Editor’s Note: Babble and The Disney Channel are both a part of The Walt Disney Company.
Both my tween and teen years were lived during the ‘90s. In other words, my pants were pegged, my hair was big, and my tape deck was loaded with the latest NKOTB tunes. I was a decent athlete, honors student, and a loyal friend. Sometimes I even felt cool. But despite living a life that more or less looked the same as my peers, inside, I knew I was different.
When the kids in my class started talking about who they had a crush on, it was Stacy liking Adam or Josh liking Tammy. It was never Amber likes Destiny. But oh my gosh, did I. Back then, I was as much “in love” as a 13-year-old kid can possibly be.
I had it bad for a girl — but nothing in my life led me to believe this was good.
I knew by a very young age that I was gay, but I kept it a secret for a long time because according to my church, homosexuality was a sin. My family members believed it was a sickness; a disease to avoid. And my classmates were very clear that homosexuality was just a fancy term for being a “fruity” outcast and target for bullying.
Being a gay kid in the ‘90s was an isolating and dangerous thing to be, so I kept my feelings, my crushes, and my true self hidden deep inside, where no one but me could find them. But while I was writing in code in my journal each night, using fake names or abbreviations only I could understand (just in case my parents found it), I was silently and desperately searching for someone like myself.
I certainly didn’t find anyone who looked like me on my favorite ‘90s TV shows, though. Sure, Saved by the Bell, Beverly Hills 90210, and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air managed to cover the hot topics your average tween and teenager experiences. Peer pressure, drugs and alcohol, racial issues, and dating and sex were all unwrapped and explained pretty nicely — for the straight kids. But noticeably absent were the characters or storylines that could help me understand the swirl of emotions and confusion that was going on both in my mind and my body. When Clarissa explained it all, she wasn’t explaining my life.
Oh, how I wish I had shows like Andi Mack and its marvelous cast of characters back then. I would have had hope, solidarity, and fictional friends who understood me. I would have had people telling me it was okay to be myself. I would have seen myself represented in a way that didn’t make me want to hide in shame.
In case you haven’t yet heard of Andi Mack, the Disney Channel show follows the lives of young teens trying to figure out who they are and how they fit into their respective and overlapping worlds. It centers around a 13-year-old named Andi and her best friends Buffy Driscoll and Cyrus Goodman, as they navigate those tricky, awkward tween years. But it also does something few shows of its kind ever have: Introduced a gay main character.
That’s right, folks — kids were gay in the ‘90s and they are gay today. The difference now is that there’s finally a show like Andi Mack celebrating these kids for who and what they truly are.
Season 2, which premiered earlier this fall, dives deeper into the lives of all the main characters and what they are going through, including Cyrus’ coming out story — from his journey to find self-acceptance to gaining the courage to tell his parents. (All while juggling a crush on a guy his female best friend likes, too.)
In a lovely, yet anxiety-inducing scene between Buffy and Cyrus during the second episode, Cyrus admits that he has a crush on Jonah, another boy.
“I feel weird, different,” Cyrus tells Buffy, visibly worried about her reaction and the implications of saying the words out loud.
I know those feelings all too well. There is so much liberation in speaking your truth, but there is also so much to lose.
“Cyrus, you’ve always been weird, but you’re no different,” Buffy tells Cyrus, in a scene that honestly made my heart burst with both pride and relief as I watched.
FINALLY, I thought to myself.
In a world where gay kids are still targets of harassment and violence, and with LGBTQ kids being at high risk for self-harm, depression, and suicide, the need to show a better world to these kids has never been greater. Because the truth is, we are all a little weird. And we all fall in love. No matter what flag we fly, we have more in common with each other than the differences that make us unique.
By creating a gay main character in a very popular, family-friendly show, Disney and the creators of Andi Mack are telling the kid who’s afraid to come out to his best friend that it can and will be okay. LGBTQ youth need to see themselves in their favorite books, shows, and music. Just as non-LGBTQ youth need to see gay characters in the same places, too, because inclusion breeds acceptance.
Sexuality doesn’t change the way we feel butterflies or how our heart aches when we see the person of our affection walk into a room; but if the person we admire and can’t have is the same gender, sometimes our hearts break more often. It’s not just unrequited love. It’s love that will never be known because it can never happen. It’s love that will be lost because friends will turn against us. It’s love that will be tested because our parents don’t understand or approve.
Being a teenager is hard enough without dealing with this extra heartbreak alone.
Hopefully, with shows like Andi Mack and characters like Cyrus Goodman, today’s LGBTQ youth will have the representation and courage I never had as a teenager.
My hope is that gay kids everywhere can live without shame, fear, or the need to write in code when telling their diary about their crush. Because gay kids deserve to tell the entirety of their story, too.