Firstly: as we devour media, what do showrunners, journalists and producers think LGBTQ representation is defined as?
Globally, we’re not short of showrunners, journalists and actors being part of the LGBTQ community.
But is it enough? Upon some digging, there were a couple of worrying trends. We’d theorise maybe it started with Lexa’s death (Alycia Debnam-Carey). But is it narrowed down to showrunner Jason Rothenberg and his writing staff? For that particular situation, absolutely. It was a singular character on Rothenberg’s show. However, expanding our search onto a lesbian who wasn’t killed off–the most recent case being Maggie Sawyer (Floriana Lima) the same excuse kept cropping up:
The Hollywood Reporter: “Producers are aware of the “Bury Your Gays” trope and, while Lima’s availability cut the storyline short, there is one small victory in their split: Maggie wasn’t killed off.”
Andrew Kreisberg: “Maggie does not die. I’m sure a lot of people are afraid of that.”
TV Line: “Frankly, I’ll accept pretty much any outcome, save for Maggie being killed off — which I’m fairly confident the show would never do.”
As far as we know, talk seems limited of stereotyping, statistics of mental health across LGBT youths, homeless among LGBT youths, adoption by LGBT parents. So why does there seem to be nothing more in these various outlets and executive producers’ words that indicate any awareness or thought about LGBTQ representation being outside death? Debnam-Carey’s Lexa made headlines, yes. But are showrunners and journalists following up on research and fact-checking? Or are they just setting up an orange cone that says “please avoid killing the lesbian”?
We can’t cover every aspect of LGBTQ representation, but we can try to learn more about supposed ‘good’ and ‘bad’ representation.
The world is diverse. And where there is diversity, the industrial revolution and technology, television blossoms too. Therefore, in terms of representation, we couldn’t cover all aspects in one article. It’d be doing an injustice to different ethnic groups; people with physical and mental disabilities; and older audiences, to squash it into one article. But as we said: we’ll try, and we’ll continually learn. From each other, other journals, other groups. And all you guys.
As social media grows, we find that LGBTQ users frequent social media platforms like Twitter and Tumblr. Why? The likelihood is: another world that’s welcoming and warm. Social media can be awful and good. But there’s no denying its power. There are 330 million Twitter users!
Via Twitter, we garnered a variety of replies to the tweet seen below of what social media thought equated to good LGBTQ representation:
Hey: could you please share/RT & hopefully REPLY underneath this question – so answer either or, it's up to you, in one sentence. 🙂 Thank you!
— Nicola (@NicolaChoi) November 17, 2017
So what are we here for? We have over 80,000 Twitter followers. If we can’t at least share your opinions, could we learn from them? As diverse a group we may be, for writers like us, the learning cycle never stops. Nonetheless, we would never claim that this article could educate all of our wonderful contributors. But let’s take it as the first stepping stone on a continual journey.
Do negative endings negate good LGBTQ representation?
There’s a difference between being sick and tired of depressing endings for same-sex couples than there is when it’s the product of good storytelling. Bad examples may include Lexa’s untimely death on The 100. Or Maggie Sawyer’s quick dash away from, er, her entire life because she broke up with a woman over kids. The point isn’t that it ended sadly. And that’s something people can weaponise as ‘bad representation’. But truthfully, quite like a good or bad article, that’s just defined by if it’s written well.
The proportion of LGBTQ relationships that end up in trauma or tragedy is really the focal point. And perhaps that’s where the hesitancy stems from. Ultimately, not all same-sex couples have happy endings. Like any other relationship, you could find multiple partners until you find the one.
For Sameen Shaw from Person of Interest, her difficult grief period over Root as awfully sad. But for a sociopath who couldn’t even bear to say goodbye, as she uttered those painful words on the subway to The Machine–her believed last hope of hearing Root’s voice–she felt closure. And when the series ends with Shaw picking up the phone undoubtedly to Root’s voice, we know Root isn’t alive. But Shaw found purpose again. Root transcended reality the way she always said she would. It’s still bitter. And honestly: we wish we Root and Shaw could’ve been together. But with Shaw’s smirk, her overcoming her impossibility of saying goodbye–can we negate all she’s achieved? It’s a question riddled with many, valid arguments.
Note: we’re not talking about Bury Your Gays. Oh, that’s an entirely new article. But of so many articles covering the blistering tragedies, we thought we’d focus on the norm of a break-up or just a misfit.
Within the LGBTQ world, what’s it looking like for queer characters of different ethnic or age groups?
To understand LGBTQ representation from all ages and ethnicities would be impossible for a single brain. And it almost feels irresponsible to skim over the topic. But that doesn’t mean we should ignore it. Because the importance of the question “what is LGBTQ representation?” is inclusive of all these groups.
