TV Shows, LGBTQA+, Pop Culture

15 LGBTQIA+ tropes that need to be retired yesterday

There's a lot to change in the way LGBTQIA+ characters are depicted on television.

Queer representation is having a good year (Valkyrie “needs to find her queen”! David (ew) and Patrick! Robin Buckley!). However, we’re still backsliding. There are still too many LGBTQIA+ tropes and trends in television that reinforce negative stereotypes and perpetuate a complete lack of awareness when it comes to the queer community. Negative characters and oblivious portrayals are as disheartening as they are harmful.

And yet, Emmy season after Emmy season, we pat incremental change and mediocrity on the back, calling it progress. That needs to stop. No more trophies until it actually gets better. So, Hollywood, here’s a list of what could be, should be, has to be improved because you clearly need help:

Beware of spoilers!

1. My body is your body

The cast of <em>Queer Eye</em>, five men of similar build dressed in suits.
[Image description: The cast of Queer Eye, five men of similar build dressed in suits.] Via Getty
There are bears and otters and butches and femmes everything in between, but they’re rarely seen on screen. The Queer Eye hosts pretty much have the same body type. Darren Criss or Ben Whishaw could dead dropped into the majority of LGBTQIA+ roles and no one would notice. There is little to no deviation and that’s not representation. 

2. Language 

A brown-haired, white boy responds to someone off-screen, saying: "I'm not gay."
[Image description: A brown-haired, white boy responds to someone off-screen, saying: “I’m not gay.”] Via Derry Girls on Netflix
Somehow “gay” is still slung like it’s damaging to one’s masculinity. In Netflix’s Derry Girls, James is repeatedly called “gay” for no reason other than perhaps getting a rise out of him. The series is set in the 1990s, but this detail doesn’t get excused as world building. It doesn’t add anything and it doesn’t help. 

3. This is going to take ALL episode

A shirtless, white man is drenched and seated on a stage. Behind him is a woman lying down.
[Image description: A shirtless, white man is drenched and seated on a stage. Behind him is a woman lying down.] VIa It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia on YouTube
Coming out storylines are still important; however, they don’t always have to take the entire season to come to fruition. Let that character do something else with their story arch. Not everyone needs a Puppy Episode

4. One dimensional queers

A brown-haired white man in a blue button-down and red bowtie says: "Uh, my friend Eric and then my ex John, and then Eric again."
[Image description: A brown-haired white man in a blue button-down and red bowtie says: “Uh, my friend Eric and then my ex John, and then Eric again.”] Via Grace and Frankie on Netflix
The Damiens and other gay-best-friends are being swapped out for those with more depth, like Sex Education‘s Eric. Queer characters deserve development beyond being gay, give them hobbies and all the trivial bits that are written into other characters.

5. Acceptance = Flawless Allyship

A white man in a cap and brown shirt looks stoically at his son.
[Image description: A white man in a cap and brown shirt looks stoically at his son.] Via Glee on YouTube
The super chill attitude of parents/siblings/partners is refreshingly positive, but it leads to a the assumption that Love Is Love and the conversation doesn’t need to go any further when in reality there’s a lot more to be done for gay rights. 

6. Heteronormativity with all the trimmings

Two white women - one blonde, the other black-haired - in prison are having a conversation while seated on the floor. The blonde one says to the other: "You're really telling me you didn't miss me at all?"
[Image description: Two white women – one blonde, the other black-haired – in prison are having a conversation while seated on the floor. The blonde one says to the other: “You’re really telling me you didn’t miss me at all?”] Via Orange Is The New Black on Netflix
Queerness often appears as a straight relationship simply rewritten so that both partners are of the same gender. Not everyone can or wants to assimilate to that norm. There isn’t a boyfriend and a girlfriend when there are two girlfriends.

