If media - be it movies, tv shows, books, video games, etc - are supposed to be representative and/or critical of our society, then why is it that LGBTIQ+ people are often left out?
Earlier this year we wrote an article recommending LGBTIQ+ TV shows and movies, the response it got shows that LGBTIQ+ people want to consume media that represents them, media that shows they exist and that their stories deserve to be told.
A matter of representing society's diversity
Media, in a way, participate in setting norms in societies, so when everyone you put on screen and paper is cisgender and heterosexual - at least those with main roles - well, you set the norm as being cisgender and heterosexual; anyone who does not fit into this norm is by definition "not normal." These norms are social constructs, meaning that they do not have any factual value and are bound to change over time - we can take the example of beauty standards that constantly change over time to the point where one period is contradictory to another in terms of what "beautiful" means. So, if media play such a big role in setting norms, they can play a big role in expanding what is "normal" and, therefore, participate in normalising LGBTIQ+ identities.
For some, the normalisation of LGBTIQ+ identities means that being a cisgender heterosexual is no longer the norm and becomes the new "weird" - but the thing is that both can be the norm, in the sense that they coexist in our society and neither is superior to the other, both deserve the same amount of respect and, ultimately, the same amount of screen time. Destroying the myth of an existing norm is important in our societies that are more diverse than ever.
There has been an increase in LGBTIQ+ representation in western media in the past decade, and it cannot be denied that it has participated in the increasing support for the LGBTQ+ community, especially amongst the youth. Books play a particularly important role in the growing acceptance and education amongst the youth. Books marketed as middle-grade and young adult literature have taken on the mission of being more inclusive of the diverse communities of our society, which includes the LGBTQ+ community. This increasing representation in the media targeted at younger people has played a part in educating teenagers, making them more tolerant and knowledgeable on LGBTQ+ issues than previous generations. d have children and some want to live an uncommitted lifestyle, both ways of life are valid and they can also be applied to heterosexual people; some trans people fit into society's ideals of femininity or masculinity but some don't and it does not erase their trans identity in any way.
You can't decide to portray one part of our community that partly fits into the existing norm, leave out other parts, and call it representation.
There has been an increase in LGBTIQ+ representation in western media in the past decade, and it cannot be denied that it has participated in the increasing support for the LGBTQ+ community, especially amongst the youth. Books play a particularly important role in the growing acceptance and education amongst the youth. Books marketed as middle-grade and young adult literature have taken on the mission of being more inclusive of the diverse communities of our society, which includes the LGBTIQ+ community. This increasing representation in the media targeted at younger people has played a part in educating teenagers, making them more tolerant and knowledgeable on LGBTIQ+ issues than previous generations.
Media as an educational tool
Media can play an educational role as they can subtly - or not - tackle important issues such as homophobia and transphobia and show its impact on LGBTIQ+ individuals; either by showing what is homophobic and transphobic and/or by showing how it affects the lives of LGBTIQ+ people. Having LGBTIQ+-phobic characters can be part of a show or movie but these characters must be here to portray the disastrous effect they have on LGBTIQ+ individuals - they must be explicitly held accountable for their words and actions on screen or paper, otherwise, it contributes to normalising homophobic and transphobic behaviours. Moreover, it can bring up discussions - in the media itself or within consumers of the media - on how to destroy harmful statements. Education is important to create a more understanding and open-minded society that treats all of its members equally. LGBTIQ+ people have been educating people for decades and it is time for media to properly play its role of influencer on the matter as well.
LGBTIQ+ representation is often based on stereotypes because of the lack of LGBTIQ+ writers, particularly when it comes to movies and tv shows. LGBTIQ+ writers exist, they write our stories, but they aren't given the same opportunities to share them as straight writers. Having LGBTIQ+ actors play LGBTIQ+ roles is wonderful, it is a step in the right direction. The media industry should take it a step further by allowing more LGBTIQ+ writers in their writing rooms. It is important that the person who writes a bi character, for instance, is someone who understands what being bisexual is, how it impacts one's daily life and can therefore write a faithful representation of bisexuality. Even if their intentions are good, straight writers tend to lean towards fetishisation (especially with sapphic romances) rather than good representation. Blue is the Warmest Color is a movie that was written and directed by straight men, it has been heavily criticised by lesbians for its sex scenes - even the actresses spoke out about how uncomfortable the direction of the scenes felt. On the other hand, we have movies such as Portrait of a Lady on Fire, a movie written and directed by an openly lesbian woman, Céline Sciamma. Criticism can be made about the movie, but no one can ignore the difference it made in the storytelling and the filming of the movie.
Sex is something we have been shamed for for decades, centuries even; it has become part of the reason why conservative groups have labelled our identities as "not child friendly." A few years ago people were advocating for a lesbian Elsa in Disney's Frozen, the main argument against it was that children were too young to know about lesbianism. The reason why they think LGBTIQ+ conversations are not for children is because of their views on non-heterosexual sex. The hypersexualisation of LGBTIQ+ individuals by cishets is something that needs to be addressed and changed, and the media can play an important part in this. The problem is that by saying that LGBTIQ+ identities are not child friendly, media prevent children from even knowing that there is something out there that isn't being straight and cisgender, leading to many issues growing up when you realise that these two identities do no fit you.
Representation is important to educate people and free them from the chains of their own prejudice, but more than that, representation in media can be a comforting tool for people who struggle with finding their own identities, for those who may feel like there is something wrong with them when it's not the case at all. It's time for the media industry to bring light on those people rather than leave them in the shadows.
Disclaimer: This is an opinion article and should not be construed as the official position of Allied Rainbow Communities. If you need professional support, please contact Rainbow Support Services at firstname.lastname@example.org or +356 7943 0006.