Does Representation Matter?

Representation in the media, and in particular for me personally LGBT representation, is a topic I’ve been pretty passionate about for many years. Even before I’d even accepted my own identity as a member of the LGBT community I was annoyed by the lack of LGBT stories there actually were. Now I’m sure I’ve been asked countless of times if representation is really that important. I mean what’s the big deal, right?

Growing up I saw very little LGBT representation, and any that there was tended to be pretty negative. For a long time the media, and society in general if I’m honest, led me to believe that being gay was something that just wasn’t okay. That being gay was something to be ridiculed for. Something to be spoken about in hushed voices, and in secret.

It was only once I was older that I noticed attitudes starting to change, and it started with the media. The first T.V. show that I remember watching that had any kind of positive LGBT representation was Glee, which first aired less then ten years ago. At that time I’m pretty sure that it was considered pretty ground-breaking, an anomaly of sorts. There were very few shows out there on mainstream T.V. with LGBT representation, let alone as much as what they had.

When I first started exploring my own sexuality any kind of representation I could come across was important, and like so many other young LGBT people I found most of it in fan fiction. Especially given that even then, around five years after Glee first aired, there were still very few prime time shows with any kind of LGBT representation. However, one show that will always stand out for me at that period in my life is The 100.

I had just started figuring out my own sexual orientation when season two was airing on E4, and the kiss between Clarke and Lexa was kind of a big deal for me. Mostly because of how not a big deal it was treated as within the show. It was put across as just another relationship, and the fact they were both girls didn’t even matter. There was no big Gay Panic™, no disapproving family (well, at least not about the fact her daughter liked a girl, maybe because of who that girl was, but that’s a whole other story that you should really watch the show to find out), and no raised eyebrows from society (again, not about the fact they were both girls, but rather who they were).

My experiences certainly aren’t an isolated incident. It was at a convention for The 100 where I got talking to a group of older lesbian and bisexual women about what the representation on the show meant to us. During the conversation they made some comment about The L-Word, to which my knee-jerk reaction was “that show was so bad, Bette and Tina had such a toxic relationship.” They responded with, “I know. But that was all we had, and that was portrayed as an idealistic relationship.”

Today representation is definitely getting better. I have a whole list on my watchlist of shows that feature prominent LGBT characters, and just recently one of the first mainstream teen rom-coms featuring a gay character, Love, Simon, was released. But whilst it’s definitely getting better, there’s still a long way to go.

Most of the time if a lesbian character is introduced you resign yourself to the fact that something bad will happen to them. Usually they’ll get be shot, or otherwise written off, usually right after they get their happy ending. Fun fact, in the 2015/16 season lesbian and bisexual women made up 10% of all character deaths, despite making up less than 1% of all characters on T.V. (LGBTFansDeserveBetter, 2016). The 2016/17 season didn’t fare  much better, with GLAAD describing it as “A very deadly year for queer female characters” in their annual T.V. report.

Plus, even today, LGBT representation is predominantly focused on white gay men. There are very few shows that feature LGBT women of colour. Though as a side note, The Bold Type on Amazon Prime and One Day at a Time on Netflix both feature LGBT women of colour and are, in my opinion, amazing shows.

So, back to the point. Does representation matter? Hell yeah it does. Seeing people like yourself on screen and in books is amazing. Personally, I think my teen years, and perhaps my life, would have been very different if I’d have had more positive LGBT representation in the media growing up.

Sophie x


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