The Representation Issue

A discussion on LGBTQ+ representation in the media

Bennie Conner

LGBTQ+ representation in media is a topic that many talk about within the community, but is scarcely discussed elsewhere. The reason why the media portrayal of any group is important is because it can shape the way those unfamiliar with such groups view them. Poor representation or negative stereotypes of a group that aren’t entirely truthful when portrayed often in media can lead to discrimination or unneccissary hatred toward those groups.

First we’ll talk about queerbaiting. defines queerbaiting as “the practice of implying non-heterosexual relationships or attraction to engage or attract an LGBTQ+ audience without ever actually depicting such relationships or sexual interactions.”. Queerbaiting is a huge issue in media and is far more common than it should be.

One big example is the 2010 television show BBC’s Sherlock. One relationship in this series that has made it notorious for queerbaiting is between main characters Sherlock and Dr. Watson. Within the first episode, there are several comments made by other characters about how they think that Sherlock and Watson potentially have more than a platonic relationship. It is important to note that Watson had just first been introduced to Sherlock by a mutual friend earlier in the episode. Several more comments are made throughout the series about Sherlock and Watson potentially having a romantic relationship by other characters. 

Along with this, the female love interests for both Sherlock and Watson throughout the show don’t seem to make much sense. The love interests themselves are thrown into the plot in awkward spots. From the way the love interests are introduced to the way that their relationships with the main characters play out, it feels odd and out of place. This is not to say having women as love interests for the main characters wouldn’t make sense, but the way these love interests were incorporated into the plot was poorly executed. It is clear that BBC’s Sherlock is clearly queerbaiting through the relationship of main characters Sherlock and Watson. 

Queerbaiting draws in queer audiences and takes advantage of them. Queer people aren’t used to seeing themselves represented in the media, so when potential representation arises, they flock to it. This takes advantage of queer people and their lack of representation for profit. It also perpetuates the belief that it is wrong to have queer people in media. By hinting that a character could be queer but refusing to have a conversation about it, or even address it, could help lead some to believe that having queer people in media, or even being queer itself, is wrong. It reaps the rewards for having queer characters (queer people’s attention, views, money etc.) without facing the backlash of actually making these characters queer. This is why there are so many examples of queerbaiting. It’s profitable, but putting money over morals can be extremely harmful to a community that already faces enough hardships as it is. Taking advantage of queer people by taunting them with the possibility of representation, just to rip it away is wrong and needs to stop.

Another enormous issue with queer representation in media has to do with the fetishization of queer women by men portrayed in media. 

They will make comments about it being “hot” that a woman is queer. They will also often sexualize lesbian relationships. This is very common in every type of media from movies, to television, to literature. Bisexual women, in particular, are often targeted by this. 

Being queer is a part of one’s identitiy. Therefore sexualizing a woman’s queerness is sexualizing her as an individual. This causes queer women to become more objectified than women in general. This can lead to queer women having poor self-esteem. It can also lead them to feel unsafe around some men. 

The fetishization of queer women is already a huge issue. Normalizing it by putting it in media is only making it worse. The only acceptable time to portray the sexualization of queer women in media is when it’s being clearly critizised.

One more issue is the demonization of transgender women. One big example of this is in the 1991 film Silence of the Lambs. In this film one of the main antagonists, Jame Gump, also known as “Buffalo Bill,” is depicted as thinking he’s a “transsexual.” Gump is a serial killer who murders women and is in the process of using their skin to make a “woman suit”. In the film it is revealed that Gump had a traumatic childhood which caused him to hate his identity and lead to him thinking he was transgender woman. While another character does state that Gump is not truly transgender, there is still a lot of discussion on the topic of transgender people related to his character so it is not unwarrented to think that the viewer would still connect Gump’s character with being transgender. 

Depicting a character assigned male at birth who suffers from gender dysphoria as being a serial killer and predator of women is more than problematic. This wouldn’t be as big of a deal if it wasn’t one of the first times when a character potentially being transgender was an integral part of a plot in mainstream media. Since it was, this may have been the first time many people had heard much about being transgender when the film was released. 

There are far more negative stereotypes and conversations being had about transgender women than even transgender men. For instance, the discussion on transgender women in sports, or if transgender women should be let into women’s bathrooms. The demonization of transgender women is never acceptable, especially not in media where negative stereotypes can easily be spread.

There are many issues when it comes to LGBTQ+ representation in the media. Queerbaiting, the fetishization of queer women and the demonization of trans women are just a few. These all have their separate issues and consequences, but one they have in common is they all directly harm the community, either by taking advantage of them or portraying them in ways that can change the way they’re viewed by others. 

Good LGBTQ+ representation in the media is rare. It is important how the LGBTQ+ community is portrayed in the media because it affects the way the whole community, as well as individual groups or people within it, are perceived by the general public. 

The only way for these issues to be resolved is if people in the media start listening to LGBTQ+ individuals and acting on what they say. Until those in charge start actually paying attention to what people in the community have to say and valuing their opinions, nothing is going to change. So before those in the media release any form of content concerning the LGBTQ+ community, they should first consult those in said community. This will limit the amount of negative representation and exploitation of the community. This won’t completely get rid of it by any means, but there would be a lot less of it. Perfection is unattainable but improvement isn’t.