), but it’s still quite true. Robert McRuer points out in Crip Theory: Cultural Signs of Queerness and Disability that, “according to the liberal consensus,” gay marriage “is not only ‘progressive’ but unequivocally a Good thing” (p. 79).

Despite the current gay marriage cheer fest, however, there are ways in which it’s not such “a Good thing.” After all, as Warner notes, “there were cogent reasons that the gay movement for decades refused to take the path on which it is now hell-bent,” and it’s not like these have gone away (p. 123). Warner lists a dozen reasons, but here are my two:

One, battling this one issue out in legislatures and courts is absolutely the wrong thing to be expending the entirety of activist energy and funding on. Achieving same-sex marriage seems to be eclipsing activism around AIDS and healthcare and repealing laws that criminalize consensual sex. These latter are far more important things than helping white, middle class people access the white, middle class privilege of property ownership and other financial benefits.

As McRuer points out, “most of the complaints about lesbian and gay partners not being able to get health insurance through their spouse have not included an acknowledgement of how many people in general don’t have adequate health insurance, let alone a broader critique of the corporate health insurance industry” (p. 82-3).

This sort of privilege tunnel vision didn’t have to happen. “The mere posing of the issue was a jolt. It made the heterosexuality of marriage visible, to many people, for the first time. It drew attention to the exclusions entailed by marriage, through provisions for inheritance, wrongful death actions, tax rates, and the like” (Warner p. 122).

That is, the discussion about gay marriage had great potential to really interrogate what this institution ought to mean, but ultimately the way it has gone down it “fails to challenge the bundling of privileges that have no necessary connection one to another, or to marriage; indeed, if successful, it will leave that bundling further entrenched in law” (Warner p. 143).

The fact is that the way we attach immigration benefits and health care access and all kinds of miscellaneous financial benefits to this institution has exactly nothing to do with whether people love each other and have a commitment, and this would have been a great time to hash out what we want marriage to be, but we didn’t.

Instead, the cry has been: We just want to be able to have the same private (but state-ratified) contract as anybody else, why must the state intervene to prevent us? Or, put differently: This heteronormative institution is great! It works! Let us in!

This, of course, begins to get at the second reason I’m not ready to board the Gay Marriage Express. I’m really not comfortable with perpetuating the state legitimation of relationships.

Among those dozen reasons Warner lists for not pursuing gay marriage are two that are relevant here: “queer thought both before and after Stonewall centered on the need to resist state regulation of sexuality”; “it especially resisted the notion that the state should be allowed to grant legitimacy to some kinds of consensual sex but not others or to confer respectability on some people’s sexuality but not others’” (123).

Contrary to these positions, pursuing gay marriage insists that it is exactly the state’s job to regulate and legitimate and make respectable people’s sexuality. The argument is that without state recognition couples are subject to deprivation, such that that recognition must be extended if there is to be equal protection under the law—and never you mind the fact that formal equality rarely translates into substantive equality unless you are those white, middle class, resource-having folks.

But here’s the problem: “squeezing gay couples into the legal sorting machine will only confirm the relevance of spousal status and leave unmarried queers”—or unmarried people in any other category—“looking more deviant before a legal system that can claim broader legitimacy” because it is inclusive of more and more people (Warner 143).

That is, “even though people think that marriage gives them validation, legitimacy, and recognition, they somehow think that it does so without invalidating, delegitimating, or stigmatizing other relations, needs, and desires” (Warner 133)—which clearly isn’t true.

Same-sex marriage perpetuates the privilege of a very narrow set of relationship configurations as legitimate and as having access to resources. That’s a problem. Also, by increasing the legitimacy of that position, it means that not participating is deviance by choice rather than normativity being denied to you.

However, there’s a flip side to this, which is among the some reasons I’m not ready to totally condemn same-sex marriage. If gay marriage is legal, refusal, on one hand, makes you deviant, but on the other it now means something, politically, to not get married. The same argument looks different when you look at it from this direction.

I’m not the only one to notice this. As RichardKimNYC tweeted (which came to me through an indeterminate chain of retweets): “Yay! Now my decision to never ever get married is a choice reflecting my belief in marriage’s banality. #NYM”

Or, also, Warner: “introducing the mere possibility of marriage would vastly broaden the meaning of gay couples’ refusal to marry. In fact, it would make gays’ rejection of marriage a more significant possibility than it is now, by making it a free act” (157-8). I think that this is compelling. Not compelling enough that this should be all we work toward, but compelling enough not to condemn the attempt altogether.

