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Celebrating Titus Andromedon, A Gay Black Man Who Lives Joyfully In His Every Moment Onscreen

Where to Stream

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Over the last several weeks, Decider polled over 40 LGBTQ entertainment professionals — writers, directors, showrunners, actors, journalists — and asked them to list their picks for the most important LGBTQ TV characters of all-time. We let “important” be defined in the eye of the beholder; these characters all meant something to us in our own personal ways. Check out the complete list of the Top 50 Most Important LGBTQ TV Characters of All-Time here; what follows is one of our essays on the top 10 characters on our list, in recognition of their particularly significant place in LGBTQ entertainment.


When I was little, I would wear my mother’s shirts to bed: they flowed on me like gowns. My favorite had white tigers on it whose eyes were little amber rhinestones. I would play Barbies in my friends’ basements. I listened to musical theatre soundtracks and watched Sister Act on repeat. When I played Power Rangers with the neighborhood boys, I was always pink. I stole Saturday-morning viewings of Jem before I was old enough to really understand it; I just liked the music, the big colorful hair, and the way the characters shimmered between identities. I practiced curtsies in secret, giggling and tumbling over when I lost balance.

It’s no wonder Titus Andromedon is important to me. Mile-a-minute comedy aside: he is what I wanted to grow up to be. His bright clothing breezes as he moves. He is not afraid of pink, not afraid to sparkle. He has a well-styled doll collection, complete with miniature animal-print furniture. His job is to sing like Jem, like Broadway tapes, like Sister Act nuns. (Who cares if he can’t make the rent? For a brief period in my 20’s, my only income was from opera gigs and unemployment checks: I get it.) I might have turned out more like Titus if I had grown up in another place or time.

Netflix

My place and time was Missouri in the ’80s and ’90s. For context: my home county’s first LGBTQ+ pride event happened two months after Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt first hit Netflix.

As I grew up, I became aware that I was different somehow—different from boys at school, different from my older brothers. Through a hundred tiny cuts, that difference turned into a source of embarrassment, then shame. My mom’s tiger shirt mysteriously disappeared, along with my Sister Act VHS tape. I learned to avoid that teenage sister’s Rubbermaid of disused fashion dolls, first when other boys were around, then altogether. In sixth grade, my classmates threw “gay,” “queer,” and “fag” around like darts. I became desperate for a way to get the dartboard off my back. I wanted to pass.

I began to study men—because I was attracted to them, and because I needed to learn their geometry to survive: the axis of each step, the angles of still arms and legs and how they intersect when crossed. My body became mathematics in motion. Shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, toes: I learned to plot each joint as a point on a graph, adjusting my calculus for every situation. I learned to speak low and adopt an assertive cadence; I cloaked myself in jeans, sneakers, and school t-shirts. I struggled to balance this adopted identity with my desire for authentic self-expression; I was also terrified slipping up, and avoided being alone with other guys. I signed up for home ec instead of shop (I was a natural at sewing and baking), but this turned out to be a de facto profession of queerness—I made that mistake only once. I weaseled out of gym and joined my school’s mixed-gender show choir; it comprised just enough members of the football team to grant me a thin-but-respectable veneer of masculine assimilation. (Four years of song and dance, and I was somehow the only gay dude. Glee lies.)

Photo: Netflix

Titus, too, had to pass to survive: he kept closeted as a high school football star in rural Mississippi. He passed as far as his own straight wedding reception before he realized he couldn’t sustain it—longer than I did. Even in New York, the pressure of masculine normativity remains: he takes straight-acting lessons to prepare for an audition for Entourage 2; he assumes the nom de hétéro Cork Rockingham to confound his friend Jacqueline’s lecherous brother-in-law. Tituss Burgess approaches Andromedon’s faux heterosexuality with calibrated superficiality—believable enough for other characters, but obviously and hilariously wrong to the audience. He shows us how tiring performed masculinity is. And how tiresome: we hold our breath for rainbow Titus to erupt from underneath his affected broismo.

Learning to love my gayness and femininity has been an acknowledgment of scars. A slow unburying: I feel out falseness and dust it aside—as Titus brushes away the trappings of jockhood—and expose a fossilized curtsy to the light. It is affirming to see characters on television live this experience. To realize I was never alone.

I celebrate Titus Andromedon: a fat, femme, gay Black man, who lives unflinchingly and joyfully in his every moment onscreen. His bucket of household glitter, his pink tool sash. His face-journeys and his body’s expressive fluidity. He who goes into debt to purchase a thing of silly straws; he who keeps vintage Barbies in the fridge; he whose clothes flow like gowns. Dazzlingly free.

I celebrate Titus Andromedon: and in doing so, I celebrate my unlost parts.

Sebastian Deken has an MFA in nonfiction writing from Columbia University School of the Arts. He lives in New York with his zero cats. Watch him live-tweet his inexorable march toward death: @sebsational.

Watch Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt on Netflix

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