Why Not All LGBT Representation Matters
This is a guest post written by Tina Kakadelis.
When doing press for the release of the newest Guardians of the Galaxy installment, director James Gunn teased that there could very well be an LGBT character in the movie. Which, cool. Great. Of course there are queer people in space. Color absolutely no one surprised. If you expect me to believe that a baby tree thing is going to save the universe, then I’m going to just assume LGBT people exist in space.
But James Gunn saying there are queer people in space without showing definitive proof is the equivalent of me saying I have a girlfriend in Canada. In case you didn’t see the movie, let me spoil it for you: no explicitly queer person ever showed. Me having a Canadian girlfriend and Guardians of the Galaxy having canon queer characters are both things I want, but things I don’t have.
A primary goal in creative writing is “Show, don’t tell.” Maybe James Gunn and the writers forgot about that. He’s giving himself a pat on the back for saying his movie has queer characters without the pesky process of actually having to, y’know, write a queer character. At the end of the day, Guardians of the Galaxy is still just a bunch of different people from different parts of the galaxy being led by a straight white dude.
Want me to tell you a secret about how to write queer characters? Take the straight character you just wrote and change the pronouns of the love interest. Boom. That’s it. Writing a queer character isn’t hard, and the storyline doesn’t begin and end with them coming out. Any character in the world can be queer, just like any human in the world can be queer. A lot of straight writers and directors and just straight people in general think the most interesting thing about an LGBT person is their coming out experience. That just isn’t true. As multi-faceted and complicated and endearing as all your straight friends are, your queer friends are too.
For example, yes, I came out to my parents in an email by telling them I was actually dating the girl I’d introduced them to the day before as my friend, but that’s not all I am. In fact, I have a lot of thoughts on the cinematic universe of Cars. Like, did the cars in Cars become sentient? If all the countries in the world exist in Cars as we know them in our world, did World War II take place in the Cars universe? @ Disney: I need answers. See? My life doesn’t begin and end with my sexuality, so why does it have to be that way in pop culture?
For the millennial generation, I’d argue that Glee did a lot of the heavy lifting for opening people’s minds to the wide spectrum of sexuality. I can list a good twenty lesbians I know who realized they were gay because of one of the characters on Glee. (Hi, yes, Quinn Fabray was my personal experience in the matter. It was the sundresses, okay? Sue me.)
For everything Glee did right, it also had a lot of flaws. If I wanted to, I could give a fourteen-hour TED Talk on Glee, but I’ll spare you by focusing on the first character they had come out on the show, Kurt Hummel. In an effort to prove to his dad that he’s a guy’s guy and not as gay as he really is, he tries out for the football team as the kicker. And you know what? He’s really good. Thanks, Beyoncé.
Despite being genuinely good at something that isn’t stereotypically thought of as gay, Kurt quits after he comes out to his dad. What a shame that is. What a shame we couldn’t have this guy, who was gay and genuinely liked football, play football. He was good and so what if he dressed in designer fashion? He found something he liked and stuck to it. His brief football career was quickly tossed to the side in favor of the always classic the-school-bully-treats-me-badly-because-he’s-internalized-his-homophobia storyline.
And therein lays the problem. Storylines for LGBT people center almost exclusively on their sexuality. Yes, there’s a reason for coming out storylines because, as someone who came out, I know that people struggling with their sexuality latch onto those stories so their lives make a little more sense. Take Supergirl’s season two coming-out arc for Alex Danvers. I loved it. I thought it was important to see this super cool secret agent, who’s spent her life protecting her young alien sister, focus on herself for once. She starts looking back on her life and sees it all come into focus. As an isolated storyline, watching Alex Danvers come out in her late twenties was masterfully done.
But then you have her love interest, Maggie Sawyer, who was a series regular. We know so absurdly little about her other than the fact that she’s gay and was thrown out of her house for it. We know her as Alex’s girlfriend and nothing more. Any time the show focused on her, the story was always connected back to her sexuality. But remember, not everything in a queer person’s life relates back to their sexuality. I eat Cheerios for breakfast because I like Cheerios and not because I’m gay. Not every choice and action of a queer person is linked to their sexuality. It’s important, yes, and a lot of my choices in where I shop or go out to eat are influenced by my sexuality, but it’s not the be-all and end-all of who I am.
Disney’s Beauty and the Beast recently made news with its gay moment between Lefou and another man. It’s a truly blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment, but what was the point? Was it just so Disney could pride themselves on being diverse and inclusive without going all the way? That moment is what led to this article’s title. Does all LGBT representation matter?
No. No, it doesn’t.
What was learned from the Lefou moment? That a villain who had a half-hearted redemption in the last ten minutes of the movie can also maybe be gay? Moments like that don’t add anything to the movement. They don’t help change people’s minds and I doubt they make people think in the slightest. And if it’s not making people think, is it a worthwhile addition?
I’m not asking for everything to be queer. I mean, in a perfect world, I’d just ask that an all-queer Gossip Girl reboot happens where Blair and Serena end up together. However, in the real world, I’m just asking that people put a little effort into their LGBT representation. If just an ounce of the effort that’s put into defending the precious straight-dude anti-heroes went into creating meaningful LGBT characters, the world would be a better place. You can’t be or understand the things you don’t see. Give young queer kids a character to look up to and everyone else a person to learn from.
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