In 2004, Degrassi: The Next Generation made history as showing one of the first LGBTQ+ kisses on young adult Canadian television. That kiss had quite the impact on boys' development as gay men throughout North America, including the author. Find out why in this article!
The television show Degrassi was incredibly important to my development as a young gay boy growing up in the mid-late 2000s for one reason: Marco Del Rossi. Throughout the show’s decades of melodrama, it never shied from shedding light on real issues facing teens at the time (with admittedly questionable sensitivity), particularly queer storylines. In 2004, Degrassi depicted the first same-sex kiss on mainstream Canadian television aimed toward youth. I was eight years old when this landmark 9 second peck happened. Within a few years, that kiss would be the source of a lot of confusion for me as a I came to understand that I was gay, just like Marco.
Marco was an easy character for me to identify with as I was growing up. He was smart and driven just like how I felt I was, eventually being honored as Degrassi’s valedictorian and elected President of the Student Council. He loved to perform and was always willing to be silly like me.
However, Marco and I were alike in a lot of other ways, too. He struggled to accept his own homosexuality, in the process responding harshly to other depictions of gay men or using anti-gay slurs as an expression of his internalized homophobia and fear of finding out who he really was. While my anxiety about seeing myself in older gay people such as relatives or family friends inspired unease in me, I was always fascinated by their presences comparably to how Marco responds A bit confused and seeking for a way to turn practice into reality, he courted a few girls and even briefly dated Ellie Nash, his best friend in the show, which mimicked my dating patterns before I came out.
Unfortunately, the challenges I saw Marco face on screen did not always materialize immediately in my own. Marco’s experiences predicted some of my issues to come. When some girls found out, they began to objectify me or obsess over an imaginary future in which I was sexless and simply their toy, occasionally even exploring a misguided sexual fantasy between us that I never asked for, a dynamic which plagues Marco and Ellie’s relationship for years. Our experiences regarding outing showed similarities, including the exclusion we faced by straight white male friends (in his case, Spinner; in mine, many of my middle school friends) or how some people would weaponize your secret to manipulate us.
Our approaches to dating hold some comparison, as well. We were not always sure when guys liked us, requiring the other boy to express it by holding our hand (even though it didn’t always register, at least for me when an ex-boyfriend grabbed my hand while watching a film without me recognizing it as a romantic gesture). But I knew that if Marco was able to be loved by another man, maybe I would be, too. Additionally, we faced similar romantic struggles in our late teens as we navigated the awkwardness of your parents—ignorant of your relationship—meeting your same-sex partner, breakups stemming from your delayed coming out process with your parents, or your slightly older boyfriend cheating on you when he went to college and his continued love for you even after your breakup.
All of these similar traits and experiences should indicate how formative Marco was for my development as a young gay boy in the 2000s, but this anecdote can sum up his impact upon me, too. My sister, who was five years my elder, and I watched the show together. One night, while walking with our parents, we delved into conversation about Marco and Dylan’s relationship. Our parents overheard and assumed we’d used the wrong pronouns for Marco’s partner. When we corrected them, my father told us that while there was nothing wrong with it, we were “too young” as 8 and 13 year olds to be exposed to such overt gay depictions. 13 years later, my sister and I are both openly queer and talking about Marco demonstrated (unbeknownst to us at the time) a parallel to our own lives and our own experiences.