Move over Kurt and Santana, Sonny Kiriakis is in town!
The rest of the TV viewing universe may think Ryan Murphy Glee-fully cornered the market on visible gay youth, but soap fans know that our genre has been trailblazing in this department for years. Another Ryan, Ryan Phillippe, played Billy Douglas on OLTL from 1992-93. And remember AMC’s sweet Kevin Sheffield (Ben Jorgensen)? Then, of course, there was Bianca Montgomery (Eden Riegel), who rocked both daytime and her legendary mama Erica Kane when she came out in 2000. Six years later, ATWT’s Luke Snyder (Van Hansis) came out to his family and a year after that, he helped the coming out process of another boy, Noah Mayer (Jake Silbermann). Daytime has consistently given gay teens a voice, without resorting to song and dance routines and landing on the cover of Entertainment Weekly. Now, Days of our Lives, oft considered one of the most conservative sudsers, has joined the chorus.
Freddie Smith‘s out and proud Sonny Kiriakis, the young scion of one of DAYS’ most notorious families, breezed into Salem earlier this year. When most TV shows are still telling formulaic coming out stories, it’s kind of refreshing to have Sonny join the canvas without the requisite angst of such a tale. Most LGBT narratives seemed designed for maximum suffering: as if a character must jump hurdle after hurdle just to be allowed to be. But Sonny, a sports enthusiast, came to Salem having already scaled mountains. His parents, veteran characters Justin and Adrienne, are textbook PFLAG parents, completely supportive, and his cantankerous great-uncle Victor also surprised viewers by responding positively. Of course, because it is a soap, and because people do still need to have their eyes opened, the “teaching moments” are still a huge part of the story. Sonny is definitely a mouthpiece for a message of tolerance. There was an obligatory homophobia arc, and Sonny still spouts educational platitudes that are directly aimed at the audience. (I long for the day when telling a LGBT story doesn’t require such hand-holding.) But there’s an ease to Smith’s line delivery that softens the blow of the 2×4 upside the head. He’s so self-assured that when he’s stumping for acceptance it’s usually with a smile and a shrug.
This takedown of homophobic teen T features Sonny’s trademark wit and the strength of his convictions, as well as Uncle Vic’s badassery. And that’s how the characters roll: delivering life lessons and laughs in turns.
Sonny: Hey, you get me until I find a guy as cute as you. But then you’re on your own.
Melanie: Is it hard?
Sonny: What? What, being gay, or being gay in Salem? ‘Cause those are two totally different things.
Sonny: I’m cool with who I am. So are most of the people I know. But if I were to bring someone around, that’s when I have to start being more careful. I have to be aware of who’s around me because if I want to put my arm around him… there’s just always someone who’s not gonna like it. And they’re not afraid to say it, either.
Melanie: I’m sorry. That sucks.
Sonny: No, don’t be. I mean, I’m not. Like, I’m glad that I’m out. That’s what people don’t understand is that… being gay is a small part of who I am. And if you’re looking for someone to feel sorry for, it’s for those people who don’t get that.
DAYS has made sure that Sonny’s message is right on target. Despite the PSA moments, he’s like every other teen/20-something character on daytime: charming, funny, and looking for love. He’s been fully integrated into the core group of “kids,” and not trapped on the dreaded Gay Storyline Island. He’s a son, a cousin, a friend, one of three guys involved in a Social Network-esque story arc, etc. He’s a gay character cut from a portion of the same cloth as OLTL’s Kyle Lewis and ATWT’s Reid Oliver — and it’s nice to have that quality in a younger role, avoiding the constant drama that was Luke Snyder’s run on ATWT. I mean, Sonny’s more centered and well-adjusted than most of the straight characters in Salem…and we need more of that on our TV screens!
Coming out stories are important, and books, TV shows and movies should absolutely still be telling them. There is no denying that. But it’s equally important to show what happens after…to have characters who are living proof that “it gets better.” DAYS is, by all accounts, gearing up to tell the story of Will Horton’s struggle with his sexual identity…and I think it’s absolutely great that they’ve laid the foundation with Sonny, who has been there and done that and can now act as the Yoda to Will’s Luke Skywalker. And they’re not alone. They have a whole community of friends their own age, plus open-minded adults, surrounding them. That bodes well for Salem’s LGBT forecast.
With winter right around the corner, Sonny has brought a much-needed warmth to DAYS. Here’s hoping that he keeps shining!