Genuinely queer stories are rare, but nothing new
As a young queer person who is also a writer, I spend a lot of time writing stories. Very, very gay stories, in fact.
And they always make me happy because they’re the type of representation I want when it comes to queer people. They play an important role. The queer characters aren’t just killed off or there for “diversity.” Their identity can play a role in the story, but they are also humans outside of their queer identity.
And as a young queer person who wants to share stories with others, I asked the question to other queer people: “What do we want when it comes to queer representation in stories?"
I first asked Cordelia Eddy, a queer creative writing professor at John Carroll University.
“I guess just I envision people who are real and have faults and are not plastic," Eddy told me. "People who you wouldn’t expect, who maybe have ideas and values like histories and messages that don’t kind of tow, like, a stereotypical line in terms of socioeconomic class or culture."
Eddy said she thinks people get certain images in their minds when they think of LGBTQ+ people.
"When we show the different faces of what that could look like, that can be very transformative,” she said.
Then I asked fellow students in an online writing class I’m taking. It’s called Pride Outside, and it’s organized by the nonprofit Lake Erie Ink.
One participant, Helen, said “it’s not making your character look special or different, but you care about the character more than you care about them being just, like, 'Oh, they’re gay.'”
Helen pointed to one of her favorite TV shows, "Jane the Virgin," as a great example of queer representation.
“'Jane The Virgin' sprinkles in at least four gay main characters and they ... always come back to them," Helen said. "That’s a good representation of just not leaving gay characters in the dust.”
Anthony, the teacher of my class, said he turns to media produced by queer people themselves on platforms like YouTube.
“I think some of the shows that are on TV, they’re still kind of ruled by whatever network is showing them," Anthony said. "But with YouTube, because the stories are coming straight from the people creating [them], the characters are ... allowed to be real people instead of token queer characters thrown in.”
Many people in my class mentioned current TV shows and videos as examples of how queer characters are represented well in media. But for me, a fantastic example of queer representation in media comes from almost 30 years ago: the 1992 musical “Falsettos," by William Finn and James Lapine. It's based on a series of one-act plays Lapine wrote in the early 1980s as a commentary on the growing AIDS epidemic.
The musical opens on a stage. The backdrop is New York City and sitting directly in the middle of it is a huge grey cube. The overture plays and the first song starts.
I often sing along — terribly — at home, in my bed.
"Falsettos" is a musical that I love.
With witty characters that feel like real people, music that I could listen to all day, and a truly stunning set design that is so clever in what it reveals about the world around us, "Falsettos" is a commentary on not only the AIDS epidemic, but on family, maturity and what it means to be a man — all conveyed through singing and dancing.
One song early in Act One, "The Thrill of First Love," shows a lot about the relationship between Marvin and Whizzer, the two main characters. They have their own struggles and faults and backstories that all mean something and play into the larger story.
As the show goes on, their relationship develops and they both mature and experience character development instead of falling flat like many other queer characters in shows where you think they’ll play a huge role, but then they don’t.
"Falsettos" was written by queer people, about queer people. It's fully queer in every aspect and tells a fully queer story. It’s so moving because it’s showing our truth. It’s not hiding the negatives while also shining light on the positives.
In the end, we need queer stories because they remind others that we are real and we are existing and we are thriving. I know I, personally, read queer stories so that I can have something to relate to — from being outed to finding first love to questioning my entire existence.
Queer stories are important because they give us hope for a better, more accepting future and, in the end, I think that’s what everyone in the LGBTQ+ community wants.
"+Voices" shares stories from LGBTQ+ young people, in partnership with the LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland. It's part of Ideastream Public Media's "Sound of Us" initiative to empower Northeast Ohioans to tell their own stories, facilitated and co-produced by Ideastream Public Media's Justin Glanville.