Gay teens: Do they belong on the tween networks?
As more LGBTQ teens are represented in media, media critics, viewers, and producers must address the question of visibility in media for various age demographics. While there are more and more LGBTQ teens in television, they are not very visible in pre-teen media. Armstrong addresses the lack of gay teens on networks such as Disney Channel and Nickelodeon, and the responses from the creators of such media are unfortunate. One network says that representing such characters would be “inappropriate” for the age bracket. There is an ever-present paradox regarding the visibility of heterosexual characters and LGBTQ characters in media. Characters are automatically assumed to be heterosexual until proven otherwise, and pre-teen media reflects that. The lack of pre-teen LGBTQ characters is a result of the compulsory heterosexuality present in society.
The presence of gay teens in media should not be an issue, considering the fact that television is meant to imitate life. Historically, heteronormative media has left little room for representation of any sexual minorities. When LGBTQ individuals have been represented, it has been considered out of the ordinary. Slowly, more and more networks appear to be representing gay teens – though even those representations are often controversial. Recently, there have been issues regarding unequal displays of intimacy on television shows between same-sex couples in comparison to opposite-sex couples. Fans of the popular television show Glee often criticize the writers for the disproportionate intimacy between same sex couples (i.e. Brittany and Santana, Kurt and Blaine) and opposite-sex couples (i.e. Sam and Mercedes) on the show.
Homosexual intimacy is considered by some to be deviant behavior, out of the norm (Rubin). While heterosexual characters can acknowledge “crushes” on characters of the opposite sex on pre-teen shows, it is somehow unacceptable for the same to occur for homosexual characters. Since homosexuality is not considered to be on the same level of importance or normalcy as heterosexuality, presenting such characters to young viewers would be representing what some deem to be deviant behavior. Representing LGBTQ youth to an earlier age demographic would mean allowing for equal representation, and possibly changing the heteronormative nature of the media.
The LGBTQ community has historically been identified by sexual acts rather than an identity (D’Emilio). As the community progressed, an emphasis was placed on the individual rather than the act. If networks can identify their heterosexual characters with “crushes” on the opposite sex without the need for sexual contact with another individual, the same should be possible for homosexual characters. Leaving it to the viewer to “interpret” a character’s sexuality takes something from young LGBTQ viewers – if the characters that they may identify with cannot have open “crushes”, they may feel as though that identity is not something that can be openly expressed.
Ultimately, the representation of LGBTQ characters should not be a question. The mere need to ask whether or not a particular group should be represented in media makes it clear that they are not well represented. Not allowing LGBTQ characters in media only silences an entire group and reduces visibility for the community as a whole. Not only is it offensive, it feeds the current heteronormative nature of media. Introducing such characters in an atmosphere where they can have an identity that is not necessarily defined by sexual activity could possibly change views of sexual orientation as a sexually based identity. There is nothing innately inappropriate about a heterosexual character pining over a character of the opposite sex, and the same should apply to a homosexual character and a character of the same sex.
Armstrong, Jennifer. "Gay teens: Do they belong on the tween networks?" PopWatch 21 January 2011. Web, 7 February 2012.
D’Emilio, John. "Homosexuality and American Society: An Overview" from Sexual Politics, Sexual, Communities in the United States 1940- 1970. Chicago, Ill: University of Chicago Press, 1983.
Rubin, Gayle. "Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality" from Social Perspectives in Gay and Lesbian Studies ed. Peter M Nardi and Beth Schneider. 1993