In this paper, I’ll be comparing the differences in representation of homosexual characters in popular films.

I will highlight the differences in characters of films created by people who don’t have a perspective of how homosexuals are represented in the real world to creators who do have a perspective. I’ll be defining popular films as those that are well-known and liked in the Lesbian, Homosexual, Bi Sexual, Transgendered/Transsexual, Queer (LGBTQ+) community. My intent with this essay is to find how films portray homosexual characters.

Review of the Relevant Literature

When looking in to the representation of homosexual characters, I noticed that there hasn’t been much research done on the subject. In addition, what little research that has been done assumes the angle that homosexuals in media are portrayed as bad and evil people, which is clearly a gross misrepresentation. An example of misrepresentation within the genre of fantasy media such as in the TV Show True Blood is how vampires, werewolves, and other supernatural creatures are portrayed. Frederik Dhaenens suggests that:

… the genre has omitted representations of homosexual characters or displaced homosexuality onto the victims, villains, or nonhuman others. Hence, from a queer theoretical perspective, homosexuality has been represented as a threat to the hegemonic discourse of heteronormativity”. (Dhaenens, Frederik)

This was interesting to me because in media that deals with homosexual culture, typically it’s about homophobia, homophobic violence, child molestation, cheating around, always having sex, femininity, even disownment of family due to religious reasons or just plain homophobia. When you look at how homosexual characters are represented in the fantasy genre be it in films, TV shows, books, comics, games, etc. it adds to the ‘fear’ that homosexual people are dangerous and a threat to heterosexuals (as stated by Dhaenens). On the other hand, Dhaences did another analysis of the popular (now off the air) TV series Glee and found that “… a significant increase in homosexual representation in contemporary television fiction, many media scholars argue that the representation of homosexual men and women is governed by heteronormativity” (Dhaenens, Frederik). As he quoted from M. Warner’s The Trouble with Normal:

(H)eteronormativity:

If you are born with male genitalia, the logic goes, you will behave in masculine ways, desire women, desire feminine women, desire them exclusively, have sex in what are thought to be normally active and insertive ways and within officially sanctioned contexts, think of yourself as heterosexual, identify with other heterosexuals, trust in the superiority of heterosexuality no matter how tolerant you might wish to be, and never change any part of this package from childhood to senescence. (Dhaenens, Frederik)

In other words, what Dhaenens and Warner are trying to say is that these TV shows don’t properly portray homosexual characters because they’re written and created by heterosexual males. In addition, they most likely don’t know for themselves what it’s like to be homosexual so they base their rendition off of other television shows and other forms of media. Dhaenens goes on and further brings forth a notion that:

… (T)he social and political visibility of the homosexual community is accompanied by homonegativity, homophobia, and homophobic violence … the improved conditions for homosexual teenagers to come out is concurred by recurring homophobic harassment and homosexual teen suicides …. (Dhaenens, Frederik)

This can reflect in real-life and make the audience scared to come out and live their life freely if they’re a closeted member of the LGBTQ+ community. This can express to the heterosexual audience that it’s okay to throw homophobic slurs and have homophobic actions towards homosexual people, which is obviously not okay to do. Considering that media is still heavily governed by heterosexual people, I don’t see this changing anytime soon. Jay Poole states that:

… Often, such alternative identities (non ‘straight’ identities) are fraught with their own rules and boundaries and, for those whose lives don’t conform to such constraints, anxiety and depression often manifest, often creating significant clinical concerns. As identities become more fluid opportunities to feel displaced, confused, shameful, and anxious abound. Questions about how to fit into particular groups begin to be more difficult to address personally and clinically as identity categories are blurred. Here, the impact of particular media representations of homosexual males is considered from a queer perspective; queer being defined as different or out of what has traditionally or ordinarily been expected. (Poole, Jay)

With this, when homosexuals and the LGBTQ+ community are misrepresented, it can cause major mental illness issues in LGBTQ+ people (especially in youths) which is not healthy. Therefore, the representation of homosexual characters in media is degrading, misrepresentative, and above all, can cause mental health issues. I’m going to be looking in to films that have been created by homosexual people who understand how to properly portray homosexuality. From that point, they can maybe change the way homosexuals are seen across all media!

Research Question/ Hypothesis

As someone who identifies as homosexual, I can personally say that in different mediums LGBTQ+ people get misrepresented quite often as shown in the above literature review. Homosexuals are made out to be sexual deviants and not ‘good people’. However, that’s entirely untrue! We’re not sexual deviants and are not ‘bad people’.

