Glee as a Teachable Moment

“What does ‘fag’ mean and why is he saying it like that?”
~DJ midway through the latest Glee episode.
A question I figured she would ask.

For those of you who have not watched Glee, let me summarize. It’s about a group of students which includes a couple jocks, couple cheerleaders, a gay teen, a disabled teen, and a variety of misfits who all happen to be part of Glee club at their high school. They are led by Mr Schuster who is a passionate teacher, passionate singer, and who realizes that this group is as much about these kids discovering who they are and accepting who they are as it is the singing.  The story lines are about these kids and their teacher. About their struggles with self, struggles within the school, and struggles against the competition. All of this is done with music and humor that provides a nice balance to what can be some pretty deep topics.

This week’s episode was about being theatricals as a form of self expression. The quarterback of the football team (Finn) who is a member of Glee has recently found himself rooming with the gay teen (Kurt) after their single parents fell in love and decided to live together. This really brings to a head some struggles that Finn has had with Kurt. Kurt has a crush on Finn, and Finn doesn’t know how to deal with it. Being they are in small town Ohio, his info about gay people is stereotypical and skewed. Thus bringing out a homophobic side I don’t think Finn even realized he had.  When his fellow football players start making comments that Kurt is rubbing off on him, Finn starts walking the edge. Toss in Kurt’s embracing of the theatrical by dressing in his Lady GaGa outfit which creates even more drama for both of them. In the end after Kurt tries to make their shared space into a Moroccan paradise, Finn flips out at Kurt and refers to his room as “faggy”.

Bad timing for Finn too as Kurt’s dad walks into the room, hears faggy, and sees red.  The lecture that ensures is brilliant and dead-on. And in the end, he says he cannot have that negativity around his son, so Finn cannot live with them. He knows it might cost him his relationship with Finn’s mom, but he doesn’t care. He has to protect his son from that small thinking.

The word “fag” during this scene is tossed around quite a bit, so it was not surprising that DJ asked. It’s what she does, and having never heard the word, she was naturally curious to understand.  So we discussed it.  During the scene, Kurt’s dad asks if Finn calls the girl with Down’s Syndrome a retard too – so we used it as an example of people using words to degrade or hurt others. Indigo asked a few questions too. Then we watched it again (thank you Tivo).  DJ’s follow-up response was “Kurt’s got a a good dad.”  Yes, he does.

I have to commend Garbanzo for how he broke it down for the girls. He has a lot of practice because over the past 11 years of teaching, so he has had to get good at this one. He doesn’t allow words to be used to demean others. Fag is one as is calling people and things “gay”.  I don’t think I have heard any of his current middle school students use the word “gay” either the way I’ve heard their peers. But then again, Garbanzo nipped it in the butt with some of them five years ago the first time he had them as 10 year olds. Call something “gay” in his classroom, and you will hear him say in return “it better mean it’s making you feel joy and happiness because that is the ONLY acceptable use of that word in that classroom.  Care to rephrase?” 

We have a lot of people we consider members of our family – our adopted extended family who are gay. In our picture of our wedding party, you can literally go gay-straight-gay-straight across the picture. And the church did not burst into flames either. Using the word gay as a negative or fag or any other derogatory statement does not fly around us at all. People we are close to have grown up getting that tossed in their face as though it is a bad thing. We will not listen as people do it to anyone but especially those we care about.  As we explained to the girls how people like Derek who they still consider their brother or their “Uncle” in Seattle or their “Auntie” who watches them occasionally or the woman the girls loved who remodeled our kitchen all had to deal with these words being tossed at them, they were shocked. They couldn’t believe people would say things so mean. As Indigo said, “who cares if they like boys or girls – who cares?”  

It was quite the “teachable moment”.  And knowing them both, they will stand up to their friends about it. Indigo will argue with them to the death. And DJ will make them feel like an idiot about it.  I love those kids for that reason.

In the end, Finn realizes the error in his way. He realizes he should have handled the situation different. He tries to apologize to Kurt directly, but Kurt isn’t hearing it. So when Kurt is going to be beat up by the football goons, Finn steps in and stops it. It does help that he’s dressed up in his Lady GaGa wear – something he made to show he truly supports Kurt.

And that he is learning that he doesn’t have to understand to do the right thing.

6 Comments Add yours

  1. That was a great moment.
    I hate the way the word Gay is so casually used by the kids.
    Saying that’s Gay. I mean really. I get all over my kids about using the term gay that way. And my kids know me and their dad have gay friends. It is just so insulting.

  2. Aurore says:

    It was a great moment. What amazes me is that when I was young (goodness that makes me sound old!) it was so common to say things were gay and that it’s still going on is just disappointing. We’ve come pretty far but obviously not far enough yet.

  3. Vixen says:

    What a great teachable moment! And it sounds like very well handled.

  4. Sweet jesus.. I cried when i read this. You are the best parents every! I am glad the girls have been asking questions and i love their responds! Mainly Indigo “Who cares if they like boys or girls-who cares”!! I love you for being strong and always speaking your mind! Again your the best!

  5. Well done! Teaching kids about words and their power is always important.

  6. Sa says:

    That is wonderful. A little teary here…

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