I got a bit of a memory jog when people started talking about The O.C. the other day, because of the show's 10th anniversary. When that show came out, I was already a little done with the high school drama genre, and was moving on to anime, sci-fi, fantasy and horror themed tv-series. I used to watch Popular pretty regularly, and I even had time to, for a season or so, really like Dawson's Creek, though I was young at the time. But there was one high school drama type of series that stood out, and that was the Dawson's Creek spin-off Young Americans.
Let me preface by saying that this is not an especially good show. It wasn't really surprising that the thing got cancelled after only 8 episodes. Most of the plot was passé and melodramatic, the writing was mediocre, as was most of the acting. With one major exception.
The Jake and Hamilton story-line.
I must have been about 12 when that show came out. I may have been as old as 13 when I started watching it, cause I don't know when it made it across the pond, but I wasn't old. The Jake and Hamilton arc was revolutionary for me. It was new and exciting and different, and it broke down everything that I thought I knew about gender and sexuality at the tender age of 12 or 13.
One part of it was the fact that Jake had everyone fooled. Jake was really Jacqueline, played by the amazing and talented Katherine Moennig (who later went on to star in The L-Word). Jacqueline was a rich young girl with a mother who didn't pay attention to her. Her mum was an actress, and hardly ever home, and Jacqueline tried to do ever more extreme things to get her mother to notice her, to little avail. Finally, Jacqueline hacked into her mother's e-mail account, signed up for Rawley Academy for boys for summer school and became Jake, just to see if her mother would notice.
No one at Rawley believed for a second that Jake was anything other than a boy, including Hamilton. And here comes the best part, because even though he fully believed Jake to be a boy, Hamilton still fell in love with him. It was the first suggestion I had ever seen in popular culture of the idea that people fall in love with people, and that gender can be secondary or irrelevant, and it changed my entire perspective.
It doesn't matter that Jake turned out to be a girl. For the first three episodes or so, Hamilton believed that he had turned gay. Even after Jake told him the truth, they still seemed most comfortable with each other when Jake was, well, Jake rather than Jacqueline.
After a while, everyone started to think that Hamilton and Jake were gay, and what was so wonderful about that was how cool they all seemed with it. That was a world I wanted to live in.
Jake was never trans. Jake was very comfortable about really being Jacqueline and did not mind being girly. I think, however, that if this show had been made today, the gender issue would have been a much bigger part of the story, and Jake's character would have been much more gender-fluid than it ultimately was.
As it is, however, Young Americans helped break down the idea of the gender binary in my mind, it introduced the concept of 'alternate' sexualities to me, and made me feel so much less alone in a heteronormative television world.