Bil Browning

TV and the GLBT World

Filed By Bil Browning | March 16, 2006 12:01 AM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Transgender & Intersex

I don't watch a lot of TV, but I do enjoy the Home & Garden Channel, along with fashion shows, like What Not to Wear and How Do I Look? I've noticed lately that these channels are bringing the GLBT world to the TV audiences. These are not stereotypical portrayals - they show real people. The Home & Garden Channel has been showing us same-sex couples searching for new homes on "House Hunters". "Trading Spaces" has been featuring same-sex couples for the past few years. What I like about it, is they do this all very matter-of-factly. They are showing gay and lesbian couples in real-life situations, living and dealing with life just like their heterosexual counterparts.

This week while watching "How Do I Look", I saw 2 shows that really surprised me. This show is a fashion intervention. Someone is chosen because they don't dress well and need a makeover. Two friends or relatives, along with a stylist, are brought on to show their ill-dressed freind how badly he or she dresses. They go through their closet and throw out the old "rags". Then the friends and stylist each select three outfits and the victim gets to select one of the three sets. Fionnola Hughes, a former soap-star, is the host. Well, the other night a gay young man was on. I thought that was rather cool. But tonight was more surprising! I turned on the show, and saw a lovely 6-foot-tall young woman who was going through a makeover. Her mother and sister didn't like the baggy t-shirts and sweatpants she wore. As I watched I realized that Kendra was transgendered. They never actually used the word, but Fionnola and Kendra's sister kept alluding to wanting to help Kendra realize her feminine potential. It was not done in a condescending manner either. As I said before, it was all matter-of-fact.

I am pleased that these shows are featuring real-life people in real-life situations. It shows that GLBT people are beginning to be accepted more and more. Of course this is Hollywood, but it's a start. And as the viewing audience watches these shows and sees gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered persons living normal, every-day lives, maybe they will become more accepting. I certainly hope so.

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Should we be trying to "normalize" gays and lesbians? My hope is that we teach people to be more tolerant of people that are different than they. I can't stand the idea that we normalize" the GLBT community to fit into an intolerant society. Diesel dykes and "sissy boys" will never be "normalized." My hope is that people learn that diversity isn't a threat. We have a culture that is unique and I don't want to have to lose that to "fit in."

As far as the trans-woman, I'm jealous. Having a supportive family is something I wish I had. Not having that makes every trial just a little bit harder. She's a lucky woman.

Thanks for your post,

This is a rare conversation (between Marti and Annette) that I literally can't decide who I agree most with. It's the whole "Gay Pride Parade" debate we've all heard for the last few years: Are they good for us or bad for us? Does it help desensitize the straights who sit at home and watch news coverage of drag queens and "bois" dancing down the street in the underwear, or does it make them more adamant in their determination to deny our rights because we are not "normal?"

Is it a good thing that gay men and women are moving to Fishers, going to church, joining the PTA and living just like straight couples, or are we supposed to be embracing and celebrating the things that make us different from straight society?

I sometimes think that the gay community as a whole is moving in two different directions here; some of us want suburbia while others don't want anything to do with being assimilated into middle-America. And maybe that's one other reason that our push for equality isn't very organized or ubiquitously embraced -- on some levels, the collective "we" are expecting different end-results and this hasn't been reconciled. Maybe?

I don't know. But conversatoins like this one between Marti and Annette, where to GLBT people can look at the same media and have such clearly different opinions on its message (or value) make me wonder.

I think the answer perhaps lies somewhere in the middle? To Marti's point, I'm not sure tolerance can be "taught", but it can be changed. I think that if the gays that are more "normalized" spend time around straights and are open about their sexuality, then the straight folks can look at them and say: "they're not so bad, they're not like we expected at all". Then the wheels start turning about the whole GLBT community and baby steps of tolerance are taking place. If those same gays expose their friends to "sissy bois" and "diesel dykes" then those perceptions can be broken down too. If nothing else, out of respect for their "normalized" gay friends.

I have a friend at a law firm who loves "Queer Eye For The Straight Guy" and I used to flinch and tell her that it promoted every gay male stereotype out there. She would then tell me how some of the attorneys would watch and enjoy it and how it changed some of their perceptions. Shows like that which are popular even in the mainstream all of a sudden make us look more human and tangible and not some "foreign concept". Keep in mind that if you travel to small towns or rural areas ANYWHERE in the country (not just Indiana) you will run into MANY people who have never been around (an openly) gay person in their life.

