Look at Him, He’s Sandra Dee: What House of Lies ‚ Roscoe Can Teach Us About Gender-Nonconforming Children

On Jan. 8, 2012, in a television series seemingly about corporate greed and rampant sexuality — Showtime’s new series House of Lies, starring Don Cheadle — a very unconventional child character made his debut on American television: Marty Kaan, the main character in House of Lies, stalwartly goes to bat for his gender-nonconforming, 12-year-old son Roscoe. Roscoe wears skirts and drapes himself in shimmery scarves. He has a major goal: to get picked for the part of Sandy in his school’s production of Grease. And he gets the part, until a mother complains — it’s a girl’s part, after all. Marty is befuddled by his son’s gender transgressions, but Marty’s own wise father, a retired mental health professional, offers his son sound counsel: just let Roscoe be who he is.

Marty and Roscoe are only fictional characters. But they mirror the challenges that are facing real families and real classrooms all around the country and beyond. As author of Gender Born, Gender Made: Raising Healthy Gender-Nonconforming Children, and as a psychologist who spends much of my time working with children who just don’t fit inside neat, binary gender boxes, I applaud Showtime and the writers of House of Lies for bringing a new perspective on children’s gender in a compelling and sympathetic way, and one that hopefully opens up the question: who should get to be Sandra Dee?

Who is Roscoe? Ken Tucker, critiquing the show, thinks Roscoe is conflicted about his pubescent sexuality. Jesse Carp, another critic, is quite sure Roscoe is a flamboyantly homosexual son. Wrong, or at least we don’t know yet. Lesson number one: children who mix up gender in their dress, in their play, and in their self-declaration as „boy,“ „girl,“ or „other“ are telling us information about their gender, not their sexuality. All we know about Roscoe is that he is challenging our gender prescriptions and proscriptions of what boys or girls can or cannot do. Yes, maybe someday he might go on to be gay, exploring the margins of gender on the way to understanding who he likes — boys, girls, both, or other. But I cannot stress enough that sexual identity and gender identity are not the same; they are two separate tracks. If it helps, jumping ahead to adulthood, gender is who we go to bed as, whereas sexuality is who we go to bed with. It is so important that we start getting that straight (no pun intended). If we don’t, we’ll miss seeing our children for who they are and hearing what they’re trying to tell us.

What does Roscoe do when he’s told that the well-earned part of Sandy is pulled from him by the principal? He’s furious, as well he should be. Lesson number two: it is not for us to tell children what their gender is; that’s up to the children to say. As Marty says, backing Roscoe in a heated argument with the school principal, „Sandy is not a girl’s part, it’s a Sandy part.“ And if we stretch that exclamation further, our children should have the right to decide how they want to express gender, not limited by our gender policing but by the children’s own gender creativity — how they weave together all the meanings of gender and beyond to come to a gender that is their true authentic one, which may be male, female, gender-blended, or something of their own invention.

Don Cheadle, who plays the part of Marty, wonders whether the character of Roscoe is questioning his gender. Maybe. But maybe not. He may just be exploring it, or playing with it, or just being creative about it. So just who is questioning? Lesson number three: typically, with gender-nonconforming kids, the questioning is more ours than theirs. It can make us anxious when we can’t pinpoint a child’s gender. It can make parents especially anxious; they’re the ones who get fingers pointed at them, with people asking, „Why do you let your kid do that? That’s‘ sick.“ To escape the anxiety that a gender-bending kid like Roscoe can generate in all of us, we may be tempted to jump to, „Oh, it’s just a phase. He’ll outgrow it.“ Any time you have a phase to outgrow, it equates with something we all hope will disappear. Children’s gender expressions may indeed evolve over time, but gender is never a phase. It may be a cross-section in time, it may be a forever thing, but it is always a deep and real thing about a child at that particular time and place. The best thing we can do about our own questioning is to use it to relearn gender and come to know that parents have very little control over their children’s gender identity but tremendous influence over their children’s gender health.

If House of Lies can bring into all our living rooms a new consciousness that the Roscoes of the world need loving parents and supportive communities who will follow Roscoe’s grandfather’s advice and open up the space for all the children to discover their true gender selves, then we will make the world a better place for the children of all genders. So thank you, House of Lies, for bringing us closer to the truth.

Meet Roscoe Kaan, ‘ Sexually Ambiguous Child Star

When I set out to write a son for Marty Kaan, Don Cheadle’s ethically challenged character on House of Lies, I thought, “What kind of kid would just undo this guy? What kind of kid would unbalance and upend Marty? What kind of kid would take him out of his role as smug superman who can solve any “case” using a variety of consulting tricks and genuine analytical genius?”

And I came up with Roscoe, based loosely on several children I’ve met over the years whose gender identities have come differently from those of the majority of their peers. He’s a kid who’d rather play Sandy than Danny Zucko in Grease—for now. And in creating a challenge for Marty, I’ve also encountered a barometer for the varying attitudes and preconceptions of the audience. An entire segment of the audience simply dismisses Roscoe as gay. Another immediately jumps to pushing him into a transgender role. Some just think he’s weird. How about this: he’s just Roscoe.

