Queer representation in media - By Riley Mathers

A brief overview of my thoughts on Queer representation in the media.

Queer representation in media - By Riley Mathers

As a Queer Artist, representation is incredibly important to me and Media I invest myself in. I used this as a way to garner more information of how other people see queer characters and celebrities and therefore queer people in their everyday life. 

Due to the age we live in, we rely heavily on the media to see ourselves in it. We want to see ourselves in the stories we watch, we want to see celebrities we admire achieve incredible things. And as a queer person, I feel that it’s hard to see that. Starting with just celebrities, I find that they have to work twice as hard to be seen as anyone of importance. They’re constantly just questioned about their queerness instead of the work they do or the content they produce. They push themselves to be better and they often struggle to be seen in the public eye and then they vanish. In shows and award ceremonies they’re often seen as commodities. A prop for producers to be like ‘see, we have this person, we can’t be homo-trans-phobic.’

On top of this we look at queer characters who, across time, have been seen for just their queeness. Their stories are something I see consistently revolving around their queerness and how it can damage their relationships or drive them to mental health problems or worse. And it’s a horrifying thing to witness because our lives are so much more than that. We are much more than our queerness and our stories deserve to just be about us existing with a brief detour into the queerness because we cannot separate that from ourselves. Our stories deserve to be about more than our gender or sexuality.

Also, I think people forget about the characters because sometimes it’s just queer coded. It’s not explicitly a queer character but the things they do, the way they look and how they act and it can become quite the micro-aggression. There’s little things that make you look at a character or a show and say ‘you know what? I’m uncomfortable and I don’t want to watch this anymore’. My friend and I both started watching a K-Drama called Strong Woman Do Bong Soon which was okay but then they included a character we both read as a caricature of a gay man. Overdramatic, flamboyant and use of feminine language. It feels gross to see characters reduced to something that feels like a joke. 

I get that sometimes you have to queer code because you can’t have explicitly queer characters but doing caricatures can be damaging.

It stops real people from seeing real queer folk as people. It creates stigma and terror and makes people say that they hate themselves because they’re queer and that they don’t want to be. It makes it feel like that is all that they are or all they can be. It creates horrible stereotypes like how all gay and lesbian folk are predatory or how trans men just want to see women in the bathrooms. It’s damaging and heartbreaking and sickening.

On top of all of this, I feel a big problem is the diversity of people in the Writer's rooms. Even if they’re queer they may just be white and talking from a white standpoint. And while there are certain things with class that can be involved it still will only have a white queer person. Which if they’re writing for a trans First Nations Lesbians, for example, will not be Accurate to their experience and leads to Othering which is hurtful and damaging and doesn’t reflect their experience. 

There must be more diversity behind the scenes. It is desperately needed to make sure that the characters and stories we see and hear and read are all full characters with more to them than their gender and sexuality. Their stories shouldn’t just revolve around being queer and coming out. Our stories are often told simply as Coming Out and How Other People React To Us (Love, Simon.) when it should just be about people. They should be about characters who are queer who are existing doing their everyday lives and not having the big thing about them Coming Out and Finding Love, specifically romantic love. Not every queer story should be about romantic love, pushing that storyline (both as straight and queer folk) is damaging and romantic love is not the end all be all. 

The result of this is that there are supposedly good pieces of media with queer characters that aren’t just stereotypes or caricatures but I would’ve never known of them because the places I find the best representation is in Podcasts, because they have queer folk in the writer’s room, because I’ve had to cultivate it, due to the unnecessary amount of films and books that damage and hurt queer folk. 

In conclusion, the media needs to do better. It needs to look at what it has done and fix it going forward. It needs to give queer characters the space to be themselves, fully realized characters without threats of tropes like ‘Burying your gays.’ The media needs to back off of queer celebrities and let them be out and proud but treat them as they would anyone else. 

I think if this was to happen it would change how society treats queerness. If it’s out there, people living their lives, the everyday person would see that a queer person is not just their queerness and their differences are completely normal and nothing to be phobic about.

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