And then there’s the fourth reason. Though I don’t think trying to secure the rights was the best thing, and though other people are excluded, I’m not sure whether that means I should forego the rights on principle. Hospital visitation or social security or health insurance would be pretty nice. Everybody should have them, but given how they’re apportioned right now should I turn my back on them in a gesture that nobody will even be able to see?

In the end, I’m not going to rush out and get married (or civil unioned). I’m not going to march for it or throw money at it. But if it came down to it and I needed the resources state recognition provides, I think I’d do it. I’d feel a little guilty, but I’d do it.

So there I am, minding my own business the Sunday before last, when the Internet goes crazy. Or, rather, one of the corners of the Internet that I keep an eye on went crazy.

From D. Agron’s Tumblr at

I’ll admit it: I have a Google alert set for Dianna Agron. It’s what I do these days when I like an actor (which others, I’ll never tell!). So when the actor in question—who’s female and heretofore evidently heterosexual (Achele shippers notwithstanding. Also, check out Urban Dictionary’s Acheleography definition; it’s hilarious!)—wore a “Likes Girls” t-shirt to perform a Glee Live show in Toronto, my inbox became a popular destination—15 news stories in the first 24 hours, then 16 more over the next 3 days (many thanks are due to threaded emails that it didn’t actually fill).

There were questions: Did Glee’s Dianna Agron come out as bisexual with a tshirt? and dry factual headlines: Glee’s Dianna Agron “Likes Girls” T Shirt in Toronto and (not-so) subtle digs at fans: Dianna Agron Wears “Likes Girls” T-Shirt, Gleeks Freak Out.

And there was squee. Oh dear God was there squee. Some of my favorites from the tumblr tag “dianna agron come out riot”:


chikaru: so dianna agron likes womenin other news water is wet, pope is catholic etc

Then, about 12 hours after the first alerts had come through, the tone shifted. The second set of headlines included: Dianna Agron explains ‘likes girls’ t-shirt worn during live show and Dianna Agron Talks About Gay Issues.Basically, these stories said: “Ha ha, just kidding, she doesn’t have the gay. No worries!”

Along with this batch came Agron’s own essay, published at her tumblr, which is what the walking back of the gay speculation was drawing on—as far as I know, she hasn’t given any interviews on it yet. The piece was sort of a “gay pride month is really important because clearly it’s still not that awesome to be gay, so I’m going to stand up for gay rights” statement.

And honestly I still can’t decide how I feel about it. On one hand, it’s like, “Well, that’s easy for you to say. You get to go back to having heterosexual privilege when you take the shirt off.” But on the other hand, she is putting herself on the line in some sense, because she is choosing to stand with (and temporarily as) a category that’s socially devalued. And putting herself—her career, perhaps—“at risk” in that limited sense is certainly better than no sense at all.

But what really stood out to me about her essay was the logic by which she counted herself among those who like girls:

I love my family, my friends, my co-workers…and they all consist of girls AND boys. I do tell them that I love them. Yesterday, during our second show, Instead of wearing my usual shirt during “Born This Way” I decided to wear one that said “Likes Girls”. It should actually have read, “Loves Girls”, because I do. The women in my life give me things that the men in my life can’t. And vice-versa. No, I am not a lesbian, yet if I were, I hope that the people in my life could embrace it whole-heartedly. And let me tell you, I can easily spill (quite comfortably) what I admire, respect and think is beautiful about any of the women in my life. Piece of cake!

Last night, I wanted to do something to show my respect and love for the GLBT community. Support that people could actually see. Which is why I decided to change my shirt for the show.

Reading this, I had a total sense of déjà vu. I’d read this before:

I mean the term lesbian continuum to include a range—through each woman’s life and throughout history—of woman-identified experience, not simply the fact that a woman has had or consciously desired genital sexual experience with another woman. If we expand it to embrace many more forms of primary intensity between and among women, including the sharing of a rich inner life, the bonding against male tyranny, the giving and receiving of practical and political support [ . . .].

The above quote is from Adrienne Rich’s 1980 essay “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence” (from the version in The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader, p.239), and the resemblance is sort of uncanny.

