Television shows are homophobic. Water is wet.
Unfortunately, if our favorite shows allow LGBT characters a long and healthy life, they often still constantly make homophobic and transphobic jokes. It’s depressing and disheartening, especially when otherwise, it’s a show you dearly loved.
Below is a list of several shows that have captured our hearts… But then, they proceed to break them as the writers yuck it up at our expense.
Excluded from this list are gems like Glee (because I just don’t have the energy to list all of its flaws, although Kurt still owns my heart KURTSTAN4LYFE) and The Hundred and The Walking Dead (because you lose your place as favorite when your lesbians exist only to further the plot with their brutal deaths).
Parks and Recreation
I do love this show for its memorable characters and humor that usually relies on situational weirdness, Leslie’s overeager verve for her job, and political satire. However, there are times when the show can be clueless to ignorant. There are fat jokes a plenty, which sometimes aim at corporations in power, but too often just mock the people themselves. At the same time, Donna is a curvaceous woman without the humor of her character ever touching on it. The other problem?
Lesbophobia, Homophobia, biphobia, transphobia.
Ugh. And this is especially frustrating since in the show you know the protagonists would support LGBT rights. Several characters make comments to imply their bisexuality (April, Jean-Ralphio, Mona-Lisa, and even BEN WYATT, who is hinted to write Picard/Data fanfiction). At the same time, none of the major characters are canonically LGBT until the final season, and LGBT identity is used as a quick joke and a way to undermine someone’s attractiveness and character.
Leslie Knope would not approve of this message. Some damning examples:
Season Two, “Pawnee Zoo”
Parks and Rec’s first and only episode to actually center around LGBT issues is cute on the surface, but ultimately shallow and terribly stereotypical. It starts off what will be a series-long issue with representing ALL gay men one way and using lesbian as an insult. From April’s polyamorous first boyfriend, to the closet queen attacking Leslie in the name of family values and abstinence, to the anemic development of Craig’s character and sudden romance shoehorned into the final episode with the ONLY other unmarried gay character, Parks and Rec from top to bottom represents gay men as overly emotional, catty, and easily identifiable due to their femininity, manner of dress, and gay accent.
Normally, I’ll defend gay male characters with feminine characteristics to my grave. Gay people fall all over the spectrum of gender identity, and some don’t identify as a traditional gender at ALL. The problem isn’t that Craig gets emotional, or that Typhoon is a hairdresser; it’s that the show writes gay men off as all behaving in one way, and the joke is usually on them. The fact that in seven seasons, the writers couldn’t give any kind of screen time to LGBT characters without making their existence or mannerisms a joke is probably the most egregious sin listed against them.
In the zoo episode, we pile on issues with Leslie also holding homophobic beliefs, and the fact that no one can seem to come up with the word “bisexual” for April’s boyfriend. Derek likes April, and he likes his boyfriend Ben. We do get the word bisexual in reference to the few guys who hit on Leslie at the gay bar (The Bulge), and maybe the hesitation comes from April being part of a group that would probably prefer not to use a label, but the continuous mocking of Derek’s sexuality starts here, and it doesn’t stop until April breaks up with him for being “really gay,” meaning, he’s being a huge asshole.
Parks and Recreation, Season Four, “Born & Raised”
“Please enjoy a song from the lesbian Afro-Norwegian Funk duo, Nefertiti’s Fjord.”
“Oh, wow. They are terrible.”
“Oh, yes, they’re quite awful. But they are lesbians, so…” (Shrugs, as if to say, what can you expect?)
(This song is actually kind of cool? It’s apparently the Norwegian national anthem.)
I had to consider whether to put this on there, but since the joke seems to be on lesbians and our offbeat sense of what constitutes music and culture, and I can honestly imagine this being something I’d have downloaded on Limewire back in the days just after the fall of Napster, it stays.
There’s no reason for this joke to be mocking lesbians specifically. The writers have the Thoughts for Your Thoughts crew play out of touch, weird music before, specifically in the choice to just lay one jazz track over the other, creating a cacophonous mess. Here they could have reached for a much easier joke about hipsters being into rare bands, or their listeners eating up anything from international bands.
By this reasoning, I could also use references to both times that Ann and Leslie have been accused of being lesbians… I chose not to because in those cases, the joke seemed to be on The Douche for being a horrible person, and the media for blowing things out of proportion, rather than anything being wrong with lesbians themselves.
Parks and Recreation, Season Five, “Ben’s Parents”
April calls Ann a “lesbian nurse.” Since every time April refers to Ann, she’s trying to insult her, this is clearly an effort to demean Ann and undercut her attractiveness/femininity. This isn’t the only time, either. She’ll also call her “Man Perkins” and complain about Ann’s Man Strength over the course of the series. Two for one: lesbophobic and transphobic.
HAHA, PERFORMING YOUR GENDER INCORRECTLY NEGATES WHO YOU ARE…
Lorelai and Rory Gilmore are card carrying Democrats for sure, but honestly, everyone in this show is homophobic. Part of this may have been due to network pressure. The WB and the CW are, at best, uneven in their portrayal of homosexuality, and it is well known that Sookie was meant to be a lesbian, but the network rejected this idea, and she was rewritten as heterosexual. That doesn’t mean the authors get to have Luke making jokes about Kirk carrying a “gay bag” (dog carrier), or Lorelai mocking her daughter ad calling her a lesbian.
