Pride Month Spotlight Extra: For the Love of Chuck
Note from the editor: We had a reader write in, wanting to share her story. We do not normally do these types of posts, but since we already had a spotlight about the character of Chuck Shurley from Supernatural written up for our pride series, and how well-written the story was, we decided to publish it. Please also note that the views below reflect the individual reader that wrote the story, and do not reflect the views of myself, Briar, or the website.
We are proud to issue a moving and touching piece from reader Karyl Anne, who asked Nerds and Beyond to publish her For the Love of Chuck essay, which is a tribute to Supernatural‘s Chuck Shurley. Read her piece below.
“Any god of mine is an open and accepting god.” — Rob Benedict speaking at Creation Entertainment’s Salute to Supernatural Convention, Chicago, 2019
There’s a lot that goes into growing up queer in a Southern Baptist community. Rules, restrictions, fear of unmet gender expectations. Fear of disappointing and angering God. What I most remember, though, is this: not knowing who or what I was but knowing I was wrong, and not knowing what to do about it.
A study in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, cited by Carol Kuruvilla in Huffpost’s Queer Voices, says that “religiosity is linked to a 38% increase in suicidal thoughts” among LGBTQIAA youth. An author of the study, Blosnich, is cited by Kuruvilla as saying, “it can be very scary to be caught in a space where your religion tells you that you are a ‘sinner’ just for being who you are.”
That fear was exactly the headspace in which I lived. Fear of anyone finding out about my sinful thoughts. Fear of never realizing who I was. Fear of judgment and hellfire and damnation.
But more than the fear, there was confusion. I knew I liked boys, so I couldn’t be gay. But I knew I wasn’t straight, either. I knew that the desires I had to touch and be touched by another girl, the dreams of the softness of their hands, tainted me. As long as that temptation was there, I was dirty and, as my church youth group leaders taught, Good Christian Men only wanted women who were pure, innocent, and faithful to be their wives and raise their children.
Caught between two things, I tried to purge myself of who I was. I threw myself into going to church, sang in the choir, and prayed until my knees ached that God would somehow fix me, that He would cleanse my thoughts and make me pure. That He would make me good. I operated as purely boy crazy, learned to flirt with boys but to be careful not to tempt them too much — I was to grow up to be a good, pure wife, after all. But the more I prayed to be good, the harder I tried to be good, the less good I felt.
I remember, clearly, the first time I heard the word “bisexual.” Tenth grade. Geometry class. A friend announced that she was bisexual, and I asked her what that meant. “Umm…” she said, obviously thinking I was stupid. “It means I like boys and girls.” Oh. OH! Wait… That was a thing? What little I’d learned about sexual orientation was that people were either straight (and right) or gay (and wrong). I’d never known there was something in between.
There was still confusion, of course. How did I choose? Was I supposed to have a girlfriend, a boyfriend, or both? (Both was too complicated, but I did try once.) Was I gay if I was only dating a girl? Was I straight if I only dated a boy? And, even worse, how was I supposed to tell people?
The answer to the last one, at least, was easy. I didn’t. Other than a couple periods where I wore too many rainbow bracelets and wrote really self-indulgent poetry about my softball coach, I pretended to be straight. I stopped going to church because I was “busy,” but really it was because I couldn’t handle feeling like I was wrong anymore. I was drowning in unworthiness as I craved feeling loved, accepted, understood — but I didn’t know how to let that happen.
Eventually, I told a few select friends. They were involved in the local queer community, and so they accepted my revelation without question. I dated a couple girls, but because I was unwilling to go public or come out, the relationships fizzled. Like anyone in the early stages of young love, they wanted to shout our connections from the rooftops, but I wanted to hide safely inside. And I worried that going public meant this wasn’t temporary. It was permanent — just as permanent as eternal damnation.
Eventually, I wound up falling in love with and getting engaged to a man, and I figured that was enough. I did come out to him early in our relationship, and he accepted me. I willed it to be enough. But still, somehow, I felt invisible.
According to biresource.org, “bisexuals experience high rates of being ignored, discriminated against, demonized, or rendered invisible by both the heterosexual and the lesbian and gay communities. Often the entire sexual orientation is branded as invalid, immoral, or irrelevant… the needs of bisexuals still go unaddressed, and their very existence is called into question.” There was a lot that played into my decision to come out. An election. Fear of legal consequences. Wanting others to not feel as alone as I always had. Wanting to not feel invisible or invalid anymore. Even though the rise in anti-queer hate crimes and homophobic legislation terrified me, continuing to hide behind my straight-passing relationship and giving power to the rising hate scared me even more.
Like so many others of the millennial generation, I came out online, through a WordPress entry and a Facebook post. “This is who I am, world.”
Most reactions were supportive — friends and cousins wrote me to tell me they loved me. My future mother-in-law said she was proud to welcome me into her family. Some reactions were hateful — other cousins wrote me to tell me they were praying for me to find the light and save myself from Hell. I just blocked them. Still other responses were just — frustrating. A close family member accused me of lying to her because I hadn’t come out sooner and had, in her eyes, pretended to be straight. Another accused me of just wanting attention. But I felt better. I felt free.
My freedom, though, came from an unexpected source. I started watching Supernatural, picking it up during its eleventh midseason hiatus. I binged ten and a half seasons in two months, and loved and lost a lot of characters really quickly. I missed a lot of them, but I didn’t miss any as much as I missed Chuck Shurley.