There’s the same move to relate loving and supporting women with having same-sex sex—deliberate and political on Rich’s part, not entirely elaborated on Agron’s.

At the same time, both authors also insist that they aren’t identical. Agron says “I love girls. Just not for fucking.” Rich distinguishes between the above “lesbian continuum” and “lesbian existence,” which she defines as “both the fact of the historical presence of lesbians and our continuing creation of the meaning of that existence”—meaning that this is where we get literal, actual lesbians (p. 239).

Rich, then, would argue that Agron is actually sort of a lesbian, sex-free love of women notwithstanding, since she’s on the lesbian continuum.Indeed, Rich wanted to “consider the possibility that all women [ . . . ] exist on a lesbian continuum,” because this would let us “see ourselves as moving in and out of this continuum, whether we identify ourselves as lesbian or not” (p. 240).

What Rich wanted to do in the essay, as the title suggests, was figure heterosexuality not as a “natural” disposition—either for all women, in which case lesbians are unnatural, or for most women, which makes lesbians natural (whatever that means) but unusual—but something that had to be imposed to make women identify with men’s interests rather than their own (which has its own set of problematic assumptions—I’ll get there).

She questioned “why species survival, the means of impregnation, and emotional/erotic relationships should ever have become so rigidly identified with each other,” contending that, however related they seem to us now, there was nothing inevitable about this outcome (p. 232).

Ultimately, through proposing this continuum, Rich wanted to help women “feel the depth and breadth of woman identification and woman bonding that has run like a continuous though stifled theme through the heterosexual experience,” with the goal being “that this would become increasingly a politically activating impulse, not simply a validation of personal lives” (p. 227).

That is, it isn’t just to get women to come together and identify as or with lesbians for a round of kumbayah, but to further feminist action. That part remains unrealized in Agron’s rendition, and that possibility is a danger Rich herself realized about the term.

Rich wrote an addendum to “Compulsory Heterosexuality” the following year–when it was to be anthologized in Powers of Desire, in order to respond to some queries from the editors of that volume–in which she addressed this issue: “My own problem with the phrase is that it can be, is, used by women who have not yet begun to examine the privileges and solipsisms of heterosexuality, as a safe way to describe their felt connections with women, without having to share in the risks and threats of lesbian existence” (249).

This definitely gets at what makes me uncomfortable about Agron’s statement.She can be edgy and wear a “Likes Girls” shirt as a way to proclaim her love for the women in her life because she has enough privilege–as heterosexual, but also as white, as normatively gendered, as meeting standards of attractiveness, as wealthy, and as a celebrity–to insulate her from what that would entail were she someone else.

Rich wanted to make it “less possible to read, write, or teach from a perspective of unexamined heterocentricity” (p. 228), but 30 years down the line being unexamined is clearly still possible. Certainly, Agron’s post did not succeed at really examining her own positionality, since the larger argument is grounded in a presumption that straight people ought to be nicer to those poor queers.

I’m sure she doesn’t realize it, but this relies on an assumption of heterosexual superiority. They are apparently in a position to tolerate us because we are the lesser objects of tolerance in the equation (see Wendy Brown’s2006 book Regulating Aversion: Tolerance in the Age of Identity and Empire).

This isn’t to pick on Agron. These are things I think about because it’s my job. These are ways of seeing I am trained in. Her job and her training are something else. She did ok. She really did. For a young person (though, I have to remind myself, not as much younger than me as it feels like) whose fame has led to her opinion—about anything—being news, she’s doing pretty well.

But it is to temper the praise she’s getting for being SO progressive. Seriously, you’re going to ask “Is Dianna Agron more supportive of LGBT rights than the rest of the “Glee” cast?” on account of one blog post? And this blog post? She’s not some kind of new gay patron saint.

I’m also not trying to hold up Rich as the true homosaint. I will be the first to tell you that there are a number of problems with her piece—I was, literally, when we read this in my Queer Theory class a couple years ago. Rich wants to open the arms of lesbian feminism to heterosexual women and express that, though heterosexuals get more privilege, it’s the structure of the system that makes that so and not necessarily heterosexual woman going around acting to oppress, which is great.

But, like many a second-wave feminist, Rich doesn’t get that men aren’t the enemy. They benefit from the unequal distribution of power, sure, but they don’t completely control it. In fact, men can be allies to change things—just like Rich argues that heterosexual women can.

