American media has to make better queer characters (if they ever make them at all)

Photo by Aneta Pawlik on Unsplash

There was a lesbian couple in Finding Dory, apparently. LeFou from the live action Beauty and the Beast was a gay man because he danced with another male character for a second at the end of the film. One of the Russo brothers (find me a single person that knows either of their names) played an unnamed character in Avengers: Endgame that was relaying the events of his date with another man in post-apocalypse group therapy. Onward, a movie I admittedly didn’t watch, featured a purple police officer that was all over Instagram because she was reportedly a lesbian purple police officer.

Oh, but all of these characters are the first openly gay character in a Disney movie.

It happens once every couple of years. Disney will make a movie and input a split second scene where you could possibly interpret a character as gay, but also you could miss it, and then every headline praises them as so brave, so progressive, for having their first ever gay character. Maximum praise, minimal effort.

It’s not just Disney, though. So much American media falls flat when making gay characters, even when they’re handling named, sometimes main characters.

Voltron: Legendary Defender, the modern reboot of the 80s cartoon, gave Shiro, one of the five main heroes, a boyfriend and it was quite heavily hyped. Fans were so happy that a beloved paladin character was going to be gay, even though it was coming several seasons into the show.

The couple had one scene together–a flashback to when they basically broke up–and then Adam died via alien laser beam, Shiro mourned at his name plate for a second, and then Adam was never mentioned again. It was incredible representation. I was moved to tears. Tears of frustration, but y’know, that counts, too.

I’m not going to say that it’s all trash. Cartoons like Adventure Time and She-Ra: Princesses of Power portrayed amazing lesbian relationships that seemed well-planned and that the audience loved. The latter had multiple LGBT characters outside of the main couple, which is a brilliant bonus. It’s great to see movies and shows that have healthy non-straight relationships, especially kids shows, where they’ll be probably fought against the most. Won’t someone think of the children?!

For adults, there are sitcoms, I suppose. Will and Grace, Modern Family, Brooklynn 99, among others, all have LGBT characters in at least major supporting roles. 

But how come straight people are in every genre and gay people just get cartoons and sitcoms? Actually, there are a couple other options, but basically every gay movie or non-sitcom for non-children is similar. And not in a good way.

There’s a post I’ve seen that shows a screenshot of a table of contents from an article of LGBT movies where gay, lesbian and transgender were headers and the subsections followed, as they do. Underneath gay and lesbian, the subsections were “suffering” and “conversion therapy.” 

Hm. Interesting.

From what I’ve seen, gay films or films with gay characters follow a pattern. If it’s a lesbian movie, often, it’ll be about a married woman suddenly falling for another woman (when that’s never happened before, it’s just this one time) and then she cheats on her husband for an hour and a half. If it’s a gay movie, there’ll probably be some physical fighting, sprinkle in some denial, some disapproving family members, maybe a character gets outed. It’s always a good time. Both types of movies are often very much rated-R.

(Yes, there are ones that are different. I know Love, Simon exists.)

Serious and informative movies are important, I’m not saying they’re not. Movies that don’t have happy beginnings or middles or ends are some people’s cup of tea. But just like how not every movie about people of color should be about slavery, not every movie about gay people should be about their suffering.

Some of what I’d consider to be good examples come from other countries, specifically East and South East Asian ones.

Taiwan became the first Asian country to legalize same-sex marriage in 2019, but they’ve been having those love stories in their media for at least 2 years before that, maybe longer; the HIStory series of shows started in 2017 and has had a total of four editions over two years. 

I haven’t seen every one of them, and even HIStory 2, which I did see, I only watched a single storyline (for clarification, HIStory 1 and 2 are both split up into different storylines within one season. It’s not important right now.) That second story is a sweet one, thought, about high school volleyball players and their developing feelings for one another. Just a cute, lighthearted little romance. 

HIStory 3: Trapped doesn’t even really center around the main characters’ relationship at all, instead following the storyline of a gang leader trying to go legit and a detective that’s been trying to catch him for years getting involved in a bit of a gang war and a long-boiling revenge plot. 

I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to see a piece of media that has a real, non-romance plot where the characters just happen to be gay. None of the side characters really care, there isn’t a major internal crisis, it’s just that plot events threw two characters together and they fell in love with each other. It’s simple. It’s brilliant. I think about it daily.

Thai dramas deserve to be mentioned as an example, too, even though anyone who’s ever seen one can tell you they’re often not perfect. They can be a little dramatic and tropey, but they’re also funny and entertaining and sweet. They’re charming like that. 

Shows like 2gether (especially 2gether) are just rom-com series. A cheerleader fake-dates a popular boy in his university to try and get a guy he doesn’t like to stop asking him out. The two main characters, their brothers who are side characters with their own relationship plots, and the other LGBT characters aren’t stereotypes (with one exception, but since there are people that exist that are flamboyant like that, his presence is justified). They have lives and interests outside of their sexual orientation, and have realistic interactions and feelings and reactions to events. They’re not reduced to just “gay boy wears girl clothes,” which seems to be a favorite trope in American media.

(This article isn’t about TV show recommendations, but if you’re also frustrated with gay representation or the lack thereof, by all means, feel free to jot these ones down.)

All this to say that gay characters should be normal on TV and in movies. Because like it or not, gay people are normal. Even in countries where same-sex marriage is just legal, or slightly legal, or not legal at all, same-sex love stories are unapologetically given the spotlight. So why does the US have to constantly fall into these holes? Killing off all their gay characters (ahem, Supernatural), giving different gay men the same set of personality traits, making lesbian-ness some sort of phase hot women just switch in and out of. The LGBT community can’t be the only people that notice these things, right? Surely the straight population notice that gay relationships are almost only front and center when it’s going to be tragic or severely rated-R. Maybe both.

Instead: unnamed characters, split-second frames of extras, cartoons.

Baby steps are still steps forward, no doubt. But there comes a time when people get sick of only being able to see themselves in one of two genres and as one of two archetypes. More than anything, the issue comes with gay people being hidden and minimalized. 

“Ah, they’re only 10% of the population, if that. They don’t have to be in everything. It’s just not accurate.” I’ve heard that exact sentiment from three different people this week.

Gay people should be equal to straight people. Straight, cisgender people love to say that they are equal, have been equal, and should stop complaining about not being equal. Alright, then put gay people in every movie straight people get to be in. Give me a Cinderella remake where there are two princesses at the end, or a superhero that has to save his journalist boyfriend from a villain. James Bond finds a one-movie boyfriend at the casino this time. I want cheesy rom-coms that are exactly the same but it’s just two men, or two women, or two nonbinary people, whatever. 

It’s not a problem, is it? You’re not angry about having to see gay people, are you? No, just worried about the inaccuracies of population percentages represented in your high fantasy movie about dragons? Sorry, my mistake.

Movies about gay people (bisexual people, pansexual people, even asexual and aromantic people) that aren’t about the fact that they’re gay need to happen. Movies where queer characters act like real people with diverse personalities and styles and not like whatever stereotype the execs think all gay people embody are desperately needed.

Disney should have their real, final first openly gay character and then keep it rolling from there. Then it’s fair, then it’s equal, and then maybe I’ll shut up.

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Audrey is a senior and an editor for The JagWire. In her free time, she draws, watches foreign TV shows, and makes soufflés while listening to music to try and stave off any panic that can come with making a soufflé. She's currently accepting photos of cute animals wearing clothes.

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