Disclaimer: This post is written by a straight male who knows very little about the LGBT community
So, I’ve been consuming media for a decent amount of time now, and I’ve noticed this trend throughout the decade of the 2010’s, the one that’s guaranteed to start a discussion in one form or another. I’m of course talking about representation, and the increasing desire people have nowadays to make media more diverse. This can of worms that I just opened can go in so many different directions, but what I want to talk about is how certain pieces of media portrays their representation, specifically concerning the LGBT community. I guess this topic came up because I watch and read a lot of romances, and they’ve gotten a lot more, how you say, “colorful” in recent years. Please note: I’m not going to make any judgments on whether a piece of media’s representation is objectively good or bad. All I’m doing is giving my personal thoughts and opinions.
Keep in mind that I have no true agenda with this post. I just like talking about media I find interesting, and people are free to agree or disagree with my opinions. Now that the warning signs are out of the way, let’s get to the media, shall we?
I’m going to split these up into two main categories, alternating with each one: the rep. I like and the rep. I didn’t quite like or have problems with. Get ready, because some of these are ones I absolutely need to get off my chest.
Rep. I Like: Bloom Into You (2018)
Starting off on a high note, this is an anime that you must see if you’re into girl-girl romance (or yuri as us weebs like to call it). It’s so gentle, and sweet, and charming, and doesn’t hide the fact that the main characters are lesbians, it just hits you from the first episode and pulls you along for the ride. What I like most about this show is that both of the main characters are romantic equals to each other. That is to say, neither of them has an advantage in terms of confidence or popularity. Both of them have their own insecurities that prevent their relationship from progressing and they work towards fixing those internal issues side by side. Even outside the cute romance, Bloom Into You explores the concept of identity extremely well, and the struggles of figuring out who you are in adolescence. More romances should be written like this, and I’m glad anime has at least one shining example of a healthy yuri show.
Rep. I (don’t) like: Life Is Strange (2015)
Now this one might be a little controversial. Let me just say that I love Life Is Strange, and it’s one of my favorite games of all time, but my problem lies specifically in how they handled Max and Chloe’s relationship. Max and Chloe are great together in the game. They bounce jokes off each other constantly, they have a history that makes you care about them, and many of your choices in the game depend on how much you value Chloe as a…friend? girlfriend? I don’t know because the game doesn’t make it clear, even when the final decision you make in the game involves literal life and death. I guess I struggle with how the game wants you to define your relationship with Chloe in whichever way you want, but also make you care about her enough that you’ll be swayed to choose one ending over another. The story would’ve been better if they just decided that Max and Chloe were romantically interested in each other from the start, and not give little nods in-game to the people who ship them online. This marks a bigger issue for me in that I don’t think dropping “hints” is a good technique to tell the audience a character is gay. Thankfully this trend seems to be fading away, but I found it to be common in stories from the early to mid 2010s. Character’s sexualities had to be defined in the most foreshadow-y, roundabout way possible without actually just outright telling you, because they can’t be too direct, that would be “forcing an agenda” If you feel that you have to tiptoe around your subject matter out of fear of upsetting people, maybe it’s best to avoid the subject altogether. If only someone could go back in time and make the game more clear…oh wait.
Rep. I Like: Life Is Strange: Before The Storm (2017)
Ready for my hottest take yet? I think Chloe and Rachel are a better couple than Chloe and Max. There, I said it. Life is Strange’s three episode prequel game, Before The Storm, fixes my main criticism of relationships not being fully defined. Before The Storm has gay characters that are explicitly stated in the game, and this time, there’s much more power behind Chloe’s choices with Rachel than Max’s choices with Chloe. I feel this way because there’s much more of a romantic tone present from the beginning of the story when Chloe meets Rachel, all the way to the final choice, which in my opinion was more difficult to decide on than in the previous game. And while you could actively make choices around Chloe and Rachel being just friends, the opportunities are there to become more romantically involved, and those scenes are brilliantly done from an emotional standpoint. The main difference between Life Is Strange and Before The Storm is that Before The Storm had clear intentions with the characters. The developers wanted to show Chloe’s relationship with Rachel, and how she helped Chloe deal with her loneliness and depression before Max moved back to Arcadia Bay, and they executed that perfectly. Even if the entire game’s choices are meaningless considering the events of Life Is Strange, it still features one of the best same-sex romances I’ve seen in a video game, and the soundtrack, like the first game, is great, so I’d absolutely recommend you play both games if they seem up your alley.
