An Interlude: Telling Stories
Humans have been telling stories since we crawled out of the primordial goo and developed opposable thumbs on our little flatworm bodies*. From simple hunting tactics to fantastical myths of our creation (and, of course, porn), humans have communicated tales of who we are, what we do and where we come from and it is a habit, a skill, a need unique to our breed of animal.
The way we tell stories and the media we use has changed a lot since our days of finger painting on cave walls. No longer confined to rudimentary symbols or text; traditional, Mainstream and New Media has allowed us to tell our stories vividly; in full technicolour and high definition.
But despite all this evolution, our reason for telling stories has stayed the same: We seek, we yearn, and we crave that transcendental moment of connection with our fellow human.
In the first instalment of this webseries, I talked about the importance of
Before we get to Otalia and Venice: The Series, I want to take a moment to talk about Queer Visibility and Positive Queer Representation, and what they mean to me.
Also, Hot Chicks and Boobs.
So here we go.
Visibility matters because queers too often feel invisible; because we are too easily marginalised. It matters because it is easier to ignore what you cannot see; to lack empathy for that which you do not experience and do not understand.
Queer visibility is about more than just good screen time. It is important that we are seen, but it is not enough to be seen if those images do not accurately represent us.
Seeing ourselves consistently portrayed in negative ways can be infinitely more damaging than seeing nothing at all.
A flood of negative stereotypes and re-occurring caricatures - the gay-for-sweeps girls and lesbian killers; transgender predators and queer paedophiles – unbalanced by equal screen time for the “average” homo, or the spectacular, crime-fighting, superhero-scientist-government-worker who just happens to be a big lesbian, creates the impression that there is nothing either normal, or wonderfully extraordinary, about being gay.
And that is a dirty, dirty lie.
On the same note, anyone who then says “throw-away” scenes and characters on episodic Mainstream TV don’t matter, is a fucktard. With those odds, of course it matters. A single episode of queer badness would be incidental only if it was a drop in the bucket of Positive Queer Representation. But it’s not. We don’t even have a goddamn bucket. What we have, is millions of queers on their knees with their hands cupped, dying of dehydration. And what Mainstream Media is doing, is spitting into our hands.
Positive Queer Representation.
Media is a measure of society. It reflects us and we look to it to see ourselves. If queers are underrepresented or poorly represented, it matters. We need to know people are listening, and we need for people to know we are out there. Even the most tenuous threads of connection mean something to us.
The way queers are portrayed in Mainstream Media affects the broader social consciousness. We need to be on the radar and we need to be visible.
However, if we are only ever portrayed in a sensational or negative way; as the Villain, or the Thief, or the Killer, or the Liar, or the Fallen Hero – frankly, we are better off being invisible. At least invisible people make bad targets.
Let me tell you a little story of my own.
I grew up in a small town in a very religious family (and I was strangely unscarred by this).
I actually never heard a bitter word about – or sermon against the evils of – homosexuality back then, because in our small Aussie town, homos didn’t exist. I didn’t know what a gay person was; as far as I was concerned, the whole world lived a certain way and that was it. I may have been a roguish tomboy with a predisposition to girl-crushes, but no one mentioned the H-word.
Then, when I was 5, my best friend and I had a falling out. I was completely devastated, and I remember how confused I was that my mum didn’t understand how I loved this girl.
It occurred to me that maybe I was a little... different.
We are taught the mechanics of difference at a very young age, and asked to cross them out with a big red X. What we are not taught, or what we struggle to comprehend, is that “different” is not the same as “wrong”.
I had no concept of what that difference meant; I had no word for it - I had nothing to judge myself against except the limited social constructs of my tiny world.
That first moment of self-realisation is - for any queer of any age - a Gossamer Moment. You become raw and delicate, and whatever happens soon after (or just before), can decide the entire course of your strange new life.
Religion, a small town, utter confusion beyond what a child normally experiences - It should have led me to a life lived shamefully. Except that my Gossamer Moment never had the chance to be shattered by hateful words. Instead, I had the good fortune to see an image.
That small flicker of beauty would change my life forever.
I was 6 when my parents moved a chair from our lounge room to the dining room.
The angle of that chair meant I could creep down the hall after bedtime, curl silently into it and watch TV through a gap in the door. Oh, the things I saw in that dark room! The things my parents would never have allowed me to see!
Through TV I discovered another world - a secular world full of murder, adultery and lies, and once, a talking cartoon penis (Though disturbing, I don’t think this had any impact on my broader Gay).
One night, my mother wandered upstairs to bed and I held my breath so my father wouldn’t hear me. He stood to change the channel – flash, flash – and he paused on a film with subtitles, and I remember thinking how boring that was, and then: Two women on a bed, curling around each other like ribbons. I remember the curve of her neck as she bent to kiss her cheek, brush her lips against her lips; quiet words, their legs entwined on the sheets...
It was beautiful.
Maybe I murmured, maybe the chair creaked – all I know is my dad turned his head and I was off and running, my toes barely touching the carpet and I dove under the sheets and pulled them over my head and prayed that he would not hear my heart pounding down the hallway and come to check on me.
I wanted to be alone, just me and that glorious image burned on the backs of my eyelids. I never wanted to look at another thing again.
The year was 1989. That image would stay with me forever.
My first Encounter-Of-Gay, though fleeting, was positive. And without that image to hold onto when the hateful words came crashing in, who knows where I would be today.
When I talk about the importance of images and visibility and representation, I mean it. The smallest scene, the sweetest story, can change a life. And a deluge of negativity; of gay victims and queers who do nothing but kill themselves, change their identities or hatefully screw each other, can break your heart.
To those of us born in small towns, to those of us raised in religious communities, to those of us singled out, discriminated against, spat upon with no relief – the images we see on the small screen, or that we can capture in the privacy of our own homes, might be all we are able to touch of our world.
Positive Queer Representation matters.
*It is possible I am slightly abbreviating the evolutionary process. If any attractive, science-tastic women wish to engage me in a detailed lesson on evolution, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with nude photos. Strictly for educational purposes.
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