bisexuals, cultural criticism, ethnicity, gays, gender, geographic status, intersectional sociology, lesbians, LGBTQ, minorities, minority representation, Orange is the New Black, queer, Queer as Folk, queer media, race, sex, sociology, The Fosters, The L-Word, The South, transgender
Last Friday, I went to my parents’ house – surprisingly – finding it empty. There was still laundry to do, and my parents were to be back later. Going to my parents’ house, gives me the time to watch cable, and if anything, more than likely I pick something gay I can’t get on Netflix. I was happily surprised to have landed on MTV just in time for Laverne Cox Presents: “The T-Word.”
There were various young trans men and trans women represented at first. There was a New Yorker, a Californian, another Californian…. The trend that I’ve been sensing outside of the T-Word, itself, and in general was starting to agitate me. But wait, NEW ORLEANS. I gasped, “OMG I think I’ve seen this woman in the Quarter before, too!” The woman was black and trans and spoke out about the racism and transphobia she and other trans women had been experiencing from N.O.P.D. There were pictures of her in sights I’ve been through multiple times and issues that I had heard of various times. A special thank you to Laverne Cox for finally getting someone in the LGBTQ+ media genre out in the South.
If you’re in an LGBTQ+ organization at all, you will hear not only about queer inclusion but also racial inclusion. There are questions of representation for gay black men, Latina trans women, Asian lesbian women, and etc. The race issue is finally evolving, and you can see it coming into media as the genre starts to widen. Also the issue of age is being brought up in LGBTQ+ media very much in organizations and representation between middle-aged trans women, elderly gay men, elderly lesbian women, and even tween gay youth.
Sociologically, LGBTQ+ media is putting some effort toward representing different genders, sexual orientations, races, ages, and classes. Heck, even sexes with Faking It’s newly-outed intersex character! Diverse geographic representation is scarce in America, though.
I watch multiple LGBTQ+ themed shows at a time from Queer as Folk to The Fosters to HBO’s Looking, and yet, I really love these these show but my subconscious quest for southern representation is highly unsatisfied. HBO’s Looking is set in the most stereotypically gay city – San Fran. The L-Word is set in Los Angeles. The Fosters is set in Pasadena. Orange is the New Black is set in New York. Transparent is set in Los Angeles. Will & Grace is set in….New York. California, New York, California, New York……. Even TV programs with token gay roles like Danny in Teen Wolf are almost always set in either of the two. Are you not queer until you live in New York or California? Or do you just have to visit? Maybe that’s why I’m gay. I came out a year after I visited Los Angeles…
Even in LGBTQ+ movies, the scarcity of southern representation is ridiculous. We have our few documentaries like Southern Comfort (chronicling a transgender conference held annually in the South) and some Mississippi gay bar documentary that is more obscure than Oz Gay Club in New Orleans.
You may think I’m forgetting Texas’s representation because though it’s not “exactly” the South..it’s there, but Faking It does not count. The show emphasizes these LGBTQ+ youth being popular at their school because of their oddness. Longhorns is a joke of a movie, which is probably even more obscure than that Mississippi gay bar documentary.
Queer as Folk is one of the few American pieces of LGBTQ+ media that captures the queer struggle for social and political rights. Justin is a victim to a hate crime for having Brian as a date to prom. Ted is fired at his job for looking at gay porn and not straight porn. Liberty Avenue has a situation similar to the Stonewall Riots of 1969. Michael is forced out of his job for being gay. Ben deals with having HIV/AIDS (that says enough). Melanie and Lindsey struggle with heterosexism in public institutions as a domestic family of them and their children. It captures a lot of what is happening now in the South, but…it’s in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. There is Emmett Honeycutt from Hazelhurst, Mississippi, but the setting is still everything and his Southern origin is not an explicit characteristic. As similar as it might be to some southern queer struggles, it’s still vastly different.
While most LGBTQ+ media is set in places with same-sex marriage rights, hate crime laws, ENDA state laws, and the liberty of adoption, gay youth are twice as likely to commit suicide in highly religious areas, which embodies most of the South by the presence of the Bible Belt. Transgender women are even more likely to be victims of a hate crime or even homicide (i.e. a queerphobic hate group holding a trans woman hostage for days in Natchitoches, LA). Of the 31 states with gay marriage, only two of them are Southern states (North Carolina and Virginia). They are not in the Deep South either (if that means anything to anyone else). Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee are labeled approximately in the top most LGBT-unfriendly states. Mississippi and Alabama have barely if at all any civil rights for the LGBTQ+ community. Louisiana has very few, and the same goes for Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas, South Carolina, and Florida. Let me repeat again as a factor of the queer oppression – the Bible Belt.
Besides Laverne Cox’s documentary, I’d say the most airtime given to LGBTQ+ Southerners was character Bobby Ray in Sweet Home Alabama, which is impressive considering the release date was in 2002. Bobby Ray even endures some real southern homophobia even as a good ole’ southern boy. He is practically an underrated queer icon for the South because that’s as much as we have. Let us not forget that he is a middle-class, young, white, cisgender male, too.
Not only is queerphobia not talked about enough in its own media but what is happening around the country, especially in the South, where your queerness is highly up for discrimination. Representing LGBTQ+ people is not only the problem, but also the ridiculous racism in the South that Southern black gay men, black lesbians, and others experience from even the LGBTQ+ community. The South is highly concentrated with both homophobia and racism, so why not bring this intersection to the public? If we want the LGBTQ+ community, especially its youth, to feel understood and comforted, then that definitely includes their experiences geographically.