Matthew Carnahan, creator/executive producer of House of Liestalks to the HuffPo about the show’s “genderqueer” child star, Roscoe Kaan (played by Donis Leonard Jr.). House airs on Showtime Sundays at 10pm and follows Roscoe’s father Marty (Don Cheadle) swindling corporate fat cats with brilliantly conceived con-man schemes.

Meet Roscoe Kaan, ‘ Sexually Ambiguous Child Star

5 Things to Know About ‚House of Lies‘

Starring Don Cheadle as Marty, a successful and cutthroat consultant who stops at nothing to get his way, Showtime’s upcoming comedy House of Lies stands as one of the cable network’s first series orders under new entertainment topper David Nevins. The Hollywood Reporter was on hand Tuesday for Showtime’s first screening of the series, written by Matthew Carnahan (Dirt). Here are five things to know about Lies, which the network plans to air next year.

Don Cheadle bares it all. On hand to introduce the comedy, Cheadle warned that the opening scene was quite revealing. The actor bares it all in the first and last minutes of the episode, one literally in which he’s waking up after a night with his ex-wife and then figuratively as the half-hour closes, illustrating that Marty has a conscience when all is said and done.

Turns to the camera, breaking the fourth wall. Based on House of Lies: How Management Consultants Steal Your Watch and Then Tell You the Time by Martin Kihn, there are plenty of consulting terms that must be interjected and explained in the series. In the version screened, Cheadle’s Marty turns to the camera and the action behind him pauses as he defines terms including “counseled out” and “afterwork.” Cheadle is better than Saved By the Bell’s Zach Morris but the device kills the momentum.

LGBT friendly. Donis Leonard Jr. is a breakout star waiting to happen as Roscoe, Marty’s young son who is exploring his sexual identity. Wearing a purple skirt, Roscoe tells Marty of his plan to audition for the role of Sandy in the school production of Grease and winds up exiting the room with a quick pirouette after dad signs off. It’s a refreshing take on the “gay son” character.

Strong and crazy women return. Kristen Bell’s Jeannie has a background in business consulting and psychology and offers the reason and logic to Marty’s madness. Meanwhile, Dawn Olivieri has the smart and crazy covered in Monica, Marty’s pill-popping ex-wife who happens to run the top-rated consulting firm.

Jean-Ralphio lives. Ben Schwartz channels a toned-down Jean-Ralphio from NBC’s Parks and Recreation to play Clyde, a member of Marty’s consulting firm. Hopefully Josh Larson’s Doug, a fellow member of the firm, will be given as much material as Parks’ Aziz Ansari so that both can become formidable sidekicks.

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5 Things to Know About 'House of Lies'

Episodes

Season 4 begins with Marty eager to grow Kaan and Associates, and telling a pregnant Jeannie exactly what her future is with the company. Meanwhile, the Pod leaves one client in pursuit of a much bigger payday.

Marty proves his business savvy when he meets an electric car mogul; Jeannie orchestrates a chance encounter with a new client that goes terribly awry; Marty accuses Jeannie of being a dishonest person, which prompts her to reveal a difficult truth.

Marty and Jeannie pitch opposing strategies to a Seattle-based skincare company. Meanwhile, Doug gets fed up with Sarah’s antics and puts his foot down; and Clyde discusses a business idea with an unlikely partner.

Marty devises a last-ditch plan when the Gage presentation falls apart and it includes orchestrating a move that a volatile Ellis doesn’t want. Meanwhile, Jeannie meets with a headhunter in her job search; and Doug petitions to join Clyde and Kelsey’s new business venture.

Marty devises a plan when the partnership between Ellis and Maya reaches a boiling point, but Jeannie opposes it. Meanwhile, Clyde develops feelings for Kelsey when they seek investors for their start-up.

Marty hatches a lucrative plan with Gage Motors when the new partnership with Ellis reaches a boiling point; Jeannie seriously considers an attractive job offer; Roscoe skips school to party with some new friends.

Trouble arises at Kaan and Associates when payment is not received from a consult. Meanwhile, Clyde gets a visit from his estranged father; Marty learns of Roscoe’s entrepreneurial endeavors; and Jeannie pushes back to stay.

Marty and Jeannie entice Denna with a retaliatory business move against Ellis. Meanwhile, things get complicated between Doug and Kelsey; and Clyde spends time with his father and is disturbed to see how similar they may be.

Marty butts heads with a turnaround artist sent by Denna to grow K&A’s business; Jeannie receives a dinner invitation to the Kaan home; Clyde reaches a breaking point with his father.

Marty gets into a conflict with Denna when he pitches the CEO of a fast-food chain; Roscoe’s business is exposed, which hurts his status and future at school; Doug and Clyde have different reactions to dating the same woman.

Episodes

Episodes

Season 4 begins with Marty eager to grow Kaan and Associates, and telling a pregnant Jeannie exactly what her future is with the company. Meanwhile, the Pod leaves one client in pursuit of a much bigger payday.

