Did “Secret Life Of The American Teenager” Just Pull Off A Decent Gay-Themed Episode?

If you played a gay drinking game during Monday night’s episode Secret Life of the American Teenager (I did not, as I am a portrait of sobriety), you probably were plastered about ten minutes in because the word “gay” was spoken in approximately every sentence. That repetitive language would’ve been surprising enough, but even more surprising was the variety of Gay Situations this show covered in Episode 424, “Love Is Love,” and covered well. (Though it’s worth mentioning that the show already had a minor gay male character and a lesbian Mom, the latter portrayed by Professional On-Screen Lesbian Anne Ramsay.) I mean they just kinda hit shot after shot, but the humor of the gay parts seemed a little more layered than the rest of the show (which was TERRIBLE), and I’m not sure how that kind of thing would come across for most of Secret Life‘s audience. Basically characters took turns saying dumb things and consequently being called out for saying those dumb things, or just made to look stupid for it, and my girlfriend and I were relatively slack-jawed throughout.

However, according to tumblr, most fans hated the episode and found it offensive, as if they really took the Fourth of July gag and pretty much every joke in the episode at face value. Was it an episode that was only funny to gay people, have we lost our minds, or are we simply able to enjoy it on its own ’cause we’ve not been trekking through the show season after maddening season as it’s degenerated into whatever it is now?

Normally this is the part where I’d tell you what I think about it, or recap it, but I’m super new to the show and really — this time I just wanna know what you think before I attempt to impart my thought propaganda upon you in the form of “my opinion.”

Here is the episode, watch it!

But I will say this: Although it’s something I don’t know how to talk about, or rarely talk about, because it’s complicated and embarrassing, really — the conversation Anne and Amy have after Anne comes out reminded me of the conversation I’d had with my Mom when she came out. It was strange to suddenly see a story similar to that part of mine on television, it wasn’t something I’d ever thought I’d see.

Also important to mention: my activity partner and I laughed a lot! I understand how someone might read Grace’s fashion situation at the end as offensive, but I found it hilarious, like a scene written by somebody on our side who had been there, yannow? Like it wouldn’t have been out of place in an L Word episode. In fact, most of Grace’s weirdness was hilarious.

Some highlights —

Exhibit A: Grace calls out her Mom for saying “gay” is somebody’s fault (followed by a conversation that made us both ROFL):

Kathleen: Hi, how’s it going? I thought you might like the last piece of cake and some milk.
Grace: Because I’m gay? Jacob’s home from school, isn’t he? He told you.
Kathleen: Well, I pressured him, so it’s not his fault. Just like if you’re gay, it’s not your fault.
Grace: Of course it’s not my fault. It’s nobody’s fault. There’s no “fault” involved. And saying that just implies that there’s something wrong with my being gay.

 

Exhibit B: Adrian’s Mom calls out her daughter for treating same-sex experimenting like a game to get attention when other people have real problems:

Adrian: People talking about me being gay is almost like people talking about Ricky being gay. It’s… it’s shocking.
Cindy: People are talking about Ricky being gay?
Adrian: Oh please, no. Just me. I’m the center of attention for once.
Cindy: Oh, well, I recall you being the center of attention a few times. Are you sure you want to be the center of attention for this? I mean, Adrian, it doesn’t really seem like you’re questioning anything and so it seems to me that… that people may take offense to you trying to shock other people by kissing a girl.
Adrian: I didn’t do it to shock people, I just… I don’t mind that it did shock people. And who would take offense?
Cindy: Lesbians in your high school? Possibly gay guys as well. The entire LGBTQ community?
Adrian: What community is that? The alphabet community?
Cindy: Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans, questioning community.
Adrian: Oh, them. They’re not going to say anything. They don’t have a voice.
Cindy: [look of disgust and disbelief]
Adrian: That was a joke. About gay students not being heard.
Cindy: That might be too true to be funny.
Adrian: Oh come on, everyone at our school gets treated the same, no one really cares who’s gay or not gay… unless, of course, it’s someone like me.
Cindy: Oh, really? Well, then maybe they should change the name of your school to “The Ideal High School”… Adrian, are you really that naive? You may not care who’s gay or not gay, you may not care what anyone else’s sex life or sexual identity is, but believe me, other people do and other people can be judgmental and hurtful. And again, I don’t know why someone hasn’t said something about that little game you’re playing.

