A few weeks ago Entertainment Weekly suggested that we are living in the middle of “TV’s gay-teen revolution,” and while I think it’s a little premature to to call it a queer coup d’état, I do get the sense that something about television is shifting. Right now, TV has a record number of high-profile lesbian, gay and bisexual teen characters: Kurt, Blaine, Brittany and Santana on Glee; Emily on Pretty Little Liars; Tea on Skins; Teddy on 90210; Marshall on The United States of Tara. We could also throw half a dozen supporting gay teen characters into the mix.
This week in my Pretty Little Liars recap, a reader posted a link to something I never thought I’d see. On Monday night, we all had a giggle when Paige’s dad burst into the cafeteria and accused Rosewood High of having a gay agenda, but after the show, several IMDB message board posters echoed him.
(To clarify, Emily took Paige’s spot on the swim team. Paige’s dad had a homophobic fit. Paige, however, had a homosexual revelation. She hopped into Emily’s car and snogged her silly.)
I cannot imagine a conversation five years ago in which anyone would have suggested that a gay teen TV character was getting preferential treatment. Maybe we really are in the throes of a revolution. But if that’s true, why are so many lesbian, gay and bisexual viewers are so stinkin’ mad at these lesbian, gay and bisexual characters — and the people who write them?
When Ryan Murphy hinted at a Brittany and Santana hook-up during Glee‘s off-season, but didn’t fully deliver, many lesbian viewers shouldered their pitchforks. Later, when Brad Falchuk indicated that Brittany and Santana’s relationship was “on,” some of those same viewers hoisted their weapons even higher. When Skins‘ lesbian character, Tea, began expressing confusion over her feelings for Tony, buckets of tar and feathers were aimed at creator Bryan Elsley. And even Marlene King, lesbian showrunner and writer of Pretty Little Liars, found herself at the end of a lance when she introduced a new love interest into Emily’s life.
But outrage isn’t directed only at writers and showrunners. Actors, fellow viewers, random Tweeters and even really nice TV recappers — hem, hem — often get caught in the line of fire.
Why do so many people in the gay community have such extreme reactions to gay teenage characters? One reason, I think, is that despite all this talk of revolution, we are still desperately underrepresented on TV.
If Bones stops pinging your Mulder/Scully Meter, you can replace it with Castle. If The Office stops making you laugh, you can replace it with Parks and Recreation. If V starts making you doze, you can replace it with Fringe. There are millions of channels on your TV; if you’re not getting what you want from one network, you’ll just get it from another one. Unless what you want are authentic, well-rounded, positive portrayals of lesbian and bisexual characters.
If your favorite lesbian character stops resonating with you, you can’t just channel-flip until you find another one. Nothing is scarier or more enraging than feeling like your own reflection is being smudged or stripped away.