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LGBT: isn't That a Sandwich?
Unless that sandwich is “Lettuce, Glitter, Bacon, Tomato”, no grandma, LGBT is not a sandwich. LGBTQAA+, which is a much larger version of LGBT, stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans*, Questioning, Asexual, Aromantic, and plus. And obviously, those people are in the real world; what a big surprise! But that’s not reflected in the media, at all. In the media, we see the same thing every single time: Cisgender boy falls in love with cisgender girl, they have some “first world problems”, but by the end of the story everything is happily every after and the boy and girl get married. The end.
Cutting the crap here, a heterosexual romance plot is so overused, that now it’s just the same thing repeated over, and over, and over. Examples: The Notebook, The Fault In Our Stars, the Twilight trilogy, the Hunger Games trilogy, Dear John. It’s all the same thing, boy falls in love with girl, things happen, boy and girl have troubles with each other, but in the end they’re happily ever after (excluding TFIOS; I give John Green credit for that one). But my point is here: in the books, if all of the romance novels are heterosexual, cisgender ones, where are all the LGBTQA+ oriented? What about in movies, or TV shows? And even excluding the whole romance factor, where is all the LGBTQA+ oriented media?
Before I start, I’m going to give a small warning: the following will contain extremely sensitive material. Anyone who is uncomfortable with it, I’d highly suggest to stop reading now.
The media is vast. From TV shows, to books and novels, to full blockbuster movies, to video games, to whatever-the-hell-else-there-is. As a LGBTQA+ person myself, of course I’d love to see more people.. well, like me, in what I watch, what I read, and what I play. However that’s the thing; there isn’t much that have people like me, and even less than that, that there’s accurately portrayed characters. A well known TV show, Orange Is The New Black, is subject to criticism for this. There is a surplus amount of LGBTQA+ characters in this show, but is it actually accurate, complete representation?
Lets take Nicky Nicholes for example. Who is she? She’s the lesbian who has lots, and lots, and lots of sex. In the show, we get to see a lot of character development in her, but it doesn’t change what she is portrayed as overall; A sex hungry, hypersexual, lesbian. That just degrades her to a ugly stereotype. Another character is Sophia Burset. Sophia is the trans-lady in OITNB, played by a trans-lady herself, Laverne Cox. While I give the directors so much respect for getting a trans person to play a trans person, I have problems with the character Sophia. While she is my favourite character overall, much of her screentime is flashbacks to her in the transitioning process, fighting to get estrogen pills for her transition, and it just turns into an inaccurate portrayal of a trans character. As someone who is a trans-person, I can tell you this is not an accurate representation of a trans-person. Trans-people, though yes they wish to transition, transitioning may not be their primary goal in life. We’re just like you, with ambitions, dreams, hopes. I’d rather see a trans-character struggling with different problems, like financial problems, then just struggling with transitioning.
Another inaccurate representation is the infamous queer-baiting. What is queer-baiting? It’s the media’s profit driven tactic directed to LGBTQA+ people. Companies don’t care if the LGBTQA+ watch it or not, they only want money from the viewers. What they do is they take is two cisgender, heterosexual people, usually male, and make it so they are “in love”, which they’re not. The fandom behind it would think they’re gay, and it completely fetishizes the two males, and fetishizes gay people in general. Some examples of this are: Supernatural and BBC’s Sherlock. These two shows have two heterosexual males, Dean and Castiel from Supernatural, and Sherlock and John from BBC’s Sherlock, and the fandom interprets them as “homosexual”. The fandom then starts to produce “fanfictions”, and draws art of the two characters in a usually romantic fashion. Fun fact, everyone: this is not LGBTQA+ representation at all.
Another form of queer-baiting can be found in Japanese media. Lets look at Puella Magi Madoka Magica, a Japanese anime. There, young girls are portrayed in a sexual fashion, and many of the fans interpret them as lesbian together, and often draw pornography of these girls. I don’t even need to explain to you how wrong this is.
Also in Japanese media, there are two terms called “yaoi” and “yuri”. Yaoi is male on male pornography, and yuri is female on female pornography. The only intent of yaoi/yuri is pornography, that usually is made for heterosexual people to read. This is another form of queer-baiting, because it’s not representation, and just plain fetishization of gay and lesbian people.
Sometimes, an LGBTQA+ character in media is shown as just a joke, and that right there is insulting, and even fetishizing. Another example from Japanese media is a “trap” character. It is usually a girl that dresses as a boy, or a boy that dresses as a girl. The characters are in no way trans*, however they are portrayed as that. This is insulting to trans* people, because it makes people think trans = confused people crossdressing, which is not true. As a trans* person myself, I am not a confused girl who dresses like a boy, or a “tomboy”, I am a boy who just happens to have female genitals and sex characteristics. You see my point?
