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LGBTQ+ Representation in the Media

With new advancements in technology, media has become an extremely integral part of today’s society, especially with the younger generations. Due to the prevalence of media and how much it is consumed daily, it has also become more important for representations of differing identities to be a greater part of what we see. It is thus important for everyone to feel represented no matter their race, age, body type, weight, gender, and sexuality. Moreover, because the media is such a big part of our lives, it can often dictate what people deem as normal and accepted. Films and TV shows are one of many ways in which we see people that embodied our traits portrayed.

These forms of visual media essentially tell us what’s normal and what’s not and because of this, everyone wants to feel represented in some way in order to feel like they have a place in our society. Not only does this validate and make one feel fulfilled, but it also aids in educating those who don’t occupy certain spaces. It raises awareness and helps promote the inclusivity of these diverse peoples within our communities, which is why social movements often focus on this topic so adamantly. Seeing yourself or aspects of yourself portrayed is important and this is especially true in the LGBTQ+ community. The impact that positive queer representation has had and will continue to have on society is huge and there needs to be more instances of this in the media to ensure that queer people benefit from their stories and experiences.

The portrayal of queer characters in TV shows and films, for example, has seen a huge influx in recent years and people that consider themselves LGBTQ+ are being represented more now than ever before. The “gay best friend” could be seen as one example of queer individuals being seen as normal in the media, but these types of portrayal are not enough. It is important to note that, the portrayal of queer people in the media hasn’t always been the most progressive and this impacts the ability for queer representation to be seen as normal.  In Queer written by Karen Tongson it states that, “At times “queer” has come to mean a particular set of sexual practices, positions, and proclivities. In the past fifteen years or so, scholars have vigorously debated whether or not queer constitutes any form of antinormativity” (2). Queer-identifying people have unique experiences in the world, but these experiences are more than the stereotypes that we may have been exposed to. Stereotypical queer roles should not be used to make queer portrayals in the media seen as normal.  Reducing queer people to harmful stereotypes in the media robs them of the opportunity to showcase their experiences and essentially reduces them to one-dimensional characters with little to no depth that does not accurately reflect their lived experiences.

Particularly, trans representation in the media has a long way to go to ensure that trans people are allowed progressive roles in the media. The YouTube video titled, AVP Courageous Conversations – Disclosure shines an important light on the topic of trans representation in film and TV.  In the video, one of the interviewees featured briefly at the start of the video makes an important point about trans depictions in TV and film. She states that, “There is a one-word solution to almost all the problems in trans media, we just need more. In that way, the occasional clumsy representation wouldn’t matter as much because that would be all that there is” (9:19 – 9:27). More trans representation would further promote the idea that queer identities – or more specifically Trans identities – are normative and that would benefit queer people as well as non-queer people that view and engage with media. There needs to be more portrayals of trans people navigating dating, for example. Dating is something that we all do, seeing a trans person do this on TV or film would help promote the more normative portrayals of queer people.

In addition, this increase in overall queer representation will ensure that the more impressionable members of the queer community, possibly young, closeted LGBTQ+ members, see people that they relate to in a positive light.  In AVP Courageous Conversations – Disclosure, one of the panelists Jazzmun Nichcala Crayton points out that LGBTQ+ people, particularly youth, often face issues like homelessness and the lack of true LGBTQ+ representation aids in these issues being overlooked and ignored by Hollywood and the media. She also points out that an increase in this representation could aid in actual LGBTQ+ getting access to resources that can improve their lives (26:00 – 27:30). With more LGBTQ+ films and TV shows being made, that opens up more opportunities for aspiring LGBTQ+ actors and creators to create media that reflect their own experiences. This would also provide economic opportunities for LGBTQ+ people both in and out of the media.

Furthermore, it is important to note that representation needs to be more than just “diversity hires”. Tongson states that, “Aren’t-we-GLAAD approaches to quantifying queer visibility—that is, measuring with exactness how many gay characters, shows, and actors are on TV or in films, and whether or not these portrayals are positive or negative—have created their own set of limitations around our encounters with all forms of media, not just explicitly queer representations with identifiable queer bodies, characters and ‘acts’” (2). I agree with this sentiment. LQBTQ+ representation needs to have some significant backing behind it. It simply isn’t enough to just add an LGBTQ+ character into a movie or TV show. There needs to be more to their stories than harmful stereotypes or biased and unbalanced portrayals. Diversity hires aren’t enough and at times can be disingenuous.

To conclude, LGBTQ+ portrayals and presentations have seen some inspirational and important milestones. There are movies like Moonlight and TV shows like Pose that are having huge cultural impacts on the media we watch. There are still some ways to go, but trans and queer representation will continue to grow and progress thanks to technology and younger generations.

 

Citations

“AVP Courageous Conversations – Disclosure” YouTube, uploaded by New York City Anti-Violence Project, 22 Feb. 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MXWzGcxBW2E

Tongson, Karen. “Queer.” Keywords For Media Studies, 20 Mar. 2017, keywords.nyupress.org/media-studies/essay/queer/

2 thoughts on “LGBTQ+ Representation in the Media

  1. Valerie Kominer (she/her)

    First of all, I think that this is really well written and that you did an amazing job! Secondly, I wanted to touch upon a really important point you made: the fact that people in the LGBTQ+ community get very few types of representation in the media. You often see gay men shown as very flamboyant characters on television and in the movies. While there are gay men who act like that, that is a generalization about gay men that creates an inaccurate stereotype. I also think that there is a lot wrong with casting straight people in LGBTQ+ roles. I remember being shocked that Blaine from Glee was straight in real life. There was a lot of controversy around that and rightfully so, as I am sure that there are plenty of gay men who could have been casted in that role. That is just one instance out of many, showing that there is still a lot more progress that needs to be made in the media!

  2. Hilarie Ashton

    Tateanne,

    What a smart and lyrical piece of writing — truly a pleasure to read. You set out your argument so thoughtfully, particularly in your second graf, where you balance the different ways queer representation is important very skillfully. I especially appreciate how you talk about straight people learning from it while keeping the representational importance for queer people, first and foremost, at the center. The way you then move on to dismantle the myths that stereotypical roles are enough is very smart, and you use Tongson’s work well to back that up, weaving her insights in in more than one place. And the careful way you also weave in insights from the AVP panel on Disclosure is really sharply and smartly done.

    The one place that needs a little bit more work is your conclusion — it’s a bit short and introduces ideas and works that would have been better mentioned earlier (like Moonlight and Pose). Think about a reader who doesn’t know those works — they wouldn’t understand their importance without more detail from you.

    But still — really wonderfully done!

    I’m looking forward to your final projects!

    Prof. A

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