Why ClexaCon Matters

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An article in “Glamour” magazine’s September issue about TV’s wave of female-driven storylines in 2017 posed an interesting question: Whose stories are interesting and whose are not? Who gets to live, to die, to be the protagonist? As regards the representation of lesbian and bisexual women on screen, the answer has historically been: not us. Until recently, our stories were most often tertiary storylines, our characters two-dimensional stereotypes destined to be killed off at the end. And that’s not pessimistic hyperbole: lesbians were only 0.19% of all speaking characters in the top grossing 100 movies of 2016, and between 1976 and 2016, 25-30% of lesbian and bisexual female TV characters were killed off annually. Far from being anecdotal, it is clear that there has been a statistically obvious historical deficit in the treatment of lesbian and bisexual female characters.

Visibility matters, and here’s why: according to a 2016 Centers for Disease Control study, 66.5% of non-heterosexual high school girls reported feeling sad or hopeless for two or more weeks in a row in 2015, almost double that of their heterosexual peers. 48% of bisexual female high schoolers and 40% of lesbian high schoolers considered suicide, more than double the rate of heterosexual girls, and 32.8% of non-heterosexual girls actually tried to suicide, four times the rate of straight girls. Excluding transgendered teens, who were not specifically polled in the survey, non-heterosexual females are perhaps the highest suicide risk group in the United States. And this number isn’t getting better with time. In 1989, a chapter in the “Report of the Secretary’s Task Force on Suicide” by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on gay and lesbian youth suicide cited multiple studies that found approximately 39% of lesbians had either attempted or seriously contemplated suicide. Almost three decades later, the numbers are identical.

According to researchers at the University of Arizona, gay and lesbian teens cope best with stress related to their sexual orientation by connecting with others, for example through LGBT groups or by seeking out information. Rather than trying to run from their sexuality or muddle through, they do best by embracing it. Teens—and adults just as much—need to know that they’re not alone in their sexual orientation, and seeing people like them on TV and in movies and seeing these characters receiving happy endings is vital to this.

Visibility and happy endings (and acceptance of these characters by friends and family) on screen reduce the stigma of being LGBT and offer hope to all viewers that a positive future is not impossible. If we can see it, we can imagine it, and if we can imagine it, we can live it. While teenagers are at the highest risk of destructive behaviors, women of all ages benefit immeasurably from seeing gay and lesbian characters on screen.  We all want to see our stories told.

LAS VEGAS, NV – MARCH 03: (L-R) The TV Junkies Editor-in-Chief Bridget Liszewski, television producer Emily Andras, actresses Dominique Provost-Chalkley and Katherine Barrell speak during “The WayHaught Women of Wynonna Earp” panel at ClexaCon 2017 convention at Bally’s Las Vegas on March 3, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Gabe Ginsberg/Getty Images)

The good news is, the entertainment industry is slowly changing and becoming more inclusive. For approximately the last decade, there has been an undeniable, tangible increase in representation and visibility for LGBT people. Although the current situation is far from perfect, it’s miles ahead of where it was before the early 2000s. And within that context, ClexaCon represents hope and optimism for an even better future. Specifically, hope for a world in which our stories are not only valued and shown, but even celebrated by the cast and crew that created them.

According to its mandate, “ClexaCon aims to empower media creators to produce and distribute more positive LGBTQ content, providing educational resources for the community to aid in the push for better representation. ClexaCon strives to lay the foundation for improved visibility within the media while encouraging more LGBTQ women to participate in creating the stories they desire.”

More than that, ClexaCon showcases the strides being made in storytelling for women. It is a literal and figurative celebration of progress, and its impressive attendee list, from featured guests to panelists, shows the depth and breadth of the changes happening in the entertainment industry. Gone are the days of actresses being afraid to play gay roles, enter the age of actresses excited to be returning to ClexaCon for year two!

Photo: Getty Images

Because visibility is so crucial,  for as long as we remain underrepresented on screen and our stories remain untold, we will need ClexaCon. As long as our characters are the ones dying or playing the sidekick instead of the protagonist, we will need ClexaCon.

The world’s population is 7.6 billion people, which means that statistically, there are approximately 456 million lesbian and bisexual women in the world, a number greater than the populations of the US and the UK combined. We are a massive, almost totally unrecognized, highly international fan base with significant potential, but it will take events like ClexaCon to begin raising awareness of this fan base in the entertainment industry. As I’ve argued elsewhere, when international viewership is included, the fandoms for some lesbian TV couples are probably larger than many of the most popular heterosexual couples on TV.

In addition to being a celebration of LGBT representation on screen, ClexaCon is also about bringing people together. It is the first and largest multi-fandom event for  lesbian and bi women and allies, putting it on a similar level to Dinah Shore Weekend in terms of its relative size and ability to rally gay and bi women together in one place.

ClexaCon is a place to celebrate creativity in storytelling and art, interact with other members of fandoms, and breathe the same air as fan favorites (seriously, just think about it: you and Emily Andras, sharing oxygen. Pretty much you’re platonically gay married.). It is a chance for fans to hear from the people bringing them stories, discuss those stories, support the storytellers, tell their own stories, and dress up in costumes. Simply put, for anyone who has ever shipped a same-sex female storyline on TV, it is the event to go to. I’ll be there, so say hi if you see me!

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