The History of TV’s Gay Teens from “ATWT” to “Queer as Folk”

American daytime TV has never seen anything like the fan reaction to the Luke and Noah romance on As the World Turns. And yet, although such representations are few and far between, this isn’t the first time America has seen gay teenagers on its television screens. From HBO’s 1986 drama The Truth About Alex to Greek’s Calvin and Heath, gay teenagers have been coming out, growing up, and (sometimes) even falling in love on TV for a long time now. What’s so special about Noah and Luke, and just who are television’s other gay teenaged boys?

Longtime fans of As the World Turns have known Luke Snyder (Van Hansis) since he was born, but most gay men didn’t know him until he came out late last year. He came to the attention of even more gay men this June when Noah Mayer (Jake Silbermann) moved to Oakdale, and half the Queer Nation sat up and took notice, starting a tidal wave of “Nuke” obsession the likes of which the American soap opera has never seen before.

Of course it’s not just gay fans avidly following the Nuke storyline, but there's no missing the buzz generated by the large number of first-time viewers following the show and talking about the relationship online. Since Luke has been out for more than a year, and he’s not even the first gay teen character on a soap, what’s behind the frenzy?

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While it’s true there have been other gay teens on the soaps, Noah and Luke have done something never before seen on daytime television: kiss. And not just a dry-lipped brush of lips, but an actual kiss with real passion behind it. While it’s also true that gay teens have kissed on television before (and done a lot more than kiss, as five minutes watching Showtime’s Queer as Folk demonstrates), they’ve never done it in a storyline watched primarily by women and stretched out over the five-days-a-week, 52-weeks-a-year format of the daytime soap opera.

Soap viewers have almost familial relationships with the ongoing characters on their favorite shows. In Luke’s case, they’ve literally known him since he was born. They suffered with him being kidnapped, blown up by a bomb, undergoing a kidney transplant, and accidentally pushing his pregnant mother down the stairs.

They’ve seen him stricken with Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome (since he’s now a senior in high school despite having been born in 1995). They struggled with him as he came to terms with his sexual orientation last year, and may even have shared the consternation of his parents, especially his mom who was trying to get him into ex-gay therapy while he was trying to cope with his feelings for straight friend Kevin.

So old friends and new are rooting for Luke to find happiness and love, debating whether Noah is right for him or just another Kevin, uploading Nuke clips and homages to YouTube and even writing fan fiction and running fan websites for their favorite couple. And they’re also sharing in the process by which a gay teenager became a part of the family for a sizeable hunk of the American public who might not actually have – or know they have – a gay family member.

This is the power of the soap opera: unlike shows that air only 12 to 25 episodes a year, daytime dramas invite you into the daily life of each character, as well as their families, sometimes going back for generations. And by using a teenager whom the audience watched grow up, heterosexual viewers are brought into the painful struggle for identity often experienced by gay youth at that age.

What makes the Luke/Noah dynamic all the more compelling is that fans have seen Luke move through the coming out process and emerge with a level of self-acceptance and even pride rarely seen in gay TV teens. Noah, by contrast, is still at the very beginning of that process, and he’s fighting every step of the way.

Noah’s father is a homophobic career army officer, and not likely to be nominated for dad of the year anytime soon. He’s putting intense pressure on Noah to “straighten up.” The closer Noah and Luke get, the stronger their feelings for each other become, and the more desperately Noah tries to push Luke away as he hides behind girlfriend Maddie.

In a dramatic turn (is there any other kind on a soap?), Noah recently grew angry at Luke for refusing to lie to Maddie for him. Luke finally blew up and told Noah some harsh truths.

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