Something To Smile About : Gay Representation

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Well my darlings, this is a horrible state of affairs, with the worldwide COVID-19 outbreak still looming over us all, everything we see in the media seems set to tell us just how awful and bleak everything is. So, as I sit here, forging my missing husband’s signature on some fairly sizeable cheques, I try to think of something positive that we can focus on while we’re all locked down, trapped in our homes. Trapped with only Netflix, and the warm glow that the police will never be able to trace anything back to us, to keep us sane.

What I’d like to talk about today is gay representation and how happy we should be that it’s come as far as it has for us here in ol’ Blighty. Yesterday while scrolling through Netflix, I found myself in that common drowned-by-choices dilemma that I’m sure is what made the “and chill” part of Netflix and Chill so popular. I decided to start a new show purely based on the fact that I thought the thumbnail image was interesting. That show happened to be horror/action/drama “October Faction” and while I’ve only gotten to the third episode so far, it’s proving very entertaining. The reason I bring this up is that this is just a random show that I picked out on Netflix and by episode 1 we find out that one of the four lead characters is gay. It’s not a major plot point either, it’s not that his entire character and subplots swirl around his sexuality, he’s just gay and I think it’s been handled fairly well so far.

“October Faction” Netflix promo image

This for me is such an amazing thing. We now have so many shows that are inclusive of gay characters and portray them and their sexuality in either a positive or (and this is equally important) nonchalant way. I think I find shows where it treats gay characters as not a big deal more important than ones where their sexuality is a huge deal, it let’s us know that we’re not just our sexual preference, we can be a super hero that just so happens to be into other girls, or a soldier or sports star that appreciates communal showers just that little bit more than most.

Now obviously a queen like myself doesn’t want to talk about one’s age, but growing up I had none of these kinds of representations to look up to. TV dramas never had gay relationships in them, there was tabloid shock and dismay when UK soap opera Brookside featured a gay kiss in the 90s, and when I’d watch old movies (and the less said about the Betty Davis binge that Risqué got me on last week the better) gay people didn’t truly exist in them, when they were represented, they were almost always shown in a negative light: the pervert that needs to be changed, the campy cowardly villain, a terrible secret that destroys lives, the confused young woman leading others astray. The only times when we got to see gay characters in a non-negative way was when they were used purely to comedic effect, shallow sidekick characters that pretty much never got a happy ending.

Shirley MacLaine’s as Martha Dobie alongside Audrey Hepburn as Karen Wright in “The Children’s Hour”

I can remember when the original UK TV series of “Queer As Folk” first aired and it was ground-breaking for me (even though I really wasn’t old enough to be watching it at the time – don’t tell my parents). The gay characters were the main characters and they did normal things and had normal jobs. Sure there was a bit of sex in the show, but I remember there was an episode where one of the main characters was shown sitting and watching Doctor Who of all things. These normalising, little things, that make all the difference to a kid needing to feel that he’s not as different as he thinks.

“Queer As Folk” Channel 4 promo image

Fast forward to now and it makes me so happy that we have so many shows on both television and streaming platforms with LGBT representation. TV adverts depicting two mothers with their child, the trans awareness of cartoons “Steven Universe” and the reboot of “She-Ra”, gay characters in “The Chilling Tales of Sabrina” on Netflix, queer culture in “Ru Paul’s Drag Race” and the “Boulet Brother’s Dragula” on Prime, films like “Love, Simon” or “Call Me By Your Name”. Yes, let’s just let that sink in for a moment,

We
Have
Films

Proper, well made, cinema-quality films with gay representation. A far cry from the “well I guess it’s art” cheap queer art-house films of the 80s, or the awkward porn-studio funded gay teen movies of the 90s and 00s. Actual films about us and our situations that we can relate to and with a level of quality that treats us as importantly as our heteronormative brethren.

“Love, Simon” promo image

So while I know that we still have some ways to go, and there are other countries so much worse off for LGBT rights than us, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t just take a stop and check and appreciate how far we’ve come in the last few decades before trundling on further. And I hope that those that are a bit younger than me (basically anyone born after the Mesozoic era) can also appreciate the joy of being able to tune into a random show on Netflix and find a character that makes them feel seen.

Stay safe my dears,

Velvet x