Screen and sexuality: A discussion with young adults on their LGBTQ+ icons

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Credit: Company Pictures / All3Media

Katie McPeake
Film and TV Columnist

We all remember our first crush that we saw onscreen – whether that be the dazzling Jeremy Sumpter as Peter Pan, forever wishing that he would come and whisk you away to Neverland, or Lara Croft being a level of badass that no one else could reach. We would fantasise about the life portrayed to us, dreaming about how we would fit into this fictional setting. However, most of the depictions that we are familiar with through the media are of heterosexual relationships, which leaves whoever does not yearn for these ideals question where exactly they belong. Discussing with friends, I realised just how much film and TV impact the shaping and understanding of our personal sexual identity.

It is these fictional scenarios that play a part in helping us understand real-life situations. For example, one of my friends who identifies as asexual told me about the TV show Pushing Daisies. This sees the main characters Ned and Chuck in a romantic relationship where they are not able to physically touch one another. This resonated a lot with my friend, as they could easily project how they related their own sexuality to the characters in front of them. Thinking that they were destined to be alone for not “fitting in”, the portrayal of a healthy relationship where the pair communicated openly and respected each other’s boundaries was highly beneficial for them in realising that their sexuality is perfectly normal.

Similarly, when chatting with another friend, one storyline in particular undoubtedly stood out to her. It was the time when edgy drama Skins was a part of every British teenagers’ life, a show depicting the messiness of hormones, acting as the indie-fuelled narrative that we all aspired to. It is Emily’s story that resonates with her, one of being unable to accept your sexuality as a teenager. Throughout the show, Emily struggles with her sexuality and feels isolated as she is at an age where sex is all the rage but doesn’t feel like she fits in with the heteronormative structure. Her character helped my friend to realise that she shouldn’t deny her own sexuality, rather she should grow into it and not rush to fit any norms. It was this mainstream portrayal that showed that it was okay to be a teenage girl who likes girls, that sexuality is much more than the typical straight relationship we are all too accustomed to. Despite this being a fictional portrayal, due to its large audience, it validated the feelings of many bi and lesbian teens alike, showing the importance of mainstream media as a validating actor for all areas of LGBTQ+ identities.

Other characters that have cropped up in discussions are Callie from Grey’s Anatomy and Rosa Diaz from Brooklyn Nine Nine – two bold, bisexual women who are unashamed of their sexuality. Although Diaz didn’t come out until season 5 of the show, this coincided with Stephanie Beatriz (the actress who plays her) coming out as bi in real life. This was welcomed by fans and praised in the media, despite raising some questions as to why the character was “suddenly” bisexual. However, this can be seen quite simply as the character not making a big deal about her sexuality because, at the end of the day, there shouldn’t be a fuss made over the fact that not everybody is heterosexual – that love is love.

Likewise, depictions of queer teenage romances are becoming more and more prominent in our media, showing that LGBTQ+ people experience love in exactly the same way. Recent films such as Call Me By Your Name, Blue is The Warmest Colour and Love, Simon are a mainstream illustration of interpreting queer first love, paving the way for future youths to realise that their sexuality is perfectly valid. Film and TV has the power to educate us on areas we may be familiar with. This is why it resonates with so many, as there might not be a LGBTQ+ person they can talk to – that they learn acceptance through fictional portrayals. The media has a responsibility in shaping culture and paving the way to acceptance of the normality of what we still call today “queer” relationships.

Something that I’ve realised through these discussions is that all the characters my friends have been influenced by are all strong characters. They have been fiercely independent and own their sexuality, which is what I would say my friends have grown to be through the characters and stories they have connected with onscreen. It is through the strength of these characters that my friends have themselves found the strength to accept who they really are. Of course, much more needs to be done in terms of LGBTQ+ representation in the media, but it is also worth celebrating powerful characters which exist and which have helped shape identities of people around me. By increasing representation and diversity on our screens, we are educating the future on accepting themselves. First crushes don’t need to be heteronormative – Peter Pan and his lost boys are a gay commune living away from homophobia in their own safe environment, just as Lara Croft is a strong lesbian icon who crushes men. It is our perspective that needs to change, which can only be done through the normalisation of LGBTQ+ characters in our media.