Rich seems to mistake the situation as one in which men are running the system in a smoky room somewhere, trying to trick women into heterosexually identifying with men’s interests rather than their own true female/lesbian continuum interests. This is ridiculous for a number of reasons, not least because women don’t inherently care about the same things.

Indeed, the assumption that all women share interests simply by virtue of their membership in the category demonstrates that at that point Rich did not understand her own race or class privilege all that well—I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt and assume she does now. She makes offhand references to the importance of race and class, but they aren’t a substitute for a thorough and integrated understanding of how gender and sexuality are racialized.

In the end, what’s interesting about both Agron’s essay and Rich’s is that they both want to trouble or push the boundaries of categories but end up reinforcing them instead.

Agron wore a tshirt that was meant (when it was printed) to indicate same-sex attraction to proclaim both her platonic love of the women in her life and her support for those who do have such attractions. That’s a blurring of boundaries that had a great deal of potential to make things queer–but she contains it by making an unequivocal statement that “I am not a lesbian.” Why not refuse the question altogether as irrelevant? Or, why not refuse the privilege or the position of superior tolerate-er of the tolerated?

Rich wanted to insist that lesbians and heterosexual women had something in common, breaking down the hetero/homo divide, which again had potential to reorient us away from hard binaries to something more complex. However, in recognizing only hetero and homo–and especially in holding on so tightly to male vs. female as precisely an antagonism–she stopped short of the radical intervention her piece could have made to thinking systemically about power, inequality, and change.

Putting these two pieces side-by-side, then, produces an interesting look at how far we’ve come–and how far we have yet to go.

First off, let me come right out and say it: If the man wants to engage in kinky photo play, sexting, phone sex, or whatever else with other consenting adults, that’s none of anybody’s damn business.

In saying this, I’m not trying to make some sort of distinctly un-queer demand for privacy, but to refuse the way we typically deal with sexual nonnormativity in politics.

Right now, that is, any sort of news about any public official having anything but “heterosexual, married, monogamous, procreative, noncommercial, in pairs, in a relationship, same generation, in private, no pornography, bodies only, vanilla” sex—what resides in Gayle Rubin’s “charmed circle” of “Good, Normal, Natural, Blessed Sexuality”—results in a scandal and in people, usually from the other party, demanding immediate resignation.

(One exception to the “same generation” one: people are a-ok with trophy wives.)

The knee-jerk response to say people don’t belong in office for engaging in these kinds of sexual practices is a problem. Enjoyment of sexual activity that other people don’t approve of is not indicative of an inability to govern. It’s also not necessarily the case that people who are “in the public eye” should be held to a higher standard than Average Joe or Jane, no matter what the Average Jane on the street interviewed by the LA Times says.

Of course, the fact that Representative Weiner didn’t come out and argue that in the first place doesn’t do him any favors. Nor does his go-to response of making up stories about hacking and Photoshopping, because, though probably effectively mystifying the situation for people over a certain age, he should have taken a stand rather than dodging.

And indeed, it seems like maybe he himself was confused about how the internet works, as somebody points out over at GraphJam. Hey dude, if it’s in electronic form, it can and will travel given an incentive. And you being a politician is all the incentive needed.

Announcing that he’s “seeking treatment” was also lame. Treatment for what? Liking sex? Using new media to facilitate it? So much for the ringing, sex-positive proclamation that nobody should care because it’s not relevant to his job that it’s high time for and which I, for one, would have liked to see.

On the other hand, it’s pretty likely that he has hurt his family with all this, and he’s definitely been dishonest, and those aren’t traits I particularly want to defend in public officials or anyone else.

However, whatever interpersonal strife Mr. Weiner has going on is a family issue that should be dealt with as such—currently, we tend to do that in private, though we could imagine a different way, with some sort of community working together to make it better. Or counseling or churches or whatever floats peoples’ boats.

But not a media circus and being essentially fired from one’s job—not least because if lying was the criteria for resignation, all houses of governance would be empty tomorrow.

Now, I’m not unquestioningly supporting this guy. Far from it. As we have learned from many an incident before this one, politicians (and activists. I’m looking at you, Julian Assange) sometimes abuse their power when it comes to sex.

So Nancy Pelosi was right to initiate an investigation into “whether any official resources were used or any other violation of House rules occurred”

It’s also right to check whether he got women to like him because he was a politician or because he suggested he could use his connections for them or any of those things.

