Monday, October 11, 2010

Rickie: The other half is, like, you know, the tough half

Angela: Which is?
Rickie: Which is, like, just... you know. That I belong nowhere, with no one. That I don't fit in

In one of my Christmas blogs at the end of last year, I talked about my favorite holiday television episodes. One of those episodes happened to be from My So-Called Life. I had a lot more to say about the episode than I wrote in the blog, but in trying to not make the post too long, I cut out most of it. Since today is National Coming Out Day, I figured that it was as good a time as any to share these additional thoughts.

But first, to refresh your memory, here were my initial comments:

This episode always makes me cry and as a teenager I really did not like it because it depressed me so much and I did not fully understand what it was about. Watching it later in life, I realize how much it truly affected me and was a part of who I was and who I have become. The episode starts with no one really appreciating the true meaning of Christmas. At one point, Angela questions her parents about why they do not go to church to which her younger sister replies: "Do we have to keep talking about religion? It's Christmas!" Rickie is getting beat up at home because he is gay, has no where to go and ends up at an abandoned warehouse with other homeless teenagers. Angela is concerned about him and tracks him down with the help of a mysterious homeless girl. Rayanne and Sharon volunteer for the teen help-line and Brian's parents leave him home alone while they go on a cruise over the holidays.

I love this episode because it is about helping others who are less fortunate than you and accepting everyone for who they are. It is about being thankful for your family and friends and all the things in life with which God has blessed us. The episode ends with the family all ending up in a church together, not "finding God" but more, realizing the importance of being together and inviting others into their home who have no where else to go. It is about the true spirit of Christmas, which I think gets lost among the all the shopping and commercialism of the season.

Shows like The Secret Life of An American Teenager give teen-agnst a bad name. It makes real issues seem hokey and unrealisticly dramatic. My So-Called Life addressed the same problems, but did it in a way that did not make me think I was watching an after-school special, or an episode of Full House, where someone sits down with you at the end of each episode and tells you what you should have learned from what you just watched. The show was about a high school girl who thought about sex with the boy she was dating, but also about the zit on the middle of her face that ruined her week. The characters talked to each other like teenagers (not adults trying to talk like they think teenagers should talk) and daydreamed about their crush's hair in the middle of Social Studies. They did not have philosophical conversations about issues happening in the world, they talked about the things that teenagers talk about: the things that directly affect their lives at that particular moment.  It was realistic and real teenagers could relate to what these characters were thinking and experiencing.

In the DVD commentary for this specific Christmas episode, actor Wilson Cruz talks about making the episode and how it affected his life. He had come out to his father the previous year and had not spoken to his father since then. The writers, unknowingly, wrote this episode basically mirroring his experience. Cruz talks about how hard it was to make the episode because it brought back all of those feelings that he had not yet dealt with and how much better he felt after it was over. He also says that his father saw this episode when it aired on TV and subsequently called Cruz and that this episode is pretty much the only reason he now has a relationship with his father. That makes me love it even more. Thinking that this show could, not only affect the life of someone making it but also, affect the lives of who knows how many teenagers and parents watching it, in such a profound way. It created a way for many teenagers to talk to their families about their sexuality.

You watch things and are told things as a child and you do not fully comprehend how they will affect you, until you grow up and look back at those things that influenced your life the most and realize how they shaped your view of the world. You realize how certain things affected the way you treat the people around you and helped you figure out how you want to be treated by others.

I am not saying that this one show shaped my entire being, but it certainly played a small part. This thing that I love, television, was just a part of what shaped me into the person that I am today. Just like the church that I grew up in taught me to love all of God's creatures, no matter where they come from, what they look like, or who they love. And like my parents never forced their views of the world on me because they wanted me to figure things out on my own, but always made sure I treated everyone with respect and love.

I do not mean for this post to come across as me preaching to you about how to treat others. I guess it was more about me trying to explain part of my journey to you.  How I relate television and movies to my life. 

For me, as a straight woman, National Coming Out Day is not about pushing your views onto others or shouting your sexuality from the rooftops. It is about being true to who you are and feeling comfortable to share that with others. It is about being supportive of those people around you who are trusting their true selves with you and not judging them or making them feel like an outsider.

The lessons we learn as children, about treating others as you want to be treated and being yourself, are often the behaviors we forget as adults.  Sometimes all it takes is a TV show, or a blog, to remind you.

Please, have the courage to be yourself and share it with the world today!