Representation in the Media and Why It’s Important

As you may have noticed, we live in a heteronormative, cisnormative white-centric patriarchy. Alternatively, you may not have noticed. This, to you, may just be ‘traditional values’, or ‘just the way things are’. I can assure you – this is NOT the ‘way things are’. To a queer person, a trans or genderqueer person, a person of colour, this is not the way things are; or should be.

As a pansexual, non-binary teenager, one thing I would love to see in the media is another pansexual or non-binary person. Having been told that your sexuality and gender don’t exist by ignorant people who refuse to educate themselves – or be educated for that matter – is an infuriating experience. The absence of anyone like me who can show these people that it really does exist only furthers this assertion. I know for a fact that there are other people like me, they are out there – living and breathing – so why am I invisible everywhere I look?

To give a sense of just how important representation for all minorities, let me tell you something you may not know about award winning actress Lupita Nyong’o. She decided against bleaching her skin after seeing legendary chat show host Oprah Winfrey’s success as a black female. Now look at her. Beautiful, an incredible actress, and unashamedly black. She’s a shining beacon of hope for all black girls, telling them that they too can become amazing. She was inspired and in turn will help to inspire an entire generation of kids.

Now it’s also important for the people who aren’t part of these minorities to see them on television and in the media. Education is a vital part of overcoming prejudice. Most people are simply ignorant and because they have never seen people of the minority they have never had any reason to get educated. The number of people who I’ve had to explain to that gender is not a binary, but a spectrum is ridiculous. This should be taught in schools who young kids who are learning that they are not cis or heterosexual don’t feel broken, wrong, or suffer incredible dysphoria because they’ve never received proper education about it. For other students, who are cisgender or heterosexual, it is vastly important as well. They’ve never been exposed to anyone outside the ‘norm’, so when they are they lash out and bully people. Being bullied because of something you can’t change is horrible, especially when it’s something as trivial as your sexuality. Bullying because of someone’s sexuality or gender would drastically decrease if kids were educated about sexuality and gender from a young age. It’s important – okay?

However, despite my moaning we, as a society, have gotten a lot better at representation and gay people have become a lot more understood and accepted because of the rising amount of serious gay characters on our TV screens. Rewind 10, 20 years previous and gay people were few and far between – and they were all ridiculously camp and feminine. While there are indeed gay people like this, they were comic relief, nothing more. Possibly some of the best programs for representation right now are the recently finished series ‘Cucumber’, ‘Banana’, on E4 and Channel 4 respectively. ‘Cucumber’ followed the ‘passions and pitfalls of 21st century gay life, beginning with the most disastrous date night in history’; while ‘Banana’ followed eight different stories, each exploring a different aspect of the LGBT+ spectrum and different kinds of relationships. I liked that it wasn’t thrust in your face every other sentence like, ‘HAHA WOW LOOK AT US WE’RE SO GAY WITH OUR GAYNESS LOL’, it was subtle, normal, as any LGBT+ people or friends of LGBT+ people are. My one gripe with it, though, is that a character who clearly was not just attracted to men was always labelled as gay. They all were, in fact. It was fantastic, but why is this world so hesitant to say the word ‘bisexual’? The character in question was obviously bisexual or pansexual, but vague nudges in the general direction is not enough. As it stands there are rather a few bisexual characters, but most aren’t strictly bisexual, their sexuality is portrayed as fluid. So not bisexual then, I can’t help thinking.

I guess I should appreciate the small steps we are making, but let’s not forget the lovely reception watchers of hit show ‘The Walking Dead’ gave to two characters Aaron and Eric sharing a kiss. Yes, in a show littered with literal, decomposing corpses and zombies, cannibalism and attempted rape the most disgusting and perverse thing was two men in love. Well done guys. So yes, despite everything there is a long way to go. It’s easy to say everyone is totally accepting when not confronted with this blatant homophobia and prejudice. And even though people may totally support the LGBT+ community and not harbour any prejudice, they still use the words ‘faggot’, and gay to describe something. It should not be my job to educate my classmates on why this language is homophobic – but that’s where I find myself. The only people I can blame for this though, is parents. I’m not saying they’re all to blame, but when they treat the word ‘gay’ like a swear word around children it makes them believe it’s a bad word, and so they use it and other children start using it in this way as well.

So, all in all, representation is good. Not only for the vastly underrepresented minorities but for the people outside of them, who are blissfully ignorant; most of the time. Representation gives them a voice, someone to identify with and relate to, and it assures people that they’re not alone in the struggles they may face, being part of a minority. It’s vital for everyone, and I hope we continue to make steps in the right direction until every cast of TV programs, books and all other media is as diverse and wonderful as real life.

Written by Suki