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Male Homosexuality Found in Movies and Media

Homosexuality is a term used to describe same sex attraction or relationships between two people of the same sex. The term “gay” is representative of attraction between two men. Throughout history, being gay has been considered to be an abnormality in society.[1] Although Western culture considers itself to be representative of all cultures and backgrounds, the LGBTQ community often lacks in portrayal in the media and in movies and television. The portrayal the queer community has received in the past has often been cruel and homophobic with the gay characters being given the role of the brunt of many jokes.[2] Western culture is improving in terms of providing this demonstration of gay culture, however the images shown of these individuals are still not always positive. Television and movies are incredibly influential and North Americans often perceive changes in society through the lenses they are presented with by these medias. [1] This makes it difficult for creators of new series and movies to make shows that are engaging but also controversial, for fear of losing their audiences due to differing values and beliefs.[2] The children and youth of today are constantly surrounded by media and entertainment and the majority of these values get engrained into their every day lives. Many of these children look to these platforms for role models especially when they do not have adequate representation in their community. This could present a difficulty in terms of children growing up as homosexual and perpetuating stereotypes they have been shown their whole lives, or being part of the damaging community that has created this for others in the gay community. The gay representation that is received in the media is generally white gay males, which leaves individuals of other ethnicities without many positive role models.

Stereotypical Gay Male Representation

Westernized society and much of the rest of the world has constructed stereotypes regarding homosexuals. Four in particular that are very evident in regards to gay males are the sissy stereotype, the macho stereotype, the hyper sexualized archetype and the violent stereotype.

There are often four stages of representation in mass media: non-representation, ridicule, regulation, and respect. [3] Firstly, non-representation is the complete disregard or mistreatment of the social group in relation to mass forms of media. This makes it likelier for the group to be devalued and mistreated in all of society.[3] The next category, ridicule, is the representation but only by making the group the brunt of jokes or by demonstrating negative stereotypes. This lowers the groups self esteem, but makes it difficult for them to be upset because they are finally receiving recognition through media.[3] Regulation is when the social group is represented through media but only within the constraints of society’s norms. Finally, the stage of respect is when the members of the group are included in television and movies in everyday roles with negative and positive interactions and character traits.[3]

The "Sissy" Stereotype

Throughout the first three stages, stereotypes are highly present in the portrayal of homosexual characters. The “sissy” stereotype presents character traits of a feminine-like male who is flamboyant, exaggerated and often delicate.[2] An example of this is the gay character Cameron in the television series "Modern Family". Additionally, Eric Stonestreet, the actor that plays Cameron is actually a straight male in real life who cannot relate to the real emotions gay males are faced with in society. This reaffirms the idea that the television show has created a one dimensional character just to show representation of gay culture. The “sissy” archetype is the least threatening representation of homosexuality because it represents no depth to the character and it demonstrates a middle ground between masculine and feminine.[2] Often the characters presented through this stereotype have their homosexuality as their biggest aspect of their personality.

The "Macho" Stereotype

Another stereotype often presented in movies and television is the “macho” or masculine gay male. This stereotype demonstrates characters who appear to be heterosexual and have all masculine characteristics while being gay. This may be easier to accept throughout society because it is the closest depiction to how heterosexual males act.[1] An example of this are the characters displayed in the movie “Brokeback Mountain”. In this movie, two cowboys who appear to be heterosexual are forced to stay in a camp together alone and eventually discover their attraction to one another. This movie received mixed reviews as it offended many people who were not supportive of gay culture at the time. A cowboy, who is the epitome of a macho heteronormative male, was in fact gay and many individuals could not fathom this idea.[4] Although the movie itself was a step in the right direction for homosexual representation in mass media, it also received negative reviews throughout queer communities. Individuals commented on how it was deemed a “gay movie”, however the characters in the movie were non-threatening and uncontroversial because they were straight-acting and they could barely come to terms with the idea of being gay. [2]

Hyper-sexualized Stereotype

A stereotype becoming more prominent in movies and television is the hyper-sexualized view of homosexual males. In this representation, gay characters are defined simply by their sexual orientation and lack character development.[2] The hyper-sexualized view of homosexuals presents these individuals in an erotic way. The media shows them constantly desiring sex with no positive future ahead of them or real aspirations.[1] Often, this will be shown through males dressed in drag or through strictly physical relationships rather than emotional or romantic relationships. Since North American culture is heavily repressed in terms of sexual representation, nudity and promiscuity are seen as negative aspects. And since gay people are not fully accepted in Western society, they are presented through the negative lens that society already has. The idea of gay sex is not something heterosexual individuals are familiar with and are therefore threatened by this.

Violent Stereotype

Finally, the violent stereotype depicts the character that has repressed their feelings of rejection from society due to their homosexuality, and unleashes it in a violent way towards others.[1] In one dimensional characters, this can come off as a homosexual who is simply violent without reason, which perpetuates the idea that gay people cannot be trusted and should not be assimilated into society. If there is further character development, the audience can see that there is hurt behind the violence. An example of this character is Adam Groff in Netflix's show “Sex Education”. He is constantly violent towards the openly gay male in the school, and later we find out it is because he is jealous of his open homosexuality.

Generally, these depictions of violent gay males end in tragedy.[1] There are not many examples of these individuals healing and being accepted by their peers, therefore a very pessimistic is all that the audience perceives. This unfortunately does not leave the youth of today with many good role models to look up to. These stereotypes perpetuate the adoption of these views and values into every day society.[5] The youth that has absorbed mass media with these messages will subconsciously hold these beliefs about homosexuals. If they discover themselves as homosexuals, then they will hold on to these ideas about the culture they are living in and may begin to absorb these same values into their own personalities.

Improved Portrayal in Television and Movies

Although Western culture is still learning how to fully accept homosexual individuals in society, mass media has made large improvements in terms of representation. Shows such as Queer Eye, Ru Paul’s Drag Race, Big Mouth and Sex Education all demonstrate positive views of gay males living every day lives while being proud of their sexuality. They present audiences with ideas that homosexual men can be brave, funny, friendly, compassionate, emotional and reliable.[5] These portrayals of gay men help to ensure they are incorporated into mass media as regular characters without stereotypical representation. These depictions of openly gay males also make it likelier that the youth of today will own and be proud of their sexuality.

It is important to note that stereotypes can be positive or negative, but regardless can still work to group homosexual people into one category without diversification. Positive stereotypes, like negative ones, can create false expectations and make it difficult for individuals to find their diversity.[5]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Lim, Rudoph (February 2016). "The Depiction of Homosexuality in American Movies". Humaniora. 28: 59–68.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 "Queer Representation in Film and Television". Media Smarts. Retrieved November 29, 2019.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Lucas, J. & Raley, A. (2008). "Stereotype or Success?". Journal of Homosexuality: 19–38.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  4. Piontek, Thomas (June 2012). "Tears for Queers: Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain, Hollywood, and American Attitudes toward Homosexuality". The Journal of American Culture: 123–134.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 McLaughlin, B. & Rodriguez, N. S. (November 2016). "Identifying With a Stereotype: The Divergent Effects of Exposure to Homosexual Television Characters". Journal of Homosexuality. 64: 1196–1213.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)