4.05: The Role You Were Born To Play

Unique AdamsThis was one of those filler, getting things ready for later episodes. And that’s fine.

Still, there was a lot of interesting in it, and a lot of it was around the character of Wade Unique Adams.

A big part of that story was Sue’s monologue in Figgins’ office. I was so intrigued by it that I almost immediately transcribed it for Tumblr.  Because, honestly, you might have missed some of the genius of that speech if you only watched it once.

First, Sue was a caricature of  “But I’m good to gay people, I can’t be transphobic,” ally (or Gay, Inc) when she tells Finn to be careful calling her a bigot. And she’s sneaky, in her own loud and obvious way about the fact that she thinks there will be consequences for Unique, because Sue is going to make there be consequences, and then fires back at Finn that it will be his fault. Or Will’s when it fails to move Finn. Neither of the two budge, but Finn does manage to pull out the r-word, regarding Sue’s baby girl.

Yes, we are all bigots.

Figgins — oddly enough considering he’s the principal of the school — isn’t aware that Unique wasn’t born female. He seemed to go through a silent struggle with himself while all the drama was going on between Sue, Will and Finn, but seemed pleased enough at the end that everyone but Sue seemed to be happy with Unique identifying as female, so he was too.

This scene was super powerful — and too powerful for some people. I’ve noticed now on Tumblr a few trans people are really upset by the transphobic comments and the misgendering Unique had to deal with.

Sue’s language was super-extreme, but I think she pretty much always is, and she’s Sue, and once tried really hard to shoot Brittany out of a cannon to her almost certain death, so you know whatever Sue is saying is probably wrong. Either way, if it’s upsetting trans people, I’m bothered too, and I’m hoping some will share their perspectives either here or elsewhere. I have asked a few people for their thoughts.

My take on the misgendering is that Unique is still usually dressing as Wade, so the kids are still unsure of what to call her and which pronoun to use. I guess I expect that will remedy itself as her identity becomes more clear in the story (I think it’s been pretty clear for quite some time to viewers, which is why the misgendering seems so appalling).

However, it’s hard to look at this without thinking of times that Glee has been unnecessarily transphobic — when Mike uses a trans slur and is unchecked by the adults in the scene, and also cutting the LGBT verse of “Born This Way” in all performances of it, even if they are openly referencing homosexuality in every performance of it. There’s also a fun transphobic slur in the original pilot. And of course, we’ve been through 3 years already of Rachel being called “man hands” and Kurt being called “lady”, although neither of these two characters is trans, it’s still problematic language and misgendering.

Glee often deals well with themes of authenticity and performance. Most of the characters are more themselves when they perform, and reality isn’t escaped, only heightened in fantasy sequences (most of the time — Artie sometimes gets out of his chair in his fantasies).  When we first meet Unique, she’s struggling with being herself, and finally is, on stage, and she wins all the awards.

Blaine, too, is most himself when he performs, to the point where he is unable to perform romance anymore, even if he was able to perform it before Kurt, now that romance IS Kurt, he just can’t go there. So instead, he’s cast himself as Teen Angel. Is he trying to be a Teenage Dream again? Because that’s essentially what Teen Angel is — a dream Frenchy has that convinces her to go back to school and let herself grow up instead of rushing things and not doing a very good job at it.

Kurt, too, had his moment when he ditched the predictable Music of the Night to perform Not The Boy Next Door, which was about embracing his difference, and he blew everyone away (just not enough to get into NYADA).

Santana can only sing her feelings to Brittany. Will solves a lot of issues in his life when he forms the Acafellas, even if it doesn’t last very long. And Will cannot teach kids Spanish, even with music, because it’s not him. But Mr Martinez? He sure can.

So this was called “The Role You Were Born to Play”. And we have some interesting statements that help us seek this out.

Kitty persistently references Marley’s genetic destiny, saying she’s going to get really fat, or even implying she already is.

Blaine was never born to play Danny Zucko. He’s completely right when he sings a Sandy song (although it’s a shame we don’t get to see him in a nightie) and probably a little bit terrified and searching for something when he casts himself as teen angel. It’s an easy gig, you see, telling someone else how to fix their life. There is, by the way, excellent meta on Tumblr about the Hopelessly Devoted staging and how it recreates a moment in a film called “Across The Universe” where the arrangement of “I Want To Hold Your Hand” that Kurt sang about his father originates. I also want to point out this is the second time they have mirrored Blaine with an Asian woman. Fingers crossed this is another indicator he’s not going to be whitewashed.

