Should I tell them I’m queer?
For the most part, queer people don’t get to control how they are represented in the media.
When Bob Katter famously claimed that there were no homosexuals in his electorate, he highlighted the fact that there are places where people can credibly say they have never met an openly gay person.
What this means is that some people gain most of their understanding of queer people from the media. And for the most part, queer people don’t get to control how they are represented here. Instead, our images and lifestyle are used by directors to further the interests of non-queer leads or to illustrate a narrative of hardship.
Too often, queer female characters are ‘killed off’ in story lines, illustrating how keen the media world is to pursue the bury your gays trope. This was highlighted for me with the death of Lexa, and nuanced and complex lead character in the popular fantasy series The 100. What made Lexa so important as a queer character was that she held a pivotal role in the unfolding drama without falling into the queer stereotype.
Representatives of same-gender attraction are often tied to mental illness, victimhood or villainous behaviour. Associating gender non-conformity with particular characteristics – most commonly negative ones – is known as queer coding.
Transgender people are particular targets too, frequently seen as sad and troubled victims. Worse still, the most prominent examples, such as Lily Wegener (The Danish Girl) and Rayon (Dallas Buyers Club), tend to be played by cisgender men, which lends weight to the lie that trans women are simply men pretending to be women. While some may argue that directors simply cast the best actor for the job, it should be recognised that transgender actors are unlikely to ever land cisgender roles, so their professional careers are severely limited. The very few roles that they might feel best suited to portray, are denied to them.
There are places where people can credibly say they have never met an openly gay person
While there have been multiple Oscars awarded to movies and actors for queer films and roles, openly gay or transgender people rarely receive the award. Our stories seem to fit the Oscar-winning formula of hardship and unconventional love, but queer people never get the chance to shine in these breakthrough roles.
The media’s representation of queer people is not just relevant in informing the views of cisgender people who may have little life-experience or awareness of the issues. It is important for young queer people who are navigating their way through life. University campuses are relatively tolerant environments, but as they embark on careers, these students must be wondering whether being open about their sexuality will hamper professional advancement. “Should I tell them I’m queer?’”.
Traditional mainstream media does not appear to have provided opportunities for queer creators of queer content. However, web series and streaming sites such as Netflix and Stan have been influential in increasing their representation of queer people. Her Story (available online) is an Emmy nominated series written by the transgender filmmaker and writer Jen Richards, with a mostly queer film crew and cast. This involvement by trans people at all levels of the production makes for a more genuine representation of trans people. It also signals to queer students hoping to enter these fields that there is a place for them.
While we can try to persuade filmmakers to write better stories for queer people, we must also actively be involved in our own stories. This is part of the reason why Querelle, a queer student publication, was created as a platform for queer young people across Australia. Our editing committee, based at Monash University this year, is entirely queer. The work we’re showcasing is solely queer artists, and our promotional film involved queer people at every level of development. If you would like to submit your work, you can still do so at our Facebook page here. We are also seeking donations to help provide this year’s edition of the magazine to every university campus in Australia for free. Our crowdfunding page can be found here.
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