A BiGinner’s Guide To Queer Culture in 2017: Television
Continuing her ongoing series exploring the best queer pop culture things out there, Gabrielle looks at television.
This week, I’m jumping into the ring with my most popular form of media so far in this series: television.
I’ve mentioned in previous articles that I think fringe media like comic books and podcasts are moving faster in terms of LGBTQ+ representation than more mainstream channels, such as television, and I stand by that. This said, the growth of webseries and increasingly bold digital outlets such as Netflix and Amazon Prime are planting the seeds of what could be a punk renaissance in diversity of representation on the silver screen, and I’m excited about it.
Honourable mentions that didn’t quite make it into the cut below include: ‘Steven Universe’ (gay lady space rocks, non binary character), ‘How To Get Away With Murder’ (the bisexual goddess that is Annelise Keating), ‘Supergirl’ (adorable, gay) and ‘Orphan Black’ (because my girlfriend says so.)
Below is just a small sample of what’s on offer, but I sincerely hope it’s enough to whet your appetite and inspire you to explore what there is to see.
A. The Popular Choice
Netflix’s sensational sci-fi drama ‘Sense8’ got off to a strong queer start with a wet dildo and hasn’t dropped the ball since. The Wachowski’s have created an epic, bold, and unflinching diverse LGBTQ+ cast in a thrilling, beautifully shot drama. There was a time growing up when I didn’t think I’d ever see a TV show like this. There was a time growing up when I wouldn’t have known to want a TV show like this: when I didn’t know there was such a thing as bisexuality, let alone transgender identities or polyamory.
‘Sense8’’s biggest weaknesses when it comes to representation of the LGBTQ+ spectrum are asexuality and non-binary identities. Whilst this does not make it much different from almost all existing TV shows, it would be awesome to see this addressed in the new series, which is slated for release on 5 May this year.
If you haven’t yet heard of ‘Sense8’, or if you’ve only heard about the sensual polyamorous pansexual orgies, let me give you a glimpse at the plot. The show begins when eight people around the world are suddenly and emphatically connected to one another via a telepathic link.
Brilliant scenes include closeted gay Mexican actor Lito panicking as he experiences Korean business woman Sun’s period, and (largely) straight white male American cop Will correcting transgender hacktivist Nomi’s mother on her name and pronouns.
The sex scenes are sensual but not fetishistic, and in particular LGBTQ+ characters are not reduced to the shape of their genitals and what they choose to do with them.
If you do nothing else, watch this show.
B. The One That Did Good
For its sheer courage, ‘The ‘Other’ Love Story’ wins this title. A 12-episode web series about two girls in the nineties who fall in love, set in Bangalore, it describes itself as ‘a love story in the era of love letters and land line phones, bell bottom jeans and road side tea’.
‘The ‘Other’ Love Story’ is a gentle, nostalgic friends-to-lovers romance directed by Roopa Rao and released by Banagalore-based Just Like That Films. It stars Shweta Gupta and Spoorthi Gumaste in the lead roles, and is told in Hindi and English. The series was a Miami Short Film Festival semi-finalist, with Roopa Rao scooping up Best Director at the NYC Web Fest.
It is not revolutionary in the scope of its representation, for a wider range of hues on the LGBTQ+ spectrum I’d recommend KindaTV’s Youtube series ‘Carmilla’, particularly for its fantastic non-binary character LaFontaine, or Laf.
The reason that ‘The ‘Other’ Love Story’ is so exceptional is its context. Not only is it a nuanced, gentle, loving representation of lesbian romance, as of writing, it is illegal for people of the same gender to have sex in India, a crime punishable by imprisonment. It is not legal for same gender couples to get married or obtain a civil partnership.
In light of this context, ‘The ‘Other’ Love Story’ is revolutionary, in much the same quiet way as Monet’s Waterlilies were, painted in a garden next to the train which ferried injured troops to aid from the front line in World War Two, within hearing distance of the bombshells falling there.
In India, the series is available to watch for free on Youtube. If you’re elsewhere in the world, you can pay to rent or buy it at Revry.com, and contribute to what is a proud group of creative people dedicated to telling a beautiful story.
C. The Ones That Could Do Better
There are too many television shows for me to name that fall into this category. Variously famous and infamous titles included on the list are ‘Buffy: The Vampire Slayer’, ‘Firefly’, ‘The 100’, ‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’ and, even, the otherwise brilliant ‘Orange Is The New Black’. Then there’s ‘House’, ‘Heroes’, ‘Doctor Who’, ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ and ‘Gotham’, again, to name but a few.
Shows fall down for burying their gays, failing to respectfully represent LGBTQ+ people of colour, fetishisation, exclusive representation of homosexuality to the detriment of the rest of the LGBTQ+ community, and two-dimensional parodies, among other reasons.
Queerbaiting should also be given a mention in this list of what is both bad and plain ugly as a cheap tactic that multiple networks have used to exploit their LGBTQ+ audiences. Good examples are the BBC’s ‘Sherlock’ and The CW’s ‘Supernatural’.
There is a lot of good out there, and there’s a lot of bad. On my watch with caution list are: ‘Buffy’ (I’m never getting over Willow and Tara), ‘Orange Is The New Black’ (maybe just don’t watch the fourth season), and ‘The L Word’ (awesome if you’re a cisgender woman who loves women, not as awesome if you’re anyone else.) The rest can be cool shows, but I wouldn’t watch them with an LGBTQ+ angle in mind.
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