Chances are, your teenage kids watch their fair amount of television. Maybe you nag them about it, or maybe you watch along with them, but the fact is, they’re not just passively watching—they’re consuming and absorbing the messages represented by their favorite shows. TV is a hugely influential media source and we take in the lessons that TV teaches us, even if we don’t realize it. TV has the potential to educate its audience on LGBTQ experiences and promote understanding by exploring the stories of LGBTQ characters, which is why it is so exciting that more and more of these characters are cropping up, even if they’re just minor characters. As LGBTQ representation becomes more common, LGBTQ identities become less foreign.
At this point, we’re in an era when not all representation is positive (not all PR is good PR); some shows present stereotypical one-note depictions of LGBTQ characters, while others dig deeper to more accurately portray LGBTQ experiences. It is important for you as parents to express an interest in watching shows that represent positive LGBTQ themes and characters. In this way, you can establish a supportive atmosphere within your household that ensures that LGBTQ issues are addressed in a respectful and constructive way. While this fall’s “Gay TV Lineup” is a little sparse, if you’re looking for something new to watch, MTV’s Faking It and Amazon’s Transparent are two shows that are getting it right in terms of LGBTQ representation.
When I first tuned into MTV’s Faking It, I expected another cutesy, over-the-top, and frankly insulting caricature of LGBTQ characters. The premise certainly doesn’t inspire much confidence: two best friends, Karma and Amy, fake being a lesbian couple to gain popularity at their progressive high school. They soon become the school’s “it couple” and while Karma uses her new-found status to start seeing artsy bad boy Liam on the side, Amy begins to realize she has actual feelings for Karma. Sounds like a trainwreck, right? However, Amy’s coming out process is surprisingly realistic; her struggle to hide her feelings from her best friend while simultaneously attempting to figure out her own identity is poignant to watch and rings true to many coming out experiences. The show has been consistently sensitive in its portrayal of LGBTQ issues, while still managing to be charming and relevant to its teenaged target audience.
In the recent premiere of its second season, it was revealed that Amy’s step-sister, Lauren, was born intersex. There has never before been an intersex main character on such a mainstream show, so it’s about time this issue was brought to light—way to go, MTV! Intersexuality is still such a widely misunderstood identity, but for sake of discussion, an intersex person is someone who is born with both male and female sex markers (genitalia, hormones, chromosomes). In Lauren’s case, she was born with XY chromosomes, but developed as a female, and is still a long way away from accepting her intersexuality as a part of who she is. Recent guest star Laverne Cox (transgender activist and star of Netfix’s Orange is the New Black) plays Margo, the school drama teacher who encourages Lauren to accept her intersex identity. This is a great show to sit down and watch with your kids, so tune in to MTV at 10:30 on Tuesday nights, or catch up on what you missed by clicking here.
Amazon’s new series, Transparent, focuses on Maura Pfefferman (played by Jeffrey Tambor) and her three adult children as they all come to terms with their father’s transition from the man they grew up with, Mort, to the woman she knows she is, named Maura. It is rare to see a transgender character portrayed in such a sensitive and respectful way on television; there are no gimmicks here, just honest representation. In the first episode, Maura, dressed as Mort, gathers her children together to come out to them, but she can’t quite work up the courage to tell them. Secrets have a way of coming out, however, and each of the three eventually find out one way or the other.
Maura is not the only one undergoing a transition—her children are in flux as well. The oldest daughter, Sarah (Amy Landecker), runs into her ex-girlfriend from college, and although they are both married with kids, the two enter into a relationship. Middle child Josh (Jay Duplass), is a player who suddenly finds himself proposing to his much younger girlfriend after learning she is pregnant. The youngest, Ali (Gaby Hoffmann), is flighty and unfocused and can’t quite seem to gain traction as she enters her late-twenties. Transparent emphasizes that we are all in transition in some way, effectively humanizing the transgender experience rather than alienating it, as is so often the case with transgender representation on television. This show is complex and richly layered, but is definitely geared toward a more mature audience. So while you may not be able to watch it with your kids, parents of LGBTQ teens will definitely relate to and learn from these characters as they struggle with gender identity, sexual orientation, parenthood, financial stability, and purpose. Watch the whole first season now on Amazon Prime.
Here are some other current shows that are more LGBTQ-friendly, rather than LGBTQ-centric:
The Walking Dead, Sundays at 9pm on AMC
The show just premiered its 5th season and features one lesbian character, Tara. Hopefully she’ll survive long enough to get a decent love interest!
Gotham, Mondays at 8pm on FOX
This new series is based on Gotham before Bruce Wayne became Batman. Young Jim Gordon recently discovered that his girlfriend, Barbara, used to date major crimes cop Renee Montoya. The backstory of their relationship is still fuzzy, but I’m sure we’ll learn more as the season progresses.
The Flash, Tuesdays at 8pm on The CW
This is a new spin-off series from the CW’s Arrow. Although we haven’t seen any gayness yet, the creators of the show have confirmed that Crime Lab Director David Singh is indeed gay, as he is in the comics. They also teased a second gay character who already exists in the DC comics universe to be revealed later in the season.
Marry Me, Tuesdays at 9pm on NBC
This new series is from creator David Caspe, who also created Happy Endings, which featured one of my favorite gay characters of all time, Max Blum, so I have high hopes for this show. Main character Annie is the child of two gay dads, both named Kevin, and from the pilot it looks like her dads will be very influential in her life. Annie’s best friend Kay is also a lesbian.
Arrow, Wednesdays at 8pm on The CW
Not too much gayness on this show, but it does feature a bisexual character, Sara Lance, AKA Black Canary, and her on-again-off-again girlfriend, Nyssa al Ghul.
How To Get Away With Murder, Thursdays at 10pm on ABC
**not rated TV-14, but I advise caution, since it deals with murder and other adult themes**
This new show features Connor, a gay law student, but so far he’s used his gayness to get info from a cute IT guy and revealed that he slept with another law student’s fiance while they were at boarding school together, so I’m not sure how positive his representation will be. However, the fact that there is just as much gay romance on the show as straight romance is significant in itself.
Audrey Benedetto is a writer, artist, and human being who currently lives in Manhattan. Her passion for gender, sex, and race issues began in college and influences how she sees and moves through the world. She enjoys karaoke, long walks, and french bulldogs. Audrey is constantly learning and would like to share some of what she’s picked up along the way.
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