Aug 22, 2013

True Jackson: The First Gay Character on Children's TV

Gay-coded adult men have been commonplace in children's television for many years, their gay-coded traits signifying laughable inferiority-- think of Mr. Moseby, the persnickety hotel manager on The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, or Mr. Bickles, the drama teacher who keeps getting his dreams crushed on Fairly Oddparents.  

But those characters were carefully heterosexualized, both by giving them fruitless attempts to gain the attention of "the ladies," and through the complete inability of any other character, juvenile or adult, to recognize even the most blatant gay stereotype.


Nickelodeon's True Jackson, VP (2008-2011) may have been the first juvenile program where the gay-coded adult was surrounded by characters who knew.  It was about a 15-year old girl (Keke Palmer, left) who becomes the vice president of the fashion company Mad Style.  She and her best friends, Lulu (Ashley Argota) and Ryan (Matt Shively, below), bring youthful joie de vivre to the struggling company.  The receptionist Oscar (Ron Butler, right), feminine, fabulously-dressed, and sarcastic, becomes True's confidant and gay bff.

Almost all gay male characters in comedies are extremely feminine receptionists, secretaries, hairstylists, or wedding planners, so Oscar would be nothing special.  Except he's in a teencom.  And no one ever asks about girlfriends, or suggests that he is inept at attracting "the ladies."  Everybody knows that he's gay.

He gets no heterosexual plotlines, and only one heterosexual statement: asked to comment on male attractiveness, he responds "How should I know?  I'm a dude."

The fan boards went wild with speculation.  Was the character "supposed to be gay"?  Was the actor gay?  Most said things like "Get real!  This is a kid's show!"

I didn't see any other gay texts or subtexts, not even a lesbian subtext between True and Lulu.  All other primary relationships were male-female, and plots returned obsessively to the hetero-romantic entanglements of the teens.  True dates Jimmy (Robbie Amell, top photo, later on Struck by Lightning), Lulu dates Mikey J (Trevor Brown); Ryan has a series of crushes before settling down with a girlfriend of his own.

But through it all Oscar sits at his receptionist desk, watching, commenting on the action, saying "We exist here, too."

See also: Some Assembly Required  and 10 Teen Hunks of Disney Summer Movies.