Gays are on the rise in today’s television shows and movies, including, but certainly not limited to, hit new shows such as “Glee,” “The New Normal,” and “Modern Family.” Hollywood and TV networks have made a lot of progress when it comes to presenting characters in the GLBT community, but I would like to address that there is a lot of “G,” significantly less “L,” and an infinitesimal spec of “B” and “T” in this spectrum. Furthermore, there is a noteworthy discrepancy in the treatment of male and female sexuality.
There are more gay males in significant roles on television than lesbian or bisexual women, and sometimes the fact that these characters are gay becomes the butt of a joke or a chance to play off the same tired stereotypes. The truth is that not all gay men are catty, sassy, flamboyant, and fabulous. They don’t all sing show tunes, and they don’t all have amazing decorating and wardrobe abilities. I will say that we have made progress since “Will and Grace,” but some TV shows continue to play into stereotypes. For instance, Mitchell and Cameron in “Modern Family” break some stereotypes for sure, but clearly other stereotypes are still played into in a comedic fashion.
Let’s also not forget the ever-popular “faux-mo,” straight men pretending to be gay for whatever reason. This can be to get girls, to reap benefits, or to get out of a sticky situation, and it has been done in “Two and a Half Men,” I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry,” “Seinfeld” and countless other television shows.
Furthermore, transsexual representation is unbelievably small. The only real trans character in mainstream television is Glee’s new character, originally from The Glee Project, named Unique (originally introduced as Wade.) During the course of the episode, she confides her desire to go up on stage in a dress and high heels and discusses her sexuality and gender. Beyond this very recent character, it is incredibly difficult to find a trans character in recent popular TV or movies that take on serious roles (Alas, the ever-lovable Dr. Frank-‘N’-Furter from “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” can not really qualify as the best example of a trans character in a movie, even if he does come from the planet of Transsexual Transylvania.)
Female and male sexuality is depicted very differently in mainstream media. When is the last time you’ve seen a gay man in a show or movie switch back to dating girls aside from satirizing ex-gay therapy? It isn’t a very common occurrence. However, the whole “lesbian who sleeps with a dude” shtick is starting to get old.
Itisn’t that bisexual female characters are sleeping with men, but rather women who identify as lesbian or are in lesbian relationships at the time. From Oscar-winners like “The Kids Are All Right,” “Chasing Amy,” “Kissing Jessica Stein” and shows well-loved by the lesbian and straight community such as “The L Word,” these shows and movies all involve a lesbian going to the straight side of things at some point, be it temporarily or permanently. This repeated plotline has provoked criticism from the community due to the fact that mostly anyone, particularly women, who identify outside of heterosexual have heard the phrase “It’s just a phase.” It’s concerning that a movie, or rather this trend, might perpetuate this mindset that female sexuality is “just a phase.” While it’s true that female sexuality is known to be more fluid in some cases, there is an absurd amount of popularized lesbian characters that end up sleeping with a man. Granted, there are a great deal of lesbian movies in which this trend does not appear. However, a good many of which are really only popular among the GLBTQ community. I can’t say for sure what it is that makes lesbians in popular movies so seldom stay lesbian, but it could be that it is an affront to patriarchy to have a female character that leads an existence independent of romance with a man. This is just one theory though.
Sexuality is fluid, and labels never quite hit the nail on the head since humans are so complex. However, the stereotypes and tropes are relatively narrow when it comes to GLBTQ characters, with gay men being a joke and lesbians always going for men. We need to see more varied characters playing significant roles in television and movies nowadays, particularly ones that have an audience of varying sexualities, be it gay, straight, or whatever else one might identify as.
We have made a lot of progress. A couple of decades ago the mere idea of a gay character on TV was unheard of save for some scarce exceptions. However, when it comes to equal and accurate representation in entertainment and the media, we still have a long way to go. I think the best advice to directors, screenwriters, and anyone else would be this: GLBTQ people are just as varied in their personalities, interests, and relationships as straight people, and in many ways lead lives that aren’t terribly different. It’s important to have representation of these characters for who they are, and who they are is not a stereotype.