After Adrian scans her memory to retrieve the name of Fern, the one lesbian at school she knows of…

Cindy: What are you gonna do when Fern or someone else comes up to you and confronts you about using that kiss to get attention, while they’re deeply struggling with who they are? That is more likely scary at your age than amusing.

 

Exhibit C: Amy reacts to her mother, Anne, coming out with denial and anger and gets called out by her boyfriend:

Anne: I am gay.
Amy: Mom that’s ridiculous. You were married forever and you’ve had boyfriend after boyfriend.
Anne: Uh-huh. None of which have worked out because I was never happy being married to your dad or with boyfriends. I mean, I wasn’t miserable when I was married to your dad, just never felt complete.
Amy: Well… that’s not because you’re gay. That’s because Dad’s an idiot. Mom, I don’t want you to be gay. It’s not that I have anything against people who are gay, but our family is different enough. Geez, do you really have to do this?

[Amy's boyfriend interrupts --]

Ricky: Amy!
Amy: I’m talking to my mother.
Ricky: I heard. And excuse me for saying so, but that’s not really a nice way to talk to your mother.
Amy: Stay out of it.
Ricky: No, I’m not going to stay out of it. My mom is gay. And you’re completely insensitive. If you didn’t wanna know this, why did you insist on coming over here to see your mom? [to Anne] I’m sorry this is Amy’s response. I support you all the way. You be whoever you are, and we’ll be happy about it. Won’t we, Amy?

Honestly, I racked my brain and couldn’t think of any other televised instance of a woman coming out to her children, post-marriage/divorce/boyfriends. It happened in my family, though, and so I could definitely relate to this episode, even the ugly parts.

 

Exhibit D: Adrian’s boyfriend breaks up with her for cheating and she flips out because kissing a girl “doesn’t count,” and he informs her that yes, actually, it does —

Adrian: What do you mean you’re breaking up with me? You can’t break up with me just because I kissed Grace.
Omar: You promised it would be just the two of us and you didn’t even last a week.
Adrian: Uh, no I didn’t. promised you no other guys. This wasn’t a guy. This was Grace. She asked me to kiss her and so I kissed her. What’s the big deal?
Omar: You kissed someone else, that’s the big deal, I don’t care who it was, man or woman. You cheated.
Adrian: You have to be kidding me.

And then…

Adrian: She’s a girl. I’m a girl. I didn’t get anything out of it.
Omar: Well, then you shouldn’t have done it… look Adrian, I don’t wanna be in a position where I’m telling you what’s appropriate and what’s inappropriate in a relationship. And if you’re telling me that a kiss with a girl doesn’t count, I’d like to know why. Is a girl less than a guy? Is a kiss with the same sex less than a kiss with the opposite sex? No, it’s not.

There are lots of other good parts too, and funny parts, so watch it and get back to me. Also, I wrote about last week’s episode yesterday, and that episode is also on Hulu.

Thoughts?

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Riese is the 33-year-old CEO, CFO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York City, and now lives in The Bay Area. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are!

Riese has written 1758 articles for us.

31 Comments

  1. Thumb up 12

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    Oookay, so, this show has been my guilty pleasure for a while, and these two episodes have been pleasantly surprising. Grace, the girl-kisser who experiments with dressing gay, started the show as puritanically Christian, and has had the most moral crises about sex on the show — her father died in a plane crash the night she lost her virginity (seriously, this show is absurd), and her grief and guilt and shame were absurd but also oddly authentic.

    It’s kind of amazing to go from that fear to have this character trying to understand her queer desires, even if she’s sort of silly about it. The warmth and acceptance, the use of the LGBTQ acronym – it really felt, like you said, like it was written by our people, people who know what it’s like. And Molly Ringwald really sold it for me, both in her scenes with Amy and with her ex-husband – her fear and her excitement were lovely.

