Welcome to the second post of my series on LGBTQ+ representation in media! The first post was about LGBTQ+ representation, and this post is going to be talking about LGBTQ+ journeys in TV series and movies. There’s a subtle but important difference between these two posts. The first was about shows where the LGBTQ+ characters are part of a larger universe and storyline, and they mostly live out their normal lives, with some subplots about them when it’s relevant. This post is about shows where the LGBTQ+ characters’ journeys are the main storyline. I’ll be talking about the plots of the movies and TV series, so there will be spoilers ahead!
Having LGBTQ+ representation is very important, as I previously mentioned, as it helps to normalize LGBTQ+ people in society. At the same time, it is important to tell the stories of LGBTQ+ people, because our journeys are worth telling, and help non-LGBTQ+ people understand both the negative and positive aspects of our journeys, which should help the overall acceptance in society.
There are a number of movies and TV series that come to mind, and the first is a movie that was released last year. Love, Simon is a wonderful movie. The movie is based on the novel Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli. I’ve only seen the movie and haven’t read the novel, so I’ll be talking only about the movie, oblivious to any discrepancies with the novel. Sorry in advance!
Love, Simon is about the journey of Simon Spider, a gay high school student in Atlanta, Georgia. At the start of the movie, Simon is closeted and has a “perfectly normal life” as he puts it. Simon starts having an online correspondence with an anonymous person at school called “Blue”, who is also a closeted gay boy. Simon reaches out with the pseudonym “Jacques” and the two begin talking online.
Without going too deep into the plot, one particular scene remains firmly lodged in my mind — namely, the “coming out” scene. No, not a scene of Simon coming out, although he does. In this scene, Simon wonders why it is that only gay people have to come out. Following that, or as part of that, there is a short scene of about one minute showing various straight people coming out to their parents and their parents’ reactions. It’s one of the best scenes of the movie, in my opinion. Why do only LGBTQ+ people have to come out? I am hopeful that one day, all sexual orientations and gender identities will be fully accepted in society, and there will be no need for “coming out” at all.
Love, Simon is a great movie, and I highly recommend watching it if you haven’t already! Next, I’m going to talk about Gentleman Jack. Gentleman Jack is a series on HBO, where Season 1 just ended, and Season 2 is suspected to air in Spring 2020 or later. Gentleman Jack is set in the 1830s in Yorkshire, and talks about the life of Anne Lister. The series is based on Anne Lister’s journals, where she wrote in lots of detail about her daily life, and also with a secret code when she talked about her lesbian relationships.
Gentleman Jack starts off with Anne Lister returning to Halifax and becoming interested in Ann Walker. The two women have the beginnings of a relationship and go through a fair amount of turmoil, largely because of societal expectations of them. Eventually, Anne Lister and Ann Walker (their first names can get confusing without their last names attached) do get married, or at least exchange rings and take the sacrament together, since same-sex marriage wasn’t legal back then.
The title, “Gentleman Jack”, refers to how Anne Lister’s residents at Halifax called her, as a somewhat derogatory term. The term “lesbian” wasn’t coined yet at the time. In the HBO series, Anne Lister is portrayed as “the first modern lesbian.” The show itself has a modern slant on some things, such as how writing letters to people in other cities “immediately” gets a response, where the next shot shows the recipient reading and reacting to the letter, so it’s almost like writing an e-mail.
There is some controversy over the accuracy of the series’s depiction of Anne Lister’s life, and my spouse recently purchased a book that ties the series with Anne Lister’s real life. I have not read the book yet, and I’m looking forward to learning which aspects of the series were realistic and which were stretched for screen consumption.
At the very least, the series does strike home with some of the issues and troubles that LGBTQ+ people face even today, which is probably one of the intentions of the show writers and producers. For example, Anne Lister is introduced as a person who is firmly set in her identity of being a lesbian, but she has to deal with rejection by other women due to societal “expectations”. Ann Walker, on the other hand, slowly realizes that she, too, is interested in women (or at least Anne), and has to deal with how her family and community reacts.
There are many great scenes in the series, and here are some of them. In episode five, Ann Walker tells Anne Lister: “I can’t do this, Anne. […] It’s become impossible. […] It’s utterly clear to me now. It’s the only way forward […] or I will have no peace. Either from them or in here.” The growth of Ann Walker’s character throughout the season is amazing, and we can see her struggles, with herself and with others, and her growth into someone who stands up for herself. It’s simply wonderful.
