Over this past week I’ve had multiple conversations with multiple people about the revival of Will & Grace, and how everyone wanted to catch up on the show, and everyone starting to fall into the tropes of “I’m such a Grace” and “You’re a total Will” or “We’re such a Jack and Karen, let’s get drunk!” It’s been like stepping back over a decade and trying to reconnect to a time that has long since passed. Will & Grace viewed from the lens of today seems almost quaint. Karen and Jack provided the real comedy while Grace taught a generation of girls that having a GBF was better than a Pumpkin Spice Latte, and Will showed the world that you could be gay and happy. Fulfilled. Successful. It was OK to be gay, I mean, as long as you were one of the good ones.
“You’re one of the good ones”
I’ve heard that phrase uttered to people based on their race, religion, sexual orientation, even political views, and every time, even if it is meant as a compliment, it comes off as an insult. For instance when I was told multiple times that while I was gay, I was still one of the good ones, it meant I wasn’t overly effeminate, or I didn’t dress a certain way, I didn’t have a limp wrist, or talk about guys I was attracted to. I was essentially the neutered version of a gay male, and that is something people could accept. I was a Will, and that was good, that was acceptable. Because who would ever want to be a Jack? He was a walking stereotype, and derided as such. If I saw my mannerisms start to mimic Jack more than Will, I would have to change them. Because I didn’t want the world to see me as a Jack. Will was the good one, if I was like Jack, I would be one of the bad ones. I couldn’t let the world see me as one of the bad ones.
And this is where my complicated relationship with Will & Grace comes from. In 1998 I was 14 years old, and every single episode was watched not only by me, but by both of my parents. I couldn’t say for certain that they knew at the time that I was gay, but I wouldn’t exactly be shocked. So every week as we sat down to watch the show, I felt a sense of unease. If Jack was too flamboyant I would cringe that they would see those quirks in me, and be embarrassed. If Will showed physical affection toward another guy (a rarity in the show), I would silently pray that they didn’t react with disgust. It is inarguable that Will & Grace helped usher in a wave of programming that featured gay characters as well as gay actors coming out. I’ve even read many stories of children getting the strength to come out after watching the show. The impact was immense. It was a large part of our culture shifting to gays being a punchline, a tragic supporting character, or not even existing. But you couldn’t tell 14 year old Dan that. I was laser focused on the details of show and how it impacted the microcosm of my family life. They were the ones I was afraid wouldn’t accept me. And looking back I realize that it wasn’t their acceptance I was lacking. It was my own.
It was brought to my attention this week that a lot of the issues I have today come from a deep seated internalized homophobia and more general self loathing that has festered inside me since puberty. I was always marching to the beat of my own drummer, but that was my own choice. Being gay was something that was heaped upon me and for a long time it was not something I embraced, even as I came out or tried to date. It was always a checkbox I hated to check off, because it meant I couldn’t have the life I wanted. I couldn’t get married, have kids, be successful. And I don’t apologize for thinking that way, it was the truth that I was living in, and it was, and sometimes still is, part of what made me me.
It’s actually sort of funny when you think about it. Will & Grace was a show that taught the world that gay people were just like everyone else. That being a Will was perfectly fine, being a Jack was perfectly fine. Not to get cornier, but the reason there is a rainbow flag to represent gay pride is because there are so many different types of people. There is no wrong or right way to be gay. It’s about being who you are and being proud of that. Meanwhile, I couldn’t feel less like everyone else. I tried to be a Will, I simply wasn’t. I wasn’t even a Jack. I was me, and television couldn’t teach me how to move forward with that. That’s a lesson I had to learn by living my life and it’s something I still am not 100% sure how to do. But I’m working on it.
I’ve been arguing with people that the revival of the show isn’t needed, offering up excuses that Will is a celibate Mary Sue of the creators, Karen and Jack had gone so far into being caricatures that they are simply grating, and Grace is just pathetic in every life choice she makes. I also trot out Difficult People as a show that is the Will & Grace we both need and deserve, featuring two leads that sharpens the formula of the gay guy/straight woman friendship to a fine point, and then stabs you with it. In all honesty though, I am happy Will & Grace is coming back. Because now I get to watch it with an entirely new perspective. One where I don’t have to worry what my parents are thinking when they watch it, or even if they will. But also because instead of 14 year old Dan watching a fantasy version of life in my 20’s and 30’s, I get to be 33 year old Dan watching what life might be in my 40’s and 50’s. Except now I am hopefully wise enough to see the show for exactly what it is: four talented actors, playing beloved characters, just trying to make me laugh.