Marginalized people who want to see themselves reflected in media shouldn’t have to squint
By Rebecca Peterson, Staff Writer
In a world where the representation of queer people is so desperately lacking, some of the glaring examples of gay characters usually fall within the twilight realm of stereotyping. I’m never thrilled to see promiscuous bisexual characters who cheat on their partners and are “just confused,” or strawman lesbians who are physically aggressive and “hate all men,” or gay male characters who speak with a lisp and limp-wrist their way through statements like “Oh, I’m just one of the girls!”
At the same time, I think some content creators have veered completely to the other end of the spectrum. In their desperation not to stereotype, they seem to have developed the “safe” attitude of “if people want to see it, they’ll see it. If they don’t want to see it, they don’t have to.”
An example of this would be JK Rowling’s statement, post-series, that Dumbledore is gay. Her decision not to include his sexuality as a plot point in the novels makes a certain amount of sense to me, but what I find galling is that to this day, I still hear people say that Dumbledore is an excellent example of a gay character as “you would never know he was gay.”
No, he isn’t. He’s an interesting character to be certain, and I’m glad that Rowling, at least, acknowledged the existence of queer people by making his sexuality known, but I think it’s a bit of a cop out to try to claim that Dumbledore counts as queer representation.
“But Rebecca,” you might say, “it’s a kid’s book. Why are you trying to push the gay agenda into a kid’s book?”
I would love to get my hands on this gay agenda everyone talks about, honestly. That and the “literal homosexual steamroller” the late Reverend Jerry Falwell spoke of all those years ago. But I digress.
Because the very notion of homosexuality, bisexuality, and what have you, has been so intensely sexualized over the years, many balk at the idea of including these narratives in a visible way in the mainstream. It doesn’t have to be this way. “What will I tell my kids?” Well, you don’t immediately have to skip over to the conversation about strap-on dildos just because they saw two girls kissing on screen, but I suppose that’s your choice as a parent if you do.
I think we as a society have all reached a point where we can acknowledge that queer people exist. It’s no longer popular to be outwardly homophobic. However, I still often hear comments such as “I don’t mind gay people, I just don’t want them flaunting it in my face!”
I have bad news for you: you do, in fact, mind gay people. If your favourite type of gay character is one where you can easily mistake them for a straight person, you mind gay people. If I, as a queer woman, have to live my life consuming popular media where heterosexual people can kiss each other like their tongues are tonsil-seeking missiles and still only garner a PG rating overall, then I think straight people can handle a little more than vague references when it comes to queer characters.
There is no denying that things are definitely starting to improve in terms of representation. But the last thing I want is for content creators to fall into a pattern of thinking that subtext is not only a perfectly acceptable way to write queer characters, but the ideal. I am very good at squinting, at making assumptions, at connecting the dots and hoping, because as a queer lady in real life that is what I have to do. However, when I go to the movies, I would love to see myself represented on screen. More importantly, I would love to know that other people are seeing it too.