In episode six, Anne Lister says the following to Ann Walker, which tugged on my heart-strings: “Every day, I rise above it. The things people say. I walk into a room or down the street and I see the way people look at me and the things they say. And I rise above it because I’ve trained myself to, not to see it and hear it until it’s become second nature to me and I forget just how impossible it is for someone else to accept that.” I think that monologue by Anne Lister strikes home with many of the experiences that LGBTQ+ people face.
The season finale (episode eight) was excellent, and I was practically glued to the screen for the whole episode. It wraps up the season perfectly, has tense moments, emotional scenes, and humor at the right spots, and places Gentleman Jack as one of the most romantic shows I’ve seen. The last twenty minutes were so touching and emotional, and in the climax scene of the season, Anne Lister says to Ann Walker: “Don’t hurt me. I’m not as strong as you think. Well, I am obviously. But sometimes I’m not.” I think it’s great that the series demonstrates, across multiple episodes, that as much as Anne Lister is a strong person (and she is a very strong person), everyone needs support and is vulnerable in their own ways.
The next series I’m going to talk about is I am Jazz. Jazz Jennings is a transgender woman, and the series I am Jazz is a reality TV series that follows her life. There have been 5 seasons so far, and the series is still on-going. I have to admit that I haven’t seen too many episodes of the series, but the ones I did see were great! I don’t remember exactly which season it was, but among many things, they were talking about Jazz’s gender confirmation surgery, her consultations with the doctors and what they might need to do in order to increase the likelihood of a good outcome, such as Jazz losing weight. Season five (which I haven’t seen) describes Jazz’s gender confirmation surgery and the process. Dr. Marci Bowers and Dr. Jess Ting are two renowned doctors, and they are the doctors who performed Jazz’s surgery. I believe both doctors have very long queues for gender confirmation surgery, and the publicity of I am Jazz should only have increased their popularity. I give lots of kudos to Jazz Jennings for being willing to be so open about her life, her transition, and everything that comes along, and wish her nothing but the best going forward!
The third series is Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. I mentioned this series in my previous post, but I didn’t give any details then. Besides having a wide variety of LGBTQ+ characters, there’s one particular plotline in Season 2 that is especially great. Theo Putnam comes out as a transgender man in Season 2, and the series has various episodes that show his journey, and difficulty, in his transition. Theo starts off exploring his gender identity in Season 1, and he tells his friends about some of the bullying he undergoes at school. His journey continues, and he realizes that he is a man at the beginning of Season 2. Theo has a great, supportive circle of friends that support and affirm him, but he has some initial trouble at his high school. There are many wonderful things about Theo’s journey, such as his affirmation of his gender and his name, and the eventual acceptance in his community.
Theo’s friends Ros (Rosalind) and Harvey have a scene, where Harvey and Ros are talking about Theo, and Ros says: “We call him Theo. Theo might look like a girl but he’s not, he’s a boy and that’s how he’s always been. He’s just ready now to live as himself, as Theo.” What a great example of a friend and ally!
Theo’s coming out scene with his father was particularly touching. His father initially has difficulty accepting it, but eventually comes around and takes Theo for a haircut like Theo asked. I wish that all parents of LGBTQ+ people, especially those of teenagers, are as accepting, or will come around as easily, and perhaps the series is providing a model of what society should be. While the series may have shown Theo’s journey to acceptance by his family and peers to be relatively fast, the series does highlight some of the real issues and struggles that transgender people face, both in school and in society at large.
There are many other movies and TV series out there that talk about LGBTQ+ journeys, and I am glad there is an increase in their frequency over the years. Here are some other movies and TV series that are well-known and recommended: All In My Family, Pose, The Danish Girl, The L Word, and Transparent. I’ve seen some of them, and I’m particularly looking forward to The L Word revival that will be released later this year.
I want to thank my friends who made many recommendations to me, after I proposed the idea of writing this blog series. I especially thank Sarah for proof-reading and offering improvements to this post.
The journeys of LGBTQ+ people are complex and individually unique, and showing some aspects of our journeys help people to understand the struggles, pains, and triumphs of LGBTQ+ people as we live their authentic lives. Besides showing non-LGBTQ+ people what our journeys are like and how to be good allies, such movies and TV shows also allow LGBTQ+ people to better understand and support the journeys of other LGBTQ+ people.