And maybe we should also ask whether the exchanges he had with underage individuals were of a sexual nature, though that’s assuming we ignore the sheer arbitrariness of 17 = illegal sex vs. 18 = legal sex. Seriously, people magically become able to make good decisions when the clock hits midnight on their 18th birthday? (I teach 18, 19, and 20 year olds. They don’t.)

But, in a general sense, this is what we should be concerned about, not that he was having sexytimes with another consenting adult. Looking into these sorts of things is, first, the feminist, sex-positive set of questions to ask. All sex is a-ok as long as nobody gets hurt, so let’s check to be sure there was no coercion or manipulation, because given unequal power that was a possibility.

Second, these kinds of questions about doing it on company time, using company resources, or promising favors are what we would ask in any other job—and therefore totally reasonable.

Third, what might actually be indicative of an inability to govern is using his office as a Representative to facilitate his sex practices. His constituents who questioned his ability to make good decisions are right on in that respect.

So, let’s have that conversation instead.

I did really think I was done with Glee, but then Dianna Agron had to go and wear that “Likes Girls” shirt. Tune in next week for “So, You like Girls: Dianna Agron, Meet Adrienne Rich”

Blog four of four in a series on Glee.

To riff on the theme of last week’s blog calling Glee’s creators out for having Gay White Man Syndrome (which, I neglected to mention, also sometimes manifests as White Feminist Syndrome), the other major lecture I do on Glee when I teach Intro to Media Studies is on disability.

And how colossally they fail at representing it.

I’m imagining that the process of checkbox character creation went something like “Hey, let’s have a kid in a wheelchair! OMG yes, that’s awesome! We’re so freaking progressive.”

And yes, having a main character who isn’t bodily normative is a good step, just like the show’s casting beyond black and white, discussed last week is a step forward.

But again, mere presence isn’t enough. Because what they do with the character now that they have him is a problem. What Artie really wants more than anything is to be “normal”—and there is no sense within the show that that word belongs in scare quotes.

That is, the character doesn’t operate with a model of “Hey, I’m different from you, and that’s ok ‘cause I’m good in my way and you’re good in yours.” Instead, he desperately wants to be a dancer—which, according to the show’s logic, can only mean dancing with legs.

So, somehow, for all the progressiveness of making Artie a main character and not the Problem of the Week, we’re right back with Poor Disabled Kid Who Can’t Achieve His Normative Dreams.

People sometimes have a hard time getting why this is a problem, so in my lecture I talk about Ari Ne’eman, the first openly autistic White House appointee in history. He was nominated in December 2009 to the National Council on Disability and confirmed in June 2010, a delay that may have had something to do with his criticism of the idea of curing autism.

In an interview with Wired, Ne’eman explains his position: Though you criticize groups like Autism Speaks for focusing on a cure, if someone offered you a pill to wake up tomorrow without autism, would you take it?

Ne’eman: That’s an intensely silly question. How can I draw a line around one part of my brain and say that this is the autistic part, and the rest of me is something else? That way of looking at autism is predicated on the strange idea that there was or is a normal person somewhere inside me, hidden by autism, and struggling to get out. That’s not reality.

Hereagain it’s serendipitous simultaneity to the rescue, since I was (belatedly) watching the first season of Glee at the same time I was (belatedly) reading Robert McRuer’s Crip Theory: Cultural Signs of Queerness and Disability and, I was like, “Oh my god, Robert McRuer would have a field day.”

McRuer calls our attention to the fact that (though admittedly it isn’t exactly the same) we would never ask:

“Wouldn’t you rather be white?” or

“Wouldn’t you rather be a man?” or

“Wouldn’t you rather be straight?”

But we would ask “‘In the end, wouldn’t you rather be hearing?’ and ‘In the end, wouldn’t you rather not be HIV positive?’” (McRuer, 2006, pp. 8-9). That is, though each of these things is a social hierarchy, only the first three do we identify as such. Accordingly, with race, sex/gender, or sexuality, we don’t think that just because something is normative it’s normal in an evaluative sense (except sometimes with being straight).

With disability, we don’t recognize that social privileging as social. That is, “able-bodiedness, even more than heterosexuality, still largely masquerades as a nonidentity, as the natural order of things” (McRuer, 2006, p. 1). McRuer wants to draw our attention to this and make us question the naturalness of assuming able-bodied is better and everyone’s goal.

