Growing up in the closet, the most terrifying thing pre-teen me could imagine was my father discovering my sexuality.
My dad was never a progressive man, especially surrounding the LGBT+ community, so every day I listened to his comments about the only real exposure he’s ever had to another homosexual: the TV.
I thought that eventually he would notice I had some very common interests with the stereotypical TV gay man. I did theater in high school, I took pride in my fashion choices and most of my friends were female. I thought eventually my dad would take note of all of this and burst into my room bombarding me with all kinds of slurs.
There are no respectable gay men in TV and movies. For years, if my community was even lucky enough to view a homosexual man on their TV screen, they were always the butt of a cruel joke. They were always pegged as hyper-feminine, cry-baby pansies who acted more like a 1950s housewife than an actual human being.
Even shows that pushed for equality between sexualities like Queer Eye often dug themselves in a hole of overly-gay stereotypes that ultimately muddled the message they were trying to portray.
I often found myself afraid that my own community would hate me when I first made the decision to come out. I thought I would be roasted over an open fire for being ‘part of the problem’ — a walking representation of everything the media thought a gay person should be. However, the biggest difference between those media portrayals and me is that I was given an actual personality, interests and emotions.
And while gay men have been turned into a walking joke with no shred of personality other than the personification of glitter, gay women in media have very quickly been turned into the modern day Romeo and Juliet love story. Lesbians have recently been used in TV shows and film as a premise of overcoming adversity and following your heart, which is a nice message the first time around. There are countless examples of two women (usually in a loveless, disillusioned relationship with some macho man) who, through a chance meeting, learn to recognize their feelings for each other before running away together into the sunset happily ever after.
This entire premise completely ignores the struggle many gay people face when coming out. The media plays it off like all you really need is to find ‘the one’ and all your problems will be over. They never focus on the hate, the backlash, the mental health issues and the pain that surround a woman’s decision in coming out, mostly because a fairytale ending gets more views at the box office, while still making a bunch of crotchety old movie executives seem progressive and with the times.
That being said, it could be worse. There’s a hypothetical ‘step down’ from the lesbian love story that I find even more insulting due to its pure laziness; the representation of bisexuality in media.
We all cheered when Korra and Rosa Diaz were revealed to be bisexual, but we also failed to comment on was how this was sloppily and suddenly introduced after season upon season of straight-up heteroromanticism.
Ninty percent of the time, it seems that a bisexual character in TV doesn’t actually show a shred of interest in the same sex until the plot demands it. Usually the plot demands it because the writers couldn’t be bothered to come up with a better story, so they decided to snag some brownie points with the LGBT+ community while avoiding hate from homophobic viewers by saying, “Hey, look, at least a part of them is still straight!”
It doesn’t help that most portrayals of bisexuals in the media are exclusively female, and I think that’s largely in part to the bi-girl fetishization that’s prevalent in society today.
However, truly no one in the community has it nearly as bad as trans people. I cannot think of a single time a transgender person has been shown on TV, much less in a respectable fashion. For some reason, Hollywood’s closest understanding to what a trans person looks like is a drag queen, which is just insulting to trans people and gay men alike.
My solution? Talk to a gay person. Learn their stories, their struggles, their personalities that they bring into this world. Dismantle the cookie cutter molds of what an LGBT+ member should look like, and open your eyes to how they actually are. You’ve already grasped the concept that we deserve the same love as heterosexuals; why can’t you learn we also deserve the same character development and backstory?
I am aware of how privileged I am to be living in a much more accepting society — a society that allows a gay romance story to even exist — but we need to do better. There is a thin, dotted line between representation and pandering, and it too often gets blurred in the eyes of consumerism.
Gay people in media are robots. They exist to serve their purpose on the show, and then are quietly swept under the rug until the writers need another joke or some more progressive points. In real life, we are not robots. We are living, breathing humans — and this human will not stop fighting until the next generation of LGBT+ children can be proud of the pride they see on their TV.