ABC’s latest modern family was built on a foundation of diversity and progression, so much that it’s been called a franker, broader rival to its funny older brother on the network: the oh-so-aptly-titled “Modern Family.” A creation of gay duo Bradley Bredeweg and Peter Paige, and backed by J. Lo as a tribute to her aunt who never started a family of her own due to societal homophobia, “The Fosters” follows an interracial lesbian couple raising a family of adopted and foster children, as they deal with the struggles of, you know, being a contemporary US famjam. It may be a tired formula that lends itself too easily to soap and sentiment, but the breadth of its characters’ stories keeps “The Fosters” fresh enough to refrain from tuning out.
This is why it shouldn’t have come as such a pleasant surprise when the writers started to confront the orientation of effeminate 13 year old Jude (played by Hayden Byerly) — but it really, truly did. The romantic lives of tweens are so rarely explored on our TV sets, much less with the validity we apply to adult interminglings, and even more less ones that concern same sex attraction. “But they’re only children,” whines every commentator still bitter from never having experienced young love, “they can’t have figured out their sexuality this early on!” I’m of the belief, however, that it’s the adolescent rites of passage, before the clubbing and the Grindr and the urban queer cornucopias, that leave the biggest imprint upon a gay person’s development. When Jude’s love interest Connor (Gavin MacIntosh) tells him he can’t sleep over anymore because his dad is worried about his friend’s sexuality, Jude responds “What if I was gay? Would you not want to sleepover at my house if I really was gay?” In his facial expression we see both a decision to stand up for himself and the realization, befalling all gay youth at some point or another, that things will never be that simple. What follows is a build-up of intimate moments, like holding hands at the movies and play-wrestling, all culminating in a kiss that is likely the youngest of its kind in TV history.
The precocious actors portraying the beloved pair seem to be pretty cool with it too. When YouTube’s parental controls blocked a clip of their innocent lip lock, Gavin MacIntosh published a series of tweets including: “WHAT?! YouTube blocking #jonnor scene w/ age restrictions? 100% discrimination & homophobia! SO innocent compared to what’s on YouTube!” Apologizing for their mistake, the site soon lifted the ban. Admittedly, “The Fosters” isn’t the greatest TV program out there — but it’s here, and it’s queer, and it’s doing something. Here’s to a future of more mainstream representations of LGBT kids who experience schoolyard crushes and heartbreak the same way everyone else does. Let’s go #jonnor.
Check out our entire list of the 15 “best” (we know that’s a loaded word) LGBT characters on television.