When talking about issues such as gender and sexual orientation within Glee, I am referring to a broader topic called identity markers. Identity markers are traits and characteristics about people that they are often unable to change, and because of them they tend to be put at a disadvantage or an advantage. These traits include, race, social class, language, religion, and of course gender and sexual orientation. Based on what you identify as, you are either labeled as part of the dominant group (privileged) or the subordinate group (oppressed).
If you were to list off an individual’s identity markers it would sound something like this, a white male, who speaks English, is of the upper-middle class and is homosexual. Now if you notice this partuclar person has characteristics that put them in both the dominant group for some identity markers and in the subordinate group for others. This is the idea of intersectionality— where most people do not consist of identity markers that are all dominant or subordinate, but rather a mix of the two.
Intersectionality can be seen in Glee. Arty is a white (dominant) male (dominant), who is also physically disabled (subordinate). On the other hand, Tina is a Korean (subordiante) female (subordinate) who is heterosexual (dominant). Both of these characters have identity markers from both groups and different ratios of the two.
Although different forms of intersectionality can be found in Glee, I would like to address the intersectionality specifically between gender and sexual orientation and how one identity marker influences the other, which happens as a result of intersectionality.
Lets start with Kurt.
Kurt is a homosexual male. Being homosexual puts him in a subordinate group since heterosexuality is the “norm” and therefore dominant, while on the other hand being male assigns him to the dominant gender group. For Kurt his subordinate identity marker has greatly affected how people perceive his dominant one. Because Kurt is gay he is seen as almost “less of a male.” This refers back to the names Coach Sylvester calls him, such as “Lady” and “Porcelain.” These names suggest that he is feminine or even more female-like than male. Another example of how his sexual orientation has affected his gender is seen when Kurt tries out for the school musical, West Side Story. Kurt tries to get the leading male role, but is denied the position because the directors do not see him as having the needed “manly” traits and believe that the audience will also not see him in this way.
There is also another character in Glee who has a non-dominant sexual orientation other. Santana identifies as a lesbian. In this case Santana has two subordinate identity markers. During the show, Santana has struggled coming to terms with her sexuality because her of gender. Santana is a rather strong female, who is see as “popular.” She is part of the cheer team and is known for “getting around” with the guys. Due to the way she is perceived as a female, I believe she is afraid to be up front with her sexual orientation. If Santana were to openly acknowledge that she is homosexual, she might be seen as “less of a female,” something that is very important to her. This could jeopardize her position as a cheerleader and affect how her other female friends treat her.
I thought this picture below was interesting because Santana also identifies as Lebanese, another subordinate identity marker. She is wearing this t-shirt for a song the Glee Club puts on called “Born this Way,” where each member embraces something they are insecure about. Rather than putting down her true insecurity, which is the fact that she is a lesbian, she chooses to write lebanese since it is less threatening to her status as a woman. It is as if she is taking a step in the right direction since the words closely resemble each other, but cannot fully accept her sexuality.
Glee works to show, that no matter who you are, whether that is part of a dominant or subordinate group , you should accept yourself and be proud of what makes you different.
This is the song referred to above: “Born this Way.”