I’ve said many times that I am not fond of coming out stories. They aren’t bad stories, and when I was younger I read a few of them and enjoyed them. I understand why lgbt youth would like these stories because it gives them something to relate to. Having a secret that must be kept out of fear of alienation from loved ones and peers is a big deal and can end with family and loved ones accepting you as you are, learning to love your difference, or downright throwing you out of the house.
Good Golly, This Shit Again?
It makes sense to me that whenever the main protagonist in mainstream media is gay that this is the primary conflict of the story since it allows readers/watchers who aren’t part of the lgbt community to get an idea of what it is like to be in the shoes of someone who isn’t straight.
However this brings the problem that I have mentioned and danced around in many blog posts/essays. It becomes a gimmick; while lgbt fiction and culture can still have a coming out part of a story, it wouldn’t take up the whole story or series. It would be one portion the protagonists life, then the protagonist will move on and do other things. In mainstream media outside of the lgbt category this is not the case.
An example I will use is the movie Gay Best Friend; I watched it on Netflix, thought it was hilarious, and I was pleased that the movie went deeper than what I expected out of a teen comedy. There was still the main conflict of coming out of the closet and how that action had waves of chain reactions because the main protagonist was accidentally and unwillingly outed as gay. Although the main protagonist does claim get over the fact his peers know he is gay, it is the primary source of conflict between him and those responsible for his outing towards the end of the second act and even after is only fully resolved at the end of the film.
The Proper Way to Handle a Coming out Story (your mileage may vary)
I feel this type of story works out better on tv rather than movies or books; my two main examples will be the shows Ugly Betty and Glee. On Ugly Betty there were quite a few lgbt characters on the show; Marc St.James, Justin Suarez, Alexis Mead (behold a trans character no one made a big deal about in the year 2006!), and a few more. At the time of it’s premier only Marc and his love interests could officially be slated as gay since it was still a taboo for someone as young as Justin’s character to be officially stated as gay so the topic of his sexuality was danced around, but never confirmed until season 4. My guess is since Justin was in highschool things became more fair game for the character.
At first Justin states he isn’t gay with Marc (he’s kind of his mentor and a close friend despite being much older than Justin) understanding Justin’s situation and being patient with Justin as he talked about his feelings towards both genders and his friendships with characters that are barely ever mentioned. When it was announced Ugly Betty was cancelled it was pretty obvious the writers decided to stop giving shits about people in the audience getting offended and had Justin make out with a boy. Bonus points for everyone in Justin’s family knowing the whole time and very excitedly willingly to throw him a coming out party (even Marc is happy to see the Suarez family is so loving of Justin and proud of him despite being pissed off with them more or less wanting Justin to confirm his sexuality).
With Glee, we had Kurt, goodness he is gayer than Christmas. He was sarcastic, wore clothes that ranged from cool to ‘wha’ regularly and had an easier time “coming out” on television thanks to Ugly Betty. While Glee did premier during the last season of Ugly Betty, the later show did lay some groundwork that would make things Glee did easier to do on tv (do you REALLY think Glee would/could have had Kurt and Blaine’s intense makeout session had Justin and Austin not had theirs one year before?)
I admit there were times I found Kurt very annoying primarily because at the start of the show he was more or less the gay stereotype that viewers are supposed to see and say “oh, they’re gay! I didn’t have to think about it.” His coming out to his dad in the first season was very touching though. With Kurt’s dad behaving very loving unconditionally towards his son from that point onward to the end of the series even sticking up for Kurt when Kurt was doing something inappropriate (not cool pushing yourself on Finn when he has politely stated he is not gay and not interested countless times, thank goodness that gets addressed too.)
Like in Gay Best Friend there are waves of side affects that result in Kurt coming out of the closet that lead to bullying, harassment, and other characters growing and developing complete with Kurt more or less ditching the gay stereotype he started out as by the end of the series.
There’s also the character Santana’s own coming out story that started out as a throwaway gag of her having sex with her best friend. Not much detail is given concerning how her parents react outside of “yeah, they’re cool with it,” but she was outed by accident and things more or less go ok for her outside of her grandmother having very strict religious beliefs that “girls belong with boys, not other girls”.
I’d like to make special mention to the ABC Family show Greek; I didn’t see much of it (I just didn’t care to watch it) but there was a gay character with no gay traits who did have a very well handled coming out arc and developed past coming out from that point on. Feel free to correct me on this internet.
My reasoning for saying television is the best way to have a coming out story is because it allows the character to stay in main focus and have the coming out arc then move past said arc and grow as a character without said conflict being the whole purpose of the character.
While this is possible in books, I have read few mainstream books where the main protagonist is gay, comes out, and does something other than come out as gay. Movies are even harder because more than likely you only have ninety to a hundred and twenty minutes of story to go through and having the protagonist “come out” can take up more time than expected with the possibility that said action can become the main conflict of a movie.
I’ve reviewed the books The Gay Teen’s Guide to Defeating a Siren and Will Grayson Will Grayson and I was very happy with how it was handled. In Will Grayson Will Grayson ‘coming out’ as an arc is treated like taking off a bandaid, quick. It allowed Will to move beyond that conflict and for other conflicts to be explored concerning love and relationships in terms of romance, friendship, and agape.
As I said in my review of The Gay Teen’s Guide to Defeating a Siren after the main character is outed as gay and goes to sanctuary prep and neat shenanigans happen from that point on. Although I dreaded the coming out portion it was there as the main plot point to set the story in motion and yes echos are felt from the protagonist coming out as gay.
If You’re so Knowledgeable then Why Don’t YOU do a Coming Out Story?
I have said previously that the book I am working on right now will not have a coming out plot. In the process of writing this blog post I have realized that really is an asshole thing of me to say I won’t do a coming out story. No I won’t add a coming out part to the story I am working on, but that doesn’t mean I will never do a coming out story.
Maybe later on I will find a way for myself to write a story where coming out is just one event in a protagonist’s tale and move on past it with the character able to grow beyond that event.
Once again please look up and purchase The Gay Teen’s Guide to Defeating a Siren, it is a great story, I have met the author and have had fun facebook conversations with him.