united states of tara

The One Where Marshall Goes Cruising in the Park

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It would be easy to say last night’s United States of Tara was just about Marshall looking for sex in a public park. (Possible spoilers ahead.)

It was more than that, even if you can’t relate to being 16 and hunting for sex during the daylight hours. It was about a young person, having just come out to his family in the most unremarkable of ways, trying to figure out how, exactly, to be A Gay. Like parenting, there is no rule book (though there is a whole section at Barnes & Noble).

How many more merit badges do I have to earn until I’m gay enough?

Marshall, played by the excellent Keir Gilchrist, is learning the tricks of the trade from his flamer friend Lionel — played by the surprisingly not-forgettable Michael J. Willett — who takes pity on his new friend, but also sees him as a project; somebody to mold in his own likeness. They’ve already had the “How Gay Am I?” conversation. Now it’s time to play the “What Type of Gay Sexual Person Am I?” game.

As anyone’s first park cruising stunt can be, Marshall’s run is uncomfortable, but not preternaturally so. It’s awkward not because they’re in a public park (ok, maybe a little bit), but because doing new sexual things is always a bit awkward.

Some of the best lines come from Marshall’s gay neighbor who spots him trying to get “introduced to some cock”: “Cruising’s what we all did. I was so full of shame and anger. My therapist called it ‘shanger.’ … Wouldn’t you rather fall in love, Marshall? Would you rather be 16 and in love? I marched on Washington and shopped on Christopher Street so you’d have the choice to do that instead of going to that park and getting off servicing strangers.”

And yet, every gay has to find his own way.