LGBT+ on TV: Have we finally moved past the stereotypes?

Laverne Cox, who plays Sophia Burset in Orange is the New Black
Image credit: University of Missouri-Kansas City

The positive representation of LGBT+ people on TV is a multilayered task. The three key aspects can probably be summarised as follows:

Depth: Repetitive bullying plots end up feeling like missed opportunities. It’s important to develop defining traits and storylines that don’t rely on the ‘minority’ label.

Breadth: The LGBT+ community is as varied as the straight community, so using one archetype for every show is not acceptable.

Attitude: Nothing breeds sympathy like a tragedy, but making every LGBT+ story end in misery isn’t helpful. Sob stories start feeling like cautionary tales after a while.

With these requirements, finding positive LGBT+ representation in popular television is usually a needle-in-a-haystack situation, but 2013 proved to be a very promising year, especially across the pond.

Canadian sci-fi Orphan Black featured Felix (Jordan Garavis), a gorgeous gay painter with an unending devotion to his family, Cosima (Tatiana Maslany), a bossy science-geek lesbian who was pretty unlucky in love, and Delphine (Evelyne Brochu), a shady bisexual research assistant. Orange is the New Black, a drama set in a female prison, did even better. Not only did it explore fluid sexuality and an array of orientations, but Sophia (Laverne Cox), an African-American transgender woman, became one of its most prominent characters. The depiction of her relationship with her ex-wife and young son was exceptional,and the strong yet touchingly vulnerable layers of her personality have been poignantly revealed.

Success isn’t so easily found at home. Sherlock named Irene Adler a lesbian, then painted her as a hyper-sexualised dominatrix who falls in love with a man. Arguments claiming fluidity just don’t ring true; the jokes about John and Sherlock’s sexuality drag on until Martin Freeman’s angry “I’m straight!” is drilled into our brains. It’s no longer funny, and it’s just a bit crude.

Flying rainbow flags is all well and good, but it’s seeing ourselves reflected in the media as varied and ordinary, as we are in real life, that will really make a difference. Things seem to be getting better, but there’s still a long way to go.

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