How Modern Family Kind of Helped — But Not Really.

Trigger warning: some homophobic/transphobic language.

When it comes to my parents’ relationship with LGBTQ folk, Modern Family kind of helped — but not really.

First, some background. Let’s flash back to teenagedom. I’m approximately 13. I look sweaty basically all the time. I’m just on the cusp of boobs and feminism. And I really want to watch Glee (because, like, I was 13). But as soon as my mom sees two male characters holding hands — she shuts off the TV and tells me that kind of inappropriate content wasn’t allowed in her house.

Fast forward a little. I’m 16, and an (almost) full-fledged feminist. My mom and I are discussing the topic of gay marriage, which wasn’t legal yet. I argue that since gay couples aren’t getting married in the church, it shouldn’t matter whether or not they get married legally — after all, the church doesn’t view government marriage as ‘holy’ anyway, even for straight couples. To her credit, my mom agrees that this makes sense. However, she still argues that gay relationships are despicable, and that gay people should attempt to resist their ‘unnatural urges’ for the rest of their lives. (By the way, for reference, I have no idea I’m bi at this point. I just think I’m a reallyyy passionate ally).

Then - a Miracle!

My parents start watching Modern Family. You all know it. The hit family sitcom featuring a hot Latin wife, a slutty older sister, a nerdy younger sister (I always identified with both sisters, honestly) and the ever-adored gay uncles. Mitch and Cam are two gay cis white men who adopt a Vietnamese baby together. Cam is campy as hell, and Mitch is a nervous lawyer. They’re cute. They’re in love. They’re “normal.”

Here’s where it gets kind of better — kind of. My parents love Modern Family. They record the episodes and watch them again and again. Over time (and episodes of Modern Family), my parents start to be less homophobic! Example: One time, my mom read a Facebook story about a gay child being bullied in school and she commented, “That’s terrible. He can’t help the way he was born!” Like, what? Is that tolerance I hear in your tone, young lady?! Fast forward a year or two, and my mom is friends with the gay couple who runs the boutique dog-sitting business. She happily nods when I tell her about a lovely lesbian couple I met at an alumni dinner. This is insane! I’m sure it wasn’t all due to her newfound love for Modern Family, but still — this was amazing progress.

Here’s the catch.

Happy, white, cisgender gay and lesbian couples featuring an adorable adopted baby in a lovely suburban home look an awful lot like the middle-class nuclear family my parents know and love. Here’s what my parents sound like when it comes to the rest of the LGBT community:

“What the hell is wrong with Bruce Jenner?”

“‘Trans woman?!” You mean deranged dude in a dress?’”

“Bisexual? She’s young. She’ll date a man and go back to being straight soon.”

“What do you mean, they’re not a man or a woman? Of course they are. They’re confused.”

It turns out, when it comes to people who don’t look like Mitch and Cam, my parents have made no progress at all.

This is hard. I’m so proud of them for finally coming around and accepting some basic gayness! But I’m so disappointed that it stops there. Flexibility — in gender and in sexuality — is completely foreign to them. They don’t understand it. They live in a world of black and white. Man or Woman. Straight or Gay.

I don’t live in that world. I live in what I believe to be the real world: a flexible, ever-changing rainbow of people and identities and sexualities and relationships and meaning. It’s so, so beautiful. I remember laying in bed one night in high school, after having learned about the existence of non-binary gender identities and flexible sexualities. I was in awe. I could suddenly see color! And I wondered why I’d been kept in the dark for so long.

Because they choose to live in black and white, my parents can’t see the world of intense beauty that surrounds them. Unfortunately, this means they can’t see me, either. I live in this flexible, colorful realm, where I can date a Michael one day and a Michelle the next. And I’m not alone — so many other beautiful people live here with me, and have incredibly diverse identities and relationships and lives of their own.

I hope that one day, there’s a really queer Modern Family on television — full of nonbinary babes and trans folk and asexuals and pansexuals of all cultures and nationalities and religions. I hope that the people living in black-and-white eventually manage to open their eyes. The world is so much more beautiful in color.

Liked this story? Keep an eye out for more stories regarding my experience being LGBTQ and Catholic. In the meantime, you can find an intro to my Lenten blog series here.

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