Feminism | Posted by Alec A on 01/12/2011

Gay Slurs in Television

Teddy from 90210: Closeted Gay = Open Homophobe

Teddy from 90210: Closeted Gay = Open Homophobe

I would like to preface this entire post by mentioning that most actors who play high school students in our favorite dramas are really, really old. Though they have not yet succumbed to the allure of Life Alert and Jello three times a day, they are a shockingly false portrayal of what teenagers actually look like. I’m going to postulate that shows such as 90210 and Gossip Girl have female dominated audiences, so I suppose having really old male actors serves to sexualize high school beyond its sordid reality?

In any case, Trevor Donovan, the 90210 regular whose character is slated to come out of the closet this season, is 32 years old. Though this is largely a case-in point statement, I’m going to drag out my story even further. Because I can.

Donovan’s character, Teddy, begins to struggle with his sexuality this season in 90210. He gets drunk at a party and accidentally (or not so accidentally) makes out with a gay kid in his class. He doesn’t remember it until later, and the shit hits the fan. Teddy can’t deal with what he has done, so he proceeds to act like a total jerk towards the gay kid, who doesn’t even want to coax Teddy out of the closet. But because Teddy is so paranoid, he calls the kid a faggot, and then gets into a brawl with him in the hallway. All of this nonsense happens because Teddy can’t accept himself.

The exact same scenario happened in Gossip Girl a couple of years ago. Erik Van der Woodsen comes out of the closet, and his lover/boyfriend/fellow gay who isn’t out yet/classmate calls him a faggot as well in order to preserve his manliness.

I guess I’m just perplexed as to why it’s only the closeted gay kids who end up being so awful to the out gay kids. Of course, one could argue that these kids are so repressed that they have to attack anything that may cause their secrets to come spilling out, but I think that this is only partially true in real life. It is the infallible, absolute truth of television.

I’d like to see a few storylines in television where straight kids who aren’t doubting their sexuality go after gay kids, and then realize they were wrong. I think that many series are missing this aspect to their shows, and it’s an important perspective to incorporate into any teen series. For all of the closeted kids who berate the out kids, those kids eventually come to terms with who they are and accept the world and there are happy bunnies and cupcakes and rainbows. Hooplah. The lack of storylines where inherently biased people learn to accept others in spite of their differences is somewhat scary. It’s encouraging bigotry through omission. Gay people aren’t the only ones who have to overcome the hurtles that come with being gay. There is an entire world that has to learn to accept gay people, and the silver screen does not portray this in the least. The closeted gay kids call others fags because they’re closeted gay kids. But other types of people aren’t encouraged or discouraged from partaking in the verbal abuse of LGBT youth. That message needs to be projected to everyone through showing scenarios where all different types of people overcome their presumed notions.

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  • Zoe @ at 12:42 pm, January 12th, 2011

    Glee is doing the same thing. A football player was harassing Kurt on a daily basis and we come to learn that the player is in the closet himself. I guess it’s a popular plot.

    Also, I can’t stand that these actors who portray teens on TV are all at least in their 20’s. The character who play Finn and Puck on Glee are both 28. I really think this creates a false sense for teenagers of what they should look like. How many times have I watched a teen movie and thought “why can’t I look like that?” It’s because they’re older and have had time to develop and mature. It’s ridiculous.

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  • Anonymous @ at 5:26 pm, January 12th, 2011

    I’m pretty sure the gay Teddy storyline is just there so that 90210 can attempt to bring up its miserable ratings. Otherwise, Teddy showed no inclination or even possibility that he was gay. And if one watches the epsisodes, it is glaringly obvious that the teddy/gay conflict gets the least screentime. One recent episode had 3-4 minutes of Teddy and Ian and the rest was the hetero characters!

    As for why they are old, I think it’s because they’d have problems with actual 20 yr olds emulating the characters? Which says something about the shows themselves.

    I agree it’s a problem but there are exceptions to this rule… in the UK. I watch Skins! Which is more feminist than any TV show I can watch over here in the States. And the actors ages range from 16-20 yrs. So it is pretty accurate. :D Of course the series has been bought by MTV of USA so that Americans can understand the peculiarty and STRANGENESS of british TV (read: MTV is stupid)so anyways the UK version is good.

  • Nano Muse @ at 5:40 pm, January 12th, 2011

    Well the thing about the age of the actors: there are legal restrictions in what you can have young actors play (i.e. scenes involving sex, drugs, ect.) – you can have underage actors do those, but there are a lot more legal restrictions than with adult actors, so for “teen drama” it’s easier to just stick with adults.

    Plus, they look better…but let’s not go there.

    Anyway, I do agree quite a bit about the straight homophobes thing. I’ve met a lot of homophobes in my life and I doubt each and every one of them is secretly gay.

    I think the “closeted homophobe” is just an easy plot that can advocate gay rights without needing to go too in-depth with the issue, and so it is used over and over again.

  • Jem @ at 7:57 pm, January 12th, 2011

    One t.v. show you might be interested in checking out for portraying a more realistic version of teenagers is Skins (but watch the British edition not the upcoming American show… its the original). On the first two seasons their is a character named Maxxie who is gay, however whats so great about this is how he is portrayed. He’s often just seen as “one of the guys” and not as “that gay kid,” meaning the plots don’t always surround him being gay. He is seen not as a tool to boost ratings but of actual importance. Also, all the actors on the show are around 17,18,19 years old, none of this 32 year olds playing high school garbage which so many t.v. shows have.
    The whole “closeted homophobe” is just a ploy to draw readers in, which disgusts me, if they need to rely on this tactic then it never was a good show to begin with (in my opinion of course).

  • gail @ at 1:11 am, January 13th, 2011

    The Teddy story is true and well done for the CW. Mostly because of the actor. He’s unbelievably gorgeous and if you follow him on twitter he’s quite hilarious. It’s a shame they give the best character the least amount of screen time. It makes me wanting him more

  • Emily @ at 2:40 am, January 17th, 2011

    Yeah, the advantage with Skins is that the legal age of majority in Britain is 16, meaning a 16-year-old actor can do scenes with nudity or drugs or whatever.

    Granted, on Glee or 90210 or other American that means the actors doing “mature” storylines could still be as young as 18… but 28 and 32? For real?

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