In some ways yes. Film and television has drastically changed in my lifetime. We see more diversity now than ever before. Recently DC comics announced that they were making one of their major characters, the Green Lantern, gay. That’s a big deal, to have a main character who can serve as a role model (who doesn’t look up to super heroes?) identify as homosexual.
However I still think we have a ways to go. I recently read an essay by Judith (or Jack) Halberstam titled The Good, The Bad and The Ugly: Men, Women, and Masculinity, and I must say she (or he) has an excellent point. The point I am referring to is the depiction of homosexuality in film. While we see it in the media much more, it’s not necessarily in a positive way. Consider the representations in the television shows Sex and the City, Weeds and Revenge.
In Sex and the City, all of the gay characters I can think of embody what I like to call the three F’s: feminine, fashionable and flamboyant. They are all very two dimensional characters who are almost accessories (I’m pretty sure they even make that joke in one episode) to their heterosexual female friends. They do not have significant roles or much character development.
In a later season of Weeds a lesbian makes a brief appearance (a few episodes) and she represents the two B’s: Butch and Bitchy. Again, Zoya is defined by the stereotypes of her sexual orientation. While these characters fit seamlessly into the episodes and served their parts in the plot, they also present a problem. It’s not that gay characters have to be portrayed as masculine, or lesbians feminine. Not every man identifies as masculine or woman as feminine. It’s not that there is anything wrong with those personality traits. It’s the distinct lack of variation that is the issue. It’s the same issue with different races always being portrayed in the same way (the black character is always ‘ghetto’ regardless of their background, or the middle eastern character always suffers under strict, traditional parents). While some gay men and lesbians certainly exemplify some (or all) of those F’s and B’s, it doesn’t apply to everyone. I’ve also met plenty of straight people who embody those ideas as well. Yet all those cliché personality traits and behaviours that serve as the basis for so many homosexual characters. Writers frequently seem to designate homosexual characters to a flat, under-developed role on the sidelines. It’s as though they can’t fathom writing a homosexual character that could be mistaken for a heterosexual person because they aren’t acting like what everyone assumes is the “gay” norm.
Now onto Revenge. I’ve noticed that bisexual characters are often a novelty, portrayed as mysterious, devious and seductive. As if they are somehow undefinable because they do not fit into one category or the other they have to be enigmatic and untrustworthy. One of the two bisexual characters on Revenge epitomizes that. With the other character it difficult to say, because the audience doesn’t actually get to see many sides of him other than lonely or strange. There seems to be a common pattern where any character that is not heterosexual and white gets written as some sort of typical idea, and tends to stay that way. And what about transsexual characters? Representations are virtually non-existent (in fact I can’t think of any off the top of my head). If they did have their place on television I wouldn’t be surprised if they were relegated an equally stereotypical role. It’s disappointing to have an idea of diversity, but be denied the real thing.
I’m going to end where I started, on a positive note. There are some shows out there that defy expectations. I feel like True Blood does a particularly good job avoiding the clichés. Yes, Lafayette is fabulous in the ways you’d imagine a gay character to be. But he is also a multi-dimensional character who is strong and masculine. He can wear eye shadow and he can kick ass. His boyfriend Jesus didn’t embody any of the stereotypes. The same goes for one of my favourite Grey’s Anatomy couples: Callie and Arizona. They’re not “bull dykes,” they are unique women who happen to be attracted to other women. Homosexual characters can be just like everyone else, they don’t have to be defined solely by common expectations of their sexual orientation. I hope the rest of the industry catches up to these series.