So I’m gay, and I’ve known that I’m gay for a while. Because of that, I always think about how the media represents gays and if gay representation is reflective of me at all. Like: do I see myself in this character, does this character teach me something, does this character help me embrace my identity as a gay person today? That being said, I have not found a character in television or film that represents me. Like I said in the assembly a couple of weeks ago, it was very hard for me to find a character I relate to; and if I did find a character to whom I could relate, it was usually a villain, or a stereotypical representation of my identity.
The first problem I have with gay representation in the media is that characters are often portrayed as stereotypes. The gay character is an effeminate outcast that always dresses to the nines, and whose friend group consists mainly of girls (whom the gay character calls “fierce” or “sickening”). The gay character is often seen wearing some article of sequined clothing, skin-tight jeans, and occasionally high heels if the movie or show is willing to break gender roles. This stereotype may be flattering to most people because it’s trying to say that gay guys are fun, dress well, and are a girl’s best friend (especially when they need advice). But this type of representation turns gays into two dimensional characters– easy for straight people to digest, and simultaneously making gay people into a complete and utter joke.
This representation dehumanizes gays and turns them into cartoon characters. It is also not diverse as it is almost always played by a skinny white guy. And when I say skinny, I mean twig thin. This disregards the diversity within the gay community that we so often celebrate, and whitewashes us entirely by marginalizing physically big gays and gays of color.
This character is also extremely misogynistic. The character tells girls they look ugly, often slut shames girls, and even sexually assaults girls at times. It tells gays that it’s okay to treat girls insensitively because they’re not attracted to them– after all, it’s not coming from a sexual place, so it must be fine. However, it doesn’t matter where sexual assault or any other harassment is coming from– it’s still sexual assault. The gay stereotype doesn’t represent the gay community well, and for the people in the community it does represent, it tells them to act like awful people.
The other thing about gay representation is it doesn’t delve deep enough into the actual gay experience. What we see today of gay movies is really just the surface level. The reason I think that people don’t go deeper into gay lives is because people think gays suffer from the same problems. Coming out of the closet, being accepted by your family, and accepting your homosexuality. While a lot of gays do have a hard time with these problems, there’s more to the gay experience than that. There’s something wrong with assuming our problems end when everyone accepts us for liking the same sex. They don’t.
I know that personally, I had a really hard time accepting being gay. No, not being homosexual (I had a really easy time accepting that I liked boys). The hard part came when I had to learn to love all the gay parts about me that I had internalized as bad qualities. The gay way I talked, the gay way I walked, the slang I used, the shows I watched, the way I dressed. I had to learn to love all the parts I had been taught to hate about me because they were “gay”. I had to learn to reclaim those qualities about myself and become proud of them. Movies with gay characters don’t show gay characters going through that stuff. They don’t show the internal struggle that gays like me go through.
The other thing that movies with gay characters don’t show is how lonely it can get. Especially when you’re like me, and your dating pool at school is limited to just you because no other gay boys are out yet. Movies don’t show what it’s actually like as a gay teen, because gays are almost always in some type of relationship on screen, whether it be hooking up with some other gay, or dating.
This is entirely inaccurate. Being gay is not dating people in high school, or even having relationships with other people in high school. It’s feeling worthless watching all your straight friends get into their second, third, or fourth serious relationship while you haven’t even had your first kiss yet and feeling like garbage because of that. It’s waiting until college to have your first boyfriend because no one in your school is out yet. It’s feeling like you’re missing out on the best years of your life because no one will date you, even though it’s not your fault, because you just have a very limited selection. It’s being overjoyed about finally turning eighteen so you can go to a gay bar and just go up to somebody you don’t even know that well and kiss them on the lips, a privilege that straight kids take advantage of far too often at their high school parties.
Maybe that’s not even a thing straight kids do. I personally wouldn’t know. I only see it in movies. Which is why it’s important to have movies that depict gay kids going through these emotions. Because as awful as it is to say: we learn from movies and television. Gay kids need to know that feeling those emotions is normal and not at all uncommon. Gay kids need to know that they probably won’t date in high school, which is why we need to stop constantly portraying gay high schoolers in relationships. It normalizes something that isn’t even that normal among gay youth.
Films and TV shows also need to stop telling gay people how to be a 'good gay'. “The Real O’Neals” had an episode in which the main character, who is gay, has a gay mentor who teaches him how to be a 'good gay'. A good gay supposedly doesn’t eat carbs, runs on treadmills, sings, and always helps his straight friends (who are straight white girls) how to dress. Let me say this, gays are not here for you. We’re not here to help you pick out your outfits, do your hair, or bake for you– that’s not our purpose in life. Yet so many gay people feel obligated to help their friends do such things because it’s what film and TV shows have told us: “This is what a good gay does." It also never says that being a good gay means truly being yourself. It says conform to the stereotype. Gays just need to be kind and loving people to be good gays. We don’t need to help you with your life.
Gay representation is making progress though. Television and film is relying less on stereotypes. It seems every year, gay representation is becoming more diverse, with films like “Moonlight” getting a lot of recognition and even winning Best Film, and more gay writers and producers getting jobs on bigger movies.
We still have a long way to go however, “Moonlight” should not be the only film about black gay people this decade, and Chiron should not be the only representation that black gay boys have. Films and television still need to better represent the inner struggle of being gay or of an actual gay person, rather than a cartoon character made for a straight audience.