Marty proves his business savvy when he meets an electric car mogul; Jeannie orchestrates a chance encounter with a new client that goes terribly awry; Marty accuses Jeannie of being a dishonest person, which prompts her to reveal a difficult truth.

Marty and Jeannie pitch opposing strategies to a Seattle-based skincare company. Meanwhile, Doug gets fed up with Sarah’s antics and puts his foot down; and Clyde discusses a business idea with an unlikely partner.

Marty devises a last-ditch plan when the Gage presentation falls apart and it includes orchestrating a move that a volatile Ellis doesn’t want. Meanwhile, Jeannie meets with a headhunter in her job search; and Doug petitions to join Clyde and Kelsey’s new business venture.

Marty devises a plan when the partnership between Ellis and Maya reaches a boiling point, but Jeannie opposes it. Meanwhile, Clyde develops feelings for Kelsey when they seek investors for their start-up.

Marty hatches a lucrative plan with Gage Motors when the new partnership with Ellis reaches a boiling point; Jeannie seriously considers an attractive job offer; Roscoe skips school to party with some new friends.

Trouble arises at Kaan and Associates when payment is not received from a consult. Meanwhile, Clyde gets a visit from his estranged father; Marty learns of Roscoe’s entrepreneurial endeavors; and Jeannie pushes back to stay.

Marty and Jeannie entice Denna with a retaliatory business move against Ellis. Meanwhile, things get complicated between Doug and Kelsey; and Clyde spends time with his father and is disturbed to see how similar they may be.

Marty butts heads with a turnaround artist sent by Denna to grow K&A’s business; Jeannie receives a dinner invitation to the Kaan home; Clyde reaches a breaking point with his father.

Marty gets into a conflict with Denna when he pitches the CEO of a fast-food chain; Roscoe’s business is exposed, which hurts his status and future at school; Doug and Clyde have different reactions to dating the same woman.

Episodes

Oh, ok.

@B-Rock: Roscoe’s father is the one on the show who doesn’t have a problem with him and Roscoe is definitely not the comedic character of the show. He seems more like the voice of reason most of the time. Marty’s co-workers were also great with Roscoe, if anything they’ve only showed him having some problems at school, and his mother having problems with him being effeminate. Roscoe is one of the best characters on the show hands down.

It’s a really good show with a stellar cast. I wouldn’t write it off before watching it.

@MEJ: He never pointed out gay people specifically he said the audience meaning everyone. I think he just wanted to create a character that won’t be defined in any way just to make us comfortable and we should be ok with that. It goes way beyond just being gay or transgender. Most of America can’t seem to let people just be.

Ian Rankin

Hard-hitting, gritty crime fiction is synonymous with Scottish author Ian Rankin. For decades, he has seen his books become chart toppers internationally, and his primary series featuring Detective Inspector John Rebus has been made into two different television programs with the BBC.

Rankin and Rebus fans can officially rejoice because his latest release, In a House of Lies, meshes together the recently retired John Rebus along with some old colleagues—namely D.I. Siobhan Clarke—as well as the star of Rankin’s other series, Inspector Malcolm Fox, who deals with internal complaints within the police department.

Siobhan Clarke has been brought into the ACU: Police Scotland’s Corruption Unit, and she is one of the principal investigators on the newly re-opened cold case. The body of a missing private investigator named Stuart Bloom is found in the trunk of a car that was driven to the middle of the woods. The corpse was handcuffed by both the wrists and ankles. John Rebus is contacted because he knew the deceased. Rebus recalled that Bloom was gay and was last doing some security work for a film producer of less than reputable titles by the name of Jackie Ness.

Clarke is discovering why the original case was so bungled, and it seems like things lead directly back to Police Scotland’s front-line officers as well as the detectives handling things back in 2006. Malcolm Fox is also called in due to his prior work with the Complaints Department and current detail with Major Crimes—especially when alleged criminal activity and negligence may have been attributable to the Police Department.

Malcolm Fox learns that the consistent opinion of those who were around this case was that you need not dig too deep to uncover the skeletons that were involved. John Rebus, who is actively involved as a consultant with the case, knows that there is much more than his legacy at stake, and the same peril he felt in 2006 still exists today. This means he could just as easily be erased now if he presses on too hard. All he can do is impart words of wisdom to D.I. Clarke, like when he refers to the case as a “perfect storm” and reminds her that “every storm has a centre. Find your way there, and you’ll crack the case.”

What has always drawn me to Ian Rankin’s writing, and the reason why I believe he has enjoyed so much success as a crime writer, is that his characters are all real, three-dimensional beings who pop right off the page through his prose and instantly become memorable for the readers that are spending time with them. He doesn’t get tied down in minutiae like deep forensics—although it’s an important part of each case. Instead, he devotes his writing to deal with the emotions of all the characters involved in a case, thereby making it that much easier to follow along as his fictional investigators make the impossible possible. In a House of Lies is no different, and it is nice to see the recently retired John Rebus still a vital and necessary figure whose fans, like myself, just love spending more quality time with.