Throughout our entire lives, our ideas about the world as a whole come from everything that we experience. What our parents tell us, what we read, and what we see on TV are few of countless examples which feed into our image of the world, from how we think we are supposed to be, to how we think others should be.
We grow up with love stories like Rapunzel getting rescued by a prince, and Cinderella finding Prince Charming. This obsession and fascination with love that our society holds gets instilled in us from a young age. However, while this seems nice, it is actually a danger in disguise for children who might not love who they’re “supposed” to.
The media is heteronormative. That we already know. It focuses primarily on straight people and straight characters, feeding into the idea that you are straight until proven otherwise. Homosexual relationships just aren’t the norm in children’s media. But they should be.
Last year, out of 900 characters on major TV networks, only 43 were Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ). Although this is a massive improvement, it is not free of flaw. In 2016, 25 lesbian or bisexual female characters died or were killed, which isn’t sending a great message about their sexuality to viewers. Additionally, apart from a five minute scene on Disney Channel’s “Good Luck Charlie”, none of these characters were on traditional children’s shows. As the number of adults who identify as LGBT increases (from 8.3 million in the United States in 2012 to 10 million in 2016), the number of television characters should increase as well.
Imagine being gay, lesbian, bisexual or somewhere in the middle. Maybe you are, and you know exactly how this feels. All you see are straight relationships around you; it’s what’s “normal.” So when you start developing feelings for someone that isn’t the opposite gender, you think it’s wrong, because it’s what you’ve been taught your whole life. And it shouldn’t be that way. Children need representation in the media to show them what they could be. To have a character on a show or in a book that’s in a healthy relationship with someone of the same sex would be revolutionary. It would not only normalize these ideas, but also give kids someone to look up to who’s like them. If every straight child gets this experience, why shouldn’t an LGBT child?
Transgender characters have even less representation. There were only 16 transgender characters on TV last year, which pales in comparison to the amount of cisgender cast members. You really have to dig to find a show with a transgender character, especially one that is accurately represented. This kind of representation needs to be normalized so that everyone can have role models that represent them. Our world has so many misconceptions of transgender people, and their representation in the media is to blame. Change is needed.
Another thing to consider is the way that the industry casts LGBT characters, especially transgender ones. There are so many actors out there that could have personal connections to these roles. However, time and time again producers cast cisgender actors for trans roles. In April of this year, actress Elle Fanning made headlines by playing a transgender male in the movie “Three Generations.” Although this representation is a step forward, there was probably someone who is actually transgender who could have greatly benefited by playing that role, and who could’ve given it more authenticity. Transgender actors aren’t being cast as cisgender roles, either, which is equally unfair.
By including more LGBT characters in the media, so many people would gain the confidence to be proud of who they are. Role models make children (and everyone else) more comfortable with themselves and make them feel less alone. It would also lead to a more accepting world. These characters would normalize topics that are sometimes hard to talk about. There is an opportunity here to create a world that is more accepting and loving of everyone.
This is not to say that there has been no progress made. Most shows that I watch now contain at least one LGBT character. “Moonlight”, a movie where the main character, Chiron, is gay, won best picture at the 2017 Oscars. Le Fou was gay in “Beauty and the Beast.” But there is always more to do. The media has a chance to make a real impact. They control what we see and what we love. They have the opportunity to break up our heteronormative society and help move into a world where all kinds of love are accepted as ‘normal.’ Imagine a Disney movie where the princess is rescued by another girl and they fall in love. Wouldn’t that be nice?
GRAPHIC BY CAROLINA BAYON