|Posted on October 29, 2017 at 7:45 PM|
By Dennis Stone
On July 28 I posted an article talking about the likelihood that Cyrus Goodman, a character on Disney's popular "Andi Mack" series, would become the network's first gay kid. It happened in the first episode of the second season (Friday, October 27). I was a bit surprised that it happened so fast; I had thought it likely that Cyrus' realization that he was seriously interested in classmate Jonah Beck would evolve gradually over three or four episodes. But Cyrus confessed his feelings to his friend Buffy midway through the episode. It was understated but perfect. And it sets up what I think will likely be the best, most understanding portrayal of what it means to grow up gay in today's world.
Here's a bit of background for those who did not see the show. The titular character is a sensitive, thoughtful, but insecure middle schooler. Her core group of friends includes Cyrus, Jonah, and Buffy. In the second season's first episode Jonah surprised Andi by expressing his interest in her. Both Cyrus and Buffy expressed their happiness for the new couple, as friends would be expected to do.
Later, however, Buffy noticed that Cyrus was acting depressed, and she asked him what was wrong. He confessed that he really wasn't happy for Andi and Jonah after all. "Are you jealous?" asked Buffy. Cyrus despondently shook his head yes, his eyes downcast. "Do you like Andi?" He slowly shook his head no. Buffy suddenly understood, and she said rather than asked, "you like Jonah." Cyrus nodded, his eyes remaining downcast. After a moment he said, with a trace of both desperation and sadness: "I feel weird. Different." Buffy replied, with a reassuring and supportive tone: "Cyrus, you've always been weird, but you're no different." Cyrus said he was glad he told her, and she assured him, "you'll be OK, I promise."
That terrific scene reflects how different it is to grow up gay today than it has ever been before. Until recently most kids would not have so quickly felt comfortable in telling anyone. And the recipients of such news would be confused, uncomprehending or resistant. Perhaps even hostile. But Buffy knew instantly what Cyrus meant, and just naturally felt the need to show support and reassurance, with no judgement whatever. It's still a sensitive and rather momentous realization for both the gay kid and his friend. And I suspect that will always be the case since being gay will always be so different from the identity of most kids. But for many if not most the battle to overcome shame will not be the dominant factor it was for previous generations, and support of peers will be far more accessible and a far more important part of the journey. Actors Joshua Rush and Sofia Wylie deserve a lot of credit for how they played the scene.
I predicted there would be an uproar, and a call for a boycott. Right on cue, One Million Moms obliged on both counts. However, I've been pleasantly surprised by how little negativity there has been. Even Fox News and the notorious Breitbart had remarkably straightforward stories that did not indulge in judgement. However, the Breitbart story had generated 1594 comments as of my last check, and most were predictably negative, some outrageously so. Fox News did not supply the option for comments, which they sometimes do when they expect over-the-top offensive comments. I am confident that the One Million Moms' protest will fizzle spectacularly. Certainly, Disney has no intention of being swayed.
One Million Moms say that they want one network to be the bastion of "family values," and they are disappointed and angry that Disney has abandoned that status. The irony is that "Andi Mack" is actually reflective of family values, not in opposition to those values. Kids will continue to grow up gay, and that will be true in both liberal and conservative households. That's a simple fact, and it can't be changed by One Million Moms or any religious people not wanting it to be true. There is no bigger family value than enabling kids to grow up feeling OK about themselves, and feeling that society accepts rather than rejects them. It's also a family value to teach straight kids to respect and validate their fellows, no matter what identity with which they are born. In that scenario gay kids will be happier and healthier, with far more support, and straight kids will be more tolerant of those who are different. Shows like "Andi Mack" help to promote those family values. Is One Million Moms really saying they want gay kids (who will not be made gay by TV or any other aspect of society) to hate themselves, or that they want straight kids to bully and ostracize gay kids? Those are family values?
The median age of "Andi Mack" viewers is ten. To One Million Moms that's shocking. How dare they expose kids of that age to something like this? But that attitude reflects the opinion that being gay is shameful, and that young kids won't have to confront it until they are much older. We know, of course, that gay feelings often emerge when kids are really young. "Andi Mack" is not talking about kids having sex, but rather they are talking about affectional attraction. Kids understand affection and wanting to be with someone because they "like" them. The "Andi Mack" producers and writers are consulting with experts in various fields to make sure they are both realistic and sensitive to the needs and sensibilities of their audience.
"Andi Mack" reflects the "new millennial gay experience" in that it shows a new world with the family values I describe above. Being gay is different, and always will be, but it's now much easier to come to terms with than it was for previous generations, and it's something that can be shared with peers without shame, even as early as middle school. More and more kids don't have to carry it around as a "dirty little secret," fearing exposure and therefore pretending to be something they are not. "Andi Mack" is helping to bring that reality to more and more kids, and that's a great thing for which Disney should be applauded.