The idea that representation in film, TV, books, and other media is important is fairly well studied and understood. And you probably already know that it matters. However... it's necessary to have a conversation about what it means to have a diverse representation of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, age, and more.
Let's talk about:
So, what is media representation anyway?
The basic definition of media representation is simply how media (films, TV, books, social media...) portray certain types of people or communities. A diverse representation can make people feel welcomed, secure and understood. When you don't see people like yourself in the media, the message you get is that you're invisible and/or there is something wrong with you.
Seeing the same type of people over and over, for years and years, sends a very clear message, not only to members of those communities, but to everyone else. Studies show that audiences substitute stereotypes they see on screen for reality when they don't have any direct interactions with a certain community. In practice, that means media is teaching us that minority characters are mostly negative and something to avoid.
There has been a steady increase of diversity in media, but progress has been very slow, and more often than not, depicting exaggerated and stereotypical characters.
How about Queer Representation?
The LGBTQIA2S+ community has been largely represented by straight people, or having stereotyped and/or sexualized characters. GLAAD, an organization that tracks representation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the media, recorded that 2019-2020 was the year with the highest percentage of queer characters, with 10.2%, in broadcast series regular.
Although we're seeing some changes, we still have a long journey ahead of us. Queer representation is so important because to feel normal and welcomed you need to see, read and hear the voices of other people who look like you and use the same identifying labels. Just like Amber Leventry said on her article for The Washington Post “(…) as a transgender person, I find it hard to look in the mirror(…). It would be easier to look at my reflection if I saw my image reflected back to me in the media.”
Transgender representation on media 2019-2020, according to Where We Are on Tv Report by GLAAD.
When there is no access nor it's possible to openly watch a show with queer characters at home, many people in the LGBTQIA2S+ community turn to social media, using platforms like YouTube, TikTok, Tumblr, Instagram, to express themselves and connect with others. For queer youth in particular, social media can be a place to feel less alone and find peer support. Not everyone in the community have support through their family, school, or community, and the internet is a place where they can be who they really are, especially now during quarantine.
Thanks to the social media, many figures such as Jazz Jennings, Aydian Dowling, and Rebekah Bruesehoff who are showing the world — and other transgender youth and young adults — the power and joy of living authentic lives.
There are some TV shows that are changing the LGBTQIA2S+ spectrum to a better place too. According to an article written by Sara Arid to The New York Times “’The Red Line,’ ‘Jane the Virgin’ and ‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’ are among the series that have raised the bar for diversity on network television". GLAAD is also calling on the industry to make sure that 20 percent of series regular characters on primetime scripted broadcast series are LGBTQ by 2025.
Unfortunately we still live in a society that gives privilege to white cisgender people, and it's our responsibility to change that. What and who we see on the media defines our perception of the world around us, and being represented means stopping being invisible.