When I was offered a review copy of “The 2000s Made Me Gay,” I jumped on that faster than Shane McCutcheon on the flower delivery girl in “The L Word” season 2. Author Grace Perry is here, queer, and a contributor to publications like Reductress and The Onion, and her take on everything from “Mean Girls” to MTV’s “The Challenge”—and her memories of growing up closeted and Catholic—had me cracking up and reflecting on my own pop culture journey. Recently, Perry spoke with GO about some of her favorite pop culture moments from the aughts, including how Bette Porter may (or may not) resemble Darth Vader, Ryan Murphy’s ability to sneak so much gay into mainstream TV, and the ways Taylor Swift turned her into a “U-Haul dyke.”
If you are a queer that grew up in the 2000s, this is for you.
GO Magazine: Why did you decide to write “The 2000s Made Me Gay”?
Grace Perry: I wrote the Katy Perry essay first (or, a version of it), back in 2018, and pitched it around as a ten-year retrospective on “I Kissed A Girl.” It was rejected, but I was stuck on this idea of pop culture informing my decision-making process as a teenager. I also really liked the experience of writing this blend of personal essay and cultural criticism—it felt very honest to me, to the way I process entertainment. So I started thinking, Okay, what other pieces of aughts media can I do this with?
GO: What was your writing process like? What was the most challenging part about writing the book? The most rewarding?
GP: This is my first book, and in writing it I discovered I actually love the process of hacking away at a big project, bit by bit. It felt great to know I couldn’t possibly write this all in one sitting—I learned how to become satisfied with writing a solid chunk, then closing my laptop. I wrote about half the book in spring 2020, in the first months of pandemic lockdown. My brother had just passed away in February, so this was a very raw, confusing period for me. Having a big project to chip away at was a helpful grief management tool during those first few months without him. Having a big deadline looming ahead forced me to write when I probably wouldn’t have otherwise, which kept me moving forward.
GO: “The 2000s Made Me Gay” is ostensibly about pop culture but is also part memoir, about your journey as a millennial queer woman. Why and how did you decide to structure your essays this way? What were your feelings about including your family, exes and friends in your narrative?
GP: The crit-memoir blend wasn’t really a conscious decision I made, it’s just the way my brain works. Americans live in such an entertainment-saturated world, and I think mentally segregating “the TV I like” and “my actual personality” would be obtuse and disingenuous of me. I think about entertainment all the time. If you look inside my head at any given moment, there’s a good 80% chance I’m thinking about season sixteen of “Survivor.” That’s not a part of me I can just extract from my brain. And I don’t believe most people experience art as like, objectively observing another person having feelings; we experience art by having our own feelings about it. I couldn’t write about “I Kissed A Girl” without including my own personal experience of it, especially since they were such intense teenage feelings. (I apologize for describing “I Kissed A Girl” as “art.”)
GO: You talk a lot about your Catholic upbringing and education. Recently, Pope Francis has said the Church will not perform gay marriages, as they are “a sin.” What are your thoughts on this, and do you think the Church will eventually come around?
GP: My thoughts on the Vatican/same-sex marriage are summarized in Kate Hudson’s “I always tell the girls, you never take it seriously, you never get hurt” mini-monologue from “Almost Famous.” I stopped expecting the Catholic Church to endorse the gays a long time ago, so Pope Francis’ recent comments didn’t surprise or disappoint me too much. This institution is 2,000 years old! They’ve been on the record hating gays for a while. To make major doctrinal changes, the Pope has to hold an ecumenical council. There have only been twenty-one ecumenical councils in 1900 years, one every ninety-odd years. The last one was in 1962. So maybe, maybe we’ll have another ecumenical council around 2050, and maybe they’ll talk about the queers. I’m generally an optimist, except when it comes to the Vatican. Though has Pope Frank seen the “Rumour Has It/Someone Like You” mashup? Maybe that’ll win him over.
GO: We love “The L Word” here at GO, and I laughed out loud at your brilliant essay on the show, in which you called the series “‘Star Wars’ for millennial queer women.” Can you expand on this for our readers?
