“If you believe that your thoughts originate inside your brain, do you also believe that television shows are made inside your television set?” ― Warren Ellis
If I ask you to imagine a homosexual person right now, what kind of a description will you come up with?
Chances are, you’re going to end up thinking of a delicate looking, effeminate ‘male’ with soft movements and “girly” gestures, and most likely he’s going to be impeccably well – dressed and well- groomed. He frowns at wardrobe disasters and is a bigger fashion diva than you will ever be. You know, the fashion –designer type. (Remember how the gay Patrick scores over the fashion-goddess Lacey every time in Charlie Sheen’s Anger Management?)
Alternatively, if you’re a girl who’s got her heart broken by Matt Dallas, you might think of a devastatingly handsome looking – man, who’s got all his charms set, but to your horror, doesn’t respond to female attention (because he is perhaps feeling like that for another guy himself): whatever might be the case, almost always, a homosexual person is surrounded by a bunch of homophobes (or fake homophobes) who believe they’re their biggest nightmare. (“God, stop acting gay! Get away from me!“)
After numerous fight-scenes in movies following the use of a certain word “faggot” , or the playing out of the classic trope of a homosexual man playing the heroine’s best-friend in movies (a la Rupert Everett in My Best Friend’s Wedding), we can cross our hearts and ascertain that queer characters have finally arrived in mainstream media.
However, portraying these characters in popular media comes with its baggage – it’s not enough to simply use such characters for the sake of adding entertainment value. What’s really important is to portray them correctly. Considering that the LGBT community is a marginalized section of society that faces enormous social stigma in many developing (also developed) countries, it is absolutely imperative that the media which serves as a channel across people of different beliefs and faiths does its best to push forward their interests, and represent them as they are . People who are entrusted with the job of creating queer characters for the screen shoulder a very heavy responsibility; to strike a balance between entertainment and truthfulness…
…At which, the larger section of them, fail miserably. Merely churning out a laughable queer character is not only irresponsible, but also, unfortunately, the bitter truth about mainstream media today. The LGBT community is given the treatment of an outcast group in our popular culture. So much so, that If we’re asked to imagine a homosexual individual, our minds lead us directly to one of the stereotypical stock images of queer characters we’ve seen in television serials and movies.
Massive generalisation and an overdose of stock homosexual characters have distorted our own sense of reality to the extent that we begin to subconsciously filter people around us through a lens that was created for us, and not by us.
Let us take the recent case of Tiger Shroff – his androgynous looks have made him appealing to both women and men, but for the very same reason, there are jokes being created over his sexuality.
We’ve perhaps been over fed the idea of a queer man as an effeminate character, which might be true of a certain group of these individuals, but not the whole lot of them.
Could you tell just by looking at Ricky Martin that he’s gay? For all I know, all my friends, including myself, regarded him as one from the community of (heterosexual) alpha-males! When the news of him being gay came about, most of girls I know reacted with a sigh, “But he looked so manly!” which just goes on to prove that there is no one prototype of a homosexual man. But if Ricky Martin was to be a character in a mainstream Bollywood flick, he would have been played by Abhishek Bachchan, perpetually shrieking and batting his eyelids. The lacuna between reality and representation, thus, is vast and unfilled.
What’s worse is that the damage done doesn’t end here. A graver aspect of such a demeaning representation is in the use of our language, of terms related to the queer community.
Katy Perry released a song in 2007, titled “Ur So Gay” with the chorus line going- “You’re so gay and you don’t even like boys…” The tone of the song is such that it employs the concept of being “gay”as a horrible insult, the label of an emasculate man. At this point, being gay stops dealing with the concept of a sexual preference altogether. It instead becomes a synonym for unmanliness where Homophobia is glorified and homophobic men are considered “real men”, and homosexuals, pitiable. In effect, the mainstream media has taken the simple case of a sexual orientation and preference, and made it something of a funny business.
It has conditioned us to look for signs of “gay behaviour”. What is gay behaviour but a media created term? By promoting myths about homosexuality, it has ostracised the community, so it cannot be assimilated within our own. One such embodiment of stereotypical queer characters is Rishi Kapoor playing the gay school principal in Student of the Year. If we were to prepare a checklist of seemingly gay characteristics, Rishi Kapoor’s act in the movie would tick off every single one of them. And that is not a good thing.
Moving on to the lesbians of the LGBT community, situations are graver. Quoting from the blog, Equal Writers, Feminism and Gender issues in Princeton University, “It’s still somewhat of a novelty to see lesbian characters in films and television shows, and when we do see lesbian characters, we see them as lesbian characters, not characters who happen to be lesbians.” That is to say, if gay men are portrayed in the mainstream channels for the purpose of amusement and laughter, lesbians are props for adding the sex appeal and glamour central to popular media. A lesbian movie sells because of the steamy and passionate love-making scenes in it, and what essentially happens in the process is utter objectification of these women as promiscuous sex-slaves.
In India, attempts have been made to portray Lesbianism explicitly on screen (read Deepa Mehta’s Fire), but they’ve been met with strong criticism of right-wing political parties and flak from conservative audiences. Thereon, the theme has been subtly explored in various mainstream movies by daring directors like Madhur Bhandarkar and Abhishek Chaubey, though the travails of a homosexual female are hardly explored; or even touched, for that matter.
Ours is a country that’s stuck neck-deep in a confusion of ideology. We don’t want to give up on our traditional belief system, yet we want to modernize and become open-minded to issues that challenge our values. God knows how that is supposed to be achieved, but for starters, we could begin by respecting our differences. Sample if you wake up one day to find the world order has changed, and it is not “normal” for a girl to have a crush on a boy anymore, or for men and women to be married. You’ll feel as if something as natural as your sexuality is being taken away from you. And who are people to govern your personal life anyway, isn’t it?
That’s exactly how people from the “other” community feel as well. If it’s hard for us to even imagine a situation like that, consider how difficult it must be for the queer community to live with a reality like that. How dreadful and offensive it must be for them to not even have a right to express their love and sexuality, just because it doesn’t fall in the proper “world order.”
Let’s give this a thought. Let’s not derive amusement from the media stereotyping of the queer community, because remember, one day you might wake up to find a ‘new normal’, and the odds might not be in your favour then. Let us respect every individual’s right to a life of their choice. Let people be more than just their gender. And let us, for once, stop making homosexuality a funny media business.
Stereotype breaking :
-Every gay person is not a “designer – type”: I’m talking Alexander The Great and Harvey Milk.
– Every lesbian female is not a promiscuous, drug addict with unstable relationships and career: Haven’t you seen Ellen DeGeneres rocking her prime-time show, and don’t you know she’s in a happy marriage?
– Every transgender is not a loud and awkward person: if your idea of a transgender is still Bobby Darling, you need to grow up.