One of the clear messages that we’ve seen in today’s society is that representation in the media we consume is extremely important. Personal traits such as race, age, body type, weight, gender, and sexuality matter when it comes to shaping who we are as people. These traits are not exclusive to individuals and the need and desire to have these traits represented in the media has become important in how we see ourselves in society. Demographic changes and social movements are some of the more dynamic reasons behind new influxes of media representation, but these new influxes can be marred with issues. While representation is important, how this representation is executed is even more important. There needs to be an important emphasis on the nature of this representation so that the impact of the representation can have positive impacts on the people and communities being represented.
Take queer representation in the media, for example, as it has seen a huge influx in recent years and people that consider themselves LGBTQ+ are being represented in all forms of media, particularly movies and TV more now than ever before. Despite this, the representation of these groups in the media hasn’t always been the most positive or progressive and this type of representation only serves to further perpetuate negative stereotypes of these communities. The Youtube video titled, AVP Courageous Conversations – Disclosure shines an important light on the topic of queer representation in media. In the video, one of the interviewees featured in the trailer at the start of the video makes an important point about trans representation in particular. She states in the video 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). This statement in particular addresses the idea that LGBTQ+ representation needs substance in conjunction with numerous instances of exposure. Essentially this means that problematic Trans representation will also be a factor, but more representation overall means representation there will be room for more positive representation as well. There is no doubt that Trans representation has progressed in recent years, but there are questions that arise. Has trans and other forms of LGBTQ+ representation come far enough? Who benefits from this representation?
Representation starts somewhere but it is important that it progresses and adapts as time goes on. This progression 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 youth often face issues like homelessness, and that lack of true LGBTQ+ representation in the media 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+ individuals getting access to resources that can improve their lives (26:00 – 27:30). In this way, the representation would improve not only the way queer people are viewed and portrayed, but it would provide economic opportunities for LGBTQ+ in the process. Positive representation in the media is important not only to the individuals being represented but also to the people that may not be members of that particular community. Exposure to social groups and communities that we aren’t a part of can alleviate the anxiety and biases that we develop from not venturing outside of our “in groups”. Representation can spark important conversations within our society that benefit us all.
Although representation in itself is important, it is important to note that representation needs to be more than just “diversity hires”. In Queer written by Karen Tongson it 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 a LGBTQ+ character into a movie or TV show. There needs to be more to their stories than harmful stereotypes or biased and unbalanced representation. It is clear that LGBTQ+ identified people are a part of our society, but it needs to be clear that these people also have unique experiences that deserve attention as well.
“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/