A thought provoking guest post from the lovely Corissa at Gender Neutral Parenting x
The Problem with Romantic Diversity in Children’s Media
Okay, so it’s more like the problemS. I’ve categorized them into 8 major areas.
The first issue is that companies try to please everyone (so they can get everyone’s money). Sure there is a large community of LGBTQ+Ally parents and kids, but the other major children’s media consumer group? “Conservative” Christians. This shows the major split in views on the topis of depicting gender and romantic diversity. One side claims sexual orientation has no place in children’s media (ignoring that every crush, kiss, and “happily ever after” depicts heterosexuality), that “exposing” children to homosexuality will somehow turn children gay, or that the depiction would go against their beliefs. While the other side, the fast growing LGBTQ+Ally community, is demanding recognition and representation.
Major children’s media companies refuse to take a stand or pick a side, knowing if they do, there will be a huge backlash from one fan base or the other. Which of course would hurt their profits. Make no mistake, that is what companies are out to do, make money. So, instead, they try to walk the line, straddle the fence, please everyone. Unfortunately this means keeping everything very heteronormative since that is what is least likely to cause waves. Besides, the LGBTQ community is used to being underrepresented. Companies then occasionally “throw a bone” to those viewers via some obscure character or situation that can fly under the radar with their conservative fans. This is an attempt to pacify those calling for change and to be seen as “progressive”.
If the audience, even the adults, have no idea the characters are gay, then what’s the point?
2) Obscure References
Some children’s characters *may* have been based on famous LGBT people. Does that really classify them as “gay”? An animated character whose appearance and personality is based on a real person is nothing new. That person’s sexual orientation doesn’t aromatically transfer to the character (even if an LGBTQ person is voicing them). Plus, there is no way one would know who the character is even based on unless they were already familiar with them or the artists specifically stated it. While it may be a (very) small shout out to the LGBTQ community, on the rare occasion that this takes place, it is ultimately insignificant in normalizing romantic diversity.
3) Stereotypes, stereotypes, stereotypes!
Many characters are classified (suspected) as gay based solely on stereotypes, from the “coded gay” to the “fop” to those deemed “too feminine” (or masculine) to be straight. Reinforcing stereotypes helps no one, least of all those of us fighting to be seen as more than our gender or sexual orientation. The number one thing I DON’T want to teach my children about homosexuals is how to identify them based on stereotypes.
4) Unsupported Interpretations
There always seems to be a group of viewers ready to be offended by children’s media. Conservative groups tend to make a big fuss when they feel characters were somehow meant to be covertly gay. It happened with The Lion King, Brave, Lilo & Stitch, and now with Frozen (among many others). The main problem here being there is no real evidence any of these characters were meant to be gay. It is unsupported over reaction by a minority of viewers. Since when have obscure interpretations by *some* people ever made anything true?
5) Close male friends *must* be gay.
From Bert and Ernie to Timone and Pumbaa, if two male characters are close friends, they must be gay, right? Wrong! And harmful! Labeling every close male (but not female!) friendship as homosexuality is extremely dangerous thinking to teach children. Boys need close friendships just as much as girls do. By saying male friendships are gay, we encourage that labeling and taunting and bullying among our children. Boys already fear being called gay to the point they sacrifice having desperately needed close companions. Do we really want to add to that by saying EVERY male coupling must be gay!?!
The other problem in this scenario is that we are saying homosexual relationships and heterosexual relationships have different rules, show affection in different ways, and are up to outside interpretation. Pushing romance on all male-male relationships in media is unfair because actual male-male romantic relationship, being portrayed in the same way as male-female romantic relationship, are then labeled as extreme or inappropriate. Equality is what we’re shooting for here.
6) Confusing Gender and Sexual Orientation
Along with stereotyping, this is the biggest “gay character” mistake. Characters are often seen cross-dressing in children’s media. Unfortunately this is usually added as comedy, because, you know, a boy in a dress or make-up is just freaking hilarious. [Roll eyes.] Even on the rare case that it is legitimate self expression, ones gender expression, “cross dressing”, or otherwise partaking in crossing gender boundaries is about GENDER, not sexual orientation.
7) Uninterested =/= Homosexual
Many people seem to think that simply not showing romantic interest in anyone means that a character is homosexual. There are so many characters in children’s media that show no romantic interest (yet somehow all of them are not accused of being gay). And why is that? Because it is children’s media! For one, romantic relationships are not important to prepubescent children. For two, romantic interest doesn’t matter unless it furthers the story line. Life does not revolve around romantic interest, especially for children!
8) Openly Mocking Homosexuality
Many members of the LGBT community see any depiction of nonheteronormativity as progression. As much as I would love to celebrate the visibility of homosexuality, unfortunately I cannot be happy about degrading it. The majority of so called gay characters are villains. Their aspects of homosexuality, gender diversity, or (gasp) feminine behavior adds to the viewers’ dislike of them. It is seen as a negative quality reserved for the representation of evil. Homosexual = evil. Great.
The other way homosexuality is openly mocked is by the characters partaking in the behavior deemed “gay”: aliens who don’t know the “rules”, “dirty” animals, (animated) inanimate objects. Once you eliminate all the stereotypes, uninterested characters, and gender-benders, Disney’s ONLY gay couple is a gargoyle and a goat (Hunch Back of Notre Dam 2). O.o If that isn’t openly mocking homosexuality, I don’t know what is. (Not to mention the gargoyle is only half a being with no assumed genitals so there is no fear they can ever consummate the relationship, my guess as to how their relationship managed to even make it into the movie.)
So what is *the* problem with romantic diversity in children’s media? It’s mostly non-existent. Sure, there are a few hint hint, wink, nudge moments implying romantic diversity, but mainstream media is no wear near taking the leap to actually be inclusive. They are moving too slow and it’s not good enough. At a time when we are finally tipping the scale to recognize the legitimacy and rights of LGBTQ people (in the US), our children need media that represents the diversity of the world they are growing up in. This is why I am taking the leap to create a children’s animated movie depicting REAL and undeniable diversity in sexual orientation, gender identity, race, ability, age, and social/economic status.
Introducing “A Fiery Tale”. It’s a story about a young prince who runs away from his responsibility to face a fire breathing dragon threatening his kingdom. He soon learns that life is much harder outside of the castle gates. Luckily, a tough old woman agrees to take him in and teach him how to live on his own. Along his journey, the prince makes friends, falls in love, becomes aware of his privileges, and eventually decides for himself to face the dragon.
Oh, and he happens to be gay. The cast also includes a gender variant youth, a matriarch, a one legged woman, and further diversity in age, race, and appearance. You can follow the progress of the project on Facebook and Twitter. Learn more about how you can help here: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/a-fiery-tale/x/7338232?show_todos=true
Corissa Baur Howington is the founder and manager of the Gender Neutral Parenting Facebook page. She has a passion for social justice, the arts, and family.