Degrassi: Beat It Part 2
By Alex Wilburn
Anyway, Riley ends up suspended and uses his free time to spice up his life with reversion therapy. In one of the most questionably sexual scenes in Degrassi history Riley and his white knight Peter wrestle while talking about how he's finally getting rid of his “confused thoughts.” Even Peter can't help but joke and call it foreplay. More determined then ever, Riley boards the Spice Bus where Gerry Halliwell commiserates that he was once denying but now that he’s married he’ll never give up the good times. Because living it up is a state of mind. Riley, filled with new, desperate hope, tells ex-beard Fiona he’ll soon be cured, but she’s like “Stop, right there. Thank you very much. You can’t cure homosexuality.” His epic response? “Yeah, well too bad you can’t cure bitch!” Everyone “ooooo’s” in the hallways, and Fiona? Well she pretty much says “ziga-zig-ah” and gives him the verbal finger. So much for that sham of a romance. Viva forever.
But on to new girls, and maybe getting naked, so Riley invites Peter for a “boy’s night.” They’re such Saturday Night Divas. Peter was once cute and smart and also evil, so girls didn’t really flock, but now he’s been "retconned" as cute and dumb and pure, and occasionally on meth, so girls use him like a puppy dog. Riley, meanwhile, can’t get a bite. He drinks, goes to pee, and runs into Cute Lifeguard, his cheek purple, who isn’t afraid to start a fight. Outmatched, Riley finally breaks down saying, “I’m not normal, but I don’t want everyone to find out.” The next day at school Riley is in therapy, taking care of that temper, which is a good start. He runs into Peter in the hallway, and lets him know what Peter had pretty much guessed, when, you know, he got kissed. “But I’m [Edit: NOT] going to come out in high school,” Riley confirms, and that's that.
Like I said, this episode kind of killed me, but I can't imagine it meant very much at all to the girls I watched it with, and that's because I have a pretty good guess where Riley's going. Most of us probably know a Riley, and I feel very sorry for him. More than that, I feel very sorry for the boys who will like Riley, because after the whole "am I gay?" question is answered comes "how gay am I?", "am I allowed to be friends with people who are gayer than me?" and "can I like someone if everyone knows they're gay?" If you think people don't get hurt while someone's trying to answer these questions you're wrong. It's how I ended up standing alone at last year's formal ball, because the boy I was supposed to meet couldn't find it in him to tell me I looked nice, so he, you know, got drunk and ended up with curry sauce all over his tux. Heterosexual traditions do strange things to people...
Everyone wants to normal. It's why high school LGBTs pride themselves on their most mainstream members. I remember a trip where my college LGBT actually divided itself on the street between who looked gay and who could pass. These groups, especially in high school, want to be examples for everyone else. "We're not like the other ones, we're like you, we just happen to be gay." It's why Glee stings for most high school viewers. Kurt Hummel? The quippy, swishy, designer-dressed, self-aware male soprano? He's a joke, but he's a good joke. There's a good laugh to be had about growing up gay in a small town, and "oh remember when." But it's a joke for the adjusted; it's a joke for adults. For kids, whose "remember when" was just yesterday, Kurt isn't too fun to watch. It's not funny for Kurt's crush on a straight friend to be the laugh of the episode if that's what they went through last week. That was them trying for romance. What, you thought gay boys in high school were attracted to other gay boys? Not even in college.
It's a subject I've never really seen tackled directly on television, let alone teen TV, usually I suppose, because there's only one gay kid in high school. There was a subplot to go with Riley's coming out story that I hadn't bothered to recap: Anya and her braces are sick of her boyfriend Sav always being too busy, so they take their sticker book to a LARPing group in the woods where Anya can reign over the school outcasts as Princess Sarah. When Sav finds out, he is brutally embarrassed, and the whole plot seemed unconnected until the line: "Decide who you're going to be. Are you my girlfriend or a fairy princess?" Ouch. That was actually the line that resonated for me through this whole two-part event.
We assume gay teens are naturally accepting, because of what they've gone through, but there's a secret nobody teaches them, and that's really too bad, because it's an easy secret to learn: It's just clothes. It's just a walk. Anya was a fairy if she was wearing her Old Navy sweatshirt or her giant pink dress. Some girls are just born princesses, and some boys are just born gay. Unless you're bisexual, there's pretty much no "less-gay" or "more-gay"; we just got tricked into hating each other. My mother still thinks Steven Tyler might be gay because of how he dresses, but really, no amount of make-up or nail polish is going to make him like guys if he doesn't. It's just paint, not genes. Gay is gay, and no one sitting with you at lunch, no pink t-shirt or Alexander McQueen sweater, no jokes in the hallway or fake girlfriend or boy waiting for you in a Dolce & Gabbana tuxedo (ahem!) is going to make you any gayer or any straighter. So we need to stop dividing into groups or using terms like "gayface" or berating boys who are too pretty. It's a great big cultural lie, that some boys, even out of high school, still cling to. Poor Riley.
-- ALEX WILBURN
Previously > Degrassi: Beat It Part 1