Episode 11 – “Don’t Look Under This Sequined Tree, With Anyone Else But Me” – September 17, 1997
When we last saw Genesis, she was adjusting to life on the show, questioning her sexual identity and generally trying to find her place in the world. “I’m still a little bit weirded out,” she said, “but I’m okay, and it will only get better.” That sense of gradual progress toward self-acceptance continues, but it’s not without its challenges.
We first got a glimpse of Genesis’s deeper issues when the housemates opened up at the volunteer training. Perhaps lost amongst the heated discussion of rape was Genesis’s recollections of her childhood. With a mother passed out on drugs and booze, and a stepfather at the Air Force base, she was left to take care of her brother: she bathed him, fed him, got him to school. But when her parents split up, the kids were separated, and she was alone. “I didn’t want friends,” she says. “I only wanted my brother back, he was my right arm.”
As expected, her childhood had lasting effects. “I wasn’t mentally abused, but in a lot of ways, I was put down a lot,” she confesses. “I keep these things in the back of my mind.” Her feelings of inadequacy affected her social development, contributed to her feelings of isolation from the housemates (especially when they have discussions of social issues) and came into focus when she started volunteering at the after-school program.
She airs her frustration to Anthony: she doesn’t know the kids’ names, she has nothing in common with them and she seems to be the only one who can’t do the job. She was never around kids during her childhood and she doesn’t have anything good to reflect on, no games or arts and crafts to revisit. This isn’t Anthony’s first rodeo, and he asks, “Did you have a childhood?” When she answers “no,” he gives her a new challenge: “Set a goal of being a friend to one child.”
This goal soon leads to one of the season’s most iconic scenes. A few girls are talking with Genesis and Kameelah and teasing each other when one mentions Michael Jackson being gay; another, Jessica, says her mom hasn’t let her watch Ellen ever since Ellen DeGeneres came out. Then, the dagger: “I don’t like gay people,” Jessica says. “I just have a feeling that I hate them.”
Kameelah quickly sees a teachable moment, using step-by-step logic to try to rewire this elementary-age girl (which she does, appropriately and deftly). She asks if Jessica would still like her if she was gay, and Jessica says she would. Kameelah asks “if I like girls and I don’t want to kiss you, why does it matter?” Jessica says one of her friends said she was gay, and she still likes her. Then, from the mouths of babes, one of the kids offers this: “It doesn’t matter if they’re gay, it matters how they treat you.” Genesis has been silent the whole time, and she leaves, wiping away tears.
When the housemates meet with the after-school staffers, this “informative” conversation is brought up, and it’s assumed that Genesis did the talking. Kameelah explains what she said — that there wasn’t anything sexual or age-inappropriate — and her reasoning: “I wanted to have [Jessica] think about it, and not just regurgitate what her mother was saying.” But Elka’s conservative Christianity bubbles up and lets the air out of the balloon. She sees herself in Jessica, and if that had happened to her, she would have been taken out of the program. “Maybe it isn’t our duty to ‘inform’ them about this.” Dammit, Elka!
Genesis seemed to be finding her footing in Boston, but now seems shaken by the whole ordeal. “I don’t want to be gay anymore, I want to be straight,” she tells Kameelah. “I’m sick and tired of being hated by people, and stereotyped.” Still on her A-game, Kameelah has an answer ready: “That shouldn’t make you not want to be gay, that should make you want to be the most open gay person you can be,” suggesting that she bring a gay pride flag to the center and start a real discussion. Genesis sarcastically runs down the stereotypes and the attacks — it’s a choice, it’s a perversion, it’s a ticket to Hell — and takes a drag on her cigarette. “Life’s a bitch.”
Thankfully, Genesis has continued to “find her people” in Boston, free of her relationship with Tammy. Her friendship with Adam, who performs in drag as Eve, has continued to blossom; gay clubs and drag shows have seemingly replaced late nights in trans chatrooms. Sean is confused by the whole thing, and Kameelah — who had just been so good on verbalizing gay equality — can’t wrap her head around Genesis being “attracted” to a drag queen. (In 2001, Genesis told Out: “I was never sexually attracted to a drag queen… but because Adam was a drag queen and he was my best friend, they jumped on that I was having some sexual attraction to him.”)
“In a lot of ways, I think drag queens are more beautiful than women,” Genesis admits. “They know how to do their hair and wear the right clothes.” She’s transfixed at Adam’s drag performances and when they’re on the dance floor she confesses, “You’re turning me on!”
The sexual identity crisis has continued. She tells her mom that she came to conclusion that she’s bisexual, and though she’s dominantly into women, she’s been attracted to two drag queens (“I don’t know what you’d call that”). Her mom — or her mom’s therapist, apparently — has a theory: maybe Genesis isn’t “a true blue lesbian.” Genesis sees some truth there: “Everyone keeps saying that to me.”
Her friendship with Adam is becoming something more, at least from her side. “I’m lost without you, I don’t know what to do,” she cries. “You’re more beautiful than I am, you’re sexier than I am — you’re everything I wish I could be.” Adam denies her claims and tosses back a joke, “What am I, the wind beneath your wings?” It’s here when we see the depth of Genesis’s self-doubt and abandonment issues, problems that started in childhood and continued through her only adult relationship. But even as she struggles, she’s starting to learn about herself. “I give of myself so freely to people and I get nothing in return,” she realizes.
Some clarity comes — in dramatic fashion — from Montana. Previously, she read Genesis’s palm, and now she reads her tarot cards, because of course she reads tarot cards (spoiler alert: Montana is now an acupuncturist, herbalist and massage therapist). “You found a real trusting relationship — you found a friend, but it could be more,” she explains. The card that shows Genesis has the power in the situation, even though she doesn’t think she does, is a woman “stroking a big snake.” This elicits some giggles from Genesis and Adam, because COME ON.
Adam knows Genesis had “asked” the tarot about him, and eases her fears. “You know I do love you, right?” Genesis knows she’s clinging onto him for dear life, and for good reason: he understands her, possibly like no one else has. “You always put everybody first, you never think of what you want, that’s why I’m pushing you to see what you want to do,” he explains. “That’s why you’ve thrust yourself in my life so hardcore: you want to be accepted, you want somebody to be there when you’re feeling weak. This is the time to say, ‘what do I want?’ If you don’t like something, it’s time to say it, don’t you think?”
Adam’s pep talk works. “I’ve gained a new respect for myself,” she says, and she sees her relationship with Adam continuing as just that: the ultimate, best-friendship. Adam says he doesn’t want her to have unhealthy relationships, with him or anyone else, and considering what she’s been through, that’s a good start.
Best Music: These episodes were loaded, both with nostalgic favorites (White Town’s apropos ‘Your Woman’, Shawn Colvin’s ‘Sunny Came Home’) and songs that are a few degrees removed from nostalgia. I don’t remember Republica’s ‘Drop Dead Gorgeous’ as well as ‘Ready To Go’ (which I could have sworn was in Clueless, but it looks like I’m misremembering this scene in Vegas Vacation), and Chantal Kreviazuk’s ‘God Made Me’ makes me think of her ‘In This Life’, which would soundtrack Saved! — but not until 2004.
PS: In the wake of the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage ruling, Alan Sepinwall argued that gay TV icons like Ellen DeGeneres, the characters of Will and Grace and Real World: San Francisco’s Pedro Zamora helped normalize gay culture and, eventually, marriage. In a longer piece, I’m sure that the scene with the kids overcoming homophobia would be included.