TV is one of the main places we get our entertainment these days, and it should be no surprise that people are looking for themselves in their television shows. But there is one group that is severely underrepresented in all forms of media, television included, and that’s LGBTQ people. And when they are represented, it isn’t always in the best light. So let’s get into the good, the bad, and the ugly of LGBTQ representation in television. (Disclaimer: All examples are from shows I personally watch, so while there might be much better or worse examples, I don’t know them.)
There’s more to me than the fact that I’m gay, but I’m still gay.
Too often we see characters that are only their sexuality. Their stories revolve around coming out, around accepting themselves, around discovering themselves.
While there is nothing wrong with these stories, they should not be the only stories to exist. On the other ends, sometimes writers trying to avoid this find characters who are mentioned to be LGBTQ once and then it never comes up again.
Captain Raymond Holt from Brooklyn Nine-Nine finds the perfect middle ground between these two extremes. Holt is the new captain of the precinct when the show starts, and within the first episode we know he’s gay.
But Holt still has an active role in the show outside of the fact that he is gay. It is never forgotten, we see his husband many times, but it doesn’t completely take over his story. Holt goes through many different stories that have nothing to do with his sexuality and it’s refreshing.
We’re a normal couple that fights sometimes, but not about our sexualities.
We all know the stereotypical LGBTQ couples whose fights are always somewhat about their sexualities. They fight about how one character isn’t out, how parents don’t like their significant other, about how one character is bi and the other is afraid they’ll leave them for the opposite sex, and so on and so on.
It’s rare to see a couple who doesn’t fight about their sexaulity but isn’t held up as a completely perfect couple who never fights. Magnus and Alec from Shadowhunters break that mold. Magnus never pushes Alec to come out before he’s ready to, Alec never gets upset over the fact that Magnus has been with men and women (even though the source material fell into this trap).
But they do fight, like when Alec has to hide that the Clave still has the sword that can wipe out downworlders, which Magnus is (I know, it’s confusing), it isn’t just glossed over as something small. It’s a big deal, and they treat it like a big deal.
The “It’s complicated” bunch, or labelless characters.
So many times characters are shown to be into the opposite sex, and then the same sex, and TV shows expect us to take that as the end of representation. That is all it ever is.
But by not addressing it, we’re left with more questions than answers. Are they bi? Did they think they were straight and now they have realized they’re gay? I want to know, but you’re never going to address it again.
A prime example of this is Annalise Keating from How To Get Away With Murder. She had a husband and was cheating on him with a man in the first season, and then someone else comes into the picture in the second season, Eve, a woman who she had something with back in law school.
There even is a scene where it would be easy for them to reveal her sexaulity, where the two women are out for a drink and get hit on by a couple of dudes. Eve tells them she is a lesbian and when they ask Annalise, she says it’s complicated. Your representation is half-assed if you won’t give it a label.
I’m here to date a dude and make stereotypical comments, see you next time my gayness is relevant.
Nothing is more frustrating than characters who are just here to be your stereotype, especially when they have the potential to be more than that. Like Kevin Keller in the first season of Riverdale (I haven’t seen the second yet).
He’s only there when Betty needs a friend that isn’t Archie or Veronica because she’s upset with both of them and Kevin shows up as a typical GBF, when they need someone to take a closeted boy to the river to make out and find a body, or when the serpents need someone they can have Joaquin date and take advantage of.
Even though Kevin is the son of the sheriff and could have been really helpful with the fact that the main characters were trying to solve a murder, he never exists outside of his sexuality.
We might be queer, we’re never going to say we are, but we might be.
Queerbaiting is a thing that you’ve probably heard of, but let’s go over it again. It’s when shows continually hint at the possibility of making their characters LGBTQ to get people to watch, but never follow through.
A prime example is, on the list again, Riverdale and its treatment of Betty and Veronica.
Those two kiss once in one episode, for reasons that really aren’t very clear. I guess Veronica is trying to prove something to Cheryl and kissing Betty does that, but it doesn’t make much sense. But that scene had a major spot in every single trailer, and people were wondering if this reboot would spin the traditional Archie-Betty-Veronica triangle by making the girls have feelings for each other, or at least one of them.
But nothing ever came from that, it was just an attempt to seem more progressive than the show is.
I’m finally happy! And I’m dead.
The tortured lesbian happens more often than not, and what tends to happen is that the two female characters that are in love will spend forever going through whatever is in their way, finally get together, and then one of them will be killed. In one of the most current examples, The 100 did this with their bisexual female lead, Clarke, and her lesbian girlfriend, Lexa.
They were starting something at the end of the second season, but as the leader of her people, Lexa made a decision that was good for her people but bad for Clarke and her friends. A few episodes after the third season started, the two ended up together again, working through their issues after what happened and trying to get their people to be able to get along.
The couple is about to be separated again, and have a heartfelt goodbye scene where the two end up having sex for the first time. The next scene has Clarke getting ready to leave when someone comes in and points a gun at her, ready to kill her. Lexa shows up at the last moment and gets hit by a stray bullet.
Lexa then dies in Clarke’s arms, just minutes after they got together for the viewer. Lesbians never get to be happy for more than a scene or two in most of today’s television shows.
Where am I? Certainly not here.
Of course, the worst is when LGBTQ characters are nonexistent. LGBTQ people deserve to see themselves on screen, to have someone to relate to. And before anyone says that sometimes sexuality is not relevant to the story the show is telling, if it’s relevant enough that we see straight people making out and finding love, there is no reason LGBTQ people can’t.