From F.R.I.E.N.D.S to Modern Family : How Has On Screen Queer Representation Evolved?

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Posted By Oishee Roy
Ally, cis female
she/her

Artwork By Damini Mehta
bisexual, cis female
she/her

Media has been a powerful resource for showcasing the reality of the world and providing representation to people from across the globe. The representation of queer characters , in the world of media, specifically television has significantly evolved over the course of time.

From being stock characters just to instigate humor, queer representation now has a pivotal role in TV shows and also plays a significant part in the eyes of the audience as these characters can help people come out of closets and understand themselves better. TV shows can also sensitize the society about the struggles of the LGBTQ+ community which are often regarded as trivial or problematic. Representation is a good thing for the queer community, however, that representation should come without stereotypes and preconceived notions.

One of our earliest memories of Queer representation on television can be associated with the show ‘FRIENDS’ where we witness a lesbian couple, a transgender parent and other on and off queer characters. The fact that they were represented in the 90’s is a huge thing but still that representation does not send across a correct message and somehow manages to put them in bad light.

For instance, Ross’s ex wife Carol’s relationship wither her lesbian partner Susan is constantly used by Ross as an excuse to justify his inability to keep up a healthy relationship with his wife. It might have been written in a way to induce laughter but the message that comes across to the audience misrepresents the queer community as a tool for heterosexuals to defend their own flaws.

Chandler’s father too has been written in a way which puts him under the scrutiny of the audience for transitioning his sex and he is constantly blamed for the way Chandler is. No one cares about the fact that the person came out around the time when even using  words like gay or transgender would create uproar. Her transition may have been hard on Chandler but again the way it is used as a useless excuse to justify his behavior does not do justice to a character which was worth appreciation.

Therefore, representation of the LGBTQ+ community in an extremly popular show like FRIENDS can be considered problematic. However, since then we’ve had a lot of queer representation on tv shows across various genres.

One of the most significant representations can be seen in ‘Orange is the New Black’, where we get to see the inherent struggles of the queer community. Not only does the show represent women from various ethnicities but also puts across queer narratives from the perspective of individuals belonging to the spectrum rather than broadcasting the society’s opinion of the LGBTQ+ community. Be it the struggles of transitioning or being confused about one’s sexuality, the show gives a very raw insight into the lives of the people from the community

‘Modern Family’ has also garnered a lot of positive response for their gay characters Mitch and Cam. The highlight of the show is that their gay characters are not written just to generate humor but they have a good character development as we see them constantly evolving as individuals in their own relationship as well as in their respective relationships with the other characters.  However, sometimes the show also risks misrepresentation of the gay community by reinforcing stereotypes associated with them. For instance, ‘Jay’ is usually condescending towards his partner ‘Mitch’, on the account of him not being a “conventional man”. Both these guys in the relationship are also, at times, referred to as ‘women’, further establishing the notion of ‘femininity’ associated with gay men. Even though, more often than not, the show successfully tries to counter these stereotypes by the end of each episode, in many ways it still ends up reinforcing problematic notions associated with the queer community.

Recently ‘Brooklyn Nine Nine’ made it to the news for one of its characters who came out as Bisexual in the 5th season. The show already had a black gay police officer who came out in the 1970s. The representation is in no way stereotypical. Rather it dwells into the struggles of these two characters as they fight against the society and families to get their right to love.

Representation of Queer community matters for the very simple reason that they exist like every other apparently “normal” person in the society and television in the recent past has helped people accept it and gain an insight about it.


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2 comments

  1. I don’t agree with the take on Modern Family’s representation of the queer community. In no way does the show actually endorse Jay’s condescending attitude towards Mitchell, it just portrays the mindset of men of Jay’s generation towards homosexuality. If anything else, it has fought Jay’s atttide towards the subject by showing him become more open minded and accepting towards Mitchell.
    Also, Cam is a football coach, loves sports and has many “masculine” qualities, so I don’t think they are misrepresenting him by associating him as a “woman”/ “feminine”. Character traits are gender neutral.

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