Sunday, March 4, 2012

Intersectionality and Kinship on Glee (Carla's Blog Post #2)

Glee is a television show known for representing gay teens. The character Santana Lopez is a representation of a queer woman of color that depicts some issues of family and denial that queer individuals of color face.
In the episode “Mash Off”, Santana was insulting Finn Hudson, a straight male character, in a hallway. Frustrated with her insults, he called out loud enough for the entire hall to hear, “Why don’t you just come out of the closet?” He goes on to call her a coward, and walks off down the hall. There is no punishment for Finn’s behavior, no action on behalf of school administration. Santana later slaps Finn, angered that he dismisses it, because he believes that the whole school already knows. What Santana exclaims is the reality of the situation-it is not only the school that will know, but everyone. Santana is afraid of how her family will react more than anything.
In the next episode ("I Kissed a Girl"), Santana comes out to her grandmother. Her abuela (grandmother in Spanish) played a large role in her life. Their conversation alternates between Spanish and English, placing an emphasis on Santana’s Hispanic heritage. The scene displays the various factors that affect individuals with intersecting personalities. Her grandmother’s culture and religious views ultimately come together in her response to Santana’s admittance. “Esto es una verguenza (This is a disgrace). The sin isn’t in the thing, it’s in the scandal when people talk about it aloud.” Here, Santana’s grandmother addresses an approach to sexuality that is often seen in LGBTQI communities of color –one that prefers to hide sexuality than to address it. Bradshaw and Letuka’s article on the Down Low examines such a phenomenon as occurring more often in communities of color. Such research focused on heterosexual males having sex with males, however, and did not address such behavior with females.
Santana also has to face the possibility of losing her family because of her sexuality. When Finn outs her, word reaches the public because of her cheerleading coach’s local political campaign. She fears how her parents will react if they find out, breaking down in tears and telling school administrators “I haven’t even told my parents yet”. The reality of the temporal nature of biological kinship ties is shown when she comes out to her grandmother. Her grandmother, who played a large role in raising her, tells her that she no longer wants to see her. In Kath Weston’s “Forever Is a Long Time: Romancing the Real in Gay Kinship Ideologies”, she addresses the various types of families acknowledged in kinship ideologies. The article reveals that in the 1980s, when the trend of “coming out” first began, many gay individuals found that family relationships that they once considered to be permanent were actually at the risk of being severed. The relationship between Santana and her grandmother is both biological and emotional, with Santana expecting her grandmother to “be there” for her because of her reliability over time as well as her blood relation to her. While Santana still has the support of her friends and parents after she has come out, she no longer has a relationship with someone that she considered to be close kin.

Bradshaw, John and Letukas, Lynn. "The Low Down on the Down Low: Origins, Risks and Identifications" In Health Sociology Review Vol. 19, Issue 4 December 2010.
"I Kissed a Girl" Glee. Fox. Fox TV, California. 29 Nov 2011.
"Mash Off" Glee. Fox. Fox TV, California. 15 Nov 2011.
Weston, Kath. 1998. “Forever is a long time: Romancing the real in gay kinship ideologies”.


  1. I agree with everything that you have said Carla. I am a Glee fan and I remember the episodes that you describe and how hard it must have been on Santana to feel like her own family does not support her. Being a Hispanic woman there is definitely patterns in our culture that separate us from other cultures, but I agree with you in that the message of hiding sexuality as opposed to addressing it is common among people of color. When my aunt came out to her mother, my grandmother, she had the same reaction. In Hispanic culture there is nothing worse than a scandal, but the person’s feeling are never accounted for. As a human being, there cannot be a more devastating feeling than to feel alone, unwelcomed, and unsupported. But it is the hardship that unfortunately many people in the LGBTQ community still face today, and needs to change. As Barbara Smith stated in her article “Homophobia: Why Bring It Up?” in order for this homophobia to cease, education needs to begin at a younger age and schools need to begin to challenge negative attitudes about what it means to be homosexual. The misconception that she mentions about how lesbian and gay oppression should be a private concern is exemplified through Santana’s grandmother. Her grandmother believes that Santana needs to keep this a secret from everyone she knows, or that everyone she knows does not need to know. It is not something to be proud of. I am glad that you provided a clear example of how members of the LGBTQ community are being represented that does not exclude a certain gender, race, or class. Hopefully the messages in these episodes of Glee and other shows like it will help society to build a better understanding of the effects their negative behavior can have on people in the LGBTQ community as a whole.

    Smith, Barbara, “Homophobia: Why Bring It Up?” from The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader. ed Henry Ablelove et al New York& London: Routledge, 1993.

  2. Spawning from your analysis of Santana’s relationship with her abuela, it is important to understand that for queer Latinas, coming out to family members is a precarious situation, that too often results in either negatively harsh backlashes, denial, and immediate ignorance, based on the strictness of the cultural taboos. In Santana’s case, her abuela responds to her confession by telling her that “the sin is in the scandal, not the secret,” which Santana challenges with “it would have been better to keep this a secret?” In the culture, it is not appropriate to talk about any type of behavior that strays from the heteronormativity, and strict gender roles of society. That is why many Latinas remain silent on their non conforming sexuality because it is considered a “scandal,” and often an offense and threat to the patriarchal order of the culture. Family is considered a huge component of life, and to go against “true” family is taboo because in most tough situations, no one except your family will be there for you (Weston). This type of understanding, though, implies that without respecting your family, you are left without support, and for Santana to go against cultural taboo and come out to who she believed as family, inherently, her right to family support was no longer present.

    What I would like to see discussed are the ways in which Santana gains support from her friends, and their relationships to her versus that of her blood relatives. How “kinship” is defined for her in relation to those respected relationships, is dependent upon her “chosen family,” (Glee Club) and her girlfriend, Brittany, (Weston).

    Weston, Kath. 1998. “Forever is a long time: Romancing the real in gay kinship ideologies”.