Glee is one of my favorite shows on television and this season has been…less than stellar for many reasons. After their latest offensive mis-step, I just couldn’t keep my mouth shut any longer. So, here’s my rant on Glee’s latest portrayal of sex work:
We have been through so much together. There have been so many days when my menstrual cramps have crippled me into a small puddle of a human and in those dark times you were always there streaming high stepping musical numbers full of singing and dancing ever-teens who seemed to be bursting at the seams with optimism for a brighter world.
You have made me laugh and cry and sing out loud and call my mom more often because she just loves the show too and it’s an easy way for us to talk about big issues without having to be too vulnerable…
But I’m breaking up with you. For real. Today as I sat watching your latest episode “Guilty Pleasures”…you broke my heart. When Rachel Berry burst into her bustling New York City arts school dance class to press a crumpled 5 dollar bill into her soon to be ex-boyfriend, Brody’s, hand and said:
“Is that not enough? I wasn’t sure what the going rate for male HOOKERS was!”
my stomach turned.
How could the show that showed boys kissing boys during the prime time slot take such a cowardly and ignorant choice in how they portray sex work?
In just two episodes I saw all of my greatest fears about sex work come to life:
1. Being outed as a sex worker in a situation that could jeopardize my future and/or safety. Engaging in illegal activity like sex work would be more than cause to be kicked out of many universities.
2. Being physically assaulted while on the job. In the previous episode, “Feud” Brody enters a hotel room expecting to find one of his female clients and instead is violently assaulted by Rachel’s ex boyfriend Fin. Fin leaves a bloody and unconscious Brody with the threat “Stay away from my future wife”. Glee, do you really condone and even applaud this kind of violence? How could you? When Rachel finds out Fin did this she seems touched and almost flattered. It was horrifying.
3. Being shamed and ultimately abandoned by a partner because of sex work. Brody technically breaks up with Rachel (after the Fin incident, I probably would have done the same). However when Rachel learns of his sex worker status, she tracks him down so she can publicly shame him and finalize the breakup, adding insult to injury—literally.
I have often felt when watching Glee how much that show would have meant to me when I was a nerdy queer theatre kid in high school. To have positive and sympathetic portrayals of queer youth on prime time TV is no small feat. Glee has written stories that confront fat-phobia, classism, racism, teenage pregnancy, disability, and more. Some issues they’ve handled better than others, but overall I’ve felt like the portrayals of characters who are “other” has been positive and sympathetic. That’s kind of the whole schtick with Glee. It’s the show that champions the underdog artsy kid who might be queer, or trans, or fat or in a wheelchair or…..
I guess it was naïve of me to think that my sex worker identity would be included in the kumbaya of Glee. In the most recent episode “Guilty Pleasures” it was made perfectly clear that there is a very distinct line between actresses and whores. (psst! That’s totally not true, see here!)
Glee, you seem to miss a really important piece about the role sex workers play in artistic communities. Myself, and so many others like me who are artists, free thinkers, the kids who didn’t fit in when we were in high school—well, some of us grew up to be whores. Sometimes if we happen to be queer, fat, trans or many other types of “othered” identities, sex work may present some of the best and only options for us to make money while we conquer our dreams. While it should be noted that Brody’s character is a straight, white, cis-gendered male, it should also be noted that many sex workers do not come to the table with all that privilege.
Until this point in the show when it is revealed that Brody has been paying for his tuition to the New York Academy of Theatre Arts by doing sex work (they use the word “gigolo” because apparently it’s still 1979 on Glee) no one has ever really mentioned how these kids are paying FOR ANYTHING—not their tuition, not their rent, not their supremely fashionable clothing. This is particularly strange considering they live in the biggest and best decorated boho-chic apartment in New York City.
When I was 18, I wanted to move to New York to be an actress with every cell in my body. I took acting classes with a bunch of rich kids in the town next door and they were all applying to NYU, and they all had friends who were already going to NYU and so of course I thought that if I didn’t go to NYU as well I would never be an actor or anything at all for that matter.
It was really hard when my mother had to explain to me that in order to attend NYU it would cost $50,000 each year, not including what it costs to live in New York City. We just didn’t have that. She wanted me to pursue my dreams….but $50,000 a year didn’t even sound like a real number. That was more money than my mom made at her job in a year.
Luckily I got my head screwed on straight and got myself into an awesome school that cost WAY less money. But if had been more stubborn and moved to New York anyway…I am 100% positive I would have ended up financing my education through sex work.
So yeah, it really hurt today when I saw my favorite show say that people like me are fucked up. It hurt to be reminded that the American narrative (at least the one from the Fox Network) says that those of us who choose sex work as a means to pay our rent, fill our bellies, and finance our dreams are bad people. And maybe I wouldn’t have been so surprised if I had been watching Law and Order or CSI…but Glee? I had just come to expect more.
And what’s the take away? I was really hoping Glee would SOMEHOW turn it all around in the final musical number and we’d all have an after school special moment about how you shouldn’t judge someone based on how they make their money….but no. Rachel returns to the arms of her whore-hating roommates Kurt and Santana, they watch The Facts of Life, and she thanks them for saving her from “some weird man-whore”.
I can only assume that the take away from this episode is “Stay away from whores of all kinds, they are bad people and they deserve to be violently punished.”
Worst after school special ever.
Glee, I’ve been shocked and surprised by the twists and turns of your story line before, so I guess you might still turn this one around….but there’s been some serious damage done. I’m really mad and disappointed with you right now, and I don’t know if I can ever really forgive you for these past two episodes.
If you want to try and make it up to me, I might give you a second chance if you proceed accordingly:
In the next episode Rachel gets a little hard up on cash. Maybe she takes a job as a go-go dancer and she thinks “it’s a dance job, right? I’ll be like Sally Bowls in Cabaret” but before she knows it she’s got 2 sugar daddies and is a featured topless dancer downtown and the cash is rolling in. She finances her first Broadway show with money from sex work and as an apology to Brody she casts him as the lead. They win 4 Tony Awards. Santana and Kurt apologize for being so judgmental about people who do sex work and everyone goes out for ice cream.
You could also send me some yellow roses. I like those.
But for now, I’m breaking up with you. Get out of my bed and off of my laptop, we’re through.
With a heavy heart,