Lorelai and her mother, and most of the town, are homophobic, and the revival didn’t really change any of that. It just let poor Michel out of the closet while keeping his husband firmly behind the curtain of Off-Screenville along with any plot he might have. Oh, and it also lampshaded the issue of no LGBT people existing in Stars Hollow by, instead of showing existing characters as out or mentioning new gay characters, having Taylor address in a town meeting that they don’t have any gay people… and they need to borrow gays from another town for a Pride Parade.
Just… fuck you.
I’m not going to dwell too much longer on this show that is a bastion to White Feminism, but I’ll close with this: I’m 99% sure that during Rory’s Shakespeare scene, in which Paris finds herself having to fill in as Romeo, they actually filmed a kiss that later got cut. The people watching the skit were far too shocked for Paris to have skipped it, and they reference it later.
One part network interference, two parts mean-spirited mocking and erasure.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
No, not Titus. Titus did nothing wrong. Furthermore, the inclusion of Mikey and the idea that gay men can be more than one type (and that a lot of masculinity is in fact performative) really helps their portrayal.
Nah, our problem, as almost always, is Jaqueline.
God, what do you do with Jaqueline? On the surface, a character who is pretending to be white for the social benefits, but then reconnects with her heritage and aims to take down the Redskins seems like a complex way to develop a character. Giving up her connection to her husband, then the privileges connected to her ability to pass would seem show a developing character and could lead the way for a lot of the off-beat jokes that UKS favors.
But none of it lands properly because of the sheer discomfort that results from staring at an obviously white woman playing a Lakota woman who is pretending to be white. Likewise, although this undercurrent is merely annoying rather than flat out racist, Jacqueline’s moving target sexuality is super off-putting.
Starting in Season Two, there are moments where Jacqueline almost kisses several of the other female characters. She pretends Kimmy is her girlfriend at a wedding, and she oozes sexual tension with Deirdre Robespierre. The two even lean forward, close enough to kiss, before both pulling away at the same time. Deirdre, who writhes in sexual gratification when Jacqueline gets the better of her, is attracted to conflict and intellectual stimulation. It would be fascinating.
If the writers had ever intended to make Jacqueline bisexual. As the jokes start to pile up in Season Three, which in general backtracked on a lot of character development and is twice as uncomfortable in Jacqueline’s white-NA-white jokes, it feels a lot less like a good sporting tease and more like just mocking the idea of lesbians.
I think the cherry on this shit sandwich dropped when Kimmy’s professor invites her to a dinner party, and she and her partner are played by the same actress as faux-progressive, poverty-fetishizing clones of each other who adopted a freaking chicken as a child and host dinner parties because they’ve achieved both tenure and “lesbian bed death.”
Which is honestly the second most well-known joke about lesbians, since straight ppl cannot be prevailed upon to think about us outside of how much we’re fucking.
Enough. You don’t get to make jokes about us if you don’t have actual lesbian or bisexual women characters in your show to back up your cred. This is why Master of None has a hilarious and tear inducing episode about their lesbian character that literally won an award, and UKS only alienates their audience more with every new episode. To think, we could’ve had a bisexual Native American woman on this show. Instead, we have a running joke that got old three seasons ago.
New to the adult cartoon comedy game, Big Mouth is often genuinely funny, occasionally poignant and sometimes musical. However, while the show is fairly progressive in the representation of sex in general, it also falls back on gay stereotypes. There is ONE gay kid in the school, Mathew, who acts like a jaded 40-year-old man who has been around the club circuit too many times. He is never developed beyond his judgy quips, period.
Tack on to that delight Andrew’s sexual awakening episode, in which he begins by getting a boner from watching Dwayne Johnson, decides that he should be a scarf-wearing cliché in song while the ghost of Freddy Mercury tells him that everyone loves gays now (tell that to the guy who wants us all dead by Xmas), and then finishes out the episodes by kissing his best friend Nick and deciding that he’s NOT gay.
(I will admit that this song is cleverly written, and the slam on North Carolina made me laugh.)
There’s a mention that being gay is a spectrum, but again, the show writers appear to be allergic to the word “bisexual,” and that’s saying something for a show that literally has Hormone Monsters walking around (and occasionally fucking walls and decapitated heads) and an anthropomorphized vagina voiced by Kristen Wiig telling Jessi about her own anatomy. Not to mention that Andrew never mentions being attracted to guys again, so apparently they just checked that box so they could make all of their gay jokes.
Also, granted, it no doubt hurts Jessie that her mom isn’t interested in her father anymore, but villainizing lesbians? Yeah, still don’t get to do that. Add a teenage lesbian character and have the Monstress help us through her perspective, and then maybe you can have your jokes.
Cut it the fuck out and deal with Andrew being bi, and Jessi’s mom working out her sexuality without punishing her for it.
(I feel like this should be the theme song for being LGBT or a racial minority 2017.)
Thoughts on shows that have disappointed you? Do you still watch, or do you weather through the pain? I think one thing I can say for sure is that television will continue to fuck up, but I’m glad the limbo stick that tv writers have used until now has been raised eeeeever so slightly so that our protags and side characters get to live. While I’m grateful for that, and for the good aspects of these shows, I’d still like showrunners to try harder. Starting with a few general rules:
- LGBT characters should not be props to service your main characters’ plots. Not through death, and not through a stream of endless pep-talks.
- The word “bisexual” is not a curse. Sure, some characters are “still working it out,” and a few people actually “don’t like labels,” but if you want credit, then you’re going to have to mention it during more than one episode and eventually decide on a label and put some thought into how the character might see themselves.
- Shows that don’t have any main characters who are lesbians or bisexual women are not allowed to make fun of them. No rep, no jokes.
- Times a million for trans characters and jokes, and if you make trans jokes, they had better be written by a trans writer talking about their own experience.