IF YOU SPEND any amount of time on the Internet you quickly realize a strange truth about humanity: People want to be offended. People will nitpick any news story or cultural event, finding ways to slam it for insensitivity, bigotry or a general sense of ignorance. Sometimes, maybe even often, these qualms are justified. Other times the noise is a cry for attention.
As depictions of queer characters in pop culture become more common, so do viewers’ accusations of mishandling those queer characters. I encourage anyone who consumes stories to be careful, thoughtful viewers. Being sensitive to how these portrayals help or hurt minority communities is important because these portrayals help people realize that queer people are people, too, and deserve the same rights and respect as any other group.
However, being too critical can be a dangerous, and ultimately harmful, practice. I find especially loud outcry in response to the depictions of the two least-represented groups within the larger queer community: Bisexuals and transgender people. While there are plenty of movies and shows depicting gay men and lesbians, these other groups are still pretty rarely represented and not as well understood by the greater public. That’s one of the reasons I champion shows like Orange is the New Black and Transparent; they take on sexual orientations and gender identities that don’t often break into the mainstream.
Yet, these shows, too, suffer backlash from offended viewers. Recently, talking about the shows on Twitter with virtual acquaintances, a bisexual friend of mine criticized OITNB for not allowing Piper to “really claim” her bisexuality. Similarly, a transgender friend slammed Transparent as being “transphobic,” which I found an especially startling accusation since the show is such a tender portrait of coming out and living authentically.
While I’m sure anyone from the communities being represented could find some fault in these shows, my hope is that even those who aren’t completely satisfied can celebrate that there are storytellers delving into subject matter where few writers and directors venture.
We’ve gotten movies representing bisexuals and transgender people this year, as well. Desiree Akhavan’s Appropriate Behavior is a Persian bisexual spin on Girls, which humorously navigates the tricky intersection of sexuality and culture. Eric Schaeffer’s Boy Meets Girl follows a transgender woman’s forays into love and is stunning in its loving portrayal of its heroine (portrayed by an actual transgender actress, Michelle Hendley). I found myself oddly tense while watching both films, wondering not if, but when, each would do or say something wrong to sully the goodwill I had for them for merely existing and for being quite enjoyable.