July 17, 2006
A column tackling gay issues, gay themes, and just general gayness in television.
It's "The Little Things" That Cause the Most Trouble
An exploration of sexuality and gender in Freaks and Geeks
WARNING: Major spoilers for the Freaks and Geeks episode "The Little Things" are ahead. Read at your own risk..
In the episode "The Little Things" of the television series Freaks and Geeks, Amy (known lovingly as "Tuba Girl") makes the above admission to Ken, who she has recently begun dating. What follows is the most adorable exploration of sexuality that has ever been shown on network television (well, to be fair, this episode was never aired during Freaks and Geeks original run but was aired later on ABC Family). It all started when one of the shows creators, Judd Apatow, was joking around with Seth Rogan, who plays Ken, about how it would be funny if he was given a love interest with a penis. Somehow, instead of the idea being written off as a dirty joke, it was developed into Tuba Girl's startling admission to Ken and his subsequent exploration of the feelings it brought out in him.
Tuba Girl's "potential to be male or female" would be historically defined as "hermaphroditism" or could be described with the newer, broader term "intersexual" (which I will use in the remainder of the article). The causes of intersexuality are extremely varied and "true" intersexuals (individuals with both male and female fully developed genitals) are extremely rare. We can only speculate on how "true" Tuba Girl's intersexuality is, but the general statistic is that about 1 in 1500 or 1 in 2000 births result in ambiguous genitalia. Tuba Girl states that her parents "choose" to make her a girl and makes reference to her male genitals being removed surgically. The show is set in 1979, and it would have been standard practice to have such a surgery done. It would almost always be the case that the gender of "girl" would be chosen from a surgical standpoint, because of it being simpler to remove male parts, which are external, then to attempt to remove female parts, which are internal.
It is interesting to speculate how Tuba Girl's situation may have been different had she been born more recently, when there is more awareness of intersexuality. The Intersex Society of North America (ISNA) is devoted to systemic change to end shame, secrecy, and unwanted genital surgeries for people born with an anatomy that someone decided is not standard for male or female. They have learned from listening to individuals and families dealing with intersex that:
- Intersexuality is primarily a problem of stigma and trauma, not gender.
- Parents' distress must not be treated by surgery on the child.
- Professional mental health care is essential.
- Honest, complete disclosure is good medicine.
- All children should be assigned as boy or girl, without early surgery.
|I had always felt strongly that intersex individuals should be given the choice of their gender when they were old enough and informed enough to make that decision. But upon further reading, I realized that I'd put little thought into what the child is supposed to do in the meantime.|
In doing research for this article, coming across statement 5 had been new and, at first, slightly counterintuitive to me. I had always felt strongly that intersex individuals should be given the choice of their gender when they were old enough and informed enough to make that decision. But upon further reading, I realized that I'd put little thought into what the child is supposed to do in the meantime.
According to the ISNA website, "When you assign a child a gender as boy or girl, what you're doing is labeling them a boy or girl. That's it. You don't need a surgeon for that." In order to assign a gender, an intersex baby is given extensive hormonal, physiological, and genetic tests as well as extensive counseling from physicians in order to make an informed decision regarding gender (for example, if it is determined that the child's intersexuality resulted from complete androgen insensitivity syndrome, research shows that most children with the disorder will grow up to feel female). Assigning a gender will eliminate some of the stigma attached to intersexuality (at this point, a "third gender" is simply too far from any sort of public acceptance) BUT still gives the intersex individual the opportunity to "change their mind" at a later date because they have not been surgically altered in any way.
Of course, everything we have discussed thus far deals with Tuba Girl's gender, which she had unequivocally stated as female. She feels no confusion on the subject and states as much to Ken. But when Ken confides in his friends on the subject (having to explain it euphemistically as "she was packing a gun and the holster"), Daniel Desario almost instantaneously questions whether this makes Ken gay.
|He starts with David Bowie, bobbing his head wanly as he analyzes his reaction to glam rock. Then he switches to heavy metal, begins banging his had wildly, obviously in his element. Finally, it's on to disco and as "If They Could See Me Now" blares out of the speakers, Ken looks thoroughly confused.|
Frustrated with the lack of answers he received from his few simple sexuality tests and after getting in a tiff with Daniel Desario over a misunderstanding, the next time we find Ken, he is in the school restroom before an assembly. Sam Weir has just finished puking, having girl problems of his own. Sam is dating Cindy Sanders, the most popular and pretty cheerleader in school. But he finds that under the popularity, they have nothing in common and with much trepidation, has decided he has to break up with her. Ken listens as Sam laments his situation, and realizes that where Cindy and Sam lack in their relationship, he and Tuba Girl have in spades. It begins to dawn on him that "the little thing" that he has been spending so much time agonizing over was causing him to miss the simple truth of the matter: his feelings for Tuba Girl are real, regardless of her past, her gender, or her sexuality.
Ken storms through a hallway where the members of the band are assembled, preparing for the assembly. He stops at each tuba to see if Tuba Girl is nestled within. When he finally finds her, he says, "I'm sorry. And I don't care. And I'm so sorry." She smiles. He smiles back. They lean toward each other and kiss, but since she's in her instrument, Ken ends up stroking and caressing the tuba. It is beyond adorable. She tells him she has to get to the assembly. He beams at her as she walks off. Ken and Tuba Girl: cutest couple in television history. And that's no little thing.
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