GP: I don’t mean Bette Porter is commanding the Death Star, though I don’t not mean Bette Porter is commanding the Death Star. For queer people my age, “The L Word” is such a pervasive cultural phenomenon that you don’t need to watch it to get the references. It’s this thing we can all talk about. I can’t tell you the number of first dates I’ve been on where we talk about “The L Word.” Not out of some gushing excitement for a dated cable TV drama from 2004, but because you know the person across from you is going to have some hot take on it, some story associated with their first viewing, some character they have a crush on, some terrible reason why it made them feel bad about themselves. It’s a reliable conversation starter for queer millennials—one that can spawn connection, friendship, more-than-friendship, whatever. Whether we like it or not, “The L Word” is in our cultural bloodstream, like light sabers and Chewbacca.
GO: You also have a very poignant essay about “Glee” and how it helped bring queerness into the mainstream and had a very far-reaching effect. If the series were rebooted today, how do you think it would be different, in both content and effect?
GP: I think it’d be more explicitly queer from the get-go. I talk about this a bit in the book, but the “Glee” pilot is wild because it’s so weirdly straight! Our three leads at the beginning of the series —Rachel, Finn and Mr. Schuster (yawn)—are all deeply heterosexual, despite the whole show choir thing. Kurt immediately reads as queer, sure, but we don’t learn much about him until few episodes in. “Glee” had to weasel its way into prime time by centering straight characters, then once it was a money-maker, it got to turn around and center the queer characters. Now, in part because of “Glee,” gay characters can anchor a teen drama (think: “Euphoria,” “Generation,” “Sex Education”). But that means going back and watching season one of “Glee” now, it’s like—Wait, you’re expecting us to believe this high school show choir has only one gay kid in it?
GO: I also loved your essay “Taylor Swift Made Me a U-Haul Dyke.” What are your thoughts on Folklore and Evermore? Do you think she’s actually, one hundred percent straight?
GP: If we’re dividing Taylor’s canon into eras of country/pop/folk, I’ll pick pop every time. That said, I liked Folklore and Evermore a lot! Love to hear Taylor sing about being in love with a girl/able to ride a skateboard, even if it’s just in character. Both albums really fit the moment. Unfortunately, that moment was Covid/generalized anxiety/depression among, uh, everyone. Frankly, I’m ready for more Taylor bops, which really means I’m ready for the pandemic to be over.
I don’t think anybody is one hundred percent straight! Taylor included. (Sounds like a cop-out, I know. Sorry!) I think if Taylor self-identifies as queer— big if, there—and she were planning to come out, she probably would’ve done so already, probably when everyone was mad at her about the “You Need to Calm Down” video. But I’d love to be proven wrong!
GO: What queer pop culture have you been consuming lately? Any favorites?
GP: I’m finally watching “The Wire.” Turns out, everyone’s been right for the past twenty years, and it is in fact a Good Show. Congratulations, Everyone, you were right. I’m obviously obsessed with Omar Little, the gay, shotgun-wielding menace. Then there’s Kima, the lesbian narcotics cop. The lesbian cop trope is so weird to me. It’s this idea of like, Women are too delicate to be cops, except lesbians, because lesbians are masculine. Which, okay. But—every lesbian I know hates cops? There’s a scene in season one where Kima is out with her (non-cop) friends at some dyke bar in Baltimore. Kima gives this big speech about why she loves being a cop—a point of contention between her and her girlfriend, Cheryl—and the girls are all starry-eyed at her incredibly violent pursuit of justice. What? If that happened today, her friends would all be like “Defund Kima” and disinvite her to brunch. Though I’m glad they didn’t, because Kima gets shot in the neck like two scenes later.
GO: Who do you hope this book reaches, and what do you hope they get out of it?
GP: I’m very aware that this book only covers a sliver of aughts’ media. I strictly wrote about the entertainment I consumed as a teenager, the stuff I really loved at the time, to avoid retconning my teenage emotions. Because of that, I know a lot of millennial readers will be like, Wait, she left my gay root out! It’s my hope that this’ll help readers (of all generations) see the throughline between their adolescent obsession—that one character/story/singer/actor—and their current identity, even if I didn’t explicitly write about it in my book.