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Queer Representation in Media

Katie Pegg

The problems of representation in media are a well known problem at this point. Lots of communities struggle to be able to find people like them, one of these communities is the LGBTQ+ community. Finding good queer representation in movies and TV shows is really hard. Many movie studios have tried to incorporate queer characters into their movies, but they often have an approach that doesn’t work and misrepresents the community they’re trying to represent, and this goes beyond just the common stereotypes of queer people.

One of the problems commonly seen when looking at queer pop culture characters, is that queer characters are often treated as the joke of the movie. For example the movie Crocodile Dundee, when the main character goes into a bar he meets a women, and when he’s told that she’s trans, he sexually assaults her, and it’s treated completely as a joke. According to The Guardian, “Based in a pub in New York. Mick Dundee (Hogan) chats up a trans woman, before a friend pulls him aside: ‘I’ve been trying to tell you all night, that girl, she’s a guy!’ Dundee responds by sexual assaulting her. He grabs the woman in the groin area, then points and yells: ‘A guy dressed up like a Sheila! Look at that!’” The character’s entire existence is treated as a gag to make the audience laugh.

Trans characters are often even more misrepresented in media. Take for example the 2021 version of West Side Story. This version of the story included a trans character in the place of a character who was originally a tomboy trying to be accepted by the jets. At first glance this looks like a good piece of representation. But while the character was added with good intentions, Iris Menas’s trans character ended up very flawed. When the Jets meet this trans character (who is not given a name) they misgender him and tell him he’ll always be a girl, and while this transphobia might fit their character, the movie does not do enough to point out that it’s wrong. At the end of the movie the Jets do finally use his preferred pronouns, but only after he’s “earned it” by doing the jets a favor. This presents the idea that trans people have to earn the right to be called their preferred pronouns. Using someone’s pronouns is a basic form of human respect and not something that has to be earned.

Another problem with queer representation is queer coding. Queer coding is when a story lightly eludes to a character being queer, but makes it mysterious enough that it can go entirely unnoticed. This is often used because of fears of backlash from non LGBTQ+ allies. It allows for a queer icon for those who can see it, and the obliviousness of those who don’t want to see it. It’s also the case that writers may want to add a queer character, but may not be allowed to do so, as is the case with Disney. The writers of Turning Red wanted to include a gay character, but simply were not allowed to. So they had to go with subtle hints towards queerness, that were ambiguous and open to interpretation. This causes a problem because it can lead to queer people feeling like they and characters like them, have to be hidden.

Now that we understand examples of bad queer representation, what does good representation look like? One of the best examples of queer representation is in Petra from Jane the Virgin. Petra starts the series being attracted to men, but throughout the series she develops a crush on a woman. She is not immediately labeled a lesbian, she is not sexualized, it does not become the main part of her character. Petra corrects misinformed statements and she is supported by her friends throughout the rest of the show as bisexual. Another good example is in The Mitchells vs. the Machines, the main character, Katie, wears a pride pin on her hoodie the whole movie and at the end of the movie, her mom asks if she and her new friend Jade are an official couple yet. While still a bit subtle, it’s still a part of who she is without defining her entire story. It’s supported by her family and it’s not the main conflict of the movie.

Good queer representation includes a character who is proud, and who is either accepted, or correcting people who don’t respect them. Queer people are not accessories and don’t need to be hidden in the side characters of movies. Good representation includes the diversity of the LGBTQ community, queer people of color, trans actors, nonbinary actors and people of all body sizes. It’s important to get more queer representation out there, because every person should be able to find themselves on screen.

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