7. She wears a hat and you know what that means

A woman in a blue striped shirt, suspenders, and a newboy cap is seated in a dark restaurant.
[Image description: A woman in a blue striped shirt, suspenders, and a newboy cap is seated in a dark restaurant.] Via The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel on YouTube
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel‘s Susie is the example of presentation standing in for conversation. Her character feels too much like a benchwarmer for when the show decides to get political. 

8. One lone queer character amid masses of straights 

Two dark-haired white men - one in a suit, the other in a red bellhop uniform - are staring each other down.
[Image description: Two dark-haired white men – one in a suit, the other in a red bellhop uniform – are staring each other down.] Via Mad Men on Netflix
There’s never an abundance unless it’s the L Word or Loking. There are partners and exes, but rarely just everyday other queer people. 

9. Queer-baiting

A blonde girl and a black-haired girl kiss. They're dressed in a yellow-and-white cheerleading uniform.
[Image description: A blonde girl and a black-haired girl kiss. They’re dressed in a yellow-and-white cheerleading uniform.] Via Riverdale on The CW
A potentially queer character or couple is usually hinted at or teased. Too often the scene seems to have been written just to draw in a potential audience. The entirety of BBC’s Sherlock, anyone?

10. “I’ve never done this before.”

Two women are lying in bed looking at each intensely. One has her arm outstretched, cupping the face of the other.
[Image description: Two women are lying in bed looking at each intensely. One has her arm outstretched, cupping the face of the other.] Via Killing Eve on YouTube
The fluidity of sexuality deserves screen time, but currently the bed’s a little crowded with “straight” people. This I-normally-wouldn’t-but image feeds into the whole queers are here to steal your wife stereotype. 

11. Strategic camera pan

Two white men in suits are on the dance floor, their foreheads touching as they gaze lovingly into each other's eyes.
[Image description: Two white men in suits are on the dance floor, their foreheads touching as they gaze lovingly into each other’s eyes.] Via Modern Family on ABC
The camera tends to look away during even remotely intimate moments between queer characters. Or deny by omission that they even have sex. Equal screen time or bust. The Shadowhunters fandom erupted when Malec was denied a sex scene in season 2. The writers tried to make up for it in season 3.

12. Lesbian sex involves a lot of clothing

Two women in bed cuddle after sex. The one on the left side-hugs the one on the right who says: "Hello."
[Image description: Two women in bed cuddle after sex. The one on the left side-hugs the one on the right who says: “Hello.”] Via In The Dark on Netflix
This costume quirk is obviously an attempt to keep it PG, but come on. Straight couples have had strategically draped sheets for decades. Will no cameraperson attempt to hide the nudity of two women on screen? 

13. Repression & Hate = Closeted Gay

Two high school football players - one black, the other white - mock two other students dressed up in costumes.
[Image description: Two high school football players – one black, the other white – mock two other students dressed up in costumes.] Via Glee on YouTube
Characters like Sex Education‘s Adam illustrate the tired trend of tortured high school bullies being the result of their own self-hatred. Scripts need to stop assuming the best of hate and homophobes. 

14. Bury your gays

A dark-haired, brown woman stared coyly at her blonde friend.
[Image description: A dark-haired, brown woman stared coyly at her blonde friend.] Via You on Netflix
If your script includes the death of a LGBTQIA+ character, go back to the writing room. Remember what happened in The 100‘s fandom after Lexa was killed?

15. Queerness is overwhelmingly white

Two white women in tank tops are drinking in a low-lit dining booth.
[Image description: Two white women in tank tops are drinking in a low-lit dining booth.] Via Gypsy on Netflix
Thankfully shows like Pose, Queer Sugar, Dear White People, Black Lightning, and The Bold Type are changing the game.

In general, television has come a long way since shows like Will & Grace, Queer as Folk, and Ellen. LGBTQIA+ representation no longer finds itself confined to the first two letters of the acronym. Of course, there’s still lot’s to learn, but in the meantime, support the series that get it right and show the world what it needs to see.