Representation in the Media

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The other night I decided to watch this HBO show called Looking. It was recommended by Youtuber Tyler Oakley during one of his Psychobabble podcast episodes. The premise sounded great–three gay men living in San Francisco.

Before I get into my point, I should say that I am a woman, who although she does not prefer labels, could be considered pansexual. Honestly, sexuality is such a complicated subject because of all of the labels. I understand that to some people, these labels are helpful in defining who they are, but not to me. If I fall in love with someone, I’m going to fall in love with who they are on the inside, not necessarily what kind of genitalia they have. I do have a preference for boys, so to save me the struggle of explanations I identify as straight. But really, is anyone really, truly, straight?

So, anyway, I was watching this show, and I was pretty shocked. Not with the show itself, because it was a great first episode. The writing was wonderful, and so were the characters. But I was taken aback when I started feeling a bit uncomfortable. And I realized the reason why.

This great show showcased plenty of homosexual men and, like, one (straight?) woman. It wasn’t only the fact that I wanted to feel represented somehow in this show, like I want to be represented in most shows. It was that I felt like I was snooping into something that was not at all my business. Was I even the intended audience for this? Because I didn’t feel like I was.

And then the answer hit me like a punch in the gut.

I’m so used to seeing shows and films centered around straight people. If any, there are one or two homosexual characters. That’s it. And I usually focus on those few homosexual characters and I root for them to be written well and respectfully. But really, the straight people have the final say in these shows and films. It is their story, only theirs. On the other hand, the lack of women usually is overshadowed by handsome leads, which I’m ashamed to admit. I hardly notice when women are lacking in the media because of the attractive straight men.

So what happened to me while watching Looking? I realized how much we are lacking in representation, not only for women, but for all different sexual orientations.

In a show in which I struggled to find a single straight character, I learned that the LGBTQ community doesn’t have much representation in popular media, so who do they relate to? Do they feel like outsiders when watching shows and films featuring straight people? Do they feel like they’re not the intended audience, therefore should not be watching it? And when they do find that uncommon LGBTQ character, do they feel forced to like/relate to them because it is the only representation shown?

I am aware that this world still is fighting for acceptance of all of these LGBTQ labels. People are wary of those who are different from them. But why are we broken apart? Why does it have to be all of the straight characters in one show and all of the gay characters in another one? How long will it take before we have a gay superhero who kicks butt and saves the city at night but during the day he gets really nervous asking out the guy from the coffee shop? Or a woman in an action film, where she isn’t sexualized in one of those tight leather outfits?

Representation is so important. Fictional character sometimes breathe life back into people. It’s necessary to try to be as equally diverse as possible. Maybe this won’t happen tomorrow, or in ten years. But gradual changes would make a huge difference.

As a writer, I hope I get to be a part of this change in the future.

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