Queer Heroes for Kids
In the past few years more and more TV shows have included gay characters, which is a very good thing. Game of Thrones, True Blood, Glee, Modern Family, Smash, Pretty Little Liars, American Horror Story, and many others. But of all those shows, the only one most kids are allowed to watch is Glee.
But if you want to give kids positive role models and the certainty that your feelings and that part of your identity are normal well represented and accepted in our society you’ll need more than just Glee. From a kid’s point of view there’s actually a severe lack of queer characters in the shows and films they get to see. All the Disney princesses marry princes. Pixar movies have married people, moms and dads, all over the place. Even the robots are matched up in obviously opposite-gender pairs. All the preteen sitcoms have girls chasing after boys and vice versa. If there is a character who has stereotypically "gay" mannerisms, that character is used for a laugh and not a lot else.
Those cartoons that actually should have gay characters have been effectively "straight-washed." The popular comic X-Men has had gay characters for quite a while, but when it’s adapted to television, none of the characters is anything but heterosexual. When Mystique and Destiny are included, they are no longer long-term lovers but "best friends." Northstar isn’t portrayed as gay, even though he was one of the first out LGBT characters in American comics.
Even the cartoons brought over from Japan and marketed to children have been "straight-washed" for Western audiences. In Dragon Ball any mention of the orientation of the gay character, General Blue, is censored. And Sailor Moon, which has no less than seven queer characters in the original version, has none in Western version. Some characters’ genders have actually been changed, and the lesbian couples are now "cousins," an old classic. The only LGBT character you could find that made it through was a minor character in Dragon Ball Z.
Many queer adults know what it was like to grow up with no media representation. It created feelings of isolation. It reinforced the notion that they were "other." And many thought that because they weren’t mentioned, they must have been something secret, something bad. Nowadays kids are coming out younger and younger. It’s increasingly common for them to come out at 12 or 13 years old. And what does TV present them? Only Glee.
But maybe that’s about to change. ParaNorman (trailer below) is making a first step at least. It’s a stop-action movie with witches and zombies — all things my kids love. The movie is about how no one is totally what they appear to be….
Spoiler ahead… the chubby, silly kid is the bravest and most courageous of the bunch; the zombies aren’t bad guys; and the big, muscled jock, Mitch, is gay. That character’s orientation is only mentioned at the end of the movie, almost in passing. One of the female characters asks Mitch if he’d like to go to the movies with her, and Mitch says, "Sure." He then adds that he thinks she’d love his boyfriend. The girl looks disappointed, and the movie moves on to other things.
To some people this may not seem like a big deal, but it is. Here’s this character, who is basically the stereotypical jock, but in this movie, this kid’s movie, he’s also gay. It isn’t presented with a "very special episode" vibe. It isn’t something hidden. It isn’t something Mitch is in turmoil about. It just is.
While stories of coming out and dealing with bullying are important for kids to see, they are not the only stories for LGBT characters. ParaNorman is a movie about a group of kids, and one of those kids just happens to be gay. I would love to see youth-oriented television and movies follow this example and expand upon it. Imagine what it would have meant to gay adults (who were all once gay kids) to have had a gay character on Saved by the Bell, Facts of Life, or He-Man, a gay character who was just one of the gang and a regular part of the story. Why can’t iCarly or Drake & Josh have a gay kid in the mix? I think they should, because visibility matters.
And of course conservatives in America are already jumping on it because, as Towleroad put it, the makers of the film dared to make the gay character a normal guy, not a twisted, pathological villain or eccentric outsider.
(via Gay Voices)