In an example of what happens when we make strange the idea of normativity for all, the Wired article asks us to “imagine a world in which most public discussion of homosexuality was devoted to finding a cure for it, rather than on the need to address the social injustices that prevent gay people from living happier lives”

Ne’eman points out that “Dr. Ivar Lovaas, who passed away recently, said that his goal was to make autistic kids indistinguishable from their peers. That goal has more to do with increasing the comfort of non-autistic people than with what autistic people really need. Lovaas also experimented with trying to make what he called effeminate boys normal. It was a silly idea around homosexuality, and it’s a silly idea around autism.”

To counter ideas like this, there’s something that has been called the “neurodiversity movement.” Ne’eman, who belongs to this group, argues that “many of the bad things that autistic people struggle with are things that happen to us, rather than things that are bad about being autistic,”—that is, the hard part of being nonnormative is being in that subordinate position vis-à-vis the norm, not anything inherent to the bodily or mental state.

That is, there are plenty of other ways to make sense of these physiological differences between people. Lynne Roper—whose Disability in Media piece is what I actually assign to my students, McRuer being a bit hard core for a 100-level class—points out that “some religions will see epilepsy as possession by a god and therefore a gift, whereas in capitalist western societies where medicine is powerful, disability acts as evidence of the failure of medicine and is this treated negatively” (¶ 9).

The fact that we can’t see this, McRuer (2006, p. 37) argues, has a lot to do with the fact that “the vast majority of both nondisabled and disabled people have in effect consented to comprehending that binary [able-bodied/disabled] as natural.”

McRuer contends that what we need to do instead is see the able-bodied/disabled dyad “as nonnatural and hierarchical (or cultural and political) rather than self-evident and universal,” which he terms “cripping” on the model of “queering” or “ability trouble” on the model of Butler’s “gender trouble.”

Now, Glee has already caught some flak for how it does disability, notably for casting a bodily-normative actor to play Artie. And I imagine that their thought process after getting called out went something like, “Oh, that offends you? That’s cool, no problem. I’ll see your paraplegic and raise you quadriplegic. And the character will be all sympathetic and stuff and played by a Real Paralyzed Actor™.”

And maybe there is a flash of, “Woo hoo, Glee figured its shit out!” for a second.

But then that scene—in the episode entitled “Laryngitis”—goes on and it becomes clear that it’s not about the quadriplegic character at all. It’s about Rachel. The non-bodily-normative character is in the episode solely to lead Rachel (who, oddly given the episode’s title, is afflicted with tonsillitis rather than laryngitis) back to health. He shows her that possibly losing her singing voice if she has her tonsils out isn’t that bad after all because hell, she could be like him.

Are you kidding me?

Roper argues that representations of disability “are usually about the feelings of non-disabled people and their reactions to disability, rather than disability itself” (¶ 13). The way disability gets represented, she contends, is voyeuristic and lets the able-bodied feel better about themselves by comparison, and this is a textbook case.

That is, as McRuer (2006, pp. 8-9) points out, quite often the representation of non-normative embodiments “reveals more about the able-bodied culture doing the asking than about the bodies being interrogated.”

McRuer also notes that by using mobility disabilities, Hollywood can have bodily nonnormative characters that are both visibly different and still photogenic—particularly important when you cast bodily normative actors to play them, but clearly also in play here with this actor who is in fact not bodily normative but still looks pretty “normal.”

It seems like this may have been on the minds of the writers when they wrote one of the other storylines in the Laryngitis episode.

My imagination of their thought process again: “I got it. We’ll put in some characters with Down Synrdome. They will be a chance to show that Sue Sylvester has a heart, cuz you’d have to in order to be nice to people like that, right? And they look different and everything. And they’re very sympathetic characters—always unfailingly sweet. Problem solved, amirite?”

Having a character (and actor) who is cognitively nonnormative is a huge step forward. Having one with no depth whatsoever, even more so than the two-dimensionality of the other characters in the show, is not.

As one blogger put it:

“This episode especially irked me because of the sensitivity of the way Kurt’s storyline was handled. Kurt’s struggling with feeling abandoned by his father and he tries to mold himself into something he’s not and he and his dad have it out. Why do I get the feeling that Ryan Murphy, who is gay, put a lot of time, thought, and energy into that storyline? Because it shows. It was well done. It was a good scene. It spoke to experiences I’ve had of trying to pretend to be somebody else to please someone else and it resonated.”

