Gay sex deserves to be treated as frankly as straight in modern media.
During the pandemic, streaming services have provided us with an opportunity to escape the monotony of our daily lives at home, taking us on socially distanced adventures from our living rooms. When casual dating is limited to a socially-distanced walk in Kelvingrove park, guilty pleasure TV shows like Bridgerton can act as a replacement for the romance in our lives. But whilst the on-screen intimacy of straight couples is often described as “hot” and “steamy”, queer sex in movies and on TV is still stigmatized.
This was highlighted again last month when a viral tweet compared two articles by the same reporter from The Sun. The first headline read: “History buff: The period dramas with the hottest sex scenes ever – from Bridgerton’s steamy oral sex to Versailles’ endless romps”. By contrast, It’s A Sin, which follows the life of gay men in the 80s was described as having “So much sex: Viewers shocked by drama’s explicit sex montage with raunchy threesome and oral sex”.
Although Hollywood has presented us with more queer characters and storylines in recent years, their (love) stories are still made by and for straight people. The gay best friend trope, which we’ve seen in shows like Sex and the City and Girls is a widespread example of this: it presents us with a strictly one-dimensional character, whose sassy sense of fashion allows him to take part in the plot which primarily follows his straight, female friends, without ever making his (sex) life a topic of conversation. This shows the audience that queer people can only exist within the context of straight people – feeding into the negative stereotype that gay sexuality is dirty, threatening and needs to be hidden. More often than not, gay sex is only shown in indie films and not in mainstream media. Institutions like the Motion Picture Association of America have consistently rated movies depicting queer intimacy, with an “R” – allowing nobody below the age of 17 to watch them.
Lesbian sex scenes, on the other hand, often cater towards the male gaze – focussing on pornographic elements, close-up shots and performative sexuality as opposed to depicting accurate intimacy. Julia Maroh, the author of the graphic novel upon which the movie Blue is the Warmest Colour is based, famously said that “as a lesbian there was something missing from the set: lesbians” and that in movie theatres “the gay and queer people laughed because it’s not convincing”.As an English Literature student, I’m often told that the characters, details and plot points that are excluded from any given story are as important as what the author chooses to include. It’s not only about “what stories we tell”, but also “how we’re telling them” and “if we’re telling them, why we’re telling them”, as Amanda Gorman put it in her TED Talk. When John Mercer, a professor of gender and sexuality at Birmingham City University's School of Media, was interviewed about the It’s a Sin controversy, he stressed that: “Sex is political and sexual representation is also, therefore, political … Seeing adults desiring each other and perhaps having desires that we do not share is one of the ways in which we can understand other people’s lives and experiences.” Choosing to edit and censor the romantic and sexual life of queer people doesn’t bring about true representation. Instead, queer stories need to be told by queer people in a way that doesn’t shy away in fear of alienating straight audiences.
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