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How Will & Grace (and Jack and Karen) Saved My Life

May 6, 2011 1 comment

This post was inspired by the “Saved by pop culture” open call on Open Salon.

Sometimes, as life throws its over abundance of lemons our way, we seek solace in the arms of our friends. Sometimes, as in my case, our lemons are to ripe to make lemonade–let alone share with friends. When the time came for me to face my own demons, you know, the ones only I could face, I sought comfort in the two people who mastered the art of ice cream TV remedy.

Many of us go away to college and find ourselves “experimenting.” Sometimes we learn more about ourselves than ready to admit soon enough we become best friends with the sophomore slump. In the fall of 2008, that sophomore slump nearly ended me. As a newly gay-identified man of color at a Catholic college who just suffered his first heartbreak, it was time to retreat and pick up the pieces of my heart and self-identity. I was not alone.

I took a semester at a local junior college after that fall. My goal was to isoloate myself from everything I knew to piece myself together. Admittedly, I knew I could not do it alone, and seeing how I was “in the closet,” friend and family support was hardly an option. Who better than Will & Grace, and Jack and Karen, to help lift me up?

Will Truman was everything I wanted to be. He was tall, dark, and handsome. He was a successful lawyer with his own apartment, one that required an elevator to get to, in New York. He had a beautiful and infinitely close friend. He had the dashing and deep-voiced boyfriend. And most of all, he looked amazing in black.

Then there was Jack. Jack always had a funny way of normalizing homosexuality. He called straight people “the heteros,” prided himself on his long lineage of male cheerleaders, and never–in eight seasons–showed regret. At 19, a closeted Will ran to Jack because he was that stranger who would save his life. At 19, I did the same thing, and it didn’t take long before I was able to return to college and tout: “And 1, and 2, and 3 I’m gay.”

Grace offered something different. I couldn’t see her as one of the girlfriends, like I saw Jack and Will. No. She represented understanding. Though they had their own fair share of drama in college, Grace was able to come into understanding Will’s new life. Will, in turn, was able to understand Grace’s initial heartbreak. After all, who wouldn’t be heartbroken after finding out that Will Truman was off the market for your kind. Though Grace seemed to be scheming every time I tuned in, she always did so with the best intentions. Her quirky, bitter, and dramatic behavior made her a difficult character not to love.

Lastly, there was Karen. With a “honey, what’s this? What’s going on?” you knew that Karen Walker would never lead you astray. She would never miss a moment to criticize your attire–a trait everyone needs in a friend, who wants to leave the house looking a mess? With  stash of alcohol and pills in every nook, there wasn’t a moment when Karen wasn’t ready to party. In spite of the occasional racist slip-up, classist remark, or dirty snicker, Karen was as adorable as a “sex kitten” (as Jack so properly upon meeting her) and would serve as my wing-woman for years to come.

What once became a quick pick-me-up, paired with cookie dough ice cream, watching Will & Grace became a ritual that would carry me out of the biggest slump of my life. The sophomore slump, the coming out slump, the feeling bad about my sexuality slump–even combined, these slumps stood no match for the Will & Grace club that so many wish they were in. Yes, being gay has its down sides. The offensive homophobic slur, the barrage of young girls your grandmother throws your way, and the second-class legal status in America all hit home at times. But there’s so much silver lining. The Cher references, the gay community’s slang, and the slight narcissism made Will & Grace seem made for me. I was, as cliché as this now may seem, born this way, and Will, Grace, Jack, and Karen were like my own modern fairy godparents.

I often wonder if the creaters of the series, David Kohan and Max Mutchnick, were aware that they would literally be saving lives. I guess that doesn’t matter, because they did, and I thank them for that. To anyone who is in need of some good company: give Will & Grace a try. It may seem hard to jump into their friendship at first, given they have about thirteen years  head start by the pilot episode, but they’ll warm up to you. I will give you fair warning, be wary, by the end of the series you might suffer heartbreak realizing that all of the characters are fictional and you won’t end up running into them at a bar. Or you can do what I do, pop the first season’s DVD in and start all over.