Sexuality is a broad topic that can cover a huge range of themes. It can span from sexual freedom and liberation to a person's gender preference and is especially relevant in the 21st century when it is a much more widely discussed thing. We live in a time where we are far more able to be ourselves. We are encouraged to express ourselves and love who we love and the media is a big promotor of individuality. Television shows and films are getting increasingly more diverse, with a broad selection of different, multi-levelled characters that represent a much larger part of the population.
Sounds perfect right?
Not quite. We may have made big leaps of progress over the past few decades, but we are still far from perfect. I mean this both politically and socially. The media is still rife with stereotypes when it comes to LGBT+ people and all around the world, there are massive inequalities over something as irrelevant as who a person loves. I will never understand how love can bring about such a divide. But it does and that is why it’s such an important topic and one that I am passionate about, being bisexual myself. Today I wanted to explore the power of the media and how influential it can be in the lives of LGBT+ people.
Representation in the media
Film and tv have become a lot better at displaying more than just cis straight people. Casts have a much bigger variety by 2022 than just a few decades back. A good way to analyse this is to look at some examples of popular television and how it has evolved over time. One to look at is Friends. Friends was an incredibly popular American sitcom that I am sure many of you have watched. In fact, I think I’d be amazed if someone told me that they had never heard of Friends. It began in 1994 and carried on into the early 2000s.
The question I want to ask is, can you remember many characters that weren’t straight? I can only really think of two somewhat prominent people in the entire ten seasons. These were by no means main characters in the show and their sexuality is predominantly used as a plot point for Ross, the straight man who marries and has a child with Carol, a lesbian. As a result, the characters slowly fizzle from the show to disappear entirely in the later seasons. Talk about gay erasure.
There was also Chandler’s father, a gay drag performer. However much of his character is there to be a joke, with his sexuality being mocked often. The only time he gets a storyline is to once again create a character arc for his straight son.
My point is that this was a common theme in many shows from the 90s and early 2000s. Gay characters were rarely seen (and often secondary characters) and their sexuality became their entire identity.
There has been a major improvement over the last few years. Popular shows feature LGBT+ characters as both secondary and main characters. What’s better is that being gay or bisexual or trans isn’t the only thing that they’re known for. Take the show Euphoria, for example. The programme is centred around Rue who is dating a trans woman. However, that isn’t her biggest personality trait and isn’t talked about every second, as it is with Chandler’s dad for example. As a result, it’s a lot more realistic to your average person and, what’s better is that it normalises being other than straight. It’s not merely a joke or something to further the plot. It is just real life.
That’s the most important part; normalising people with different sexual and gender orientations in the media is one of the biggest steps in eradicating violence and hate toward LGBT+ people. Did you know that the charity Stonewall has found that one in five LGBT people have suffered a hate crime simply for being who they are? That’s disgusting and too high of a statistic. It isn’t fair. We’re clearly not doing enough.
What more can be done?
As I’ve said, the media has certainly progressed beyond what it was in previous years. However, there is always more that can be done to help normalise a very normal thing. Film and tv still very often stereotypes LGBT+ characters and turns them into caricatures. Gay men are often reduced to being obsessed with their looks for example. This is seen in Kurt Hummel from Glee, Cam and Mitchell in Modern family. The list goes on and makes people say things such as “but you don’t look gay” which can also be damaging.
One gap in the media market for LGBT+ representation in film and television with a target audience of children. On things such as Disney and Pixar that capture the attention of a lot of young people, characters are very rarely anything but straight. The reason why is ridiculous; parents and other adults seem to be under the assumption that the content you consume can actually change your sexual preference. It’s quite frankly impressive how in the age of information, where so much is accessible at the touch of a button, people can be so backwards in their beliefs.
An ideal world
Now personally, I truly think that with more representation in the media and in schools from a young age we could slowly begin to eradicate the homophobia that evidently runs rampant in the hearts of many still. It’s sad that it’s still necessary but in a world of such a range of identities and orientations, it’s crucial. But no one is born with prejudices, they learn them. And so, if we teach about gay relationships alongside straight-and they are seen in relatable characters in Disney, for example - and gay sex education at the same time as heterosexual sex education, we normalise as well as show there is nothing wrong with different sexualities.