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  • Dan Snipe

The fight for the Golden Age of Queer TV.

Queer representation in film and TV appears to be in its golden age, with shows like Heartstopper and Sex Education being two of Britain's most currently streamed shows, topping other shows without major queer characters. The recent release of Heartstopper’s second season dominated the Netflix most watched charts, only playing second fiddle to The Lincoln Lawyer, with over 6 million viewers in its first week alone.

The success doesn’t just stop in Britain either; passionate viewers from around the globe have been tuning in for some time now, and there seems to be no sign of declining any time soon. It’s important to remember that there has always been queer representation in TV, whether explicitly or not. However, the furthering of LGBTQ+ rights in the early parts of the 21st century, with the decline of Section 21 in the UK especially, has allowed space for queer writers to commission more queer shows, and it is safe to say that we have all benefited from it.

Recently on my own days off, I have been enjoying several queer pieces of art. Adapted from N.D. Stephenson’s graphic novel, Nimona (2023) was a beautifully animated film which challenges gender roles and celebrates trans beauty. The film has given me a second wind and an urge to return once again to the queer arms of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, (2018-2020), also created by Stevenson.

POSE (2018-2021) is a must watch. Created by Steven Canals, Brad Falchuck and the often controversial Ryan Murphy, the show revolves around a diverse cast of characters involved in the Ballroom scene in New York City. The drama and glamour unfolds throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s and covers important moments in queer history. The depiction of the HIV/AIDS crisis is heartbreaking and anger inducing. POSE also makes sure its audience is aware of the class factors and the impact they had on the queer populations of America. It is a brilliant and essential watch that should be in the line up for your next binge. I mean, Billy Porter is in it for goodness sake!

Another must mention is Drag Race UK. Season 5 is fast approaching and I’m sure we all can’t wait to see what new Ru shenanigans will be pulled this season. Drag Race opened the world of drag and ballroom culture up to a whole new audience of people. The show has marked a massive rise in the popularity of drag performances in both queer and straight spaces alike all across the world. The only thing we can ask for at this point is more Welsh contestants! Whomst amongst us would lie and state that they didn’t fall in love with both Tayce and Victoria Scone.

However, despite the recent avalanche of queer representation there is a noticeable and sinister pattern emerging.

Queer shows seem to have a short shelf life, especially shows featuring lesbian and sapphic representation. Many shows that have LGBTQ+ relationships as a central theme seem to be getting the chop by various streaming services. Shows that had developed a mass following, such as First Kill (2022) and Sense8 (2015-2018), have all been thrown into the void, gone forever or until streaming companies notice a queer sized hole in their pockets to promote only during Pride Month – even after axing the shows. It is hard not to notice the singling out of recent cancelled shows being of a queer nature, especially when you look at the amount of other shows managing to survive these cancellations despite lower viewership estimates.

Another example that shows this disdain towards successful queer shows is Warrior Nun (2020-2022). The queer action spectacular was axed after only a few seasons which had fans upset and frustrated by yet another sapphic show being booted. It has thankfully been granted a resurrection in the form of an upcoming movie trilogy, but even this was a fantasy until a few months ago. The frustrated fans of the show spent a lot of their time protesting the cancellation and were only granted a conclusion after their voices were heard.

Films and shows with queer representation have been targeted by anti-LGBT groups with the severity of this trend changing based on where you live. Some states in the US have started to implement bans on queer shows, and Algeria recently banned Barbie (2023) from being shown in cinemas due to queer themes. Censorship under the guise of queer content being unsuitable to kids. God forbid two boys falling in love with one another, TV would never dream of showing heteronormative high school romances!

Netflix is far from golden when it comes to LGBTQ+ shows. Yes, the streaming service has historically given a voice to many previously underrepresented queer voices, but at the same time it has also given platforms to people with queerphobic views. Most notably stand up specials from Ricky Gervais and Dave Chappelle. American Soccer star Megan Rapinoe stated recently: “I don’t want to mince words about it […] Dave Chappelle making jokes about trans people directly leads to violence.” It’s hard to disagree with her. In recent years we have seen a rise in hate crimes directed towards trans people due to the heightened cultural shift in the media and politics towards the demonisation of trans people.

Why does this matter? Some critics of LGBTQ+ shows claim that our community is “shoving it down people's throats.” But representation is not just important for enjoyment but can completely transform a person's life.

I have recently encouraged my partner to sit down and watch Orange is the New Black (2013-2019) for the first time; a show I watched back when it first appeared on Netflix, and one of great importance to me personally. OITNB was probably the first ever show I watched where the main character was LGBTQ+, unless we are counting Doctor Who. Back in 2013, when the public consensus seemed to be more in support of LGBTQ+ characters, OITNB stood out as a show that treated queer stories with sincerity and respect. I was still a teenager and was yet to discover John Waters and Paris is Burning (1990), so my experience of queer characters was misrepresented by what I had grown up with. In the TV and films I watched growing up, queer characters were often portrayed as the butt of the joke or as horrendous stereotypes. In OITNB, I quickly resonated with several of the characters, allowing me to explore my own relationship with sexuality and gender. Laverne Cox’s portrayal of Sophia Bursett in particular is one I will never forget in opening my eyes up to the struggles of trans lives. Sophia’s story undoubtedly had an effect on my own trans life and I will be forever grateful for that.

Given the evidence of backlash queer media faces every time it is produced, it is fair to suggest that queer art is under attack. It’s hard to imagine a time where it won’t be. There will always be a small crowd of people upset that Bella Ramsey uses they/them pronouns or whinging about Yasmin Finney “ruining” Doctor Who. But that crowd of people are in a minority, it’s just unfortunate that they happen to be an incredibly loud minority.

But queer TV is here to stay. The recent SAG-AFTRA strike continues to go strong, with many of the performers and writers being part of the LGBTQ+ community. They are fighting not only for a fair wage but for the right for their art to be better appreciated. If that gives us more shows like She-Ra in the future, then we should make it an imperative to support queer film and TV as much as we can.



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