Representation in TV, film and media in general is a topic that has been debated at great lengths lately. In particular, storylines in film and television that portray people of a certain minority, whether that is race, gender or sexual orientation, often receive backlash and criticism over social media for being inaccurate, offensive, or perhaps for portraying a harmful stereotype. This is often the case with the portrayal of LGBTQ+ characters in film and television.
Before discussing how LGBTQ+ people tend to be represented in film and television, it might be useful to firstly identify why they are shown in such a manner. That reason may be the general heteronormativity within media and society in general. Heteronormativity means that heterosexuality is the default category and everything other than being straight falls under the ‘other’ category. It is quite possible that what we are exposed to in media has a great part to play in creating this heteronormative ideology, where straight relations are seen as the norm, and any other type of romantic relationship can only be viewed and evaluated with that ‘normal’ idea of a relationship in mind.
When you think back to your favourite movies and TV shows that you would have watched as a child, you probably don’t remember many, if any, LGBTQ+ couples. That’s because there wasn’t any, or very few at most. From a young age we are already taught what is regular through what can be seen on our screens and indirectly taught what is irregular and different through what we can’t see. Growing up in the age where television and cinema play a significant role in our childhood, certain representations naturalise certain ways of living, and shape how we perceive reality.
Even in mature film and television, LGBTQ+ could do with a lot of work. Obviously ‘coming out’ storylines are quite a common thing for LGBTQ+ characters to portray, as it is something that many LGBTQ+ have to deal with in their real life. But perhaps writers could give LGBTQ+ characters more credit for being regular people living in the same society as everyone else. Often, ‘coming out’ will be their main storyline, and a lot of the time it will be a kind of ‘side story’ to the main struggle the straight character has to deal with. Obviously in real life, an LGBTQ+ individual doesn’t only face problems exclusive to the LGBTQ+ community. They are humans like everyone else, living within the same society, and face the same problems that straight people do.
This is perhaps where this heteronormative view could be altered and shaped to better reflect reality. Although it is important to showcase problems that the LGBTQ+ community face, if LGBTQ+ characters were given more than just ‘gay issues’ to deal with, then perhaps audiences would gradually begin to view them as valid and equal to straight people and couples. Perhaps if we saw LGBTQ+ couples simply dealing with the same issues that straight characters do without portraying any typical ‘gay’ stereotypes, and without mentioning the fact that their sexuality is different to that of the straight majority, then this normalisation might occur.
Currently, it seems that the view is that being gay is different from being straight, but being straight isn’t different from being gay. Being straight isn’t different from anything. Being straight just is. Everything else other than heterosexual is just different from heterosexual, and can only be judged and evaluated based on how different or similar it is to heterosexuality. ‘Straight’ is the benchmark to which we can compare everything else.
While we are recognising the power and influence of media here, it is important to note that it isn’t the only factor in the mix. Obviously things like religion, education and varying cultures also have a significant impact on how we view sexuality, but it cannot be denied that media is a growing force that influences how we look at the world we live in and it is important that minorities are accurately represented in film, TV, and all other forms of media.
By Brian Dillon