real life

"The TV scene that made me feel like I existed."

What kind of love we see on our TV screens matters. It matters enormously. It keeps people alive.

I was 14 when I found out that girls could kiss.

I was watching RENT with a friend, and Maureen and Joanne stood on a busy street corner and kissed. It wasn’t a long kiss, either. But when they did so, something within me just went, ‘Oh.’ 

READ MORE:He said gay sex was “kind of gross”. The response? Priceless.

RENT provides a diverse depiction of gender and sexuality through characters Maureen, Joanne, Collins and Angel.

It was two years until I saw this happen again. I was sixteen, and I was watching Skins. And Naomi kissed Emily and then ran away, and Emily followed her and yelled ‘be brave and want me back!’

And her voice ran in my head, over and over and over again, because when I saw Naomi’s fear I saw my own fear, and when Emily urged her to be brave I felt the urge to be brave, too.

Try this: Gut-wrenching: Gay twins come out to their dad in emotional phone call.

I wasn’t. Not straight away. But I downloaded all of Naomi and Emily’s scenes and I watched them numerous times and I wondered if I would ever have someone to hold hands through a cat-flap with. (Watch Skins. You’ll get it.)

“When Emily urged her to be brave I felt the urge to be brave, too.”

The next year at a party, I decided to be brave. I went to a party with a girl, one that I’d loved (as a friend, a good friend, a really, really, really good friend who I sometimes imagined spending my life with), and I got drunk, and I decided to be brave.

I told her how I felt. She said she felt the same, and I kissed a girl. And for the first time ever it didn’t feel like I was lying anymore. I felt like me, for the first time in 17 years.

(Afterwards, I threw up. Not because of the alcohol; but because of the people who had watched us and cheered, thinking it was a cheap gimmick. Because I felt like I’d cheated or done something wrong. Because I’d kissed a girl and it had felt like I was coming home, but I still had no idea where home was.)

Three days later, she’d found a boyfriend. Somehow, apparently, he’d won. Maybe because, unlike me, he would never be scared to hold her hand in public.

A week later, on a show called Glee (a show which single handedly manages to be the worst possible show in existence, while also reeling you in with its auto-tuned, beautiful people and never letting you go), a girl named Santana cornered a girl named Brittany and told her she loved her, and Brittany told Santana she loved her too but that she was dating Artie so they couldn’t be together.

READ MORE: First photos of Glee’s transgender character, post transition.

My heart fell and I stopped breathing; because on screen- right there, in front of me, on a show that all my friends watched- was a girl going through the exact same thing I was. I can’t ever forget Santana’s face or the way she looked when she asked Brittany to love her back because that’s how I felt every day. And it was on TV.

Brittany and Santana (or Brittana) provided a highly visible example of diverse sexuality.

I felt, just like I had when I’d kissed that girl, like I belonged. All because of a few girls on my screen, telling me that if they could be themselves, I could too.

I was almost 18, and I finally accepted that I was gay.

Today, I am 21, and I no longer doubt who I am.

I kiss my girlfriend in the street, without fear or worry, because I know that I can- because I know that, even if I’m still not fully accepted, I am who I am and I’ll be damned if I let fear rule me any longer.

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Today, I can name at least five female/female couples on TV. One of them are the couple from Glee (they got together, in the end. They got married last week. I cried.). Another have just gotten divorced; but couples do that, and I’m not too worried about them because honestly? They are totally meant to be. Everywhere I look, girls are starting to kiss- not just for boys, but because of feelings, and that’s awesome.

If I was still a confused, gay teenaged girl, I would have so, so much more to see on TV than I did five years ago.

So what about the other kids? The ones that aren’t white gay guys or white lesbians?

From May 2014- May 2015, 3.9% of primetime broadcast scripted series regulars are LGBT+. That’s 32 people out of 813.

More like this: Here’s something we haven’t seen on Australian TV before.

Of this number, 60% will be men. None of these will be bisexual men- they will all be gay. Most of them will be white men, of middle-class backgrounds. So, the white, completely gay young men out there will have some visibility. 40% of those 32 will be women- and again, a majority will be white, or lesbian (or both)

Again, I ask: what about the other kids?

“Today, I can name at least five female/female couples on TV.”

What about the bisexual boys- and girls-, the queer people of colour (PoC), the label-less, the pansexuals, the transgender kids, the asexuals? What do those kids watch; who do they look up to when they’re questioning themselves and have no one to talk to but characters on TV?

Of that 32, only 27% – that’s 8 people – are PoC.

Only eight characters will be both non-white and queer. You’re more likely to see a queer alien character than you are a queer Asian character.

Only one of the 32 will have a disability.

There are no expected transgender characters on primetime this year, and only one on cable TV.

“I am who I am and I’ll be damned if I let fear rule me any longer”. Lola and her partner Penny.

There will be 32 whole LGBT people on primetime TV. 64 on Cable. For confused kids, there are 96 people for them to maybe see themselves reflected in.

And that’s in the US. In Australia, unless you have access to every cable channel or internet that lets you stream these shows, you will have even fewer characters. If you don’t live in a western country, you’ll have even less.

I am alive today because fictional characters let me know I existed, and allowed me to accept that. I am alive because I had six whole women to look up to. That’s about half of what young girls have today.

That’s 90% more than any trans, asexual, pansexual, or intersex teenagers have.

TRY THIS:‘I’m going to tell you about a sexual orientation you didn’t know existed.’

If you can’t see, you cannot be. If there isn’t representation out there for confused and questioning kids to have access to, then how will they know who they are? What they are? How will they know that there is more than gay, straight, or lesbian? How will they know that, whatever they feel, it exists and it’s okay?

I am thankful, and will always be thankful, to Maureen and Joanne, to Naomi and Emily, to Santana and Brittany, to the people that wrote them and the women who played them. I am thankful and I am alive, and I need more. I need more, not for me, but for all those who have nothing.

We need sexuality for everyone. Not just some.

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