In the least ignorant way that a 23-year-old, college junior can say this, sometimes I am surprised when I have never thought about something. When someone asks me what a kosher diet entails and I have no idea, I’m embarrassed, but I’m also surprised. Because I’ve never thought about it. Like the first time someone asks you your blood type or your parents’ birth years or calls you a faggot in a dark alley, there are situations that simply catch you off guard.
If you’re queer, you may have noticed there aren’t many of us in the media. If you’re not queer, you may not have noticed this. You need only look as far as the controversy surrounding LeFou’s portrayal in the 2017 remake of “Beauty and the Beast” to understand that when gay people are in the music or movies we patronize, everyone notices. Queer representation in popular media is below 20 percent, and it’s getting worse, according to the 2016 GLAAD Studio Responsibility Index.
Generally, if queer people are in the media, they’re funny —and if they’re not funny,they’re usually really evil. Gays are funny in the media for the same reason pills have enteric coatings. Humor, beauty, or a cutting sense of wit frequently protect fragile ideas of gender and sexuality.
The first time I listened to the band PWR BTTM, I was taken off guard. I guess part of it was that a straight white dude told me about it. How queer could it be if he liked it? I listened to “I Wanna Boi” and laughed out loud. The song, pulled from the queer punk band’s album “Ugly Cherries”, touts the lyrics “I wanna boy who doesn’t like to go out shopping/ I want a boy who thinks it sexy when my lipstick bleeds”. Unclear how to pigeonhole yourself in socially constructed gender roles and unsure how to attract a partner when you don’t? Hey, that’s me you’re talking about!
I listened to “West Texas” and remembered the first gay wedding I attended. When I started crying uncontrollably as the two said their vows, I was just as surprised as my boyfriend’s mom sitting in the pew next to me. I didn’t even know the couple—I was there as my boyfriend’s date. But I felt a feeling I had never felt before. It was my longing PWR BTTM was singing about when they wrote “The stars above me are the same ones above you/ I’ve been tryna play it cool but I still love you”. What I was witnessing wasn’t a relatable situation, it was my culture playing out before me.
If this makes no sense to you, you’re probably straight, white or a man. And if you just got upset that I qualified you like that, you’re part of the problem. Because Taylor Swift doesn’t have to qualify her music as “straight white girl pop”.
If you’re still confused, the lack of queer people in the media is an issue. It’s not as simple as saying “What if you never saw a white person represented as a good guy?” or “What if you never saw a man and a woman kiss in a movie ever again?” because that’s never going to happen and the issue is much more complex than that.
When you hear a love song without pronouns —even if you’re a gay person —you assume that the speaker is singing to someone of the opposite gender. I do it. If you hear a woman singing a love song to another woman, you assume she’s bisexual. If you hear a man singing a love song to another man, you’re listening to Frank Ocean.
I was born in 1993. If you were born anywhere near that year you are probably familiar with this manipulative rhetoric. Let me clarify something for you: queer, black or white culture is not alternative culture. That’s not how culture works.
Lots of people aren’t upset about the lack of gay representation because they don’t identify with gay culture and for good reason. Gays get beat up. Gays get slut shamed. Gays lose their jobs and their credibility and, often, their lives. If you’re upset that artists—such as theatre artists—are pushing ‘alternative’ agendas, perhaps it will surprise you to know that opposition is enabled by contrast. When queers are finally represented and you get flak for not liking that, it’s not because there’s double standard. It’s because you’re being oppressive.
If your way of life is one untarnished with adjectives, you owe the world some gratitude. To be a person with few qualifiers is a privilege.
If you aren’t, for God’s sake preorder PWR BTTM’s new record ‘Pageant’. Sunday, March 12 will go down in my diary with a lot of ugly crying.