COLUMN: I identify as queer — not tragedy

It is time for the queer and gender-nonconforming community to get the happy endings and positive representation they deserve.

Abigail Ruhman is a sophomore journalism major at MU. She is an opinion columnist who writes about student life, politics and social issues for The Maneater.

This column is part 10 of Abigail Ruhman’s “Twelve Gays of Christmas: The Sequel” series. Twelve Gays of Christmas is a 12-column series about a variety of LGBTQ topics. During the holidays, members of the LGBTQ community are more likely to experience depression. By informing readers of the issues facing the LGBTQ community, these columns are meant to support the community this holiday season. This year is the second year of this series and shows that even though it can seem like things are fine, there is still a lot of discrimination and challenges facing the LGTBQ community.

Media has an interesting impact on people’s lives. While everyone has different experiences, I have always found myself turning to books, movies and TV shows when I experience homophobia. It may not have been the best coping mechanism, but when I got shoved up against a locker in high school and grilled about my sexuality, I just wanted to see someone like me win. There is something therapeutic about seeing someone like you getting a happy ending that eases the memories of discrimination and hatred. The media has the opportunity to provide the representation that the queer and gender-nonconforming community needs. Fictional worlds and screens offer a new way to find those happy endings.

That’s why happy endings and positive representation are so important. Not only does it show a more dynamic experience of queerness and gender identity, but it also gives people the chance to see themselves in a situation that ends in their favor. The queer and gender-nonconforming community needs those happy endings, and that includes people in the community who belong to other marginalized groups.

There is a value in showing the hard parts of being queer and gender-nonconforming. It shows people outside of the community the struggles that the community faces and reminds people in the community that they are not the only one struggling. It’s important, but if that’s the only side of the community people see, then the media fails to offer queer and gender-nonconforming communities the space to escape.

The problem with media that works with sexuality and gender identity is that there is so much focus on the ostracization, death and disease that barely any focus lands on the characters growing through positive experiences. While there are problems with the film, “Love, Simon” showed a happy ending for a queer character while still addressing problems the community faces.

It is possible to offer a realistic and positive story about the community, and part of that comes from the focus of the media. “Love, Simon,” focused on Simon’s growth rather than the homophobia he faced. It didn’t ignore it, but it didn’t focus on it. When another character outed him, Simon called him out and then the plot showed how Simon grew into his happy ending.

A similar approach is taken in the lesser-known webcomic, “Check, Please.” The story recognizes the weight of coming out and the emotional labor of considering how others will react to someone’s sexuality. However, it is not the focus. The focus is on how the main character, Eric “Bitty” Bittle, deals with the hyper-masculine environment surrounding hockey. The comic recognizes the toxic masculinity associated with sports and addresses Bittle’s fear of coming out. The character has experience with homophobia, but that experience doesn’t act as his defining trait. His growth involves his responses to past discrimination, but it is not the driving plot point.

Camille Perri, an author of fiction that relates to sexuality and gender-identity, refers to happy endings in queer or gender-nonconforming storylines as an act of resistance. In an article she wrote for Electric Literature, she states, “in spite of what much LGBTQ media would have us believe, being queer doesn’t have to be a burden; it can be awesome. I highly recommend it.” Being queer or gender-nonconforming doesn’t mean that people are destined to be in a Shakespearan tragedy. Sexuality and gender identity are not indicative of how a person’s story has to go.

The stereotype of a queer tragedy leaves the community with fewer ways to escape. Media has the ability to give the community some form of representation that inspires hope. Positive representation doesn’t erase the history of homophobia and transphobia, but it does offer queer and gender-nonconforming individuals the chance to see themselves as the protagonist that wins. Discrimination doesn’t have to be ignored to accomplish a happy ending — it needs to stop being the main focus. Growth can come from more than pain, and it’s time that media proved that to the queer and gender-nonconforming community.

Edited by Bryce Kolk | bkolk@themaneater.com

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