We are a product of the media we consume. Whether you like it or not, you can’t fight the fact that from a very young age, the media has primarily shaped your perceptions. Every time you turn on your tv, you’re presented with a tv show that exemplifies what love is supposed to look like or what type of man or woman we should aspire to be. I am very grateful to have grown up in a household where I was encouraged to be my authentic self, but that isn’t the case for everyone. And even if it is, is it really enough? You can still fall victim to the media’s marketing ploys no matter what you’ve been raised to believe. Even though I grew up with loving and accepting parents, the truth of the matter is that my opinions and perceptions about the LGBTQ community came directly from the media. Growing up in a small, conservative town, my perceptions about everything depended greatly on the media I was exposed to, which was not a very diverse selection.
My schema for a queer person was formed entirely from watching tv shows and movies. I hadn’t even been exposed to a trans character until my later teenage years. The first show I’d ever seen where a trans character was depicted was Degrassi, and the actor portraying this character is not trans off-screen. Furthermore, this character was killed off in a very controversial way. This tends to be a reoccurring theme. Take Dallas Buyers Club, for example. The trans woman in this film is played by a cisgender man. In Pretty Little Liars, the trans woman is played by a cis woman. The casting of cisgender actors in transgender roles is often seen as offensive and unnecessary. There’s a question that comes to mind about whether a cis actor can truly bring any level of authenticity whatsoever to the role. Would it not be better to have an actor who can relate to the character they’re playing, who can use their personal experiences to make the character more authentic? There are transgender actors and actresses who are being overlooked for roles that they are more than capable of playing. This is a huge issue when it comes to representation of the LGBTQ community, specifically the trans community, in tv and film.
We are supposedly living in an era of progression. We have shows like Orange is the New Black and Glee that portray LGBTQ characters. Even with these existing representations, there’s no doubt that we could look at the shows through a critical lens and come up with some problematic areas. Depictions of gay men or women are often based on stereotypes. We often see lesbian women as possessing masculine physical traits and having short hair. For men, similar stereotypes exist. We see gay men as possessing feminine qualities and leading flamboyant and extravagant lives. We have trans characters constantly being portrayed as victims. Further adding to this issue, there’s the fact that humour is usually used to cover up the deep-rooted issues that exist within these shows and movies. Shows such as Modern Family give us a look at the life of a gay couple, but the show is based on the premise that this is not a normal family. We are meant to see this as something that is humorous, which further reinforces the stereotype that being gay is unnatural.
According to GLAAD’s annual report on LGBTQ inclusion, for 2016-2017 tv shows, the characters are 95.4% straight and 4.8% LGBTQ. That is equivalent to 854 straight characters versus 43 LGTBQ characters. Not only is this a huge gap, but there’s a great possibility that the 4.8% of LGBTQ characters will either reinforce stereotypes or be portrayed by non-LGBTQ actors and actresses.
No doubt progress is being made, but is it enough? Rather than being passive consumers, we should be questioning the mass media that we’re consuming. As of right now, it doesn’t seem like nearly enough positive messages about the LGBTQ community are being sent through tv and film. The media is so powerful and it could be used for so many great things, yet we are still refusing to educate the public rather than misinform them. Representation in film and tv for the LGBTQ community is crucial. If we want to progress as a society, we need to start focusing on making inclusivity a bigger priority and we can start by revaluating the representation of the LGBTQ community in film and tv.