Jessica Thomas looks at LGBT+ representation on television and how ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ attitude to many shows. Does it normalise LGBT+ representation or trivialise it?
It has now been fifty years since the UK decriminalised sex between two consenting men over the age of 21. Since 1967, a lot has changed for LGBT+ people, including the amount of characters that they see like themselves on television. However, not all LGBT+ representation is the same. While some shows such as Sense8 or You Me Her (both notable Netflix originals) put LGBT+ characters and storylines at the forefront, others get by on a few minor mentions here and there. One such show is Fox’s Lucifer.
Though Lucifer, technically, has two LGBT+ main characters in Maze and Lucifer himself, LGBT+ inclusion in storylines is rare and minimal. One example of this is how Lucifer’s sexuality is ‘revealed’. Though throughout the first season it is heavily implied that gender is largely irrelevant to Maze and Lucifer, because, hey, they’re from hell and they’re just so sexual. In fact, Lucifer’s Bi/Pansexuality isn’t confirmed until the season two episode Stewardess Interruptus.
This comes in the form of a male ex-lover of Lucifer’s lying dead on the ground, adding to the ‘bury your gays’ trope (which is probably scope enough for a whole other article). However, at that point in the show, Chloe and Lucifer are about to get together so it is obvious that Lucifer’s Bi/Pansexuality is unlikely to ever be brought up again. Because of this, it feels like the scene was only added so that the show can fulfil its ‘diversity quota’. Other instances include the brief appearance of gay parents in the episode Deceptive Little Parasite and a gay security guard in Manly Whatnots.
There are three main points one could argue about these brief glimpses of LGBT+ story lines in Lucifer. One, that these meagre offerings to increased diversity are not enough; the showrunners doesn’t really care about LGBT+ representation, but don’t want to get slammed for having none of it. Two, the show should be commended for normalising LGBT+ people. That the inclusion of LGBT+ side characters shows they are part of the ‘world’ of Lucifer; that they belong and, as in real life, are just people trying to get on with their lives. And three, that Lucifer and Maze’s fluid sexualities are just another way to add to their ‘we are literally from Hell’ personas. This is problematic because it adds to the idea that having an LGBT+ identity is something sinful or wrong.
While the third point is more specific to Lucifer, the first two can be extended to other TV shows. iZombie for example, reveals that one of the main characters hasn’t spoken to his mother in years because she left his father for another woman. His mother then goes on the have a few lines of dialogue before disappearing back off into the ether. The Flash meanwhile, has the background character of police captain David Singh and gay villain Hartley Rathaway. In both of these cases the characters are given more backstory, especially Singh, but they are all still third or fourth fiddle.
The Flash also provides a unique stand point in the ‘barely there’ LGBT+ representation argument because it is part of the Arrowverse. It is the only one of its extended universe of shows that doesn’t/has never had an LGBT+ main cast member. Supergirl has Alex and her girlfriend Maggie, Arrow has Curtis and had Nyssa and Sara, the last of whom is now in Legends of Tomorrow. So could it be that, because its sibling shows have LGBT+ representation, The Flash team feel as if they don’t ‘need’ to?
This type of LGBT+ representation can also be seen in recent films such as Power Rangers and Beauty and the Beast (2017). Even Deadpool whose titular character, like Lucifer, is canonically LGBT+, doesn’t have an LGBT+ storyline.
It isn’t as if the producers/writers/showrunners of these shows couldn’t add more frequent and in-depth LGBT+ representation. It is done in numerous shows; Netflix has the aforementioned Sense8, with a transgender character as one of its leads, while more mainstream platforms and channels have the like of Brooklyn Nine-Nine with its heavy focus on gay police captain Holt.
The question of ‘blink and you’ll miss it representation’ isn’t just concerned whether there is enough representation, but why not do more?
One great example of ‘more’ being done is Syfy‘s Wynonna Earp. In the show’s first season LGBT+ themes are brought up early on during the first meeting of Waverly Earp and Officer Nicole Haught. Throughout the rest of the season their romance is woven into the fabric of the show. Wayhaught (the couples ship name) have their problems and their fights, but are ultimately the happiest and best functioning couple in Wynonna Earp. Once Waverly has come out, the majority of their problems come from a lack of communication and the show’s, literal, demons rather than having a focus on the fact that they are both women.
The episode Diggin’ Up Bones includes a gay couple who have been together on and off for over a century. They are two of the aforementioned demons and their inclusion is important because LGBT+ stories from history are so often covered up or destroyed. Acknowledging the existence of a gay couple from the 1800’s, and the acceptance of them by Doc Holliday (Yes that Doc Holliday, from the O.K. Corral, fictionalised and played by Tim Rozon) because it represents how being LGBT+ isn’t some sort of modern phenomena.
Season two also goes with ‘you know what, have more’, and brings in the adorkable Jeremy Chetri, a character we find out is gay when he awkwardly staves of a female character’s (admittedly insincere) advances with the line “you’re a girl“. This casual reveal just reinforces how Wynnona Earp treats LGBT+ stories and characters as normal while still making them an important part of the show.
Overall, the cases for and against ‘blink and you’ll miss it representation’ are complex. It is good that shows and networks are recognising that LGBT+ people are just a part of life; they ARE parents, club owners and police captains. But it would be nice to have more extensive and in-depth representation alongside this and Wynonna Earp proves that this is possible. LGBT+ representation is to do with more than just good and bad, there or not. In order for people to be able to see themselves on screen, LGBT+ representation needs to be as multi-faceted and diverse and the LGBT+ community itself.
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