Depicted is a scene from The Bisexual in which the two protagonists are posing for an awkard and uncomfortable magazine shoot.
[Written by Chris Timmins]
[Image Credits: Miranda Stuart]
Content Warning: Violence against queer people/death
I’m not exaggerating when I say that rom-coms are my favourite genre of all time. I spend at least two hours every day listening to Kacey Musgraves and imagining her composing the soundtrack for my dreamy rom-com with [Dev Patel/young Colin Firth/insert actor here]. I love love love seeing the tender joy of a romance blossoming through a narrative. I love the idea of my very own Hugh Grant-esque man rushing through a beautiful city just to declare his undying love for me (very Love Actually or Notting Hill), or teaming up with his donkey, giant gingerbread man and gang of fairy tale creatures to rescue me, his one true ogre love, from a scheming fairy godmother (à la Shrek 2 – the greatest love story ever). There is always this sense of loneliness resting on my heart though, while watching these tales of passion and love, because they never really reflect my story or my identity. When it comes to queerness, our representation within romantic storylines often fails to live up to even the worst of heterosexual rom-coms, a fact that constantly breaks my massive gay heart.
I had no openly queer people around me when I was growing up, so relied very heavily on depictions of queer people in movies and TV. I’m so thankful for the media created by, and featuring, queer people, films such as But I’m a Cheerleader and Pride, alongside the mini-series, Channel 4’s Banana, BBC’s Boy Meets Girl and Netflix’s Sense8. They portrayed queer people being open, proud and loved – including their queerness, not despite of it, which is reassuring for a young queer person who is barely out to themselves, let alone to others.
Unfortunately, however, so much queer representation in media (often marketed towards heterosexuals) is heart-breaking and full of sadness and loss. The ‘bury your gays’ trope always happens just as a queer couple is finally becoming comfortable and happy, and claims the life of at least one character, and the happiness of another. It weaves its way through queer media, with these deaths mostly occurring to queer women, like Tara from Buffy and Lexa from the 100. In 2016, 25 on-screen deaths were those of lesbian and bisexual characters. Even when media executives don’t bring out the grim reaper’s rainbow scythe, queer relationships are still frequently portrayed as toxic and dangerous. A common homophobic cliché is that queerness is inherently predatory – a rhetoric perpetuated by films such as Call Me by Your Name and Carol, where an older, ‘established’, gay turns a young, ‘vulnerable’ (read: heterosexual) person to the dark, mysterious ways of homosexuality.
This representation is not only damaging for (especially young) queer people, who are taught through this that they aren’t meant to be happy or have healthy relationships where they are equal to, and in love with, their partners. It also massively impacts the perception of the queer community within the eyes of the general public, who take away from this negative media that queer death is normal and queer romance almost always ends in tragedy.
Even when the queerness isn’t plagued by grief, representation in mass media rarely goes beyond thin, white, cis gays. Trans people started the modern fight for queer liberation at Stonewall and approximately 39% of LGBTQ+ adults in America are also people of colour, yet our stories are never shown on the big screen. To further this, even in hetero-normative rom-coms, fat people are never the subject of a romantic storyline – our only roles are as the wacky best friend who exists purely for comedic value and to make the central characters look beautiful and ‘normal’. Disabled people are not shown at all. Frankly – we deserve so much better than this.
What I long for is to see people who look like my friends and I, happy and loved in fulfilling relationships – and loving themselves too. I want a cheesy rom-com following the loving adventures of two non-binary people who lose touch as teens, then meet again ten years later and fall head over heels in love, opening a plant shop and adopting a beautiful sausage dog. I want queer black men in their eighties, reflecting on their loving fifty years of marriage and caring for one another. I want bisexuals who date people of all genders, with families and friends who love and celebrate them and their partners without question or stigma. I want disabled queers and fat queers full of passion for one another. I want true depictions of queer intimacy with gentle kisses and quiet admiration, and I want ridiculous romantic tales with steamy sex scenes and grand gestures of love. Queer love is passionate and powerful, and it deserves to be seen and celebrated.