Queerness on Screen: Construction or Catharsis?
For me, the state of being queer was measured by three psychological events: firstly, preparing to come out, secondly, dealing with the aftermath of coming out, and finally, accepting that this was my new reality. It’s revolved heavily around this paradigm that takes over the queer existence and subtracts from our ability to perceive. We spend so much time on these three events, these three states that are supposed to define our stories and our identities, that we end up tormenting ourselves with the unattainable question: “what if?”, and whilst we’re doing that, we’re bypassing incredibly important and nuanced discussions about the queer existence and how it isn’t ever truly private.
Queerness is under constant human surveillance; everything we do is critically examined by the surroundings that we exist in and by the spaces we inhabit. You’re walking down the street with your partner and you hold each other’s hand, maybe even kiss. Society puts you on display. You are labelled, henceforth, as ‘acceptable’ or not, regardless if this is your intention. Society teaches us that we are something to be commented upon, but it is this investigative stance that makes it harder, for me, to peacefully exist. Everything we do is publicised by other people, by ourselves, and our existence remains predicated and perceived before we’ve even had a chance to perceive it ourselves.
This distance between true homosexual tranquillity and our current social situation is persistently intensified by the TV and film industry; we are placed ‘on trial’ by the way queerness is represented as something for people to take note of. This makes it continuously dangerous to exist as LGBTQ+ and makes it 100 times harder to deal with the psychological events that I mentioned before. However, this invasive ‘need’ to find purpose within the queer existence means that people begin to view homosexualism as politics, rather than allowing us to just ‘be’.
For as long as I can remember, I have seen the same hyper-sexualised and caricatured homophobic archetypes of myself, and of people like me, plastered on the walls of Western cinematic culture. It’s exhausting; I’m tired.
Before the late 1960s, cinema increasingly presented queerness as a social or psychological tragedy, as something that caused disturbance to the functionality of the heteronormative world. It’s incredibly isolating and heart-breaking to know that this callous cycle is one that is still yet to be truly broken.
So, now we’re in 2021. 54 years after The Sexual Offences Act legalised homosexual acts in the UK between two men over the age of 21, on the condition that they were consensual and in private. 52 years after Stonewall started. And today, we rarely find an LGBTQ+ couple on screen that happily and healthily exists, and if they do, they must encounter countless psychological and physical challenges to reach any state of contentment. We’re perceived by the screen as wild sex-fiends, inappropriate home-wreckers, and anti-social antagonists, teaching us in the real world that gay people aren’t fit for today’s straight world. We’re represented as the ‘other’ person that wrecks a functionally heterosexual marriage, that become bad influences on those younger, and that place emotional grief upon their surroundings. What I’m still seeing from the TV and Film industry are silhouetted, villainised figures that are simply made to inhabit a queer space in a heteronormative plotline, continuing to be recycled again, and again.
Of course, there are heterosexual-presenting characters that are represented in similarly irresponsible and damaging ways, however, straightness is never found to be the core of their recklessness. It is never the problem. With queer characters, it is our queerness that is at the root of our character flaws, that foundationally creates the tension within the script: the bisexual wife meets a lesbian and then leaves her husband, or the gay man comes out to his family and is thereafter kicked out of the house, or the transgender woman struggles to fit in and thus, goes on a drinking binge. Regardless of how mind-numbingly boring these narrative arcs sound, it is this action of questioning the validity and appropriacy of gayness in society that the TV and film industry cannot seem to stay clear of, and it is this that politicises our entire existence.
But there is hope. Throughout my lockdown experience, I have had the pleasure of watching many incredible examples of queer TV and film, such as Euphoria, created by Sam Levinson. This is a story that shatters the paradigm and rejects the traditional, overworked ‘coming out’ narrative with Rue and Jules, two female characters who happen to fall in love. Rue is cis; Jules is trans, though neither of these aspects of their lives are at the forefront of their representation. Rather than focusing exclusively on harrowing LGBTQ+ challenge, Euphoria instead focuses on a collective human challenge, and the emotions faced by a generalised group of American teenagers at high school. What is created here, is a world where straight characters and queer characters exist in the same space without question, without drawing overt attention to it, and instead, the personal struggles that the characters endure are simply represented devoid of their sexual experience.
I want to continue to see dynamic, thorough plotlines for queer characters, that don’t exclusively focus on sexuality. I want to see opportunities for queer creators, specifically those of colour, that tell the stories from the perspective of the marginalised. I want to see cinematic discourse into the lack of time, and effort, spent by those at the top, into making LGBTQ+ lives actually liveable, and not just feasible. I want to see education into the achievements of our community throughout history, and I want queerness to be not just appreciated, but celebrated and wanted. I want to continually see hope, happiness, and honesty from the screen, and I want it to allow LGBTQ+ people the chance and inspiration needed for them to grow, identify, evolve, and live in their own version of harmonious tranquillity.
Images from Alicia Fretter