The sixth and final season of Glee is underway, and it has already caused a stir with the breakup of fan favourite couple Klaine and the engagement of Santana and Brittany.
However, Friday’s episode, “Jagged Little Tapestry”, saw the start of a story arc which may just surprise us all. McKinley High School football coach Shannon Beiste announced to Principal Sue Sylvester and Assistant Coach Sam Evans that she had been diagnosed with gender dysphoria, and was in transition from female to male.
Now, this would be a major storyline on any television show, but the fact that Glee has only 10 episodes left, ever, and those have to cover Klaine’s reunion, a rumoured double wedding, the satisfactory wrap-up of several other storylines and yeah, a few song performances, that’s kind of a tall ask.
Dot-Marie Jones, who has played Beiste since 2010, is no stranger to the subject, having played a pre-operative transsexual on Pretty/Handsome, which was also created by Glee’s Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk.
Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, Jones explained the storyline and the impact she hopes it will have on fans. “I got the script and read it and it’s not what I expected. I definitely didn’t think it was this”.
She continues, “I’d done the domestic violence storyline before and having young girls look up to Beiste and looking at it now, it’s just another vehicle to reach another group of people who are learning to be OK in your body”.
I must admit one of the things that surprised me most about the storyline is that a couple of seasons ago, Beiste was lamenting how she wanted to be accepted as a female and that it was okay to be “husky”. Of course it is, but it seems strange that the writers have chosen to take her character in a totally different direction, especially in the truncated final season.
According to Jones, we will next see her character as Sheldon Beiste; “I’m out for the next three or four episodes and come back, I think in episode six…when I come back it’s after all of that (testosterone therapy and mastectomies) and I’m coming back as Sheldon”.
“It’s a big transition”, Jones continues, “A lot of people walked right past me and had no idea it was me. Hair and makeup did an incredible job. It’s pretty awesome…it’s just like any role you take on, you’re just switching things around a bit”.
Glee and Fox has been criticised in the past for the perceived unfair treatment of its LGBTQA characters, despite the fact that it’s had a least two major characters in LGBTQA relationships since season two. Jones, however, seems to think that the show will handle the storyline with the respect that it deserves.
“Like it or not, it’s real life. I think Fox is amazing for putting this on broadcast television”. She adds, “We know it will make a difference. Look at all the things that all the kids on our show have gone through, everything that Chris Colfer and Kurt [Hummel] have gone through. Of any show on broadcast, it should be a Fox show because they are risk takers. I don’t even think taking a risk is the right word. It’s just real”.
Jones has been nominated for three Emmys for her work on Glee, and it will take a particularly precise form of acting to accurately convey Sheldon Beiste, as he is bound to become a figurehead of sorts. It’s not going to be an easy task, but I am sure Jones is up to it.
Jones, who is a member of the LGBTQA community, admits that she feels a responsibility to the trans* community as well as her character. “I feel like with Beiste…all she has ever wanted is to be accepted for who she was and now who he is”.
“The kids look up to characters on Glee as role models and I take it as a big responsibility because I want it to come across as accepting. I hate word accepting because who the h*** is anybody to not accept somebody for who they are? I just hope and pray [Friday’s] episode leads to a lot more…other work for trans* actors and actresses”.
I really do hope that Glee does a good job with Beiste’s storyline, even with so little time left. If only they’d thought about doing this years ago…
Be sure to read our recap of “Jagged Little Pill”, written by the fabulous Bec Heim, and whilst we wait for further details of Sheldon Beiste’s entry onto the Glee stage, here are some words of advice from Jones, for anyone who may be struggling with any of the issues raised by the show.
“Even for kids who are scared to come out: Talk to somebody. And if nobody will listen, you keep on until you find somebody who will listen. I just hope people take [Friday’s] show with an open heart and come away with a full heart”.