Why Dawson’s Creek’s Jack McPhee is still important 20 years later
If you don’t wanna wait for your lives to be over for a Dawson’s Creek retrospective article, lucky you. Today, we cover the legacy of a pioneer of LGBTQ representation on TV, with Jack McPhee.
Introduced in the second season, Jack was an ordinary teenage boy, if a bit quiet and elusive. While first dating Joey to cover his sexuality, he comes out accidentally in an English class project. Being the late 90s and early 2000s, coming out mean social stigma from his ignorant classmates, not to mention townspeople.
His strength of character comes from the authentic feel the writers gave him. After facing scorn from his father and criticism from his sister, he fears how he will be treated by the rest of his family, not being “the son his dad wanted.” Many gay people who struggle with family acceptance could relate to his plight.
However, his struggle was not the only thing that made Jack so human.
Jack McPhee was not a cardboard cutout homosexual and resented the expectations of being one. He was annoyed with the idea he would be “asked to wear makeup and start singing Bette Midler.”
Joining the football team was not quite enough to gain complete acceptance from his peers, talented though he was.
LGBTQ people come in all different varieties, though they are often portrayed in some level of stereotype in media. Jack knew he was not the conventional image of “the homosexual,” but he didn’t care. He just wanted to be himself.
In the fourth season, Jack is reluctantly brought to a gay-straight alliance meeting at Jen’s request. He is uncomfortable there and is not exactly welcomed with open arms. Many of the members speculate the validity of his sexuality, being that he plays football and isn’t quite like them.
When asked by Jen why he didn’t want to return, he gives one of the most powerful lines in the series, “I don’t want the only thing I have in common with these people being the fact I’m gay.”
LGBTQ people who don’t fit into the conventional molds of can feel ostracized from the community that should support them. Looks can be deceiving, and it’s important to love someone for the content of their character before all else.
The impact doesn’t end in real life, either. Jack’s actor, Kerr Smith (48), recounted in People Magazine’s 20 year Dawson’s Creek reunion that he got mail from gay fans appreciating what he was doing. His faithful portrayal brought a great deal of visibility to the issues facing the LGBTQ youth of the time and even today.
He made a social issue human and educated the youth of the late 90s and early 2000s. When thinking of writing an LGTBQ character yourself, keep one important thing in mind: keep them human.
Thank you Kerr Smith.