The first time I saw myself on TV I was only eight years old. It was on the show My So-Called Life, which had aired on ABC and quickly become required viewing for everyone in my family. They let me watch with them once a week, even though I was too young to understand most of the dialogue. Comprehension wasn’t necessary anyway; I loved it simply because it was about the lives of teenagers. The moment I came out of the womb, I wanted to be fifteen years old, slamming lockers and ditching class and having crushes. I imagined high school to be a magical place full of love and broken hearts and life altering moments, and I couldn’t wait for it to be my time to go there.
Rickie Vasquez was a character on My So-Called Life whom I just adored. He hung out in the girls’ bathroom, wore eyeliner, and felt protective over his wild child best friend, Rayanne Graff. He was a nurturer, someone who perhaps placed more value on his friends’ lives than his own. His family had outcast him when they discovered he was gay and he spent the better part of the series as a vagrant, bouncing from friend’s house to friend’s house until he finally found sanctuary in his English teacher’s apartment (Trust me, that sounds creepier than it actually was).
Rickie wasn’t like me in many ways. I, for one, never felt the desire to wear eyeliner and I also knew that my family would never disown me. But he was the first television character I identified with. At the time, I couldn’t have told you why. I would’ve just said that I liked him because he was friends with girls like I was and he liked to wear colorful vests. It was only later, when I re-watched the series at thirteen that I began to understand why Rickie and I had been cut from the same cloth: We both liked boys, OMG!
When My So-Called Life died a premature death, my entire family was devastated. To curb our sadness though, we decided to purchase tickets to an event in Hollywood that would feature the entire cast for a Q & A session. My recollection of this event is foggy (I was 8, remember?) but I do remember a meet and greet with the cast members. I think I met Jared Leto and Claire Danes and got their autograph, but who cares? I MET WILSON CRUZ, the actor who played Rickie! He was wearing a bright blue blazer and just exuded this wonderful warmth. I have no idea what he actually said to me. All I can recall is him giving me a giant hug and my insides just exploding with happiness. Afterwards, I felt okay with My So-Called Life being over because I would always have this memory, and that meant more to me than any episode had.
I don’t think I ever saw so much of myself in a TV character again. Shows have regressed since then and gay characters have a tendency to be very one note. I guess that’s what made Rickie so special. His sexuality managed to be a secondary part of his personality even in 1994.