Oct 4, 2014

The Heterosexual Gay Kid of "Ugly Betty"

Feminine boys on tv are usually ridiculed, made objects of jokes ("He's into fashion!  He's not a real man! Isn't that hilarious?"), and in the end heterosexualized ("You were worried for a moment, but he's not gay after all!  Isn't that hilarious?").

Justin (Mark Indelicato) on Ugly Betty (2006-2010) was an exception.  After a few years of dissimulating.

Based on the Colombian telenovela Betty la fea, Ugly Betty features a fashion-deprived journalism student (America Ferrara) who lands a job as an assistant to the editor at a high-profile fashion magazine.

 She draws the ardor of a huge number of men who have never seen anyone so attractive in all their years of working with supermodels, such as buffed staff accountant Henry (Christopher Gorham, left).

And the ire of some of the magazine's glitterati, including Marc St. James (Michael Urie), the stereotyped-gay assistant to big boss Wilhemina Slater (Vanessa Williams).

Back home in Brooklyn, Betty lives with her father, sister, and nephew, Justin, who is 12 years old and already a fashion-and-show-tune maven.

What do good moms say to their feminine sons?
"Of course you can wear that ascot to school!"
"For your birthday, I got you tickets to a Broadway musical!"
"No, you can't have those shoes.  36 pairs are enough for you to accessorize to!"

Grandpa and Aunt Betty are equally nonchalant about Justin's femininity.  Plus Mom has a series of boyfriends who try to score points with the boy by promoting his feminine interests ("Let's go shopping!").

Is the show-tune maven gay?  Mom is ready for that possibility: over and over again, she says, "I will love you no matter what happens..." (by which she means "If you happen to be gay.")

Other than the tip-toeing around the word gay, and the implication that being gay is bad enough to make Mom's continuing love a noble thing, this is all perfectly sensible.  Feminine boys aren't necessarily gay, and masculine boys aren't necessarily heterosexual, so no one will have any idea about Justin's sexual orientation until he starts expressing an interest in someone.

And he does: heterosexual interest.

1. In the second season, he becomes a juvenile delinquent and kisses girls.
2. In the fourth season, he insists "I'm not gay!"

Then he starts dating boys, but he's conflicted about it, and really worried that his family will turn out to be homophobic.

1.When someone seems him in a same-sex lip-lock, he begs, "Don't tell Mom!"
2. He postpones announcing that he is gay until the final episode of the series, whereupon everyone tries to look surprised and supportive.

Wait -- parents who accept feminine boys usually have no trouble accepting gay boys.  Besides,  the family obviously has gay friends, and Mom asks Marc to hang out with Justin to provide a gay role model.

What is Justin's problem?

Part of the hesitation may be due to actor Mark Indelicato's horrifying experiences on the show.  He received constant hate mail, including death threats, quite a lot for a 13-year old to deal with along with the stress of his first major acting role.

Maybe the writers hung back on his character's gayness to give him a reprise from all the hate.  Maybe, in the second season, they actually intended for him to be heterosexual.

Mark is now 20, in college, but still acting occasionally.  He is apparently as feminine as Justin in real life, but heterosexual or bisexual, with a long-term girlfriend.

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