Spotlight of Hope: A Will & Grace Retrospective

These Are Gold

Friendship is a funny thing. For some, a friend is a playmate or a confidante, someone to vent to, or someone there in times of need. Some friends drift into our lives for a time, sprinkling their magic dust on our needy souls before moving on. Other friendships stick, merging into our very sense of self and changing our lives forever. I’m reminded of the old Joseph Perry poem-turned-children’s-song: “Make new friends, but keep the old/ Those are silver, these are gold.”  

In the story of my life, Brian is my little nugget of gold, a friend that many spend a lifetime trying to find. I met Brian in 1999 at a summer camp in the mountains of North Carolina. I didn’t know it then, but over the next 18 years, he would become an integral thread in the fabric of my life. Three years ago, he stood by my side as the Man of Honor in my wedding.  He has been present for every heartbreak and every triumph. I am a better, more complete person because of his love.

In 2002, Brian asked me out to dinner. He had some “news,” he said. Midway through the appetizer, he blurted out, “I’m gay.” There was a pregnant pause as I stared back at him. “Well, yeah,” I replied, straight-faced. We laughed. His relief was palpable, and my heart warmed with the affirmation that Brian, my best friend, trusted me with his most vulnerable truth.

As the years passed, Brian and I would watch Will & Grace together and laugh, not just at the show, but at the parallels between our friendship—filled with our own idiosyncrasies and co-dependent neurosis—and that of the two main characters of this little sitcom, a show that means so much to so many.

When the opportunity arose to write about the reboot, I jumped at the chance. But as I tried to put my own feelings into words, I realized that this was not my story. This was Brian’s, and it was so, so much bigger than just a show. I wanted to know about his experience as a closeted young adult, navigating the complicated world of a conservative southern town.  I wanted to know what Will & Grace provided, not just as a form of entertainment, but as a window into a completely foreign, yet relatable, world. I figured the best way to find out, ultimately, was to ask. So, I drove “over the mountain,” as we say, into the city of Asheville, NC, to sit down over a cup of coffee and do just that.


Good ole’ Gastonia

Brian: So, in Fall of ’98, I was a Freshman in high school down in good ole’ Gastonia, NC, a very conservative, small town. I was starting to realize that I was “different.” I started to realize that I had an attraction to other male students in my grade and in my high school. This was like the first realization of my sexuality in all aspects of my life, really. And that was an interesting thing for me because there was no-one that I really shared that or talked about that side of my life with at that point in time. It was very much a personal secret that I carried around.

There was a self-consciousness

Will & Grace was almost like a secret show that I would watch. It was definitely one of those shows that I privately enjoyed. I would watch it if I were home alone. It wasn’t something that my family knew I was watching, necessarily. I think in some ways my family would have disapproved. Being the conservative individuals that they were and that they still are, I feel like there may have been some questions about “why are you watching this show?” Part of it may have also been a fear.

There was a self-consciousness, a self-awareness, of, ‘Ok if they catch me watching this show and they start to ask questions, and I’m not prepared to answer those questions, then I’m not going to let them catch me watching this show. And, I mean, it wasn’t anything bad. We’re not talking about p*rnography. We’re not talking about sex. We’re not talking about people doing drugs. We’re talking about a gay guy and his best friend who live together, and their fun times and their adventures living in New York. And we’re talking about a wholesome show, a show that shows— in my mind, and in my opinion still, today—a positive side of the gay culture.

Does this represent me?

Thinking back about the show in high school, I was less focused on it being a groundbreaking show for LGTBQ issues, and it was more of just, “Oh my gosh, this is a representation of who I might be, and who I might be identifying as. Does this feel right? Does this feel natural? Does this represent me?” That was more representative of the questions I was asking myself in high school when watching it.

In college, you know, when I came out and I became more self-aware of who I was and where I fit on the spectrum of sexuality, and with meeting other gay people, then I realized that the show, Will & Grace, was representing a side of gay culture and was so groundbreaking, and there weren’t other shows out there like this. Yes, Ellen had her sitcom around the same time, and she came out on it, but I think the sitcom was cancelled shortly after that. It didn’t survive, but her sitcom wasn’t set up to be a portrait of the LGBTQ community—I’m just going to say Queer community because it’s easier for me to say. But her show just wasn’t set up that way, whereas Will & Grace was set up from the very first episode to be a representation of the Queer community, and it stuck with that. It didn’t change itself, at least not from my viewpoint.

