In the past couple decades, LGBTQ people have made huge steps forward into the world of media. Why is this important? Well, my thoughts are that the media -- for however it represents a virtual reality rather than actual reality -- both reflects our current attitudes and heavily influences them. Where would we be if landmark shows such as Will & Grace -- amongst many others -- hadn't brought explicit messages and characters to mainstream audiences? Furthermore, Laverne Cox is having a huge impact on the visibility, understanding of, and acceptance of trans people and issues in our culture right now. (PS, would someone please start a petition to have Cox be hired as one of the new regular co-hosts of The View?)
White gay men have seen the most benefit of this visibility and inclusion, even if it has been through very narrow characterizations in terms of class, education, looks, and acculturation. There have been some inroads via The L Word and Noah's Arc for LGBTQ people beyond affluent and pretty white gay men, but not nearly enough. Whether this will change has yet to be seen, but I don't hold out that much hope in the short term. I think the focus on gay men may be a holdover from the late 80s and 90s in changing public perception of gay men to be more than suffering AIDS victims, but that's just my speculation.
It strikes me as important to recognize a few things, however. As an author, it strikes me that we are only now seeing some inclusion of LGBTQ characters in genre fiction and comics -- note the recent gay marriage issue of X-Men and alternate universe versions of gay Wolverine. These have been followed by the recent change of Thor into a woman and Captain America as an African American man, which I think many of us hope points to greater inclusion in the ComiCon and fandom universe. Yet other media have yet to catch up. Whether we're talking about Hollywood still not knowing how to market queer characters to mainstream audiences without centering on their suffering or the outright refusal of the music industry to embrace queer people singing about queer subjects, we in the U.S. still have areas of our media that seem resistant or unwilling to embrace the pluralistic reality of the market and audiences.
Perhaps this still reflects a level of pervasive intolerance that even white gay men face. Certainly the statistics on mental illness and substance abuse in the gay community, as well as the manifestations of our oppression like anonymous hookup apps and the darker sides of our sexually permissive culture, are evidence that there is still plenty of fear and anxiety, isolation and marginalization to go around. If you don't buy that, than at least acknowledge that there are still many places in this country where gay men face violence and death; where the outward signs of our queerness -- which most of us can't hide despite recent homophobic claims to the contrary -- result in very real suffering. If this weren't the case, I wouldn't have seen nearly as many panels seeking to increase LGBTQ visibility and foster safe gaming environments during my recent excursion to #CONvergence2014.
It is also important to recognize the continued absence of out LGBTQ actors and performers among those most promoted by the movie and music industries. Yes, we have thankfully seen an increase in the number of gay men in Hollywood. Unfortunately most of them are white and none of them are A-list romantic leads. That is a very important distinction. As groundbreaking as it is for Neil Patrick Harris, Matthew Bomer, and Zachary Quinto to come out, they are character actors who have spent a significant portion of their careers working in television. Meanwhile, rumors abound about any number of Hollywood actors secretly being gay and yet not coming out. I, personally, find it suspicious that actors like Bradley Cooper seem to often show up at award shows either flying solo or taking his mother or sister as his date. I believe he may be gay, but I am not saying he is or isn't and I will completely own the fact that I'm slightly in love with him and so may be projecting. But he, Gerard Butler, and a number of other actors who present the image of perennial bachelorhood fit the exact mold of Carry Grant and Rock Hudson: romantic lead A-listers who are rarely connected to female significant others - which in our world today should present very real suspicions because of the constant media hounding these actors suffer.
In the music industry, the few out gay male performers are mostly niche or highly unique artists. Exceptions like Elton John don't really count because he made his career at a totally different time. But out gay performers like Adam Lambert and Sam Smith, both of whom are incredible singers and performers, aren't occupying the center of the mainstream. And I don't buy the idea that you can't market a gay man to women. Look at Anderson Cooper. CNN is more than happy to capitalize on his appeal to female audiences. So why can't a record label pick up Steve Grand and turn him into a gay boy version of Taylor Swift? Lord knows he's easily as talented... and he's gorgeous.
And so far I haven't even touched on the absence of lesbian, bi, or trans people. What A-list actress has come out as a lesbian? Ellen DeGeneres is an A-lister, but not an actress and occupies the niche role of America's Lesbian Sweetheart -- nonthreatening aunt category. Ellen Page recently came out, but isn't an A-lister. Couldn't an actress -- and not to play on stereotypes, but maybe one who does a lot of action movies -- like Jennifer Lawrence or Scarlet Johansson be a lesbian and marketable? To my knowledge we have yet to have a superhero movie centered on a black man or woman that didn't star Wesley Snipes or Halle Berry. So, perhaps this is an issue of diversity in general.
These issues aren't superfluous. Superhero movies, books, and comics often exemplify the qualities and characteristics we most value and who we envision embodying them. Just like Superman once embodied and promoted a concept of noble American nationalism, and how his current incarnation reflects a far more complicated view of the American military-industrial complex and our destructive role in geo-politics, so too are the worldviews of little boys and girls influenced by these cultural artifacts and the practices that embed institutionalized and structural forms of discrimination into them. Why is it the most sympathetic black character in the first Hunger Games movie had to die? If she was going to die anyway, why make her such an important character to the plot. Why is Stanley Tucci's character so marked with flaming queerness, yet seems so molestery and predatory? If there isn't still something fundamentally false about our perception of how widespread acceptance is in our society, why can't Bradley Cooper come out? And, maybe more importantly, why won't he call me up and profess his undying love for me? Seriously, I'd have his babies in a heartbeat.
I guess what I'm saying is that the world has changed a lot in the past few decades, but gay men still face violence and abuse. Anyone cognizant of current events recognizes that we haven't come far enough in trans inclusiveness, and lesbians and bisexual people still get left out in the cold too often. But perhaps the questions aren't just about there not being enough visibility and inclusiveness to go around, but deeper questions about the ways in which these cultural practices and industries have shaped public perception, how they've made us into plot points, continue to depict us as stock characters, and have yet to gain the courage or creativity to market the incredible and diverse talents of the LGBTQIA community to the mainstream.