Unique, of course, tells us that Rizzo’s story “hot bitch who thinks she’s pregnant and has a heart of gold” is pretty much Unique’s life story. And we’re surprised, but we don’t know her that well yet.

Marley (Sue) is obviously Sandra Dee because both characters share the same original maddening perfection. Both, of course, overcome it — Marley will hopefully overcome her perfection for a reason better than John Travolta.

Sam wants to be Kenicke because he’s already been knocked out by a car door.

Tina gets the “who’s Jan?” part. Obviously.




12 thoughts on “4.05: The Role You Were Born To Play

  1. I’m not trans, but even *I* was really upset and disturbed by the amount of misgendering fail that occurred in this episode. Like I wrote on my tumblr: I understand that this happens every day in real life, and that Glee should portray this in order to show the struggles for trans* folk, but I really feel that there was a disproportionate amount of slur-throwing about Unique than there ever has been about Kurt’s sexuality, or any other “issue.”

  2. Principal Figgins also thought Tina was really a vampire, and that New Directions were pretending to be drunk in their performance of “Tik Tok” in “Blame It on the Alcohol.” He’s in his own world when it comes to perceptions.

    Sue first said “she-male” and then said that the play was a “minstrel show.” It gave a clear signal that that whole speech was supposed to be offensive in a number of ways. It is an interesting tack for Sue to say she can’t be a bigot because she’s gay-friendly. It puzzled me why she was transphobic when she is gay-friendly, but you and others have pointed out to me that that’s not that uncommon in real life.

    Sue said she’d put Unique in danger, but in Sue-speak, she could have meant there was more danger for Unique than just from her. That got kind of lost among the insults, I thought.

    It was striking to me that Finn was actually being fairly decent towards and about Unique, but I knew he’d learned some lessons about tolerance at considerable expense to Kurt. The lessons took. Finn still has a lot to learn, but some things he’s aware about.

  3. It’s less Figgins’ perception I was remarking on and more his access to student records. Especially an exchange student.

    It’s funny, how the gay-friendly trans*-unfriendly thing works. I know people who are the opposite. They think homosexuals are sick, and should get treatment. They also think trans* people need treatment too, but at least they’re trying to fix themselves, so they’re ok, unless of course they’re bisexual or homosexual in which case the first rule applies.

    People, huh?

  4. Just to make the “Hopelessly Devoted”/”I Want to Hold Your Hold” connection even more complicated…

    1) The “Hand” scene in Across the Universe is rumored to be based on the number “Ain’t There Anyone Here for Love?” in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. I can’t find the number on YouTube, but basically, Jane Russell is singing about seeking a boyfriend at the gym, but the men are all too into their workouts (and each other) to notice her. It’s pretty overtly homoerotic for the time period. Of the three musical numbers I’m talking about, this is the only one where the lyrics themselves are about a straight connection… BUT Gentlemen Prefer Blondes also has subtext-y scenes between Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe. I could be wrong, but hasn’t Kurt identified with Marilyn Monroe before? So Blaine is also channeling Jane Russell’s character, a presumed straight woman who maybe would be happier in a gay relationship with her best friend. This could be a reference to how, unlike Kurt, Blaine is sometimes assumed to be straight.
    2) In Across the Universe, we don’t know Prudence is queer until the middle of the song. She appears to be singing to a football player but is actually pining after another cheerleader. (Yes, there’s a lesbian cheerleader here too.) In “Glee,” Blaine looks like he could be singing about any number of boys or girls on the field, but we already know he’s not. Prudence is looking at a heteronormative world that she’s apart from since she’s secretly gay; Blaine is openly gay, but he did have a place with Kurt and now he’s lost it. Like Jane Russell, he’s singing about someone who’s not even there, but he’s also like the gymgoers: He sees male and female athletes seeking connection, but they’re irrelevant to him. He’s preoccupied.
    3) The homoeroticism of the “Love?” number is wink-wink, queering the supposed hypermasculine quality of gymgoers, and it happens in the background of a straight song. The homoeroticism in “Hand” is in the foreground and background, queering the hypermasculine image of the football hero to frame a secret lesbian love. In “Hopelessly,” its also in the foreground and background, but Blaine is a queer man framed by queered men. Likely, Blaine could find another boyfriend (perhaps a football player), but again, he doesn’t even notice them. I also feel like the thread of homoeroticism shows something about how far we’ve come re: portrayals of queerness.
    4) Artie’s line later: “Who’s directing this, Julie Taymor?” YEAH, she directed Across the Universe. This is also a reference to casting Helen Mirren as Prospero in her version of The Tempest, since they are talking about casting Unique. What fascinates me is that the line is overtly about Unique, but there’s pretty much no way its connection to Blaine is an accident. I’m very certain that the “Hand” homage is intentional. Several times, connections have been drawn between Blaine and Unique regarding Blaine’s possible transfemininity. See also: talking about Unique’s gender in “Props” while Blaine looks increasingly uncomfortable. So, Unique is cast as a Taymor heroine, but just minutes before, Blaine reenacts the part of a Taymore heroine. What I’m wondering is, is this a sign that Unique’s transness is now common knowledge while Blaine’s is generally kept inside his own mind? I’ve never been certain that Blaine is trans, but I’m quite curious about the connection between Unique and Blaine here.

