Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Carla's Blog Post #1

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


  1. This blog post is quite interesting because I never really thought about how often LGBTQ characters are left out of television shows for young audiences. This has just never crossed my mind; however, it is actually very true. It is rare to turn on the Disney Channel, Nickelodeon, or even MTV and find a gay or lesbian character in a television show. This is not surprising though; after all, everyone is well aware that the LGBTQ lifestyle is greatly stigmatized. In Rubin’s article, “Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality,” she states that “The criminalization of innocuous behaviors such as homosexuality, is rationalized by portraying them as menaces to health and safety, women and children, national security, the family, or civilization itself” (Rubin 25). By failing to use gay characters in television shows that are targeted towards a young audience, they believe that this will protect adolescents from LGBTQ individuals that are seen as a threat to society. It has always confused me how people think that they can shield their children from reality, and the reality is that there is a huge chance that these young kids are going to encounter peers that have different sexual identities from their own. In addition, it is rather disappointing that so many television shows refrain from having any LGBTQ characters. These unique characters have the potential to be the role models for young teenagers who are coming to terms with their own sexual orientation that deviates from the heterosexual norm. Nevertheless, these characters are going to remain hidden from society as long as people continue to disapprove of the lifestyles of LGBTQ individuals and see them as a threat to today’s youth.

    Rubin, Gayle. “Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality”
    The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader. Ed. Abelove, Henry, et al. New York:
    Routledge, 1993: 3-44.

  2. In examining LGBTQ representation in pop culture, I think we see the prevalence and propagation of Adrienne Rich’s idea of compulsory heterosexuality. I think that a serious issue with media representation of LGBTQ storylines is both setting a dismal standard that is sometimes followed in real life and reflecting a somewhat mainstream disapproval of LGBTQ people expressing romantic interest. There may be more acceptance of LGBTQ people coming out and making their identities known but this disconnect may stem from their expression of same-sex romantic interest. These feelings are often invalidated by beliefs in stereotypes of LGBTQ people being completely sexually motivated. Another possible issue is that while a LGBTQ person being open about their identity without expressing any of the feelings that come with it allows people to ignore or forget that identity, so silence and marginalization is imposed. This is similar to the treatment and assumptions made about people with disabilities. As Eli Clare points out ableism involves many unrecognized assumptions about disabled bodies as inferior “broken and tragic” (2001). One such assumption is that people with disabilities are a-sexual or do not have sexual and romantic attractions. This is very similar to how LGBTQ people seem to be portrayed in modern day mainstream media.

    Clare, Eli. "Stolen Bodies, Reclaimed Bodies: Disability and Queerness" Popular Culture 13(3) 359-365. 2001.

  3. The invisibility of LGBTQ people in the media, especially on networks whose main audience is children/teens, presents a demanding challenge for LGBTQ youth who are starting to question their identity as opposite from the “compulsory heterosexuality” that Adrienne Rich explores. While reading your post, I began thinking about reasons why including LGBTQ youth in the media might cause some controversy. I feel that certain directors consciously leave out LGBTQ identified people from having active roles in their movie or show because they do not want the public to assume that they are part of the LGBTQ community themselves. They may have a “fear of being considered homosexual by their peers or by others” (Theo Van Der Meer, p. 161) so they eliminate the possibility of being perceived as homosexual by not including LGBTQ people in their movie or show. I also believe that the lack of visibility of LGBTQ youth has a lot to do with the negative stigma associated with being different. Network executives’ main goal is to have high ratings and viewers. They believe that showing LGBTQ people in the media might risk their network’s ratings, so they completely disregard other identities that go against societies sexual norms. Parents may restrict their adolescents from watching shows that include LGBTQ characters. This may be due to the belief that “homosexuality was a disease and that if it were condoned it would become the undoing of society” (Theo Van Der Meer, p. 154). The lack of LGBTQ in the media marginalizes and silences the experiences and lives of people that are not heterosexual.

    Meer, Theo Van Der. “Gay Bashing: A Rite of Passage?” from Culture, Health & Sexuality. Vol. 5, No. 2, Homophobia and Anti-Gay Violence: Contemporary Perspectives. Taylor & Francis, Ltd., 2003.

    Rich, Adrienne. "Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence" from Professions of Desire: Lesbian and Gay Studies in Literature. ed. George Haggerty and Bonnie Zimmermann. New York: Modern Language Association, 1995.

  4. The Network's goal is to show popular television shows that will please the mass of the community. They don't want to upset anyone by showing anything that is to controversial. In terms of sexuality, while homosexuality is gaining more and more public acceptance these day, combining it with the already taboo subject matter of preteen sexuality is to risky for their business. By airing shows which present "tween" sexuality they risk offending people such as the religious community and highly protective or homophobic parents.

    Unfortunately by doing this the Network is unintentionally (or possibly intentionally) helping reinforce the idea of compulsory heterosexuality (Rich) through the socialization of children who grow up watching the Disney channel. This is a suppressive cycle which prevents homosexuality and queerness from ever being full excepted in the Media.

    Rich, Adrienne. "Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence" from Professions of Desire: Lesbian and Gay Studies in Literature. ed. George Haggerty and Bonnie Zimmermann. New York: Modern Language Association, 1995.