As I watch many many many programmes and critique them I inevitably get someone saying the same damn thing:
“Just don’t watch it!”
There are many replies to this, but irritation has worn me down until even I, who am not generally given to swearing, have to ask
“What the fuck do you expect me to watch?!”
Seriously. I’m a gay man who likes to watch the fantastic – primarily Urban fantasy, what do I watch? Because we’ve now reviewed 39 television series from start to finish (or current) and we’ve got two – TWO – or three with a GBLT protagonist. Lost Girl, headed by a bisexual woman and her true love/primary love interest is already underscored as being a man. And Sanctuary where Helen Magnus is a bisexual woman – you may have missed it though since it was one reference in one episode of 4 seasons – the rest of the time was focused on men. The third is Switch that has a Lesbian as part of an ensemble cast. And while she’s the only GBLT protagonist I love without complaint, the same programme is grossly homophobic towards gay men.
21 of those shows don’t have even a brief, token GBLT presence. Not for one second, not a bit actor, not a one off, not a thing. Completely and utterly straight from start to finish. Some of them have managed to reach their 5th season without any GBLT people.
4 of them have a GBLT character who appeared for one or two episodes – out of 8 seasons in some cases (yes, Supernatural, that’s you. Though your subtext means the slash fans love you and ignore your erasure) Of course that doesn’t stop these shows have a running commentary of bad gay jokes (Being Human US, Misfits – ye gods Misfits, the very poster child of a hot mess) or used these single episodes to push the horrible tropes (Being Human UK with the gay vampire killing his human lover).
2 of them have a recurring token. But, frankly, that’s generously deciding the Manscaping medieval prince who faints at the sight of blood (the dead Renly) and his lover, the knight of flowers count as tokens rather than one-offs on Game of Thrones. And despite Danny being nothing more than a token who only shows up in one episode in four whenever one of the straight characters needs something, Teen Wolf will always be loved by the slashers (If you want any greater evidence of how this damages us, both Racialicious (“I enjoy what Teen Wolf has done with homosexuality”) and Kiss My Wonder Woman have actually praised Teen Wolf for their handling of sexuality while criticising it for its greater inclusion of other marginalised people. Yay for homophobic double standards and the glory of homoerotic subtext!) And no, they don’t get points for the constant gay jokes.
2 of them have recurring minor characters – but while I love Dark Angel’s Original Cindy, as the series progresses she just becomes more and more of a support character for Max. It’s pure desperation that has me include Bill Forbes’s 5 episodes on The Vampire Diaries a recurring character – and after his conversion therapy episode I could do without that as well.
So that leaves me with 7 shows with major GBL characters. With the protagonists that brings it to 10 out of 39
And these 7? We have American Horror Story with raped and murdered gay men, a raped lesbian and graphic depictions of conversion therapy. Yay. I couldn’t even watch it in one sitting.
Almighty Johnsons has Sjofen, “the goddess who goes both ways” who has a one night, off-camera fling with Axel (a man) when he’s magically turned into woman and having sex with Axel turned him back into a man. A bisexual woman whose bisexuality was, again, for the benefit of a straight man. After that Sjofen focuses entirely on men from then on – but they make lots of jokes about her.
Hex and it’s many many many many, ye gods many, dead gay men and lesbians. Sometimes the same character actually died twice.
True Blood which I’ve already complained about.
Bedlam with a closeted character who was finally revealed as gay at the end of the season first, had one kiss with a guy before vanishing without explanation.
So, that leaves Warehouse 13 (which, one day, will stop putting Jenks in the plot box and leave the gay jokes behind) and Buffy (which wiser folks than I have complained about and is 10 years old besides)
This is the genre I’m watching. This is what I get served up to me. So, again, what the fuck do I watch? What do I watch which doesn’t prompt me to criticise? And this is just criticising on grounds of sexuality – throw in race, gender and ability as well and the hot mess just gets hotter and messier.
There now follows a moment where everyone tells me to watch Glee or Modern Family or some other soap and sitcom, completely ignoring the genre that interests me. It’s ridiculous that when faced with an entire genre of erasure and shit – multiple genres of erasure and shit – the answer is to try different genres! I don’t like sitcoms, I hate soaps, I loathe high school dramas and I don’t remotely see the attraction of musicals. I don’t want to be bored to tears so I can cling to a show that actually realises we exist.
This is the same reason I rarely boycott shows, because I end up boycotting my entire genre and all the shows I have any chance of actually enjoying. Is that depressing? Yes, of course it is – but that’s reality but that’s also why I want to change things.
Which is why I won’t “stop watching it”. I will keep watching it. I will keep watching it and I will find the parts I enjoy and I will continue trying to be part of the genre I love. And I will continue banging on the window when they try to shut me out, continue shouting when I’m missed and demand that it be better, that it does better. For me to stop watching it would be for me to finally give up on the genre, for me to decide it can’t be fixed and needs to be rebuilt before I get involved again – I’ve already done that with some book genres, and it wounds me to feel driven to it.
This genre has a problem with marginalised people. MY genre has a problem with marginalised people. And it’s not going to be fixed by closing my eyes and pretending the problems don’t exist or turning my back on it. Nor will it be solved by anyone who is hurt by these problems being driven away by people demanding our silence, demanding we “just don’t watch it.”