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Representation wanted: gay men in media

Oct. 11, 2017
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In the years since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage across the country, we have seen far more representation of gay men the media. From shows like Modern Family to Teen Wolf, we’ve come a long way when it comes to normalizing gay people. In turn, the heteronormative world has begun to see us in a more humane way, which has made us even more relatable to potential viewers. Even though sexualities may differ, varied representation reminds us that everyone is human, and we all deserve basic human rights.

But we still have a long way to go. Although we've taken huge steps forward, the media isn’t completely inclusive of all shades of homosexuality. Instead, media tends to depict white gay men as their default. Given that white people already tend to oversaturate the big screen, this isn’t enough. It’s great that big-name studios have begun to portray non-normative concepts of sexuality in a better light, but now we must strive to include gay men of color.

Sure, occasionally you'll see a stereotypical person of color thrown in as the main white gay’s love interest. However, while that is better than nothing, it simply isn’t enough. And it's cheapening our stories. By approaching storytelling from an intersectional standpoint, producers can find a completely untapped source of material to work with that isn’t necessarily new to the real world but is new to the entertainment sphere. And approaching LGBTQ stories through a wider cultural lens will have far-reaching consequences: gay male characters of color will inevitably be seen as role models for young and confused gay men, many of whom may not have anyone to look up to, and the more varied perspectives we show, the more options they will have.

Half-white/half-POC couples are not necessarily new in gay entertainment, but media representations of gay men of color could be better-executed. Think of your favorite interracial gay couple in media: what is their dynamic like? Chances are they fall into place with preconceived notions of what that minority’s race should be in relation to white people. The African-American guy might overpower the couple, and may even be portrayed as sassy or rude. The Asian guy typically gets stuck with the "bottom" roles. Latinos are often portrayed as too poor for the couple to work out. These are all tired-out tropes that need to be reinvented for an audience that is constantly changing. Ideas of masculinity also need to be explored more thoroughly, as oftentimes white gay characters get a nice balance of masculine and feminine qualities, but minorities get portrayed as either hyper-masculine or hyper-feminine depending on their stereotypes. There is way more diversity within one ethnic group for us to cling so steadfastly to stale clichés. 

Interracial couples where both partners are people of color are even more uncommon in media but are also extremely important to represent. POC representation is already deficient across the board, so you can imagine that gay men of color are lacking in the media-portrayal department. However, if we can look to representations of gay POC, young gay men who are unfamiliar to the gay community can have some sort of guidance and direction. Gay men of color have vastly different experiences from white gay men; by giving those experiences their deserved spotlight, not only will others begin to humanize and empathize with these characters, but young people will have a point of reference. A lot of gay men have loads of celebrity crushes, but if you ask who they are, they’re usually white. This mentality often gets translated into their dating preferences, which can manifest on a dating profile with the words “Prefer White Guys”. It’s especially sad to see men of color have this kind of mindset, and it is primarily caused by the media failing them with a lack of representation, resulting in a sort of self-hate.  

Ideally, mainstream media can be used as a powerful tool to make gay minorities visible, but until then it’s important that we make our voices heard and communicate our opinions on what we want to see on the big screen. Do not be satisfied or fooled into thinking that equality has been reached just because you see a white gay man onscreen. This is only the beginning, and there’s a whole rainbow of POC communities whose experiences have yet to be explored. 

Cover Image via Project Q