I’ve been thinking about how much the “perception” of what it is to be gay has changed over the last decade. I do consider myself extremely lucky to have grown up in a much more accepting time then a lot of my predecessors, but looking back over the last 10-15 years, I have seen many changes in the way the American society views gays and the LGBT culture.
A perfect example of this idea is the NBC television show Will & Grace. Will & Grace aired from September 21 1998 through May 18, 2006. The show was featured around the relationship of Will Truman, a successful gay attorney and Grace Adler, Will’s best friend from college and roommate throughout most of the show. The show also features Will’s friend (and ex) Jack, a flamboyantly gay actor and Grace’s assistant Karen Walker who married wealthy and works as Grace’s assistant just to entertain herself. The show is centered around their lives as 4 friends in New York City, in which 2 “happened” to be gay.
Now that I’ve given everyone information you’ve probably already have known, let me get to my point. In 1998 when the show debuted, it was considered as a huge step for the LGBT population. At the time, I was a freshman in high school and still struggling with my own identity both sexually and otherwise. When Will & Grace debuted, it showed a gay character being portrayed as a “normal” person. Will Truman was a successful attorney. The show didn’t force any gay stereotype which was previously done on television in the past. Will Truman was a character that many people could identify with whether they themselves were gay or straight.
For someone who was “growing up gay” while this show was on air, it gave me a lot more confidence in myself. I was able to see a major television network air a TV show who’s main character was gay. Not only was he gay, that didn’t matter. His family knew, his best friend knew, his employer knew, no one cared. As this meant a lot to me, I am certain this had the same effect on thousands of viewers across the country. In a way, Will & Grace helped “normalize” being gay.
Let’s now fast forward 15 years to 2013. Will & Grace has now been off the air for 7 years and now many television sitcoms and shows feature an LGBT character such as the new ABF Family show The Fosters, which shows a lesbian couple who help foster and adopt children. In my opinion, Will & Grace helped pioneer this. Many things have changed though since Will & Grace first debuted 15 years ago. Many ideas of what it is to be gay and how same-sex relationships work have changed and that is very identifiable in what’s being shown on TV.
Let’s compare The Fosters to Will & Grace. Both shows have main characters who are gay. In the Fosters, the two characters Stef Foster and Lena Adams are a multi-ethnic couple who are raising a family of biological, adopted and foster kids. Step is a police officer while Lena is a Vice Principal at their local high school. This show doesn’t so much focus on the fact that Stef and Lena are gay, but on their lives as professionals, parents and partners. The show does tell stories about their struggles as LGBT individuals, but not in terms of stereotypes, but in terms of the current struggles LGBT Americans are going through. One perfect example is the recent episode where Lena and Stef get married after the repeal of Proposition 8 in California.
With shows like The Fosters on air showing LGBT individuals as something more then just being gay, shows how much the American media and society has progressed since September 1998 when Will & Grace debuted. While Will & Grace is a fantastic show both in terms of entertainment and in terms of breaking down walls for LGBT rights, it is obvious now watching it how many ideas have changed.
I sit and watch Will & Grace now and I am shocked by some of the language and conversations that were scripted in the show. While in 1998, these conversations were designed to break down walls, in 2013 they are almost harsh to hear. An example would be how many times Karen refers to Will in a feminine way because he is gay, upholding the stereotype that gay men are like women. Another example is the famous quote from the last episode where Karen is talking to Jack about being in a relationship for money –
Karen: So that miniature pony offered you all his money just to take a few rides on him and you said no?
Jack: But I don’t like him.
Karen: Since when is that a problem?
Jack: Well played.[pause]
Jack: I can’t do it.
Karen:Oh you’ll do it. You’ll do it the same way any self-respecting woman does. Get on your back, point your heels to Jesus and think of handbags.
This just shows how much things have changed over the last 15 years, how much the American idea of what being gay is has changed. There are still a lot of things that need to change, but we should all be confident that they will change. Will & Grace, albeit a small piece of the puzzle, brought to the forefront what, at the time, it was like to be gay and to be an American. Thankfully though, shows like Will & Grace do appear to be outdated because of all the progress we have made.