The media’s dangerous influence on homosexual youth
There’s pressure from society for everyone to play a specific role and to fit perfectly into a box based off of their gender and sexual orientation. For straight males, they are expected to embody “masculine” traits showing very little to no signs of femininity. For a gay male, the expectation is completely different due their sexaul orentation. Since gay males are sexually and romantically attracted to other males, this somehow makes them automatically “feminine” in the eyes of society. This perception and assumption is strictly based off of their sexaul orientation , taking no consideration of their personality or overall gender identity. I have a friend from home who came out as gay in 2015. He tried to fit into the idea of what being a gay males is like by conforming to the stereotypes that were expected of him. These expectations were provided to him though media and other societal influences.
Franks Coming Out Story
I remember when my best friend from high school, Frank, came out as gay. His coming out of the closet came with new traits I have never known before. It started with the change of his voice from a deep tone to a higher pitch, his newfound love of glitter and his sudden obsession with pop music and Lady Gaga. Straight girls at our school wanted him to be their GBF, gossip about boys with him, and have him help them pick out their outfits, since everyone knows, gays have the best taste in fashion! Although I was so proud of my friend for finally embracing his sexaulity and freeing himself from the lie he was living by pretending to be straight, I couldn’t help but to question his new found personality. The Frank I knew prior to his coming out, hated gossip, enjoyed watching football and couldn’t come up with a matching outfit no matter how hard he tried. It was like as if his coming out had caused him to transform completely and embody this kind of femininity that I have never seen in him before. It wasn’t until Frank got to college that he realized that his sexual orientation has nothing to do with his gender identity. Despite being gay, he didn’t fit the flamboyant and feminine stereotypes that was expected by him. Frank liked typically more masculine thing and naturally has more masculine energy and personality traits. Frank later expressed to me that the reason he changed is because he felt in order to be accepted as gay, he had to express more feminine traits, although it was inauthentic to him. My friend sacrificed his authenticity because he was taught to believe that his sexual orientation influenced how he is able to express his gender and masculinity. When in reality, sexual orientation has nothing to do with gender identity or masculinity at all.
The story of Frank out point out two thing;
- Somewhere , somehow, Frank got a clear idea of what it means to be gay and for some reason felt that being gay meant that he automatically had to express more feminine traits, making it important to examine where these stereotypes stem from.
- Gender identity and sexual orientation have absolutely no correlation, so as a society we need to stop acting like it does.
Media’s Role in Stereotyping Homosexuality
Just how many feminist scholars have investigated in the ways that media have shaped a female viewers gender identity, the same can be done when examining how media has affected gay gender identity. For the first few decades of television, the existence of homesexulaity was virtualy denied by the media. The media was often dominated by ideas heteronormativity, displaying most characters as straight and playing out traditional gender roles. It wasn’t until around the 90’s that gays and lesbian character became more prevalent in television media. In most cases, as seen in shows like Will and Grace, the gay characters were upscale, white and flamboyant. Making it so that viewers accisiote gay identities, with these traits. A perfect example of this is Jack from Will and Grace, who embodies the “flamboyantly gay” and is a self proclaimed actor and dancer. Although, having shows with queer characters is a step in the right direction by giving the gay community representation in media, there still is a lack of diversity of lgbt identities within media. We often see the same type of gay characters over and over again which contributed to negative social attitudes and beliefs within the gay community itself . It created harmful stereotypes and ideas about what it means to be gay in heteronormative society. When there is a lack of diverse queer roles it creates a misleading idea of what it means to be apart of the LGBT community, These roles are often limited to being white, upper to middle class and cis- gender ,causing anyone who experiences otherwise feels as if they experience is not valid within the gay community. This kind of limited representation creates a space for a more homonormative environment where people are marginalized for not fitting within those stereotypes. With this explanation, I feel this is why my friend changed his personality to be seen as more gay, because there is the belief that in order to be accepted in the lgbtq community, you have to play the role that was set up for you by society. Within recent years there has been an increase in the representation of gays of color and transgenders within the media, but this representation is usually unfortunately based off of negative stereotypes .
Another harmful trend we see in media is how many of the gay and lesbian characters are either the joke, the victim or the plot twist and that’s about it. Homosexual characters aren’t given complex roles. Their entire contribution to the plot revolves around being gay. The straight male in the show might get a complicated and meaningful role in the storyline, while the homesexual characters’role will revolve around the struggle of realizing he is gay and then coming out as gay. This teaches gay young adults, like my friend Frank, that there is nothing interesting about them accept their coming out story and the fact that they are gay. This it is dangerous because it can cause people to put too much emphasis on the importance of their sexual identity and undermining their other talents and things that make them unique and interesting.
Masculinity doesn’t always equate to being Straight
Since society associates masculinity with being straight, Frank felt the need to artificially act more feminine in order to communicate he was gay openly. This brings up an important question within our society; why do we correlate masculinity with straightness? Why to we assume just because a male is masculine he must be straight and if he is feminine he must be gay? Gender expression and sexaul orentation have nothing to do with each other. In fact, I if more “feminine traits were valued at the same level as “masculine” trait ,we would see more straight males embracing their artistic abilities and expressing their emotions in a healthy way along with other things that would typically get them labeled as “gay”. This is why heteronormativity is dangerous. It makes it so that we assume that people are straight or Cis-gender ,unless they are going out of their way to express it otherwise, and ostracizes people who don’t fit does societal norms.
Gender Identity is Complicated!
At the end of the day, our society only serves those who perfectly fit into the socially constructed box of what is means to be male or female or what is means to be straight or apart of the LGBT community. Humans are complex creatures who very rarely completely embody their stereotypes. People are perfectly capable of exhibiting both feminine and masculine traits and fluidly in expression of personality and sexuality. Maybe it’s time to throw everything we thought we knew about gender expression and sexuality and allow people to simply themselves.