Wednesday, October 26, 2011

I'm Coming Out to say that Movies about Coming Out as LGBT just don't make the Grade, while TV gets a solid B+

Happy Coming Out Month!  I realized the other day while I was in Salem that I had not honored this month yet. This month is a great time, many colleges, and now high schools are starting to celebrate this month in order to help students feel supported in their environment. As the Trevor Project works towards ending bullying, more people need in educational establishments need to celebrate this month.  There is no no slowing down the amount LGBT suicides due to bullying, and more and more people need to realize that we need to allies to younger LGBT populations as they start their process of coming out.

With more people coming out at younger ages, people need to reach out to people who work with younger people on a daily basis.  I think the high school is a great place for this.  There are numerous other events that high schools celebrate, why not celebrate this?  Easier said than done.  I think the key to the actual process in support.  Coming out is not just a quick process, it takes time.  When someone is LGBT they potentially have to come out in every new environment they become a part of.  This brings up a lot of dangerous emotions: fear anxiety, helplessness.  This also raises a lot of questions: Will I be accepted? Can I get this job?  Will I be mocked by others?  The list of emotions and questions can go on and on.

The media can be a powerful tool to both help and hurt the way specific groups are represented.  In this case telling someone's coming out story can be powerful!  Films, television shows, and other mediums can be an incredible way to help people know that "It gets better."  There are other people out that look like, talk like, and have the same experiences so that the viewer can see them self. The media has this power because people want to see themselves in a television show, or in movie.  People talk about identifying with characters from books and movies all the time.  The better and more diverse representations help people to see that coming out is different for everyone.

While looking at films that have covered the topic of coming out there was not much out their for mainstream audiences.  I was trying to think of films that covered the subject matter where one of the main characters of the film (a protagonist) had a major story arc where they came out of the closet.  I could not think of a film from a major film company that has focused on this issue.  While looking around the internet most of the films I found came from smaller film production companies that produce only only LGBT films.

Latter Days (2003)The only film that has a bigger audience, and focuses on coming is the film Latter Days (2003).  Latter Days is about a group of Mormons who come to Los Angeles to do their mission work.  One of the missionaries Aaron is in the closet, and he ends up becoming acquainted with his openly gay neighbor Christian.  Christian bets his friends he can seduce one of the missionaries, but tale as old as time boy meets boy and they start to fall for one another.  The film talks about Aaron's coming out process with his family, but the main focus of the film is the love story.  Aaron's coming out story is also very specific because of his faith.  I think this film does a good job handling the intersection of religion and sexual orientation more so than the actual coming out process.  This film was privately financed and distributed by TLA films which is a smaller company that distributes mostly LGBT films that do not make it the major cineplexes.

Since the coming out process is an actual process showing this in a traditional film that is not a documentary is difficult because there is only potentially about a two hour window to explain every detail of the persons story.  Television has done a much better job handling the coming out process.  The major reason is because television shows have numerous episodes (hopefully) within numerous seasons (again hopefully) where the creator, writers, directors, and producers can help tell different stories.

I can think of so many different amazing coming out stories that help span a wide array of different experiences in television.  Ellen opened up the celluloid closet door in 1997 when in her television show Ellen her character came out of the closet.  This announcement in the television show also was Ellen's announcement to world that she was actually a lesbian.  After this happened we experienced Ellen coming out to the different people in her life from her family to her friends to her co-workers and experienced what Ellen went through throughout this process.

One of the most entertaining and heartfelt coming out portrayals was in Will & Grace when its Thanksgiving and we find out that Jack, the most of openly gay character on the show has not come out to his mother.  This show did a good job of showing that even the most proud people have a hard time coming out to their parents, and not wanting to disappoint the person they respect most.  Not only was this episode hilarious, but it focused on emotional issues and provided Will & Grace with one of its best episodes in its entire eight seasons.

Ugly Betty creator Silvio Horta addressed Justin (Betty's nephew) sexuality in the last season of the show.  Horta explained that his sexual orientation was not explored earlier because he was a only around 10 when the show started.  Just met a boy in high school and had his first kiss on the show with him.  The show tackled the another experience being gay, a teenager, and Latino.  Ugly Betty also dealt with Mark's coming out to his mother in the first season.  Mark's mother turned her back on him, and the episode showed that this happens as well.  Mark had the support of Betty's family, and his best friend Amanda.  This was one of the best shows at tackling LGBT issues.

The list of television shows that have tackled poignant coming out stories is long.  Glee, has told Kurt's story and done an excellent job with the issues of coming out and dealing with bullies. Last year the reincarnation of 90210 developed a story line for one of their main characters Teddy.  Teddy did not fit the mold of the typical  gay male that many people often see in movies or television.  Teddy was this an athlete, and broke stereotypes that people have about what "a gay man should be" or look like.  I am not an avid viewer of this show but I did watch the different clips online about Teddy's coming out, and the show handled this story line so well.  90210 did not reinvent the wheel, but it put a new face to gay male and the struggles different has while coming out. think the media, specifically television and film have a powerful influence, and telling good stories about different coming out experiences is important. The key to this is access.  Most of the television shows I have listed were on either ABC, NBC, FOX, or the CW, which are the major broadcast networks.  If you even have basic cable you can see these shows.  There is LOGO (a network owned by MTV) which is an LGBT channel, but no everyone can afford to have this network.  The programming on the network is not the greatest either (but that is another story).  There are also more honest and real portrayals happening on different non basic cable networks, but without money to pay for these networks this limits the amount of people who can see these shows.  Showtime and HBO have done an excellent job telling coming out stories on shows like Six Feet Under and Shameless, but you have to have money to watch them.

 At the end of the day there is much more out there, but access is important.  Younger people need to know that they are not alone, and see that there are stories out there, and in the end they can have someone to look up to as they come out.  They need more people like Dan Savage in the media who is an out successful gay man (not an actor) who fights for a cause.  I am proud to have grown up in a time when I actually have watched movies and seen TV shows where I see myself in the characters, unlike people who came before me.  We need to continue to push the boundaries, do more and help people through their coming out process.

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