Oh, wait, is that Gay White Man Syndrome rearing its ugly head again? You betcha.

Try again, Glee, and try to peer around your enormous self-congratulation this time.

Glee blog three of, I think, four.

Glee seems, in some ways, to be pretty invested in diversity. Certainly, the way people throw praise (accolades from GLAAD) and awards (a Diversity Award from the Multicultural Motion Picture Association) at them (and these are just the examples from the first page of Google results) suggests that his is a popular interpretation.

And indeed, the show has had, in various combinations over its run, some white-American kids, and some Jewish-American kids, and some Asian-American kids, and some African-American kids, and a Latina kid, and a kid in a wheelchair and some characters with Down syndrome, and a boatload of gay, lesbian, bisexual, or questioning kids.

Check, check, check, check, check, check, check, check.Let’s dust off our hands, our work here is done.

That is, Glee seems to be working with a sort of smorgasbord or checkbox model of difference. They have characters who differ with respect to the categories Americans generally recognize as important, and that is about as far as it goes.

Most notably, the show has gotten accolades and award statuettes for the way it deals with sexual orientation, and I actually don’t have a whole lot to dispute there. It’s a pretty narrow subset of LGB folks (and no transfolks), but there sure are a lot of them. The show is gay central (which has not escaped the attention of the right), and because at least one of the people in charge has had those experiences, it does an ok job of it.

And it’s true that they exhibit race in more than black and white, which is a definite improvement over the American TV standard, but they stop at (East) Asian and Latina/o. No Native kids. No Arab or Muslim kids. No South Asian kids (though there was one scripted, he got replaced with Kurt because a) Chris Colfer is just that awesome and b) Ryan Murphy saw himself in him—this is one place where we have gotten into trouble).

But just having characters who fit in those categories—checking off those boxes—isn’t enough. I mentioned offhand a couple weeks ago that Santana is periodically ethnic-ed up when the writers remember to break out their English-to-Spanish dictionary, and that’s really as far as it goes for any of the characters.

Granted, I haven’t yet seen the back half of season two, but I can’t think of a single episode dealing in depth with anybody’s racial or ethnic identity. It seems like the people who make Glee think of race or ethnicity as good only for a snappy one-liner.

Or, sometimes, it’s a minor plot point—like when Quinn was pregnant and craving bacon and Puck’s Jewish mother was appalled or Artie and Tina break up because Tina wants to date fellow Asian Mike (with whom she hooked up at “Asian Camp”—seriously?).

Of course, the ways in which Glee swings at equality and misses haven’t entirely escaped attention: Margaret Hartmann over at Jezebel discusses Why Glee Still Needs To Work On Diversity. Angry Asian Man calls the show out for the way that the Caucasian cast is made so much more central in plots and promotional materials. Even Jeff Field of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil rights argues that “‘Glee’ Loathes Diversity.”

As Hartmann’s article points out, it would be less annoying that Glee fails at doing diversity if it wasn’t so busy patting itself on the back for doing diversity. And this is where it becomes clear that Glee creator Ryan Murphy has Gay White Man Syndrome, and he has it bad.

This isn’t to hate on all gay white men. Some of my best friends are gay white men, to use that horrible, privilege- or prejudice-obscuring saying with tongue firmly in cheek. But Gay White Man Syndrome is a serious problem for that subset of the population of gay white men who have it.

When people have the Syndrome, they tend to mistake their experience of discrimination on the basis of their sexuality as interchangeable with all other ways that people are disadvantaged for the social categories of inequality to which they belong.

This is sort of like saying “I understand what it’s like to be discriminated against as a woman because I’m gay” or “I can’t be racist, I’m gay!”

When you put it this way, it sounds totally ridiculous, but it’s rarely expressed this way. Instead, there’s just an assumption of commonality of the experience of being outside the privileged norm, ignoring the ways in which being white and male are still pretty good cards to have in your hand.

And that’s sort of what happens in Glee. The people making the show apparently don’t know what they don’t know, so they proceed as if what they know is enough to allow them to successfully engage with all categories of social inequality.

It’s not. Props to them for having a cast in many hues, but simple presence is not enough.