Jack McFarland was my worst nightmare growing up.
Sean Hayes’s fictional Will & Grace character made me break a sweat each time he’d come on TV. He was unapologetically boisterous. He was unapologetically feminine. And he unapologetically reminded me of everything I was trying to mask as a 19-year-old: being gay.
It doesn’t take an Emmy winner to figure out the premise of the show: Will (Eric McCormack), a gay guy, lives with his best friend Grace (Debra Messing), and without invitation, Karen Walker (Megan Mullally) and Jack often barge in with a jolt of physical comedy and a jab at something offensive.
It was funny, it was brave, and I thought the way in which Will exhibited a more masculine portrayal of what it’s like to be gay was hot. But Jack? He was too much for me to handle. Certain gay men, particularly on hook-up apps like Grindr, claim to strongly dislike other gay men with traditionally girly proclivities. To them, being anything but “masc” and “straight-acting” is not attractive, and Jack was the antonym to the textbook definition of that subset of gay culture.
I feared that when I went behind the backs of my family and friends to meet other guys, they wouldn’t like me if I too didn’t appear masculine. To hide from my identity, I turned to stereotypical hobbies that heterosexual men enjoy. I played sports. I deepened my voice. I wore Nike Shox. I called people “bro.” In retrospect, those days make me cringe.
When the series premiered in 1998, I had kissed enough boys to know I was certainly gay, however, I wasn’t prepared to come out to anyone. So when the show came on and either Jack or Will shrieked in excitement, I’d lower the volume and hope that no one nearby would barge in my bedroom and ask, ‘Why are you watching Will & Grace?’
I was ashamed of watching the show, and while I dipped my toes into several minutes of it each time it aired on NBC, I didn’t consider myself a fan, and still have never watched more than four episodes collectively. “Will & Grace? I’ve heard it’s hilarious. But nah, it’s not for me,” I’d say.
Fast forward 19 years since the comedy’s series premiere, 11 since the series’ 2006 finale, and I wish I had a friend like Jack. I’m out. I’m proud. And though I’m generally quiet and carry a soft demeanor, I’d be the first to break into dance if Britney’s “Slave 4 U” played.
Now, I couldn’t care less if someone else thought I was “acting” too feminine, if someone spotted my boyfriend and I holding hands on the street. I’m being myself, like Jack was, and finally get to live freely. Yes, I try to teach friends and family that certain gay stereotypes are just that, but I have to admit: we all love a little sass and anything fabulous, honey.
Which brings me to the fall revival of Will & Grace. It premieres on September 28 with the original cast, original director, and original writers who participated in its first Emmy-winning run, and yes, I plan to watch every single episode. I have to pay my respects to the characters who paved the way for funny and groundbreaking works of entertainment that changed American culture and helped trigger more acceptance of gay and transgender people.
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After Will & Grace—Ellen is also not to be forgotten—came Queer as Folk, The L Word, Glee, Modern Family, and a list of network and cable TV shows that proudly placed gay characters in leading roles. Today, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who’s never heard of Transparent or Ru Paul’s Drag Race.
Jack McFarland may have been my worst nightmare growing up, but now, Jack, if you’re reading this, let’s be friends?