Friday, May 19, 2006

A Nod to "Will & Grace"

As most know, the series finale of "Will & Grace" aired last night. My wife and I -- who both list "Will & Grace" as our favorite TV show of all-time -- weren't entirely happy with the final episode; but, as a series, we both agree the show was the best thing on television.

"Will & Grace" was in the uncomfortable position of being one of the first primetime network television shows to feature openly gay characters. The attacks from social conservatives were expected. But the show also received its fair share of knocks from the left, particularly for the character of "Jack" who led a stereotypical over-sexed gay lifestyle.

Nevertheless, the show was pathbreaking and powerful -- not to mention consistently hilarious and always entertaining.

As a high schooler, I was pretty firmly in the "don't ask, don't tell" camp of the 1990s. I certainly didn't go around berating gay and lesbian people, but I also didn't feel comfortable seeing same-sex couples in the open. They were different to me. Not necessarily bad, but most definitely different.

And I certainly didn't see myself as an advocate for gay rights; in fact, at the time I remember viewing demands for gay and lesbian rights as demands for "special" rights -- something I didn't think was justified. When I saw a gay rights march on TV once, I recall wondering why they had to be so vocal and public about their lifestyle.

Because I saw same-sex couples as fundamentally different from me socially, I viewed the political and legal rights they demanded as different than the rights I expected for myself.

This perspective took a big hit my sophomore year of college.

"Will & Grace" -- still in its first season at the time -- aired an episode that year in which Grace, along with Jack and Karen, took Will to a cabin for the weekend to help keep his mind off the fact that he would've been celebrating an anniversary with his long-time boyfriend that day had they not broken-up just months before.

Toward the end of the episode, Will recognizes the ploy and has an emotional conversation with Grace about it, expressing how much he missed Michael and felt lost without him. This scene helped make it clear to me that gay and lesbian people aren't at all different than heterosexuals when it comes to relationships. The needs and wants are the same.

In short, the episode took the important first step of humanizing and personalizing the gay and lesbian experience for me -- something I never had the opportunity to see before. Once I stopped viewing gay and lesbian people as different from me socially, it wasn't long before I started to see the rights they demanded as the same as the rights that I expected for myself.

While I don't credit all of my support for gay and lesbian rights issues to "Will & Grace," watching the show was an essential piece of the puzzle.

And, like any worthwhile comedy, it was always good for a laugh.

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