The New Normalcy: Do We Need More TV Shows To Try To End Heteronormativity?

the new normalcy: heteronormativity on television

Growing up, I had several friends who were gay or bisexual, as well as a couple who considered themselves transgender. I myself am not straight. Non-heterosexuality to me and most of the people I know is completely normal in day-to-day life, but none of us would fool ourselves into believing that heteronormativity isn’t still going strong all over television. So how important is it that our entertainment stops making heterosexuality the absolute norm and starts being inclusive in an all-around manner?

When it comes to homophobia, television is no longer a place where likable characters can be outright prejudiced (thank goodness). You won’t hear the main character of a show yelling “faggot!” unless there will be some negative consequences later or it’s some sad attempt at fitting in (which, again, will result in negative consequences later on). You won’t see the protagonists actually dislike gays unless that is seen as a major character flaw (like in real life). But the lack of obviousness and brazen anti-gay depictions doesn’t mean the prejudice doesn’t exist; instead, they’re just more sly about them.

For example, in Friends, it was a highly amusing plot point that Chandler’s father was transgender and that growing up, he did a lot of “girly” things, such as learning how to expertly pluck eyebrows. While it’s great that a main character with non-cisgender parents was shown to be a mostly well-adjusted adult, it would have been much more impressive if it wasn’t seen as a punchline. After all, LGBTQ community has been seen as a punchline at the end cheap, lazy jokes for entirely too long.

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    • mm

      I love your article, and I love Pretty Little Liars. You are not alone. I’m in my 20s, it’s my darkest secret.

    • Rachael

      I think that you’re hitting on a totally legit trend (it amazes me that it was such a big deal when Cam and Mitch finally kissed on Modern Family last season). That being said, you’re also ignoring some shows that show seriously evolving attitudes/portrayals of non-straight individuals. The character of Kalinda on The Good Wife is openly bisexual, and regularly has relationships with both men and women, and they’re all pretty sexually explicit. On the TV show Greek, the character of Calvin’s sexuality (after the first season) was dealt with frankly — he had relationships just like all the straight characters, they made out, they broke up, etc. And finally on Happy Endings, the character of Max is a slovenly pig, but his love life is given as much credence as anyone else’s and his failure to find a long term relationship is the result of the character much more than his sexuality. I think that non-straight characters for the new generation are quickly becoming much more normalized. Friends was a pretty progressive sitcom when it aired 15 years ago — a lesbian wedding, transgendered parents, what have you — but looks darn right prejudiced now (all the gay panic jokes about Joey and Chandler, the transgendered parent…). It’s heirs apparent are shows like Happy Endings, New Girl and How I Met Your Mother. Although only one of those shows has a gay character as a lead, New Girl features a recurring lesbian character who has frank discussions of her sexuality and an open, clearly sexual relationship with her girlfriend. How I Met Your Mother features a recurring gay couple, and the sexuality is never played for laughs. Heteronormativity is dying in many many ways.

    • adamfox

      Torchwood deals with several LGBT themes, specifically bisexuality. Each of the main characters in Torchwood has same-sex encounters at some point in the first season. Series creator Russell T. Davies has said that he hopes to defy audience expectations of monosexual characters:

      I’m also a big fan of british comedy Peepshow. Very early in the shows run both male leads were revealed to have homosexual crushes/experiences. From there on, sexuality is up for grabs.

      I’ll second Friends as a hugely progressive show but agree that straight up male homosexuality is never really touched on (but Carol and Susan were amazingly portrayed, with genuine love, parenting and Ross’s long journey of acceptance thrown in). I remember the jokes surrounding his father as being either Chandler being still uncomfortable and unable to accept her cos of his own hangups, or his father being overly flamboyant to show his ability to poke fun at himself and his son.

    • Meppy

      I agree, particularly regarding transgendered people being a punchline. My dad came out as trans a few years ago and had the surgery last February, and she’s having a lot of trouble feeling good about herself. She lives a small town with small-minded people, and there’s no way *I’m* going to be able to change their views on her, but mainstream TV certainly has a better shot. My dad is not a joke or a punch line or a caricature; she’s a sensitive, beautiful woman who needs good role models and a supportive culture.