By Braxton Kellogg
When I read that Will & Grace was being rebooted, I was elated. It’s a TV show that I watch in its entirety once a year and my almost daily use of Karen Walker quotes make me appear way funnier than I actually am (Related: I had a hat custom made to read “Am I Outside?” and whenever I wear it people either laugh or inform me as to whether or not I’m actually outside - as if I’m using a hat to negate some embarrassment about not knowing the difference between the indoors and outdoors).
My eternal love for this television program goes beyond the TV show itself, however. Will & Grace played an integral part in my coming out story and in my overall acceptance and love of myself as a gay man. So, when the reboot was announced and Will & Grace aired again, it gave me the opportunity to reflect on the impact it had on my adolescent mind and how it, quite literally, gave me the courage to be the person I am today.
In the beginning, there was a little gay boy growing up in Southeast Idaho, surrounded by potato farms and churches and fast food restaurants and even more potato farms. The hairline across my forehead from my bowl cut was the straightest thing about me. But, that wasn’t for a lack of my parents’ trying! I was in the local rodeo (I was thrown from a sheep face-first into dirt and decided that was NOT for me), I played basketball and tee-ball. I loved watching professional wrestling - even though my favorite wrestler was Chyna (RIP) and watching men in what are basically shiny speedos roll around with each other probably doesn’t count as extremely “masculine” (although, it did teach me that a folding chair was, in fact, a legitimate weapon). But I always knew there was something different about me.
In elementary school, I naturally preferred to hang out with girls instead of boys, although I did have a couple of close male friends. One year, in fact, my father told me I had to start hanging out with more boys or else I wouldn’t be able to have a birthday party (DEVASTATING, because my parties were always fucking awesome and were probably the only reason most kids even talked to me). That’s when I started being chased home by boys calling me a “girl” and threatening to beat me up or throwing snowballs at me (Idaho is either snowing or a hundred degrees, there is no in between). It was during this time that I came to believe that thing that I knew was different about me, even though I couldn’t figure out what it was, was wrong.
The bullying and name-calling only increased as I progressed through middle and high school. This is an age that’s awkward for everyone, but I felt particularly alone and isolated because there were kids who didn’t like me, and I didn’t know how to fix it. I liked hanging out with girls, that was for sure. Girls made me feel welcome and safe being myself, so why would I abandon that? However, in high school, I was threatened on at least a weekly basis to be physically beaten up after school. I was called a “fag” in the hallways, and I would either run to my car after school or be sure to walk with a group of people to keep me safe. My very existence made people hate me to the point that I should be physically and emotionally hurt.
The summer before my senior year of high school, I was near my lowest point. I was sad and I was lonely. I was afraid to go to school and I knew that I didn’t fit in. I went downstairs in my parents’ house and decided to watch Will & Grace. I watched a few seasons, sitting alone in that basement.
Then, one day I thought to myself, “…What if I’m like Will?” I distinctly remember that moment when I came to terms with the fact that I could be gay. I remember watching and re-watching more episodes and realizing that I was, in fact, gay. Watching these TV characters being so open about themselves, and expressing a sexuality that was different than being heterosexual brought me to a point where I could accept who I was. I saw these characters interact and live completely normal lives, and I realized that I could do that too - even if I was gay. They faced hardships and discrimination, but they continued to live and push forward and spread a message of love and respect for all people.
In that moment, I learned to accept myself, which then opened the door for me to love myself. Even though it was a television sitcom, the characters taught me what it was like to live your truest life. They were so confident in themselves and even if they were just fictional characters, there was a television program on one of the most popular networks where people like ME were funny and proud and real.
Those characters then taught me how to be myself, openly, on my own time.
A couple of days later, I met my best friend at a high school party after my shift at Cold Stone Creamery (To this day, I am still traumatized by singing Cold Stone jingles for loose change). By the time I got to the party, my friend had already had a bit too much to drink and was feeling sick in the bathroom upstairs (Enter newly-gay best friend to hold her hair back). I sat down next to her, and told her I needed to tell her something. She lifted her head up off the toilet (In hindsight, I really should have chosen a better time to do this…), and looked me in the eyes.
All I could say was, “I’m Will. And you’re Grace.”
She paused for a few seconds. And asked, “What?” (Understandably confused, as there was literally zero context for this conversation, let alone a statement like that.)
“I’m Will. And you’re Grace.”
And in that moment, big tears filled her eyes and she stood up and threw her arms around me. She then told me she loved me, which were the most relieving words she could have uttered, even if her breath smelled like a stale can of Fosters.
It was a moment I will never forget, even though it was less than glamorous. It was a moment when I knew who I was, and a person who loved me didn’t reject me, but loved me even more. It was a moment that encouraged me to tell others, as I felt more comfortable, and to know that even if faced with rejection, there was at least someone in my corner. And that’s a gift for which I could not be more appreciative.
Will & Grace taught me how to love myself, in a time when being gay was terrifying for me, in terms of being in high school and living in a city and state where being gay was simply not accepted. Even states around the country at that time had same sex marriage and/or adoption bans. It was a time when progress for equal rights in the LGBTQ community was slow or nonexistent. This was not lost on me, just as it’s not lost on the millions of children who see the news on tv or listen to the radio or hear their parents talking.
Today, I am able to live and work without hiding who I am. And it all started with one moment, in that lonely basement, where a group of fictional characters taught me that everything was going to be okay.
Pop culture, and the world around us, can influence us in so many ways. But in this instance, a television show changed my life. And whether or not that team of writers, actors and producers ever knows that - it means something true and real to me. So thank you, Will & Grace, for influencing people throughout the LGBTQ community to be true to themselves - I know I’m not the only one. Thank you for providing me with the language and understanding to communicate who I was, when I was so confused by it. Thank you for teaching me that being gay isn’t an abnormality, but something that is a part of me – but only one part of me. It’s only one piece of (rainbow) thread in the elaborate fabric of my life.
And for anyone struggling with their identity or sexuality - be who you are, and cherish who you are. Take time to learn about yourself, understand your wants and needs, seek refuge in the people closest to you. Because no matter what, you’re special and accepted, even though sometimes it doesn’t always feel like it.