Integrating Queer on TV

I happened upon a brilliant thesis by Jasmine Ing at the University of Calgary titled, “Queervisions: Queer Women Speak About Their First Experiences of Queer Representations in Film and Television”. For a great read check out the full thesis here.

The line that caught my attention was this:

“In short, popular culture depictions can allow the isolated to view characters who have managed to successfully integrate their queer sexuality into their daily lives.”

This line right here advocates for the fact that we need TV characters whose sexuality isn’t an issue; where they are just living their regular lives like everyone else. In teen-centric shows, such as Pretty Little Liars or Glee, the coming out story is important because of the age of characters. But beyond that, beyond what is organic to the character’s story, TV shows need to move past the coming out phase of a character’s life.

For example, Pretty Little Liar’s, Emily, went through her coming out process during the first season. She struggled with her own identity, coming out to her friends and her parents. And then it became a non-issue. Emily is a strong, gay-lady fighting alongside her friends. She is living a normal life with a love interest just like the other three main characters, but Emily’s love interest just happens to be a girl. A positive example of living a normal life as a queer woman.

Photo: ABC Family

Photo: ABC Family

Another example, Grey’s Anatomy’s bisexual Callie Torres had to do a bit of coming out after discovering her bisexuality in late season 4 of the drama. Callie’s coming out story revolving around her  very catholic family when she began her involvement with Arizona was organic to Callie’s development without hitting the audience over the head with a bat. Callie went through the process and then quickly fell into her life as a bisexual woman in a committed relationship with another woman, working as a doctor and raising their kid.

Photo: ABC

Photo: ABC

The reason these stories are so important, the ones that show queer characters leading normal lives, is because LGBT people understand for a long time that they are already different. The harder part is to figure out how to get comfortable with that new identity and lead a fulfilling life. TV has the opportunity to normalize the LGBT community, which is far more effective in fostering acceptance than pointing out how different people are.

ABC Family’s, The Fosters, got a lot of buzz because the family centered around lesbian parents. While there were stories and focus at times on the fact that this family has two moms, for the most part, the lesbian parents are just a subtly stated fact of the show. There wasn’t a big, drawn out focus on the women trying to find acceptance; they just were.

Photo: ABC Family

Photo: ABC Family

The Fosters depiction of an alternative family normalizes LGBT parents effectively because the audience isn’t constantly reminded of how against the societal norm the family is. At some point, the audience gets over the fact there are two moms and they become simply, The Fosters. This is what I would want to happen in the real world too.

On the other hand, and possibly leading to its early failure, Ryan Murphy’s show, The New Normal, featuring a gay couple trying to have a baby, was so heavy handed in pointing out the main characters were gay that it failed to tell a compelling story. The majority of the characters were commenting on the gay of the gay dads who were having a gay family as gay men and struggling being gay in a world where gay isn’t always accepted. Too much?

Photo: NBC

At this point in history, Ryan Murphy’s heavy-handed approach with homosexuality is unnecessary; the issue of LGBT equality is forefront as one of the biggest social issues in our country. Both the LGBT community and the general public are aware that LGBT people aren’t accepted everywhere. The missed opportunity with The New Normal was demonstrating that a family with two dads is like every other family.

As LGBT representation on TV improves, the stories and characters that have the most meaning are the ones “who have managed to successfully integrate their queer sexuality into their daily lives.” Thanks to Jasmine Ing for this poignant observation!

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About VersusTheFans

Amplifying and celebrating the value of popular art, especially TV, in giving a voice to women and the LGBT community, in addition to serving as a media watcher on LGBT reporting.

Posted on August 27, 2013, in All Posts, LGBTQ, Representation, TV Shows, Women and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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