I spent an unreasonable amount of time last weekend sobbing on the couch.
I watched Glee as a casual fan, catching it here and there and basically losing interest when it got super weird in Season 5.
But the news of Naya Rivera’s death last week sent me on a downward spiral bingeing every episode of Santana Lopez’s coming out story. I was already in my thirties at the time, but I recognized how significant Santana’s storyline was for people half my age—my coming out timeline was peppered with pioneering roles by Ellen DeGeneres, Alyson Hannigan and Karyn Dwyer.
Lesbian Latina characters did not exist on prime-time, network television until Naya Rivera played one. It was 2010. Glee always leaned hard into humor—and Santana’s quips are some of the best—but Rivera was honest and nuanced with a role originally intended to be nothing more than the mean, slutty cheerleader in the back of the choir room. She seemed to know how big of a deal it was to get it right. She knew how much it mattered.
Honestly, I hadn’t thought about Glee or Santana Lopez or Naya Rivera since the show ended in 2015. I didn’t think about it all that much when it was on the air. But for some reason, I felt compelled to cry on the couch for hours, fast-forwarding to get to the sad parts, grieving three actors who lives ended tragically and at a young age. If I had to fashion a guess why, I think watching fictional teenagers with their whole lives ahead of them understand themselves and the world through Adele mash-ups and Fleetwood Mac hits somehow gave me a concrete (if not super productive) way to process all the trauma in the world right now.
Mourning Naya Rivera felt uncomplicated and allowed me to shut out the world for a little while. Somewhere in America, there’s a teenage girl sitting in her room wondering if she’s gay. She’s just as consumed by it and confused as I was a couple decades ago. I had the luxury of coming out in a world that wasn’t on Facebook. I don’t have to grapple with my identity while simultaneously grieving the loss of 140,000 Americans, and counting, as unidentified militia provoke riots and the President bumbles on about Goya beans and confederate statues.
What we’re going through would be ridiculous if it wasn’t so heartbreaking.
Naya helped me. Maybe she helps you, too.