Bottom line for me is to be yourself whoever or however you are, otherwise tolerance can never be changed.

This has been a debate with every ethnic group and even the deaf community for years! There are people who believe that the deaf community should attempt to learn to speak. Then there are militants who promote deaf society and don't want their children learning to speak at all. Any community outside of the mainstream (white Anglo-Saxon Protestant) has these struggles. Where do we fit in? I'm certainly a fish out of water here in Indy. I'm a Liberal, in-your-face New York Jew with an accent and a sense of humor. Believe me, it's not taken well by some people here. Of course that doesn't compare to the struggle the GLBT community has had. The point I am trying to make, though, is close to what Kevin was saying. When people get to know you, even if you're different you are not so scary any more.

As far as the gay community moving in two different directions, I don't think that's so bad. I can't believe that everyone should live the same way. The bottom line is that GLBTs should be free to choose where and how they want to live without fear or condemnation. That's what I want for my son.

When we lived in Italy, my husband's commanding officer had a statement he used to make to the newcomers regarding the Neopolitans - he said "We're not better than them, just different". Amen.

I've often thought about the stereotypes on tv. Back in the 70's "America" (meaning white, stuffy, gotta fit in the box type people) weren't too hip on the whole idea of racial integration. What was on tv then? Sanford & Son and The Jeffersons.

Did either of those shows really paint an accurate picture of black america? The white people probably thought so since they caricatured every single black stereotype. Later we found a broad range of characters show up on our screens. The racial divide still has a long road to go in this country (and when I look at our struggle through this paradigm, it depresses me, but that is a topic for another time). However, I think great strides were made by wading into the subject by "making fun" of the stereotype.

The same thing is being played out today with gays. Is Will and Grace representative? Hardly, at least not in my boring corner of the "homosexual agenda", but I think it will serve its purpose of opening a dialouge.

Finally, I don't get this very often because I can't hide my sexuality very well (I'm not leading the pride parade, but I'm not the least bit "femme"), but my partner can (not that she is trying). Whenever the issue comes up with her coworkers, they don't believe her at first (NO! You can't be gay - you are so normal!), then, the enlightened ones who try to talk to her about it eventually say "I've always wanted to ask questions, but was turned off by the 'In your face' attitude."

Sometimes I cringe when I see the pride parades on TV. I can see straight america saying "see they are all freaks". However, I doubt we would be where we are now if it weren't for those who push the envelope. So for that, I thank them, and pray that someday we find a way in this world to live and let live.

Paula, I know what you mean about the way blacks were portrayed on TV. Back in the 70's I used to wonder why they didn't show "regular" Jewish people and families on TV, going through the same things as our WASP-y counterparts. What I didn't know back then was that TV audiences wanted their minorities cute and cuddly - it was safer and more palatable that way. "Will and Grace" is about a cute and cuddly couple. "Queer as Folk", on the other hand, was in-your-face and controversial. No good. The gays, as well as blacks and Jews, were like pets. Entertaining, amusing and under control. I don't know what the answer is. Being the mother of a gay son is new to me. My son has only been out for about 8 years and I have been involved in gay rights for about 4. So I still have a lot to learn. I feel grateful to know so many wonderful GLBT people and I feem privileged to be able to gain insight from their stories and struggles.

Good for you! Even better for your son. I did not "come out" (I put it in quotes because, as I said before, it isn't like I can hide it) officially until I was 37. I had been with my partner for 18 years by then, and had known her for longer than that.

I don't think anyone was really surprised by our announcement, they just wished we had kept the status quo, don't ask, don't tell.

We both waited until our dad's had passed away, and my Mom died within a year of my telling her.

I'm thankful that your son got the opportunity to have a supportive parent. I weep for those of us who, for whatever reason, didn't.

Bless you!

Paula, I'd like to invite you to our monthly PFLAG meetings. There you can meet parents who are themselves "out", supporting their gay children, and advocating for them (and other GLBT people). You will also meet other GLBT people who seek the same support and acceptance that you do. We meet the 2nd Sunday of each month at St. Luke's Methodist Church on 86th Street and Meridian. You can go to for more information! We'd love to have you and your partner join us!