How “glee” Pioneered A New Generation of Queer Women

The show “glee” is an American musical comedy-drama series that first aired on Fox in 2009. It had plenty of award-winning actors and was widely celebrated in its prime. The show follows the stories of Will Schuester and his talented students from their high school glee club to their successful careers. It was a triumph of the awkwardness of being a high schooler that was musically inclined. But that wasn’t all that the show covered in its six year run.

One of the most celebrated aspects of “glee” was its representation of the LGBTQ+ community. Early on we are introduced to Kurt, a young, expressive, gay teen navigating the harsh world of public high school. Later in the series, we are introduced to Wade “Unique” Adams, a transgirl in the midst of figuring out how she fits into the world. But the development of Kurt and Unique was different than that of Santana, a Latina cheerleader who was presented as straight in the beginning of the series. She later struggles to come to terms with her sexuality, venturing into the harsh realities of coming out and navigating her relationship with fellow cheerleader, Brittany. At risk of spoiling the second half of the series, I won’t tell you just how far the couple went. 

But the most interesting part of Santana’s character development was her character itself. Santana is notorious for her mean girl personality, quick remarks, and overall feistiness. We won’t get into the stereotypical “fiesty Latina” that she was portrayed as. The fact that Santana is shown while still coming to terms with her sexuality and while staying true to her original persona was huge for so many people. Often times, queer people are shown after they have accepted who they are and are unapologetic about it. They are also portrayed as perfect, usually white characters (like Kurt) who either don’t express their sexuality or end up the butt of nearly every joke (like Unique). They often don’t get the chance to be as flawed or multilayered as Santana was. 

This is why “glee” became such an important show for young LGBTQ+ people, helping them see themselves as complex and real people that make mistakes and don’t have it all figured out. Her relationship with Brittany was also one of the first mainstream representations of a lesbian relationship that wasn’t inherently sexual. The two characters were able to develop as individuals, as a couple, and as a part of a larger whole (the glee club). Of course their relationship wasn’t perfect but that’s what made it so special. The show could have easily portrayed their relationship as toxic and unhealthy, seeing as Santana was written to be insulting and rude to nearly everyone. But in giving her a relationship where she didn’t necessarily change into this abnormal persona but that she developed into a more well-mannered individual is what made fans feel so connected to the character. Many young teens watched as Santana grew into an adult, being able to focus on more than just her sexuality in her development. 

This particular scene was very important for the development of Santana’s character. This is the first time we see her truly vulnerable, as she’s admitting that the reason she’s so angry all the time is because she’s struggling to accept her sexuality. She stays true to her character by cracking a joke but her emotional standpoint is a large change from her normal, emotionless persona. It also explored the possibility of Brittany being bisexual, which when the episode aired was relatively unheard of. Most queer representation on TV was very black and white, you were either gay or straight. Santana’s reaction to Brittany’s reluctance to break up with her then boyfriend was met with criticisms at first. But overtime, fans understood that Santana was upset at the idea of being Brittany’s second choice, not her being bisexual. Many people now understand that this reaction wasn’t the best, but it further amplified the importance of flawed queer characters. There is no instruction manual on the complexities of human sexuality, even for those who aren’t straight. It’s so important that all characters, but especially queer ones, are shown with flaws and complexities like everyone else. And “glee” is one of many significant examples of this.