You are not alone

So, it was groundbreaking, but I didn’t realize that. I mean, in high school I didn’t realize it to be a groundbreaking show because I wasn’t aware of the gay world or the Queer world. I wasn’t aware of that culture. And that’s not to say that Will & Grace made me gay or anything like that, because it certainly didn’t, but it definitely showed me, “Hey there is this out there, and you are not alone in thinking these things and feeling these ways.” So, for high school Brian, it was very much of a spotlight of hope, really. And in college, it was more of a platform for me to use and stand upon to build my own self-awareness about the queer community and gay culture, and how the disparities between the heteronormative society were so strongly favored versus queer culture in our mainstream media.

Brian and the author, channeling their inner “Will & Grace,” Halloween, 2006

A true sign of hope

I came  from a small conservative town and there was this huge contrast. I knew of a few other students at my school that I thought also might be queer or non-heterosexual. They weren’t out, at least not publicly. No one in my school was out publicly in any form or fashion. So, having the show in that small town was a true sign of hope, or true outlet, and a way for me to escape and potentially just explore my own self.

When discussing how the show taught me what it meant to be gay, it’s important to not just talk about Will and Jack, but all of the gay characters. I mean, they are the two primary gay characters in the show, but throughout the entire series, they do bring in other male gay characters, and I think, collectively, they showed me, “these are different types, or these are different ways that these individuals express who they are.” Looking back on it now, at my age, and 15 years out of the closet, I don’t think that the characters of Will and Jack or the other characters said, “This is how you have to be to be gay.” I never got that feeling, and even now, rewatching the show, I don’t find it to be overtly stereotypical or pressuring people to be in one of these molds.  

I mean, I find in my own life that people will fall into whatever category people want to fall into, even if they make up the category just for themselves. I feel like today’s queer community is much more about the individual and who they are at that moment, versus who they are for their entire life. The queer community is so rapidly evolving in definitions and labels that they almost only apply at that moment, to that individual. They don’t apply across the board and across a span of time.

We live in a post Will & Grace world

It’s ironic that there’s a reboot of the show now because I do distinctly remember in college, and even the years following college, saying the phrase, “We live in a post Will & Grace world.” I mean, that show broke boundaries, it broke barriers, and it brought gay culture and gay life to primetime television for a variety of individuals to see, whether they were teenagers, college students, young adults, full-grown adults, or even grandparents. I mean, it brought this community into the forefront for everyone to be aware that “We’re queer, we’re here, we’re not going anywhere,” you know? Kind of one of those chants that you would do at a rally.

And I do think that the show can still be very relevant. It will be interesting, yes, to see what they can do to stay relevant because some of the issues are very different from the 1990’s and early 2000’s, but some of the issues are still the same. It just depends on what audience they are hitting. I mean, there could still be a kid in Gastonia or a kid in some small town in Kentucky, or wherever, that is still grappling with the same issues that I did back in 1998. And this show could provide them the same support that it provided me. Or, it could now help support someone who has already come out to their family and be a mechanism for the family to grow and connect and maintain that relationship or repair a relationship even. I’m sure that there are individuals out there who came out and their families disowned them or pushed them aside. Maybe this show will be a mechanism of healing for them. Maybe this show will be a mechanism to bring to the forefront current queer issues that people don’t know about. Whether they watched the show originally or not, they are going to be curious and ask, well what are the going to do, how are they going to be different?

They have to do it again

For the reboot to succeed, I think they have to do it again–they have to be cutting edge. They have to push the borders. Because they’ve already done that, they already have the reputation of being a show that is going to push buttons, that is going to push boundaries, that is going to ask questions. And that is going to challenge individuals to think, in very subtle ways and in very obvious ways. And because the original show did that, the relaunch HAS to do that. I think the queer community almost expects that. I mean, I can’t speak for the entire community, but I can speak for myself as a member of the queer community. I hope that the relaunch pushes borders like it did in the original series. I hope that this is a tool to expand people’s’ minds, to make people ask questions, and to present information about the queer community to nonmembers of the queer community like it did previously. I don’t see how that could be a bad thing.

I think the reboot is going to be a lot of fun. And I’m very excited. I’m very excited.


Will & Grace airs Thursday nights at 9/8c on NBC.  The entire series, including the reboot, is also available streaming on Hulu.

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