Another specific example is Grell, from Black Butler. Grell has become the fandom’s “joke,” and it is often portrayed in derogatory ways. Grell is MTF trans*, however the fandom constantly laughs at her, still misgenders her as male, and makes her male for the purpose of writing yaoi of her with the main character. So not only in the show is she portrayed as a joke, she’s portrayed as a joke to the whole fandom! But sometimes, what starts off as a joke, becomes something so much more, especially within video games.
Nintendo is famous for two things: Pokemon and Mario Brothers. In Super Mario Bros 2, which came out in Japan in 1988, there is a specific character, Birdo. In the game booklet, Birdo is described as “a male who wishes to be female”, is portrayed to be very feminine, and even in later games becomes Yoshi’s, one of the main character's, girlfriend. Birdo, or Birdette, became the first ever trans* character in a video game. Because of the time the video game came out, sadly we can only assume that Birdo was meant to be a joke, but now in 2015? Birdo became a name in the trans* community. Birdo was a thing 25 years even before Orange Is The New Black premiered on Netflix.
If we’re still going to talk about video games, I’d also like to bring up another game I’ve played, Dragon Age; Inquisition. DAI is an very good example of representation, but I still have some problems with the developers and how they portrayed the characters in the video game. In the video game, you can romance NPCs, or basically date them. That also means that, males can date males, and females can date females. That’s great! But my problem is this: in DAI, there is only one exclusively female only romance, and there is only one exclusively male romance. The female only romance can be kicked out of the Inquisition any time the player pleases, and is often in the same place the “flirt” button would be. The male only romance can be flirted with both male and female players, but if a female flirts with him, when he finally comes out as gay in front of a heart breaking scene with his father, you have the option of accusing him of “leading you on”. This is saddening to me, because Dorian, the male only romance option, is such a great character, and I don’t want to see him degraded to just leading the player on. Personally I see my character and his character just having playful banter, that maybe flirting is included.
Another thing with the romances is, two of the very plot heavy romances were supposed to be bisexual, both male and female romances, but were simply scrapped to female only romances. Both characters are male, and unless you’re a male that wants to play as a female, you can’t really get to these romances. They both include going in-depth to the plot, and are very sad, but why are they only heterosexual romances? Bioware, the company behind DAI, put their input as “The romances were scrapped because it would take too much time to complete”. Would it, just to change some pronouns, and different place holders?
There is also a trans* character in DAI, but he’s very one sided (excluding him talking about his past), cannot join your team fully, and has some more problems. The player can often ask this character “why do you pass?”, and “why do you feel male and not female”, and a lot more extremely toxic questions. As a trans* person, it disgusted me to ask these questions to the character, because they’ve all been asked to me as well.
DAI is great representation on the very basic level, and could do much better on it, but the series has come far from where it was in the beginning.
But what’s all this talk about bad representation? Is it that good representation just doesn’t exist?
No, of course it does, just not in the most obvious ways.
In 2012 a small company released the movie, “Paranorman”. In this movie we have a diverse set of characters, and while I think the movie could do better, there is one thing about the movie I appreciated. At the very end of the movie, the older sister and the jock are talking with each other. The sister, who is madly in love with the jock, asks if they could go see a movie. In the very end of the movie, the jock says, “Sure, my boyfriend loves chick flicks!”. Now, while it would have been nice to see the said boyfriend, and expand on the jock character himself, this is what representation should look like. Through the whole movie, the jock was portrayed as a masculine, “stupid”, football loving boy, but in the end he was gay. Just like a normal gay person would be, just like how characters should be interpreted as. They aren’t special because they’re “gay”, they’re special because they’re the star football player, or an incredible singer. This character defied all stereotypes of what a “gay” man is, and even left the audience (myself included) completely stunned.
A character should represent who they are, not what gender or sexuality they are. Sure, a man could be overly flamboyant, and fit the “Gay man” stereotype, but is it because he’s gay? Or is it because that’s what his character is. Same goes for a woman who is lesbian, does she have short hair because she’s lesbian? Or is it because she prefers to have short hair? On the most basic level, the gender and sexuality of a character should not make the whole of a character. That’s what many companies have yet to learn, that when representing characters, that they should not focus on the sexuality, but who the character really is. The LGBTQA+ community does not look up to characters that are just “gay” or “bisexual” or “trans”, we look up to amazing characters who act like real people, while still are gay or bisexual or trans- or whatever they identify as.