With this, I wanted to see if I could find a selection of films that are popular that have been created with the proper portrayal of homosexuals in mind. Therefore, I’ll be looking in to the representation of homosexual characters in popular films. In particular, I’ll be assessing how homosexual characters and couples are being portrayed and try to see if they’re properly portrayed or if they’re being misrepresented like in media from heterosexual creators.

Methodology

Subject

I’ll be selecting and analyzing the films Make the Yuletide Gay (2009), That’s What I Am (2011), The Perfect Wedding (2012), White Frog (2012) and Beneath the Skin (2015). Specifically, I’ll be focusing on the character’s Olaf ‘Gunn’ Gunnunderson and Nathan (Make the Yuletide Gay [2009]), Mr. Simon (That’s What I Am [2011]), Gavin and Paul (The Perfect Wedding [2012]), Chaz and Randy (White Frog [2012]), and Jay and Joshua (Beneath the Skin [2015]).

Procedures

As I was finding my samples, I used the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) which is a website that has a ton of information in regards to films and TV shows. I used the advanced search function within IMDb to look for films that had the plot keywords of “Gay Couple” and “Romance”. I then sorted the results by popularity and watched each trailer a few times. From that point, I picked the five films that looked like they would have proper representation.

I watched each sample through its full entirety. I had the films on my secondary monitor, my protocol on the left side of my Macbook screen and the coding on the right side of my Macbook screen. During the coding of the film, I stopped multiple times so that I could code and make notes. I was also coding as the film was playing. With a few films, I wasn’t sure who I was coding for at the beginning so I coded for who I thought it was and then when I was wrong I paused the film and went back to re-code.

Treatment of Data

I coded five different film samples. I decided to code with the intent of having five major categories.

The first category was film. I simply looked at the movie title, year of release, the time period in which the film was set in, and which character(s) I was focusing on. (For full results, see appendix A).

The second category was coming out. I made an effort to focus on the coming out process. I first saw if they came out, then looked at if they did it during the film or before the film started. If they came out during the film, I then coded who they came out to and what their reactions were. (For full results, see appendix B).

The third category was relationships. I looked at their relationship status, then if they were single, and then looked at their sexual activity. If they were dating or married, I then looked into the type of relationship that they had and if it was monogamous or not. I then looked to see if they showed any affection in public and what were the reactions. (For full results, see appendix C).

The fourth category was characters. I looked at the “homosexual stereotypes” that were followed and if they showed any gender identity traits (such as being feminine or masculine). The stereotypes I looked at were:

Loud/catty/gossips, hate sports, well dressed with a good sense of style, ‘fabulous’, sex addicts, non-monogamous, have a lisp, always after ‘straight’ people, only have ‘female’ friends, clean, loves Lady Gaga, loves Bella, loves Broadway, loves shopping, and that all homosexuals have HIV or AIDS.

I then further looked at how they were dressed and their age. (For full results, see appendix D).

Then in the fifth and final category, I looked at what happened throughout the film. I looked at if there was any homophobia, who said it (if said) and what was the result from the comment. I then finally looked at the linguistic theme of the film. (For full results, see appendix E).

Results

My findings are quite different then I originally thought they would be. I went in thinking that I was going to find movies that were all about cheating, homophobia and sex like I saw in the literature that I read. However, the samples that I picked surprisingly did not have any of those things.

When the characters were coming out I noticed a wide variety of reactions from their families, friends, co-workers, schoolmates or whoever they came out to. The reactions ranged from being dramatically excited, supportive, in denial, homophobic, violence, shock, disgust, upset, angry, religious, loving, happy, accepting, and becoming close friends from being strangers.

In The Perfect Wedding, it did start off with Paul being a cheating boyfriend, however by the end he ‘redeemed himself’ and became a loyal boyfriend.

Besides having a “lisp”, I couldn’t identify the many stereotypes that are usually associated with homosexual characters. In addition, I found that only 40% of the movies displayed characters that would be deemed “feminine” versus the 60% that would be deemed as masculine.

In the film’s White Frog and That’s What I Am, there was a bit of homophobia but nowhere near the amount that I thought there would be. In Beneath the Skin, they did display a huge amount of homophobia and violence directed towards the homosexual couple. From the homophobic actions, I noticed that as a result a character almost got fired, the brother ran away from frustration and confutation and the parents tried to shut down a community service centre; the parents disowned their dead son, a lot violence towards their son, they kicked him out of the house and then his apartment later got trashed.

