How Mainstream Pop Culture Has Failed LGBTQ Women: A Continuation
Teen Vogue continues to be a beacon of intelligence and hope in this dumpster fire nightmare that we're all currently living in. They published an article the other day called How Mainstream Pop Culture Has Failed LGBTQ Women and you should all go read it. Sarah Beauchamp did a very lovely job. Because I live and breathe pop culture and because positive LGBT representation is something I've been yelling about since I started this forking blog, I’m going to add to Sarah’s already eloquent thoughts.
Growing up LGBT, you search high and low for any sort of glimpse of someone who knows what you’re going through. Someone who understands what it’s like to have your world inverted when you figure out you're queer. I quickly came to find that the world, and mainstream pop culture, are not kind to lesbians.
The author of the Teen Vogue article mentioned The O.C. and the relationship between Marissa and Alex. As someone who grew up watching The O.C., I knew exactly how she felt. Not only did Alex and Marissa's three-episode-long relationship amount to nothing, it enforced negative stereotypes of bisexual women. It existed only for its shock value.
That’s harmful. That makes it seem like being LGBT is a gimmick. Something that's frowned upon by parents and something you'll grow out of. They treat it like a dirty little secret without taking the time to examine the repercussions on the fictional characters and the very real people watching. Maybe Marissa Cooper was bi too! We'll never know because Alex existed solely to make out with Marissa for a little while and then disappear into the black hole of Disposable Teen Drama Queer Characters Who Lasted Less Than A Season.
A few days ago, I read an article about how the love story between Marilyn and Billie Jean in Battle of the Sexes was oversimplified and therefor didn’t pack an emotional impact. For those of you who didn’t know, Marilyn was the one who ended up outing Billie Jean, about ten years later. It was the first public outing of a sports star. I wish I could find that article again, but it’s lost to the depths of the Internet.
My issue with this critique is that, quite simply, I’m forking sick of seeing dramatic, sad representations of lesbians in pop culture. I’d say that, in the grand scheme of things, Battle of the Sexes’ rewriting of history is nowhere near as egregious as many other “inspired by a true story” movies. Is it really that bad to sugarcoat their love story? Is it so terrible to give them a kindness that wasn’t afforded to them back then? Maybe they could've put that info in the section at the end. But again, I don't think it was truly an issue.
It’s not like the movie presented their relationship as 100% okay and fully accepted. Margaret Court was, and STILL is, aggressively against LGBT rights. That scene where Marilyn and Larry ride up the elevator together while Billie Jean frantically clears the evidence from the hotel room left me as tense as Dunkirk. Their lives didn’t get to be picture perfect, but their story was written and filmed in a way that wasn’t overly sexual, as many lesbian portrayals in movies tend to be. They got to be Marilyn and Billie Jean. Two people falling in love to sweet '70s rock, awash in pretty neon light.
They didn’t get their happy ending exactly, but they got something close. And Alan Cumming’s line at the very end was perfect. My point is that if I'd seen this movie and this story instead of The O.C. when I was younger, the course of my life would be very different. Because even though Billie Jean and Marilyn were met with adversity, they weren't treated as the joke or the ones in the wrong. The movie showed that society and Margaret Court were the ones in the wrong. Never Billie Jean and Marilyn.
That's the difference. A lot of so-called representation boils down to some sort of exciting, "exotic" moment that's ignored from then on. Take The O.C. again. I'm fairly certain no one mentions Marissa's relationship with Alex after it's over. No one brings up the Betty/Veronica kiss from the pilot of Riverdale once it's over. The reason being, it didn't matter. It wasn't written from an honest place of wanting to give stories to LGBT people. It was written because seeing two girls kiss still feels like the viewer is watching something they're not supposed to be watching. And I guess there are still plenty of people out there who think it makes for great TV.
When LGBT people ask for representation, I think straight writers get scared. They think they have to write some weepy, heavy, tragedy-ridden story, but I’m here to tell you, that’s not what we want. We want a lesbian couple who meet at a cute coffee shop and start dating. We want to see them argue over mundane things like Scrabble and who cleaned the bathroom last. We want to see their birthday and anniversary celebrations. We want to see them get mad at each other and then work it out. We want to see them nervous to meet the family. Not because they're gay, but because they're Yankees fans and their girlfriend's parents are Red Sox fans. We want to see them treated as humans.
Being LGBT is not a dirty little secret, so please stop treating us that way. We are real and have every right in the world to see ourselves in mainstream media.