On the evening of April 30, 1997, I sat on my dorm room couch with tears running down my cheeks. It may have been the only time in my life I’ve actually cried tears of joy. I had just watched Ellen DeGeneres’s character, Ellen, come out on her self-named television show. It was network television history, and, more than that, I knew it was a cultural moment that would affect my life for the better.
Pop culture moments like Ellen’s coming out were important for a variety of reasons, but for many like me, closeted or semi-closeted in small towns, it held out the promise of a better, more honest future. And that future has, thankfully, been (mostly) realized. Less than 20 years later, we have marriage equality nationwide, the right to serve our country in the military, and, in many (but not all) places, legal protections from discrimination. More importantly, the hearts and minds of our families, friends, and fellow citizens are changing for the better.
Despite the legal, social, and personal victories, gay couples still have few role models and rarely see their lives reflected in popular culture. Wonderfully, that’s changing too, spearheaded for the last six years by Modern Family’s Cameron Tucker and Mitchell Pritchett, played wonderfully by Eric Stonestreet and Jesse Tyler Ferguson.
Mitch and Cam hold down normal jobs (usually), struggle to raise a daughter, experience the awkwardness (and occasional homophobia) of family, and generally just try to be happy. In other words, they’re a normal gay couple. Most importantly, they aren’t a funny supporting character relegated to the perimeter of the “real” story, and they aren’t stereotypical queens…not that there’s anything wrong with that.
In its best moments, Modern Family has invited people to see the boring, hilarious, warm, frustrating, awful, wonderful normal-ness of a gay couple. And we needed that. I’ve never understood when people tell me they can’t “relate” to gay people, as I can never figure out why it’s hard to understand that I love someone…who just happens to be of the same sex. I have no problem relating to straight people, after all. Nevertheless, for many out there, they need an “in,” and Mitch and Cam have beautifully provided that. And, for that, I’m thankful.
A few years after I started watching the show, my husband and I attended a concert. As we sat in the church pew enjoying the a cappella performance, I looked around to notice many families with small children. I enjoyed watching them fidget and toss about, and my mind began to wander and wonder about having that in my life. I had always been resolute in proclaiming that children were not in my future, but, the next day, when my husband and I admitted to each other that we both were thinking about adoption during the concert, we took it as a sign. And, now, we wait for the third member of our great team to come along.
I often wonder whether watching Mitch and Cam on Modern Family contributed in some way to my desire to adopt. After all, it has not been lost on me or my friends that hubby and I resemble Mitch and Cam in more ways than one. In the end, I’ll never know, but it surely didn’t hurt to watch a positive (and hilarious) portrayal of a gay family. And, when our own family grows a little bigger, maybe, just maybe, I’ll experience those tears of joy again.
So, thanks Ellen and Mitch and Cam, and Ellen and Eric and Jesse. You’ve been funny, but, more importantly, you’ve been meaningful.