Discussion

Like stated above, I decided to choose samples that have been created by people who understand the representation of homosexuals in real life. What I found is that they had a proper representation of homosexuals, whereas with popular media created by heterosexual there were a lot of misrepresentation in pertinence to the LGBTQ+ community and homosexual people. By doing this, they’re giving the LGBTQ+ community a bad representation and like stated earlier give homosexuals a bad reputation. This ends up in creating more homophobic behavior. With this, I think that a lot of heterosexuals should take a few steps back and actually look at how homosexuals exist and act in real life and not how they behave in other media. Doing this would create less misrepresentation and people may not ‘fear’ homosexual people as much! As I was doing the coding for the methodology part of the paper, I found that I would have to make a judgment call and code for what was in front of me. There was some biased thinking when coding. For instance, when coding for the gender identity traits and the stereotypes, I didn’t know their ‘full story’ so I just went by what I saw.

Word Count: 2033 Words

Written by: Donald Louch | Edited by: Mark Dimozantos

Table 1

Time-period* that the films were set in

Sample 1 Sample 2 Sample 3 Sample 4 Sample 5
1960s 1
2000s 1 1 1
2010s 1
* Time-periods were based on what was seen and is completely bias

Table 2

Did they come out

Sample 1 Sample 2 Sample 3 Sample 4 Sample 5
Yes 2 2 1 2
No 1
Unsure* 1
* Character Turned Out Not To Be Homosexual, But Everyone Thought He Was

Table 3

When Did They Come Out

Sample 1 Sample 2 Sample 3 Sample 4 Sample 5
Before the start 1 2
During the film 1 1 2 2

Table 4

Who did they come out too

Sample 1 Sample 2 Sample 3 Sample 4 Sample 5
Family (parent) 1 2 1
Family (sibling) 1 1
Extended family
Close circle of friends 1 1 1
Workmates 1
Schoolmates 1 1
Not personal friends
Other 1: Parents

Table 5

Relationship Status

Sample 1 Sample 2 Sample 3 Sample 4 Sample 5
Single 1 2 1* 2
In a relationship 2 2 2 2
Married 2
Unknown
* Due to death

Table 6

Type of Relationship

Sample 1 Sample 2 Sample 3 Sample 4 Sample 5
Monogamous 2 2 2 2
Non- Monogamous 1

Table 7

Did they show affection in public

Sample 1 Sample 2 Sample 3 Sample 4 Sample 5
Yes 1 1 1 1
No

Table 8

Reaction to display of affection

Sample 1 Sample 2 Sample 3 Sample 4 Sample 5
Happy/Excited 1
Shocked 1
Violent 1
Homophobic 1 1
Ignored/don’t care
Netural
Un-noticed 1

Table 9

Homosexual stereotypes

Sample 1 Sample 2 Sample 3 Sample 4 Sample 5
Loud/Catty/Gossip 2
Hate Sports
Well Dressed 1.5
Fabulous
Sex Addicts
Non-monogamous 1
Have a lisp 1 1 1
Always after ‘straight’ people
Only have ‘female’ friends
Love Bella 2
Loves Shopping

Table 10

Gender Identify Traits

Sample 1 Sample 2 Sample 3 Sample 4 Sample 5
Feminine 1 1
Masculine 1 1 1 1

Table 11

Characters Age

Sample 1 Sample 2 Sample 3 Sample 4 Sample 5
Pre-Teen (11 – 13 years)
Teenager (13 – 19 Years) 2 2
Young Adult (19 – 25 Years) 2 2
Adult (25 – 55 Years)
Older Adult (over 55 years) 1

Table 12

Homophobia (who it was by)

Sample 1 Sample 2 Sample 3 Sample 4 Sample 5
Family (parent) 1 1
Family (sibling) 1
Extended family
Close circle of friends
Workmates
Schoolmates 2: Josh’s
Not personal friends
Other 1: Students ; Parents

Table 13

Linguistic Themes

Sample 1 Sample 2 Sample 3 Sample 4 Sample 5
Love 1
Challenges 1 1
Homophobia 1
Inspirational 1 1
Acceptance of self
Acceptance of others 1 1
Emotional 1

References

Dhaenens, Frederik. “Teenage Queerness: Negotiating Heteronormativity In The Representation Of Gay Teenagers In Glee”. Journal Of Youth Studies, vol 16, no. 3, 2012, pp. 304-317. Taylor & Francis Library SSH – CRKN, doi:10.1080/13676261.2012.718435.

Dhaenens, Frederik. “The Fantastic Queer: Reading Gay Representations In Torchwoo And True Blood As Articulations Of Queer Resistance”. Critical Studies In Media Communication, vol 30, no. 2, 2013, pp. 102-116. Taylor & Francis Library SSH – CRKN, doi:10.1080/15295036.2012.755055.

Poole, Jay. “Queer Representations Of Gay Males And Masculinities In The Media”. Sexuality & Culture, vol 18, no. 2, 2013, pp. 279-290. Springer Science + Business Media, doi:10.1007/s12119-013-9197-y.

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