    Wowee. I hope that all made some modicum of sense.

  5. BadassMuppet? I love everything about your comment. Also, I should be able to check out the Gentlemen Prefer Blondes thing shortly.

    There is little in this world I enjoy discussing more than Blaine’s gender identity. And I don’t know that I believe it will ever be explored overtly, but there is always this “Blaine sings a strong woman song”, “Blaine is represented by/represents an Asian woman” thing that is happening, along with the rather blatant Unique connections. And it’s hard to believe it’s all a coincidence.

    And I love it 🙂

  6. Pingback: Glee: On a Role « so thinky

  7. This is all really fascinating, BadassMuppet. I didn’t catch that Artie mentioned Taymor. The whole Across the Universe referencing is so amazing, though, but when the show does these sorts of connections I’m often saddened a bit, because casual watchers/critics don’t always notice–and it’s the referencing of other texts that adds so many layers to the show.

  8. I’m curious… when has Blaine represented/been represented by an Asian woman before? He sings Beyonce songs (strong black woman), but I can’t think of another Asian one…

  9. This one is a little tenuous, but I stand by it anyway. In The Break Up, Dottie’s Left Behind moment seems completely unnecessary, until you realise there’s a small, bow-tied Asian on the floor, hyperventilating and screaming about being left behind. The only comment about her? “She seems pretty damaged.”
    A couple episodes later, Blaine’s singing about “the most mixed-up non-delinquent on the block” (and Blaine always sings about himself — who’s a Teenage Dream? Blaine’s a Teenage Dream!). Brittany is there, and it’s Brittany and Blaine who feel “Left Behind”, so Dottie is a stand-in here for Blaine who just doesn’t have the freedom within himself to react that way.

  10. It is more fun to make connections, however tenuous. While this is little evidence that Blaine isn’t being whitewashed, combined with our other evidence (Eurasian babies, baby!Blaine is mixed race, Brittany’s comments about birth certificates and Philipinos in Makeover), it’s definitely comforting.

  11. I don’t think Dottie representing Blaine is a tenuous argument, given that Brittany’s comment (“You left me behind and it hurt. That’s exactly what it felt like”) explicitly linked Dottie to Brittany, and seems to obliquely link her expression of fear and hurt at being left behind to everyone else who has been left behind or fears it, which includes Blaine. But it also includes Finn, Rachel, Will, and Emma (the latter two’s argument being about whether or not Emma should be “left behind” or go with Will, and Will’s subsequent feelings of abandonment), which does make singling out Blaine as someone who is represented by/represents Asian women a very tenuous argument, given that he is not unique in that respect. It’s like saying that Blaine is uniquely linked to curly hair and excessive hair gel, which is only true if you ignore the two seasons of the show where Will was uniquely linked to curly hair and excessive hair gel.

  12. Pingback: “Hopelessly Devoted to You” Staging | Deconstructing Glee

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