Sunday, 03 June 2012 19:18

Exploring Gender: The End of a Trans Storyline on Glee

Written by  Cael

A few weeks ago, I wrote about a trans* character on Glee, Unique. I expressed concern about how the creators were going to handle the presentation of Unique’s storyline and how realistic it would appear because despite Glee’s track record of presenting those who in other outlets are underrepresented, sometimes the verisimilitude of these storylines can be sadly lacking. I was hoping Unique’s storyline would follow the more realistic story of Santana coming out to her grandmother, who was not accepting. Unfortunately, most people who come out do not receive a welcoming reception from family, so to present the situation in such a way more realistically depicted coming out, which is one of the most daunting things people in the LGBTQ* community face. We need representation in the media to allow people from without the community to see what it is really like to be a part of the community. Creating that connection can help us in steps toward equality.

I wanted to revisit Unique because she came back to finish out her storyline for the season, and I wanted to assess the validity of how the story was handled, as well as discuss her perhaps coming back for next season. Unique came back into the story to end her two episode arch for “Nationals,” in which her Glee club, Vocal Adreneline, competes against the New Directions for the national title. Throughout the episode, there are references to how Unique has become a sensation after her performance at regionals, receiving a key to the city among other accolades. This decision on the part of the writers follows their need create the happy ending, the everything-turns-out-okay-for-the-different-people approach, which is something we need as a community, those moments of life can be better. Because the truth is that being different is hard and sometimes even dangerous.

Glee has been great for some many people because it does disperse that hope for many of us who are different, within the LGBTQ* community or just the theatre kids or the band geeks or any of the other people who just do not quite fit in at school. We need those stories. We need that hope, but we also need to be represented clearly. It is a hard balance to strike.  In Unique’s case, the writers go a bit further than they have with some of the other character’s triumphs. This illusion could be due to the very brief interaction the audience has with this character. For instance, Kurt’s transformation from season one to season three and the change in his school environment were both very sweeping. Had those changes come about in two episodes, it would be rather disturbing, from closeted and bullied to out and proud and supported just would not make sense. The time between Unique’s two episodes within the world of Glee was probably somewhere between 2 and 4 months, which would make a bit more sense, but as an audience, we do not get that necessary sense of time. Generally, it is necessary to watch Glee with a certain suspension of disbelief. It is difficult to want so much from a show because the writers can only do so much to accommodate such an intricate world with music and create a (mostly) consistent storyline.

Besides performing, Unique’s main interaction within the episode is again with Kurt and Mercedes, who come to wish her luck. Unique is nervous to perform because she has become such a symbol for those who are different. There are just so many people depending on her to represent them, which does lean toward the ironic because that is really what Glee does for many people. Unique does find the strength to go on, again by being herself for herself. Not for any of those other people, though she remains conscious of them. Again, she kills it. “Pinball Wizard” is up there with some of my favorite Glee performances, though that may be influenced by the fact that I generally just love the song.

Kurt and Mercedes help Unique to be herself and to go on. Kurt even comes into the dressing room with a bit of a flamboyant “girl!”, which proves his acceptance of Unique, dispersing his previous issues with Unique’s identification (not explicit) of trans*. The heroes we have come to see in Kurt and Mercedes are redeemed by their now willing acceptance of someone beyond themselves who is different.

Because trans* issues are so far in the background of most media and news outlets, it is hard to criticize Glee for bringing in a character who is trans*. Representation is representation, and unlike Work It—the ABC show which tried to make light of trans* issues, was incredibly offensive, and thankfully ended up cancelled after airing only two of its six taped episodes—Unique has a positive storyline. She became a role model and a heroine in her own right. The writers also teased the possibility of Unique switching schools for next season, so perhaps we will see more of Unique and a more concrete storyline for the character in next season.

Alex Newell, who plays Unique was a runner up on The Glee Project. This year, The Glee Project includes a transman. You can learn more about him here. Hopefully this potential will bring about good things for trans* storylines within Glee next year, and if you want to watch The Glee Project to see how Tyler does, tune into Oxygen Tuesday June 10th at 10 to see the season premier. And let me know how you feel about Unique as a character? Does she represent you well? And what are your hopes for Glee next year with some of our favorite cast members perhaps on the way out with only Lea Michele confirmed for next year?