By Kaylia Metcalfe
As we head into September and the inevitable start of the fall television season, let’s take a look at LGBT characters on TV: currently a little lesbian heavy, but moving in the right direction.
Last year, NBC had The New Normal, which followed the adventures of two gay men and their surrogate as they prepared for the birth of their son. It lasted one season despite a lot of hype and a lot of “in” jokes proving that the LGBT community are savvy TV viewers. It takes more than a few fashion jokes and one on-screen kiss to keep us interested. The writing and acting have to be there as well.
The cancelation of this show proved that LGBT viewers are tired of being talked down to in terms of characters on network shows. We are tired of the same lame stereotypes. Shows that deliberately play up the sassy gay men and lovable homophobe characters deserve to fall off the air.
But before the fall season, we had a summer of shows—and a few are worth note. First, Netflix’s summer offering of Orange Is the New Black hit an almost pitch-perfect note for the non-cable, non-network upstart.
Yes, it is a women’s prison show. Yes, it is a bit of a tired cliché of a “fish out of water” show. But the writing is superb, and the acting is beyond reproach with standout performances by Kate Mulgrew (Captain Janeway!) and Laverne Cox (playing a transwoman inmate).
And yes, there is lesbian sex. Hot steamy (shower) lesbian sex. Well, more like 10 minutes of watered down soft core porn lesbian sex that mostly takes place in the first episode. (There is sex later, but the really tit-elating stuff, if you pardon my pun, happens early on as if to rush through the necessary risqué in order to get to the more pressing issues: the stories.)
Those stories, by the way, aren’t all about sex but rather about complicated adult problems and relationships—that include sex. Sex between women. Sex between women for love, for power plays, for safety, for companionship—and it is handled with respect and maturity while also keeping true to the tone of the show: an undercurrent of wit and humor that never takes the easy way out but still manages to create some hilarious situations.
Of course the show isn’t perfect. One obvious flaw is that the notion of our main character being bi is never discussed. It is as if no one in this universe has ever heard of bisexuality as a concept. And yet we have a woman who was in love with another woman and then later is in love with a man.
Everyone is fixated on the “Were you ever a lesbian?” versus “You were always straight!” false dichotomy. This glaring omission is downright offensive and is a missed opportunity. The writers have a chance to educate—to include a dialogue that our sexuality isn’t determined by who we have been sleeping with. One can only hope that this conversation happens in the second season as Netflix has announced plans to continue the show.
Another breakout show for the LGBT community this summer is The Fosters, which premiered on ABC Family in June. Despite being a summertime show (where so many good ideas go to die without ever being promoted and therefore watched) the show gained a following and another batch of episodes has been ordered. The continuing drama of the Foster family will pick up in January.
The show is well written and shows a lesser-seen aspect (on TV anyway) of lesbian life—regular life. This show isn’t about sex; it is about the relationship of two women (partnered but not married) who are raising children and dealing with the more routine struggles of a TV family, albeit a TV family headed by interracial lesbian moms, one who used to be married to a man (another missed opportunity to discuss bisexuality missed).
While dealing with such recognized troupes as the broken foster care system, it being wrong to judge and other afterschool special sorts of lessons, the show does a decent job of showing the lessons rather than hitting us over the head. Only rarely preachy, it does seem to dwell a bit much on the makeup of the family at times, but given space and a chance for the actors to flesh out their characters, one can see this show evolving into a superb family drama.
Of course, both Orange and Fosters focus on lesbians and a cynical mind might chalk that up to straight America being more comfortable with homosexual women than homosexual men. But progress is progress, and combined with the returning LGBT characters in the fall schedule and the promised introduction of an LGBT character on Once Upon a Time (another family-oriented show), we have much to be pleased about.
Kaylia Metcalfe is a writer, blogger and activist in Fresno. She is a cofounder of Skeptics Without a Cause and serves on the Gay Central Valley Board of Directors. Her short story collection Links is available on www.amazon.com. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.