"What's the deal with LGBTQ characters on TV?"
- Jerry Seinfeld...Probably.
In the great big beautiful world of LGBTQ culture that I'm very happy to be a part of, we all share a common set of problems. Things such as stereotypes and bullying plague LGBTQ people everywhere we go. We all like to think that acceptance of LGBTQ people has improved, but at times it feels like we're still a little ostracized. Something that really helps the queer community feel recognized is seeing proper representation of our community in the media, such as TV shows, movies, and everything else viewed by society.
But why can't the media get it right?
Adequate representation in the media is by no means an impossible task. To most LGBTQ folks, the solution is simple. Really, all we want is to be viewed normally and treated normally, just like every other straight person in the media. So why are there so many different portrayals of queer people in the media? To shed some light on my point, I'll point out a few do's and don't's of LGBTQ representation.
Don't: Modern Family
I'm aware that this sounds like blasphemy, but Modern Family does no favors to the queer community, specifically gay men. This is even hard for me to write, because I love Modern Family. The show is genuine, upbeat, and always makes me laugh. However, as I watched it more and more, season by season, I noticed the lack of depth behind the relationship and characters of Mitch and Cam, two of the six main characters who are commonly known as "The Gay Couple." Among most TV shows from Modern Family's debut, it was a pretty inclusive show; it featured a homosexual couple with an adopted Vietnamese daughter and a Colombian woman and her son (with a still pretty white cast, but hey, it's progress). Despite being the diverse show it is, a lot in the world has changed since it debuted in 2009.
Don't get me wrong, I think it was brilliant and brave of the writers to have two gay men as main characters of a show from 2009, a year where it was still a little taboo to come out as gay (yeah, it was that recent). Honestly, the episode where Mitch and Cam finally get married is probably the best episode of the series thus far. Despite all this, I feel that the show has lacked development in these two characters. Mitch and Cam characters seem to only be defined by the gay stereotypes they represent. Cam is a very flamboyant, high-maintenance sort of gay; you know, the sassy fashionista type. Mitchell on the other hand is a more subtle type of gay. He doesn't dress as loudly as Cam, and he's far more subdued. As for the other gay characters, they pretty much embody Cam's type of gay. Certainly gay men like this exist in real life, but there are far more than just these two types out in the world, but Modern Family only seems to focus on these two kinds in the numerous gay characters they have. When it comes to Cam and Mitch as characters, their traits are pretty much all gay stereotypes.
In addition, Mitch and Cam go through the same types of conflicts over and over again, like having petty rivalries with other gay male characters (Cam and Señor Kaplan for example) or parenting issues. The two are never treated like a "normal" couple. For example, there have been multiple scenes where Phil and Claire or Jay and Gloria are seen getting "intimate" with each other, but Cam and Mitch are never given such a scenario. I'm certain this is not done on purpose by the writers, but this subtle difference between Cam and Mitch's relationship from the others only makes them seem "different." Last time I checked, gay men have sex. It's a thing that happens. Just like how straight couples have sex. This lack of normality and character traits built on stereotypes are what makes Modern Family seem less helpful towards LGBTQ representation, even though it's purpose is only to help the community, I'm sure. Modern Family was groundbreaking for its time, but it needs to evolve just as society does so it can stay helpful, not hurtful, to the queer community.
Do: The Loud House
Not gonna lie, I literally screamed when I saw this whilst casually flipping through TV channels one day. After a little internet search, I discovered that this was indeed the first male/male couple ever featured on a Nickelodeon show, or any other cartoon for that matter. AND not only are they a male/male couple, they're also an interracial couple with a son. In Season 1, episode 30, Lincoln's friend Clyde comes over for a sleepover. Clyde is accompanied by his dads, who give Clyde some last-minute details and concern, and they leave. And that's it!
This may not look like much, but it has a tremendous effect on audiences and the LGBTQ community. This very simple portrayal of same-sex couples establishes the normality of gay couples and how they don't need to forced into the spotlight for being gay; they just exist. They have kids whom they care about deeply, as all good parents do. In addition, it's always risky to have anything slightly out-of-the-norm on a children's show. Parents don't exactly enjoy having "agendas" forced upon their children, so it's important to introduce new concepts to kids in a simple and understandable way. When children see a same-sex couple portrayed as just normal parents, it instantly becomes easy for them to grasp! For this, I applaud The Loud House.
