Photo courtesy of Getty Images | Drag Queens Naomi Smalls (right), Kim Chi (middle) and Bob the Drag Queen (left) were all part of the show RuPaul’s Drag Race, which brings Queer issues to light.
As a Queer person, I am hyperaware of any representation (or lack thereof) of my identity in the media. Growing up, I never learned the proper language to describe how I felt. I only saw cisgendered, heteronormative characters on TV and in books and thus felt as though I was something “other.”
I could not relate to the relationships and desires of Lizzie McGuire or the fashion sense and validity in my girlhood like Hannah Montana. Looking at girls, I often mistook my attraction for admiration, which turned into jealousy. I would think things such as, “Why is she so pretty?” and, “I bet that all of the boys stare at her like I do.”
Feminine figures angered and alienated me because, not only did I have complex feelings for them, I never felt as though I was one of them.
Hyper-feminized teens in shows made me feel wrong and I struggled to fit the mold of “girl” that I was shown on TV. All of this led to my extremely internalized homophobia, body dysmorphia and a whole slew of other issues, like rejecting female companionship and internally wincing every time I saw an attractive woman. I was ashamed of who I was and I felt alone. Millions of other people like me feel this way, too.
Whenever there is a queer person on TV, their characteristics are over-exaggerated stereotypes. Lesbians are depicted as nasty and hyper masculine, while gay men are portrayed as flamboyant and catty. Other folx in the LGBTQ+ spectrum are rarely depicted and when they are it is typically in a negative way.
The LGBTQ+ community only makes up 4.8 percent of casted series regulars, and most are killed off (about 78 percent). This sends a toxic message to viewers as the deaths never serve any purpose for the plot of these shows other than to further the narrative of a cisgender character.
The dominant culture ignores the importance of positive representation in media. Queer folx struggle to see themselves as heroic, worthy of accolade or even normal. Disney villains almost always display typically Queer characteristics. A drag queen inspired the character Ursula from The Little Mermaid, and the physique and mannerisms of Jafar from Aladdin mirror that of a stereotypical gay man.
Animated characters who appear in villainous roles are queer-coded, reinforcing their “abnormality” or “otherness” and equating being LGBTQ+ with being evil. These characters are only the tip of the iceberg. The injustices and the toxic messages they send create and sustain the exclusive, homogenous culture of today.
Representation should be neither a political matter nor a box on a checklist. Minorities, who together make up a majority of America, deserve a spotlight so that the next generation of children do not feel outcasted and struggle to find words to express their feelings about their identity.
Queer children have the highest suicide rate of any group, and there is no doubt that the media plays a large role in this staggering statistic. They should see positive representations of themselves in media and feel as though their identity is valid and accepted, too.
Shows need to depict healthy Queer relationships that don’t rely on stereotypes to make the characters “visibly” Queer and use actors whose identities align with those of their characters, especially when a character is trans.
These adjustments matter. They have an impact. We can do better. We need to do better.
By: Oliver Rose | Guest Writer