Even in our progressing world, young gay boys still face many challenges and struggles in finding and accepting who they are. Although many families are supportive and accepting of the LGBTQ+ community, many parents or guardians can make this time in a young, questioning boy’s life even more difficult. In the episode “A Kiss is Just a Kiss” from “The Conners”, we see a sharp contrast in what these two different households can look like for two young gay boys. This episode portrays that young gay boys are misunderstood and unheard, especially by older generations or “old-fashioned” thinkers.
The episode begins right away with Darlene sitting her gay son Mark down to talk about a phone call she got from the principal. Instead of trying to embarrass him, we see this mother’s respect for her son by shooting the rest of the family away so she can talk to him in private. We can also see how comfortable Mark is with expressing himself in front of his family because of his flashy skirt and nail polish. Darlene kindly explains to her son how the principal called because a picture of him and another classmate, Austin, was posted, meaning they must see the principal because of a no PDA rule. Instead of getting angry or yelling, Darlene understands the situation and reacts to it in a respectful and supportive manner. Later on, Mark tells his Grandpa about what happened at school and he is also understanding and kind, which can be rare to see from an older male figure. Instead of making fun of him, Grandpa gives him dating advice, telling him to “treat him the way you want to be treated”. Mark’s family is represented as extremely supportive and kind, helping him in his journey to finding himself.
Later on, at the principal’s meeting, we meet Austin and his Grandma, who is much older than Mark’s Grandpa. In sharp contrast to Mark’s encouraging family, Austin’s Grandma is the complete opposite, trying to throw the blame on Mark and explaining how Austin could never be gay. While the principal explains that the boys will have three days detention for violating the school’s no PDA rule, Austin’s Grandma tries to cast the blame on Mark saying, “Austin doesn’t kiss boys, Mark kissed him”. This not only is unfair to Mark, but it shows her complete lack of support towards her grandson questioning his sexuality. She shuts down any kind of doubt that her son may have about being straight and decides for him, showing how harmful lack of understanding can be for a young questioning boy. She shuts down Austin once again when she angrily screams at Darlene, “I don’t need your kid confusing him into thinking he’s something he isn’t”. We once again see her homophobia and complete disregard and disrespect towards the idea that her grandson could be gay. When Mark tries to stick up for himself and tell the principal that he didn’t force Austin into doing anything the Grandma cuts in with, “who are you going to believe, my kid or the boy with the nail polish”. Not only is this quote extremely offensive and rude, but we get to see how “old-fashioned” her thinking is. Austin’s grandma perfectly fits the old homophobic woman stereotype. She is not only elderly and extremely offensive, but her appearance and remarks come off as old-fashioned. By portraying the unsupportive parent as an elderly, outdated woman, this episode uses a stereotypical character to show how a lack of encouragement can harm a questioning young boy.
The episode ends by showing us once again how supportive and reassuring Mark’s family is. After being insulted, Mark is shown sitting in his room sadly taking off his nail polish. When Darlene asks him what’s wrong he replies with, “my life would be so much easier if I wasn’t gay”. This scene shows the viewers how hard life can be for a young gay boy and accurately represents some of the struggles they face. Darlene is able to cheer him up by explaining to him that “love is hard for everyone” and having an important conversation with him. We are once again shown the power of encouragement and love from a family member.
All in all, this is a good piece of media because it was an accurate representation of the struggles of young gay boys, especially ones in the company or under the control of old-fashioned thinkers. Viewers will see how life really can be for a young boy finding himself and better understand the hardships they face. Hopefully, they will also see the power that support and love can have for a family member going through a difficult time.