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Of course
Betty's nephew is gay

Of course
Betty's nephew is gay


It's obvious--whether ABC likes it or not--that little Justin is gay.

In the recent Advocate article "Betty's Family Secret" by Gretchen Dukowitz, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation's entertainment media director, Damon Romine, says of Betty's nephew Justin (Mark Indelicato), "He's a character with a flair for the dramatic and someone who has a sense of style. To say he's gay based on that means viewers are letting stereotypes decide for them the definition of gender and sexuality." While ABC has not officially labeled Justin gay, I find Romine's archaic reasoning completely irresponsible and offensive. Plenty of gay men of every age are just like Justin. It's not just a stereotype; it's reality, and it's OK. I've lived enough years and developed enough gaydar that I can watch even a preteen TV character and figure out he's written to be gay, even if he's never said, "I'm gay," even if ABC hasn't issued a press release confirming it. From the first episode I was able to ascertain that Justin was gay from his swishy personality, his feminine vocal patterns, and his obsessive interest in fashion. There's no need for "a special episode" to spell it out. The boy is gay-gay-gay. Incidentally, the show's confirmed gay character, Marc (Michael Urie), has all the "stereotypical" gay features Romine mentions. "Flair for the dramatic." Check. "Sense of style." Check. And on the recent Thanksgiving-themed episode, Marc even camped it up in drag by prancing around Mode magazine's fashion offices dressed in an evening gown, long gloves, and a feather boa while singing the theme song to Dreamgirls. Since Marc was officially labeled "gay" by ABC, it's OK to be "stereotypical." Huh? Marc didn't say he was gay for a few episodes, but gee, somehow I figured out that he was gay--the same way I instantly recognized Justin as gay.

And I have news for GLAAD's Romine: In today's world and even in the past, not every gay person who comes out proclaims it by saying, "I'm gay." Often they do it just through their actions and general demeanor. Back in the summer of 1983, when I was 13 and my best friend Robert was 14, I realized he was gay after he showed up on my doorstep wearing his mother's pedal-pusher pants and her big white floppy picture hat. My parents figured it out too. It was Robert's way of coming out with a bang, and he never had to say he was gay that day for us to figure it out. A few months later, in ninth grade, Robert communicated his gayness to the entire student body by showing up at our junior high school wearing a white sweatshirt fashioned Flashdance-style. Wearing the low-cut scoop neckline suggestively off his naked shoulder, he nearly created a lunchtime riot when the senior student body convened around us, rubbernecking to get an eyeful of this obviously gay boy--a species previously not seen in this hetero land adorned with preppy polo shirts, classic Levi's 501s, and rock-concert jerseys. Robert embraced and proudly communicated his gayness in that Flashdance fashion proclamation just like Justin shows his true gay self in every episode of Ugly Betty, when he gets excited talking about Martha Stewart, dresses up like Gene Kelly in a sailor uniform and tap dances his way through the neighborhood for Halloween, or explains how he stood out in the Thanksgiving play because he was the only one doing jazz hands. On the one episode where Justin and Marc actually meet and interact, Marc tells Justin that he reminds him a lot of his younger self and dishes out wisdom for Justin to follow Marc's youthful example. He essentially tells Justin to continue to be fabulous, be himself, keep his individual style, and most importantly, learn to run fast. Even if ABC isn't sending out any official gay proclamations about Justin, this exchange between him and Marc was an acknowledgment that these two guys have something in common besides an excessive interest in high fashion. And Marc's story could have easily been my best friend Robert's. The only difference was that Robert never had to run; he knew how to fight and didn't stand for any guff about his sexuality.

I'm certain that viewers with a clue will be able to read between the lines and realize that Justin is gay. I'd personally like to thank the ABC network and the writers of Ugly Betty for putting a positive gay youth role model into a show viewed by millions each week. I think the nonchalant organic way that Ugly Betty has introduced the audience to Justin is a huge leap forward in gay visibility. It shows that gay identity isn't just reserved for sexually mature adults. On a recent episode, Justin's long-absent father voiced his disapproval of his son's solely feminine and artistic interests and expressed his concern that the rest of the family was endorsing these traits. Justin's mother stood up for her son, declaring, "He is comfortable with who he is, and so am I." Justin's close-knit family wholeheartedly loves and embraces him, and that's the message viewers are getting from ABC. Making Justin a likeable gay preteen that the audience can grow with will do a lot more toward opening people's minds than any official network press release sent off to a bunch of LGBT journalists and one gay media watchdog organization.

I think it's a positive step forward that Justin can be himself and the audience can get that he's gay. In real life, people don't walk into a room and instantly say, "I'm gay." For many of us the official coming-out days are over. We are open, like Justin, and people get the message. From what I recall of my coming-out days, from my teen years to my early 20s (the mid 1980s to the early 1990s), there were a lot of hand-wringing, gut-wrenching stomachaches and mental anguish. These days, I'm simply myself with whomever I meet, and if the conversation turns to dating, relationships, or gay issues, I speak from the hip. Thankfully my days of proclamations (and pronoun changes) are over. Seeing the way the writers of Ugly Betty have decided to handle both Justin and Marc on the show, it looks like network TV is beginning to reflect how more and more real gay people live their lives: openly.

From episode 1 I've loved Ugly Betty for a lot of reasons. The show is campy, over the top, arch, cartoonish--and that's often just from story lines involving the straight characters. Its entire aesthetic screams gay sensibility. If that wasn't enough gayness to please me, the show actually sports two gay characters, Marc and Justin. Instead of thinking badly of the show because Justin hasn't uttered the words "I'm gay," I've been continually marveling at how fantastically progressive it is that the show has a preteen character who happens to be gay--and it's a nonissue for him and for his family. I'm often amazed by just how gay Mark's officious, snide assistant character is written (and so wonderfully brought to life by Urie). To top it all off, the show has a lead character who bucks the tradition of what a leading lady on TV should look like. She's chunky and short with a brace-face, her eyebrows have a life of their own, she doesn't have one ounce of fashion sense, and she's a minority to boot.

I really look forward to Justin growing up in our living rooms. The only thing I wish ABC would have keyed me into earlier is the fact that Justin is Betty's nephew because for the first several episodes I thought he was her little brother.

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

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