Home » DisOrienting Encounters, Television
9 February 2011, 4:00 pm 10 Comments

DisOrienting Encounters: The Queer Color of Television

This post was submitted by Cyrus

On February 7th , 2011, edge on the net released an article commenting on the depiction gay characters in network and cable television. A trans-Atlantic cross cultural analysis of gay pop culture,  I find many points very agreeable with Douglas Baulf article, LGBTs on TV – does it get better. He is not only supposing the virtual lack of queer people of color, but the overall reticence of portraying queer characters of color and transgender issues. Watching more television these day than I would like, the state of gay characters on television is lax and negligent to say the least. I am happy to watch a budding queer relationship on Glee, lesbian love on Greys Anatomy and the stunning six gay characters on True Blood. But representation is an elusive creature and the connections between television and representation is always an appropriate discussion.

One is the lopsided portrayal of queer love and sex on network television.

The infamous Kurt and Karofsky kiss on FOX hit TV show Glee. Credited:the advocate.com

ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy portrays lesbian relationships as complex and loving relationships. Perhaps a “positive representation” is Arizona Robbins and Caliope Torres who maintain a fickle relationship that run hot and cold. But ABC executives are not at all hesitant to show the two of them sharing a steamy late afternoon shower romp. As Fox continues to delay any portrayal of male queer love between Chris Colfer’s character Kurt on Glee,  you have to ask, why is it more permissible to show two lesbians in the shower than two gay kids kissing? In this case, while we do have more gay characters than ever before, we see a sanitized and almost desexualized image of gay characters compared to cable television. Are we still afraid to see two gay men kiss in a hot steamy shower on network television? My answer- Network Television, your privilege is showing. Heterosexual kids in the cast of Glee hooking up and creating new couples nearly every episode and displaying their love in public ways, yet cast homosexual love as a “special episode” is a picture of privilege in mainstream television.

Jesus and Lafayette from HBOs True Blood. Credited : hbowatch.com

To add to the discussion, is there something to be said about the relative lack of queer people of color on mainstream gay television? Borrowing a note from Douglas Baulf, I really do hope it does gets better. I think his article has tapped a pulse on the state of  gay television. If HBO’s True Blood and Logos Noah’s Arc is the only portrayal of queer people of color on cable television then it goes to show where queer people of color are on the radar of gay culture- in the margins. Quite frankly, when FOX held open auditions for Season 2 of Glee for a possible love interest for Kurt, I was really hoping, with the diversity of the Glee cast, that his love interest would be a person of color. I am not saying race is marker of diversity but diversity exist in hetero and homosexual relationships too.

It seems odd to care so much about characters who do not exist in real life. They remain simply that, just characters. But it is important to recognize perceptions do matter. I write from a queer person of color’s perspective and my issues are very real and worthy or recognition in television. Bullying, notions of suicide, familial expectations and questions about love are prevalent in my life too. Am I alone in this sentiment?

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10 Comments »

  • Zack Rosen said:

    Cyrus, have you ever seen The Wire? My two favorite queer characters in TV history are on that show, and they are both black. You should in particular pay attention to the character Omar for the ways that a gay man can be portrayed on TV as a well-rounded, non-victimezed, sexual being. Its pretty incredible.

  • Jake said:

    I think it has more to do with the representation of people of color than the representation of queer people of color.

    On primarily black tv shows, the token queer characters are black. On primarily white tv shows, the token queer characters are often white.

    And yes, America (and consequently America’s television) has for decades been far more comfortable with the concept of lesbian love and sex than they are if it’s between two men, and they probably will be for decades to come.

  • devon devine said:

    Skins American version – while still floundering in comparison to its UK counterpart, has a pretty kick ass lesbo episode with an underground queer soul party. Both True Blood and the Wire, while not able to make up for the invisibility of queer POC representation in mainstream media — do provide some kick ass characters for us to get into. And besides, we are never going to have the kind of representation we want – so fuck the mainstream media and let’s make our own TV shows. BrownDownCrown!

  • James said:

    Cool piece, representations do matter because they make cultural narratives accessible to people in positions of privilege so they can greater understand the positionality of minorities!

    I recently sent this along to Topher, knowing he usually writes about television on here, but it’s discussing the first openly gay character in a Black sitcom, “Are We There Yet?,” produced by Ice Cube. Link here:

    http://colorlines.com/archives/2011/02/viewers_cheer_openly_gay_characters_on_black_sitcoms.html

    It seems like the presentation of his sexuality is approached with a refreshing nonchalance and is something we should all look into and hopefully look forward to.

  • Kevin (Ket) said:

    “And yes, America (and consequently America’s television) has for decades been far more comfortable with the concept of lesbian love and sex than they are if it’s between two men, and they probably will be for decades to come.”

    I don’t know if America is really more comfortable with the concept of lesbians. The way I see it, we are only more comfortable with it as much as it excites men and can be exploited. We have this long history of doing that to women.

    Adding minorities to predominantly white shows has always been a tricky balance to pull off, apparently. How do you give importance to this aspect of the character without making it their one defining aspect? At what point are you engaging in tokenism? If you have a character who defies all stereotypes, are you doing it just to be different (at which point, the message you’re making becomes more important than the actual character).

    We don’t yet seem to be at the point in our culture where a show/movie can have a queer character, or a character of color (or a queer character of color!) without somebody sticking a magnifying glass to it trying to find what the underlying motive is. I’d say we’re there when Johnny Chang can go with his boyfriend to see Mama Mia! live, then return home to his straight roommates and play Super Smash Brothers all night.

    Then again, we can always depend on a certain demograph to look at this character and whine about how he is normalizing homosexuality.

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