This feature can also be found at the South West Londoner, here.
A thought experiment for you:
Think of three pieces of media (books, film, games, whatever) that meet the following criteria:
- The main character is straight.
- The piece is not of the Romance genre.
- The sexuality of the main character and its social impacts are not the main plot point.
You could probably name at least 10 without thinking too hard. Now try to do the same, but with a queer main character. Go on, I’ll wait.
If you’ve managed to think of any, congratulations! No, seriously, it’s a pretty difficult challenge; feel free to tell me what you’ve thought of in the comments.
I suppose it’s nothing that you think too much about unless you’re actually affected by it, but the presence of characters in fiction that aren’t straight and white isn’t thrillingly prevalent.
However, queer media definitely exists out there – this month had BFI’s 27th London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival. The problem is, all this content is kept away from the mainstream, and only given a chance to shine once a year.
That’s great for all the pretentious artsy types who already know how wonderfully liberal and accepting they are, but the people who need to see queer media the most barely know it’s around. The teenagers who are questioning their identity and sexuality; people who are jaded with the stereotypes they’re spoon-fed; that one old homophobic guy down the pub. You know the one. I hate that guy.
What we do get in the mainstream media isn’t making me super-thrilled to be open about my sexuality. I’m not too keen on the idea of having my skull cracked open with a tyre iron (Brokeback Mountain), nor do I want to pursue a career in being a Sassy Gay Best Friend (The Hellish Nightmare that is Glee). Though I’m sure I could make a killing if I did. Maybe with the aforesaid tyre iron.
For sure, I would have been a lot more confident in my identity growing up if there was a role model who was much like me. That’s not to say my imagination was so poor I couldn’t project myself into a James Bond power fantasy – the assortment of gay villains excepting – but a reminder that queer heroes (or black heroes or female heroes…) are allowed to exist would be nice.
To flip it on its head, only those who are the most literal and devoid of critical thought could argue that an increased number of openly queer protagonists would be alienating to straight audiences. Last time I checked, empathy and sexual expression were two different things, unless you consider How I Met Your Mother the pinnacle of character-driven storytelling.
Speaking of which, I’m finding it a lot harder to watch action films these days. Aside from gunfights and explosions being tired mindless pap; the levels of machismo are so over-emphasised and forced, it’s like a high budget blockbuster Shrine to Straightness. Sucker Punch managed to be full to the brim of bubbling testosterone with barely any men on screen. The sight of Vin Diesel flexing has been scientifically proven to instantly impregnate women.
The secret to creating reasonable queer media isn’t some kind of well-guarded secret. They’re the same as the media we already consume, with the genders of the romances switched around. It doesn’t seem like an unreasonable demand to have, say, a crime thriller where the long-suffering detective happens to be a lesbian.
Oh. That actually exists. Well okay then.
That’s not to say that good queer media can’t or shouldn’t explore sexuality as a main theme, it just often feels like that’s all that we’re given. I want to identify with an escapist fantasy, not systemic oppression so gritty I could use it as sandpaper. Explorations of sex are enjoyable enough in private, but it’s not something I could share with others, for obvious reasons.
Then again, maybe some soapboxing and issue awareness is a first step in what we need right now. It recently came to light that the ‘Ex-Gay’ advertisements produced by the Christian group Core Issues Trust was, although banned in short order, deemed ‘not illegal’ by the High Court. Regardless of legality technicalities, that the advert exists at all is indicative of a serious need to queer up the media.