Played by Rob Benedict, Chuck was introduced as a writer / prophet in the fourth season episode “The Monster at the End of this Book.” At the time, I was in grad school for writing, and I loved Chuck for his iconic line “If I were psychic, do you think I’d be writing? Writing is hard.” I was winding my way through a memoir and uncovering a lot of painful truths of my past, and writing was so unbelievably hard. When Chuck disappeared at the end of season five, there were rumors about his real identity or where he had gone, but I didn’t think about any of that. All I knew for sure was how much I missed him.
In the eleventh season’s 20th episode, however, Chuck returned. I saw the title of the episode, “Don’t Call Me Shurley,” and screamed even before I saw Rob Benedict’s name in the credits. It was one of the first episodes I was able to watch live, and it was my favorite character’s homecoming — I couldn’t be happier.
“He’s back!” I yelled, and he was! And not only was he back, he revealed to his former scribe, the angel Metatron, that he was God, but “just call me Chuck.” I was riveted. God as a writer, God as insecure, God as anxious — this was a God I could relate to.
But then, during a debate where Metatron condemned him for hiding out as Chuck during the threat of an apocalypse, he defends himself. “Hey, I did some great stuff as Chuck… I traveled, a lot, you know. And, uh I dated. Yeah, I had some girlfriends. Had a few boyfriends. Oh! And I learned to play guitar.” Metatron just responds with an “ah.”
God reveals himself, says he’s dated men and women, and there’s no huge reaction. No condemnation. Just “Ah.”
I don’t remember how I outwardly reacted. I probably just sat there in quiet shock. But I do remember how it felt. The episode ends with Chuck singing a cover of Oscar Isaac’s “Fare Thee Well (Dink’s Song),” and I played that song on repeat for hours, days, weeks. “I knew a man who’s long and tall. He moved his body like a cannonball.” (This led me to finding Louden Swain, Rob Benedict’s band, and getting one of their lyrics tattooed on my arm. “I think I will rise.”) And then, finally, I cried. GOD WAS BISEXUAL. I cried for the little girl who hadn’t known who she was. I cried for the adolescent who was afraid she was going to hell. I cried for the adult who didn’t know how to tell people who she was. And I cried because, for the first time, I saw someone who felt like me on television. If it’s true, if we’re created in God’s image, then of course God would be queer. Maybe I’m not damned or wrong. Maybe I’m just me.
Obviously, I know Supernatural is a television show, that Chuck/God is just a character. But Robbie Thompson had to sit down to write the script and had to deliberately choose to insert that line. A showrunner had to approve the character. Rob Benedict had to choose to reprise the role with that line included. And that means that someone, somewhere, knew there were people like me. Alone, lost, invisible. And they had to make the choice to make a character — and not just any character, but GOD — come out, and for his coming out to be met with nothing but a quiet acceptance. I mean, who’s going to judge God? And who has the right to judge any of us, living in his image? Even if it’s just a fictional image?
There’s a lot that goes into growing up queer in a Southern Baptist environment, and there’s a lot that lingers long after leaving it behind. One of those is a feeling of invalidation.
This is how it feels to be validated: Standing in line for a photo op, shaking, blinking back tears. I’m not afraid of being invisible, but of an actor who I admire, who remembers me from my Louden Swain tattoo on my forearm, changing his perspective of me. I’m an unapologetic fangirl, but what if my enthusiasm over God’s queerness is too much? Thoughts racing — What if it’s just a character to him? What if he isn’t an ally? What if it doesn’t mean anything to him? What if he doesn’t want to pose with a pride flag? — pretending I’ll be okay if he says no to the flag.
It’s my turn, and I walk slowly, not meeting his eyes. He smiles. “Hi again!” He still remembers me.
“I… umm, I have a pride flag?” I stammer.
“Great! Wanna wrap it around us?” he asks.
I try to hand him the flag, but my hands won’t cooperate. I’m shaking, and I apologize. He takes it from me, wraps it around us, and pulls me close. “God has a beard!” the angel Castiel said in a recent episode, and it’s true. He does, and it’s soft against my cheek. We smile, the camera snaps, and he hands me my flag.
“Thank you. It. This. You mean so much to me,” I squeak out, and he gives me another million-dollar smile. He squeezes my shoulder in reassurance. “You’ve got this. You’re rising, remember?” and indicates my tattoo.
He’s right. I am rising. And throughout the convention weekend, I’ll keep rising. I’ll have him sign the printed picture. A simple 8×10, but with so much complication behind it. When he signs it, he’ll say “Great! I was hoping to see this!” He’ll say I look pretty and happy in the photo. During his panel, I’ll get to ask him if he knew how much his character would mean to people, and he’ll respond:
I… yeah, I think I knew. I thought it was fuckin’ awesome! That script was so good… I thought it was awesome and really cool and super awesome. I thought it was groundbreaking to have a character like that on network television, and I thought it was so cool to be the person who got to say it. So fuck yeah! Any God of mine is an open and accepting God.
And after the panel, I’ll get to thank him. I’ll get to tell him that, without that episode, I don’t know that I would have been able to come out. He’ll smile, again, and clasp his hands over his heart. He’ll say how glad he is. How much me telling him that means to him. I won’t tell him the years of self-loathing or doubt, but I won’t have to. I think he knows.
I’ll leave the con a stronger person. A better person. I’ll frame the picture and I’ll be staring at it as I type this. I’ll know Supernatural is coming to an end after next season, season 15, and I’ll know that, finally, I’m okay.