Rep. I like: Pretty Much Anything Becky Albertali Writes
As a reader of YA, I’d say that Becky Albertali is one of the best contemporary authors currently working. No, her books aren’t as “intellectual” as John Green’s or as emotionally poignant as Adam Silvera’s,(though he’s definitely part of the LGBT rep. I like as well) but they’re just downright fun to read. I remember picking up The Upside Of Unrequited for the first time and being utterly astounded at the level of profanity she packs into every page. Becky Albertali is one of the rare YA authors that actually gets how teenagers speak, and can write hilarious dialogue that doesn’t come off as corny. (It also helps that she was a clinical psychologist who worked with teens) Narrative-wise, her books might be a little dumb and formulaic, but what stands out is that they’re normal stories about gay teens having fun, which is all they need to be. I could talk more about the larger themes of Simon Vs. or how much I love Leah in Leah On The Offbeat, but those are posts for another day. Side Note: What is up with Becky Albertali’s obsession with Waffle House? Is it really that good?
Rep. I (don’t) Like: Everything Sucks! (2018)
There’s this phenomenon I’ve discovered through watching this series that I aptly coined as “Rachel Amber Syndrome”. This is when, a girl, usually a loner or an outcast, has a crush on another girl, this other girl being this mysterious, starry-eyed popular chick that is into quirky hobbies like theater and is overly eccentric. It’s basically the manic pixie dream girl trope, but with 50% more lesbians. Most lesbian relationships I’ve seen in T.V are a form of Rachel Amber Syndrome, but Everything Sucks follows this formula so closely, and even though I enjoy Life Is Strange, the romance in this series, well, kinda sucks. The show takes place in this alternate reality 90’s high school where the drama geeks actually rule the social hierarchy, and the A.V club are the real nerds. The two girls who end up together, Kate and Emaline, both fall under the “Rachel Amber” type, but I seriously don’t know what the show was going for in portraying their relationship. Is it supposed to be cute that Emaline constantly bullies Kate in the beginning of the show, making her more uncomfortable in her sexuality? Is it supposed to be charming when Emaline reveals the motivations behind her behavior, which is the same cliched drama geek thing of “I can’t be my true self around others” and “I always feel like I have to put on a mask to the world” that I’ve heard a thousand times before? This is not a healthy portrayal of a relationship, whichever way you put it. I’ve seen much worse gay romances before, (see 90% of yuri anime) but this show didn’t leave a good taste in my mouth, and I hope it can be a lesson in what not to do in the future.
Rep. I Like: The Loud House
It’s pretty clear that The Loud House is the most popular Nickelodeon cartoon in a long time. And for good reason. Controversy aside, this show is a great lesson in writing good female characters that go beyond their stereotypes. The show first proved it was willing to include gay characters in an episode when they revealed Clyde’s parents, who are two men and also in an interracial relationship. The next time the show wowed me was the final few seconds of “L Is For Love”, when Luna writes a love letter to a female classmate. Unlike other supposed examples of good representation, The Loud House is actually what happens when subtlety is done right. It doesn’t need you to rely on “hints” or “foreshadowing” in order for you to get that they’re woke, it tells you simply by showing it. A more recent episode, “Racing Hearts”, is about Luna and that same classmate she likes going on a date, and it’s treated every bit as the same as if she went with a boy. Watching this makes me grow more confident in my stance that there’s no excuse for creators to not write more gay characters and gay relationships into stories. A kid’s show on a major network proved that it’s possible, and that it can be done well without “feeling forced”, so what else is holding people back? There’s this YouTuber called Lily Orchard that goes into this more in-depth, and calls what The Loud House did as “bare minimum flexing”, and I couldn’t agree more. We need to get out of this mindset that pushing boundaries an inch is considered groundbreaking, and stop praising baby steps if we want to see significant change. The Loud House is well-deserving of praise, but it’s not where the bar for representation begins or ends. And as you can see if you’ve looked ahead, people are willing to praise a pretty low bar.
Rep. I (don’t) Like: The Legend Of Korra (specifically the ending)
Yep, this is the big one. I’ve been thinking about this ever since I first watched it back in 2014, and I can honestly say now that my opinion hasn’t changed that much in those five years. It’s just not well done, and the creators shouldn’t be getting overwhelming praise for shoehorning in a gay couple in the last thirty seconds of the series. Ship Korrasami all you want, but there’s no way you can convince me that this was foreshadowed or hinted at well at all. (No, the end of book three doesn’t count.) Korra and Asami are close friends, and they’ve been close friends for most of the series, until Mike and Bryan decided they weren’t. It’s like they realized that their cartoon with a badass female lead protagonist that had been going on for three seasons wasn’t progressive enough, so they panicked and slipped in some last-second representation to make up for it. Lily Orchard also talks about this in her “Legend Of Korra Is Garbage And Here’s Why” video, which you should definitely check out even if you’re a fan of the show. This should not be the standard for gay couples in media. We can do better, and we have done better, and I’m glad this trend is changing.
I’m definitely not an expert in how exactly LGBT representation should work in media, nor am I really qualified to speak knowledgeably on these issues, but I just wanted to provide my perspective to add in the discourse. If you have your own opinions on what I’ve talked about, leave me a comment down below.