TV is really gay. I mean, as a ’90s queer, who grew up with zero major gay characters on television, it feels like TV has gotten SUPER gay. Remember when Rosanne kissed Mariel Hemingway on TV and everyone freaked out? Those days are gone!
Being gay is now so not-a-big-deal that Chicago Fire, the most recent prime-time formula show from Dick Wolf (Law & Order) has a lesbian main character! On Scandal, the White House Chief of Staff is a gay guy, and his husband is White House correspondent for a major newspaper. On Glee, basically everyone is gay. There are so many gay characters on TV that I don’t have the space to list them all!
According to a study by the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), about 4.4% of characters on TV are queers. Guess what? That number correlates well with the percentage of people who self-identifiy as LGBT in the states with highest LGBT population.
If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, and if you’re reading this it’s likely you do, you’re probably thinking 4.4%? NO WAY. At least 67% of people are gay! 98% if you count people who are gay for Beyoncé or Johnny Depp!
According to Wikipedia, San Francisco is actually 15% LGBT. Which means that when WE watch TV, we are seeing demographics that underrepresent our LGBT population by over 66%! Luckily, we have all kinds of live events and shows and things where we can go see gay stuff happening.
But here’s the thing: LGBT characters on TV in numbers that sorta-maybe reflect LGBT presence in the overall population, do not mean that TV is Getting It Right. For example, most recurring LGBT characters on current shows are part of an ensemble. Few of them are title or solo-lead characters. Also, exactly zero of them are masculine lesbians or out transgender people.
(Insider’s tip: Shane from the L-Word does not count as a masculine lesbian. Plus that show is not on anymore. Although incidentally Showtime is the gayest network on cable TV according to the GLAAD study.)
LGBT people of color are also underrepresented. I base this assertion on the highly complicated criteria that:
1. Racism exists.
2. The GLAAD Study says so.
The big problem with any discussion about representation is that no matter what story television is telling about LGBT lives, it will reflect the truth for some people and ring false for others. For example, on Chicago Fire, two traditionally feminine, thin, lesbian girlfriends with perpetually perfect makeup share a giant loft apartment with a hyper-masculine scruffy-chinned fire fighter. The lesbians are totally comfortable walking around the apartment with no pants on while the fire fighter gives them both affectionate kisses on the top of the head when arriving home from his shift. Probably that representation is totally affirming for some people. I’ve got nothing against skinny no-pants lesbians who welcome intimate physical affection from their straight male roommates, I swear!
It would just be rad if all the less-girly and not-girly-at-all pants-on lesbians could see affirming representations on TV too. And all the transgender people. And all the people who aren’t the people who are on TV already.
Sometimes, when I’m watching TV, I play a game where I imagine that two straight characters or celebrities are gay together. It helps make the road-to-equitable-representation seem shorter and definitely more fun.
Since it’s Valentine’s week, I’m going to let you in on my Celebrigay Couple Fantasy League! Here goes:
Matt Saracen and Tim Riggins from Friday Night Lights
These two would be so perfect together! Saracen is artsy and Tim is outdoorsy and they both love football. Saracen will reign Tim in with his calm approach when Tim’s temper gets the best of him and Tim will get Saracen out into nature when he gets too wrapped up in his head. They are both quiet and will appreciate long comfortable silences while watching the game or making dinner.
Nina Garcia and Heidi Klum from Project Runway
Heidi is all sunshine, Nina is all clouds, but they will both judge your outfit with impunity. Despite their opposite dispositions, their judge-y-synergy is a force so powerful they must surrender to it. I imagine their mutual seduction involves hate-flirting by trading outfit-barbs.
Olivia Pope from Scandal and Kalinda Sharma* from The Good Wife
I’m pretty sure in the parallel universe where all fictional characters are real this is totally happening. These two women are both unafraid of doing the wrong thing for the right outcome, have near-psychopathic compartmentalization skills, and know how to get other people to do their bidding. Together they would run the shadow government poised to take over the nation after the revolution comes. Sometimes instead of Olivia Pope I imagine Kalinda with Patty Hewes from Damages. But that would probably end in murder, which is way less awesome than RUNNING THE COUNTRY.
*Kalinda Sharma is not straight, she’s bi-sexual, which breaks the game, but whatever.
KQED, are there TV characters you are certain harbor gay love for each other? Which ones? Talk about it!