Don't: The Real O'Neals
When it comes to any show made and set in modern day, I'd say it's a requirement to have at least one character that's not straight, because in all honesty, it's a little far-fetched to believe that these characters could go without encountering one non-straight person. LGBTQ people are everywhere, and it's important to include them. What you shouldn't do is make a spectacle of them. Sadly, that's what The Real O'Neals does with it's main character, Kenny. Although the show's point of conflict revolve around other issues at times, at it's center, the main conflict of the show deals with the fact that Kenny comes out as gay to his Irish Catholic family. While I firmly believe it is important for the basic inclusion of queer characters, I do not believe an entire show needs to be created around the fact that a gay person exists.
I truly believe that the intentions of The Real O'Neals was only to help improve LGBTQ portrayal in TV, but I don't think this was the right way to do it. When it comes to removing stigma around being sexually queer, one of the best ways to do it is by doing it subtly and establishing it as "just as normal" as any other sexual orientation. What we don't need is a show thrusting a gay character into the limelight and shouting "Hey! Look at our show! Our show is unique and interesting because the main character is gay! Isn't that wacky!?" No, it's not wacky. A main character should never be the main character of a show simply because they're LGBTQ. They can the be the main character and be LGBTQ, but never the main character because they're LGBTQ. Queer folks are normal, so they should never be the center of attention because of their sexuality, because their sexuality is normal and nothing to be marveled over.
However, I do have to give props to this show for casting actors who look like an actual family. I mean, holy crap, just look at them! Are we sure they aren't actually all related?
Featured here we have the magnificent Kurt Hummel and the Ever-Adorable Blaine Anderson from the show Glee, played by Chris Colfer and Darren Criss, respectively. Focusing mainly on Kurt, Glee sets an example of gay portrayal that improves upon what was attempted by The Real O'Neals. Even though Glee came around in 2009 (the same year as Modern Family), it managed to portray a "taboo" gay character in a normal, realistic light. Yes, many of Kurt's characteristics can be attributed to gay stereotypes, but that's not the only aspect of him that makes him an interesting character. Kurt faces many, many conflicts throughout Glee's run on TV; and not all the conflicts occurred because of the fact that he is gay, but a good few of them do. In contrast to Mitch and Cam, I feel that Kurt serves as a better example of strength in the LGBTQ community. Early in season one, Kurt tearfully comes out to his fairly conservative father, who loves and accepts him, and the show moves on. Kurt, much like everyone else in the Glee Club, is constantly bullied in school and sticks with his friends for strength.
Kurt is a perfect example of how gay men can exist as main characters in TV shows without having their sexuality be the focus of the show or having their sexuality be the only reason they exist on the show. In addition, Blaine serves as a representation of gay men who don't naturally display too many typically gay stereotypes; Blaine likes show choir and dresses in the darn-cutest clothes, and that's about it. Otherwise Blaine is just a genuine, lovable person. Together with Kurt, these two characters display a nice range of character for homosexual men.
But WAIT! There's More!
These few previously mentioned TV shows, of course, are not the only shows with LGBTQ characters. Inarguably the majority of TV shows with queer characters mostly focus on gay men, but what about the LBTQ part? Don't worry, they're out there, alright. There are dozens of shows that feature queer characters that aren't gay men, for example: Kelly from Black Mirror (Bisexual); Lily Aldrin from How I Met Your Mother (Bisexual); Sophia Burset from Orange is the New Black (Transgender Woman); Chanel #3 from Scream Queens (Pansexual); and even Susan and Carol from Friends who were a perfectly normal and kind lesbian couple. Clearly there has been and continues to be growth in LGBTQ inclusivity, and it's only headed up from here.
So what do we do with the shows like The Real O'Neals or Modern Family? Do we shun them for misrepresenting the LGBTQ community? Of course not; those two shows were never created with the purpose of offending anyone. Quite the contrary, they were both made to help spread inclusivity and acceptance among their viewers. They way they went about that process was just a bit off, that's all. Like I said before, the best way to spread awareness and include more queer characters on TV is to treat them normally, because we are normal. I hate to describe myself or anyone as "normal," but that is the best term to use in this case. Our sexualities are normal; we are not exhibits at a zoo to be gawked at in awe. That's pretty much the opposite of what the LGBTQ community wants. What we really want is to be treated like a normal human being. We don't need entire shows to be created to emphasize the fact that we might be gay or transgender, we just want to be included and viewed as normal, just like every single straight character on TV. And in all honesty, as a writer, including sexually queer characters as just another character is so much easier than always having to make them the center of attention or building their entire character from stereotypes.
The LGBTQ community is normal, so just treat us that way. We may be a bit more fabulous than our straight counterparts, but we're still pretty normal.