    This show is not a place to turn for realism and nuance, but it does have a certain rawness of feeling; it’s basically pure processing. I was pretty sexually repressed in high school, mostly out of fear of my own sexuality, and I think that this plot line would have been really reassuring to me at 16 – to know it’s okay to experiment and it’s okay to be unsure and that sex/desire should not be viewed as shameful.

  2. Thumb up 1

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    ha. that was some funny shit!

    “gay.gay.gay.gay.gay.gay.gay.gay.gay.I’m not gay.you’re gay.maybe I’m gay.gay.gay.gay.gay”

    also “it gets better” cracked me up.

  3. Thumb up 2

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    It would have been interesting if Grace turned out to be the one who was queer. With it being Anne, it seemed to be a way of both focusing on the issue but yet keep it from being one of the main girls which may upset it’s teen audience.

  4. Thumb up 5

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    In a teen show like this, repetition of the keyword seems to be intended to drive the point home, or alternatively, the more you hear the word GAY the more effective the homosexual agenda becomes! But like actually, it felt like a really successful episode, sort of like GAY 101, in the sense that every issue they presented was broken down in a manner that made it seem uncomplicated, straightforward enough for someone ages 11-17 to understand. In grade 8 health class, they used to show us Degrassi High episodes to illustrate the dangers of drugs, sex etc., and while The Secret Life has nothing on the Degrassiverse, I feel like this is the sort of thing that would allow youngsters to grasp the experience of the gay teen (/adult).

    Sidenote: Im offic sold on cargopantssssss

  5. Thumb up 4

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    First off, this show is terrible.

    Second, that was the first episode I’ve ever seen (and all thanks to you, AS. You should get a special toaster for that). Yeah, the gay parts were actually pretty funny/awesome.

    No, but seriously, this show is terrible.

  6. Thumb up 1

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    I think this episode was actually pretty good! Minus the way Grace was dressing although they did make a point to show and discuss thats not how all lesbians dress and i did not like the way the father was talking the mother when she was coming out (but I’ve never liked the way he talks).

    ALSO, did anyone notice ROBIN FROM THE L WORD plays Ricky’s mother!?! Love it!

  7. Thumb up 2

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    I wish I could print this episode out and spread it everywhere.

    This episode might be the best thing that could ever happen to all those conservative/close-minded viewers of Secret Life, just to help narrow-minded ones to at least open them a bit, and that being gay is PERFECTLY acceptable (I loved how they really got that one out).

    The writing of this ep was BEAUTIFUL and flawless, especially Molly Ringwalds coming-out scene. Love, love, loved it!

  8. Thumb up 1

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    Man, this show still sucks and I had a hard time sitting through the entire episode but bravo to the creators/writers for tackling the issue. Bravo to Molly for her performance. You’ve surprised me in a good way Secret Life.

    And although totally ridiculous, and someone who’s never thought she was cute, I actually found Grace kind of dorkingly adorably hot at the end there. What the heck is wrong with me?

  9. Thumb up 1

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    When this show came on my sister was obsessed with it and I endured it for a while, but nothing very interesting or gripping happened. At least in my opinion. And every season when it kept coming on, I was in shock that something that terrible/ridiculous/melodramatic/stereotypical could stay on. But I might start watching it if there are some queers. Even though that might be a slightly shallow reason. It would just be that the issues would pertain more to my life/interests. I would vote for Adrian to be gay, because I think she’s really hot. Although, Grace has a more likable personality and would probably bring more realism to the “newly out” storyline.

  10. Thumb up 1

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    Olivia Spencer came out to her adult daughter on Guiding Light and it was lovely. Also she and Natalia also came out to Olivia’s very young daughter who they were already raising together before they became a couple. Natalia also had to come out to her teenage son which didn’t go so well.

  11. Thumb up 0

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    I loved your review on The Secret Life of The American Teenager! Honestly this show is one of my guilty pleasures. I find this show entertaining and crazy this goes on. I don’t really have time to watch it since I work late at Dish. But I record most of my shows with my Hopper and my little sister gets to still record her shows at the same time too.

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