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July 24, 2017 | by  | in TV |
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Queer Television

The good television options available to the Queer¹ community are limited: in straight television, we seem to be stuck with either tired clichés, cameos, or are simply not there. Queer television exists in a beautiful niche, whereby if shows are exposed and catered to straight audiences they may lose some of their substance which made them good in the first place. These are all big issues, so I will try to be concise.

In 2016, GLAAD (a US non-governmental media monitoring organisation) released a study which found that in 2016–2017, 4.8% of scripted characters will be Queer in the shows it tracks. This may seem like a small number, but it is the highest that GLAAD has ever recorded in the 21 years that it has been conducting the study.

Despite this, the Queer community is almost invisible to straight audiences and, when we are present, our portrayal is problematic. Gay men in television are often the butt of jokes for femininity, interest in fashion, or making unwanted advances on straight men. Queer women, more often trans women of colour, are used as plot points for when straight men want to kill something. In 2016, the GLAAD study found that in the television shows it monitors, 25 Queer women were killed by straight men to advance the plot. The reduction of Queer characters to plot points, or one dimensional stereotypes, is dangerous in a myriad of ways.

The nature of the Queer community is that we are geographically and socially concentrated. Many straight people live their entire lives without meeting an openly Queer person, and the way that Queer people are represented in the television that they consume correlates with that (lack of) experience. If a straight person has only seen the portrayal of gay men as sex pests through television, for example, and had not met a gay man in real life to disprove this, then it stands to reason that such a narrative would shape their thinking, attitudes, and behaviours. This is why accurate representation matters. The plurality of Queer people needs to be translated into the small screen so that those who may not interact with our community in the day-to-day can see how beautiful and diverse our community is.

In terms of Queer television, this year RuPaul’s Drag Race has been nominated for seven Emmy awards. In doing so it has cemented the transition away from a show that filled a niche gay corner of the television viewing market, towards an audience larger in numbers, and more heterosexual in nature. I’m of two minds about this: it certainly is time for a straight mainstream audience to pay their dues to the cultural force that is RuPaul, but I am nervous that in becoming more mainstream, it will lose some of its essence. Queer culture has become what it is because of the decades during which it has faced suppression and life underground. What will exposing it to daylight do? There exists a tension, and it will be interesting to watch what happens to RuPaul’s Drag Race now that it has found fortune with the straight mainstream audience.

Good Queer television can be hard to come by, so I asked my friends, and UniQ, what some of their favourites were. Some recurring names that came up were:

  • The L Word
  • Sense8
  • Orange is the New Black
  • Dawson’s Creek
  • Queer as Folk
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  • Eastsiders
  • Supergirl
  • Looking

Happy watching, and let’s hope we get better representation of Queer people on television soon.

— Joshua James (@tejoshuajames)

 

  1. The author has opted to use Queer in this piece, because of its all-encompassing nature. In doing so I recognise the historic (and ongoing) problematic nature of the word, and all the pitfalls that are associated with it. However, in this instance, it is useful to paint with a broad brush, and using the word Queer instead of LGBTQI* allows me to do so.  
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