I have thought a lot about LGBT fandom and why we get so emotionally attached to our characters and ships. I think it is because, for our entire lives, we’ve settled for so little.
I love television. TV was my babysitter growing up, and now I love it like a good friend (I’m lucky because my wife loves it as much as I do).
I came out in college on Halloween night 1988 when I was 18, and the only queer people we saw on TV were freak show portrayals on talk shows. When someone gay was going to be on TV, we’d all gather to watch, and it was usually horrible.
Over the years it got better but not good, like the 1994 kiss on Roseanne where she wipes her mouth right afterwards. We were queerbaited into driving up ratings for sweeps week.
And while I love Xena from 1995 (I have the action figures), they still strung us along with subtext until the very end.
We ate it up. We grabbed every crumb tossed our way on television and we still do — every endless subtext-only ship, 10 seconds of screen time as 1-dimensional characters, and gay-for-ratings plot line. We pour over every frame, make animated GIFs and put energy into expanding the missing stories ourselves.
When there were decent representations of LGBT folks on TV 2 things happened — the characters died, or the show got cancelled.
I have to give producers Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz (Thirtysomething, Once and Again and My So-Called Life) props. They tried really hard to have fully fleshed-out queer characters in every one of their shows who got decent screentime and even kissed each other, but every time that happened their shows got cancelled.
In my opinion, their show, Relativity from 1996 had the first good lesbian kiss on TV. It was sweet, realistic and a decent kiss. Of course the show was cancelled after one season.
A Short List
- Once and Again – Cancelled
- Ellen – Cancelled
- Bomb Girls – Cancelled
- Rookie Blue – Cancelled
- Person of Interest – Cancelled (and subsequently dead)
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer – Dead
- Chicago Fire – Dead
- Skins – Dead
- The 100 – Dead
- All My Children – Dead and Cancelled
You get the point.
With all the real terrible things happening in the world, why do fictional characters matter?
When I tweet about dead queer characters I imagine some people may think “who cares, it’s not like someone really died.”
The characters may be fictitious, but the way they are treated affects the LGBT community in very real way. The messages are: you are disposable; your presence ruins everything; you will get punished for being queer; you are not equal to straight people. After a lifetime of being immersed in this narrative it’s difficult to not internalize it.
These messages are, literally, deadly. The rate of suicide attempts is 4 times greater for LGB youth than straight youth and 40% of transgender adults reported having made a suicide attempt, most while they were in their youth. Some of us may have this nagging feeling that we do not deserve happiness or equality.
We have to stop putting up with crumbs
As a community, we are starved for real representation on TV. We deserve to have queer characters who are happy, 3-dimensional and have romantic and sexual relationships equal to their straight counterparts.
After the blood bath of 2016, I feel like LGBT fandom is feeling the same way. We’re tired of being queerbaited and we’re done with our characters getting killed off.
We are no longer grateful for the crumbs tossed to us; we want equality.
Let’s hope this is the start of TV producers not taking LGBT fandom for granted.