It’s hard to separate and dissect this subject sensitively and justly. We can’t in a section and it warrants a follow-up. We’ll put our hands up. But it doesn’t mean outlets have stopped asking questions. It doesn’t mean there aren’t programmes like One Day at a Time, Orange is the New Black and The Fosters representing these varied groups.
Would the technical term be ‘minorities within a minority’? Not only that, what about transgender representation? There are so many questions and it’s near-impossible to find an answer. In 2017, GLAAD reported a damning concern regarding this issue:
Where Are We on TV Report (2017): “Racial diversity of LGBTQ characters remains an area of concern. Of the 70 LGBTQ characters counted on streaming originals, 77 percent were white. All three platforms tracked here – broadcast, cable, and streaming originals – lacked LGBTQ characters of color.”
However, GLAAD’s reported that it was “notably the first time GLAAD has been able to count non-binary characters”. And “for the first time since GLAAD has started this report, we were able to count asexual characters”.
Very muddled, isn’t it?
It feels almost like we’re testing the waters. As one worry increases, some breakthroughs are made. It’s honestly shocking it’s taken until 2017 for GLAAD to report the first-instances of non-binary and asexual characters. However, it just goes to show the true diversity of this community. And we don’t even know if we can class these as good representations or not!
Often, representation can be amazing and inspiring. But often, television executives–of all people–need to know television has been re-defined.
Representation has no borders. And it’s easy to slip into talking of one facet of representation to another. Racial LGBTQ representation stats within television shows, as reported above by GLAAD, was troubling. Taraji P. Henson recently said:
Henson: “When you talk about diversity, you’re talking about women being hired in front of and behind the camera. You are talking about people with disabilities, the LGBTQ community.”
Diversity is patently still an issue. From show-runners such as Kreisberg’s claim that at least Maggie Sawyer didn’t die, all the way to the writers’ room. Slate reported that only 5.5% of people of colour held executive producer roles in the 2013-14 season. And disturbingly, the co-chair, along with of the Diversity Advisory Group for WGA West and former showrunner for The Walking Dead said:
Glen Mazzara: “I once had two Korean-Americans on staff, and I was actually asked by a network executive if I had an Asian fetish.”
It just shows how ignorant comments can be made by the higher-ups in our industry. The misunderstanding, assumption and inappropriateness of the comment Mazzara was faced with is shameful.
Mazzara’s experience and Henson’s comments matter because it shows that LGBTQ representation isn’t just an isolated corner of the minorities. We’re all meshed and melded together. And that’s what makes us family. In our editorial, we choose to focus on this particular area. We’ll acknowledge we cannot cover it all. But we are willing to listen and learn as we move forward with our writing. Always.
In the wake of the ‘Lexa controversy’ on The 100, Jason Rothenberg wrote of his sorrow. The problem is, Lexa’s death was not about Rothenberg. Lima’s poorly-done exit was not about Kreisberg. Television is not in a vacuum. Social media is an increasingly powerful tool for a global audience. Recognition of mistakes is important but offers little comfort if the community are still wondering what’s ahead. Arguably, the explosion of the words Bury Your Gays could’ve inflamed thoughts like Kreisberg’s about Maggie Sawyer’s depiction.
And so again we fight. Because representation is as multifaceted as the LGBTQ community. It’s not just about death. Is it?
We only skimmed over aspects of LGBTQ representation when it deserves research and an essay. But to those in discomfort or distress because of a story, please allow us to humbly offer some reassurance.
We appreciate that this has been almost like a whistle-stop tour through LGBTQ representation and what it means when we say ‘good’ or ‘bad’. To be honest, everyone will have different definitions. Clearly, Hollywood had different definitions to many of us.
The most recent scandal has undoubtedly been the Maggie Sawyer incident. It started a debate that maybe should’ve started long ago. What is good representation? Because as we’ve discussed before, it definitely was not in Maggie Sawyer. Despite Lima’s subtle, skilled acting.
RELATED l The Unseen Maggie Sawyer Saga
Andras: “I think that’s one thing I really learned from Lost Girl. Every gay relationship is not the same, in the same way that every straight relationship is not the same. That’s what I kind of hope we’ve evolved to on television—that we can tell different stories about LGBT characters.”
Hope we cling onto seems almost unfair. We shouldn’t have to be seen as desperate for some kind of representation. But that’s reality. What we can hope for, though, is increasing awareness not only within the social media communities but further up the industry ladders. Ones like Emily Andras are leading. Candles flicker in the wind but we haven’t blown ours out yet.
Vocality across social media and blogging platforms are so incredibly, heartwarmingly eloquent that we’re barely candles. We’ve evolved into lighthouses. And if we can evolve so maturely and respectfully towards each other, then let’s hope for the light in the dark. Let’s hope we attain, eventually, what the LGBTQ community should’ve always had by default.