If Gay TV Characters Weren’t So Stereotypical, How Would We Recognize Them?

Sue Perkins, the lesbian British comedian who is not related in any way to Tony Perkins, read all 226 pages of the BBC’s report on the portrayal of gay characters on television, and she’s got a suggestion: it’s the soap operas that need to start offering up more accurate representations of ‘mos if any minds are going to change.

The report, which made our radar for revealing how many straight Brits have a problem with the way gays look on the tube, also showed gay audiences were a bit fed up with the stereotypical characters they usually see under the LGBT banner. Which is the problem Perkins — who was outed in 2002 on I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here! by ex-girlfriend Rhona Cameron — has. Writing in a Guardian op-ed:

Although the BBC and Channel 4 fare well in this report, there is much left to do. The responsibility must fall on the biggest hitters – soap operas. Watched by millions of middle Englanders week after week, they could change the perception of gay people where it matters most. In 1987, EastEnders’ Barry and Colin shared a chaste mouth-graze. In 1994, Brookside’s Beth and Margaret locked lips. Coronation Street discovered lesbians this year. If gay history had evolved as slowly and timidly as television portrayed it, then the first drag queen would be tiptoeing out of the primordial ooze around about now.

What saddens me is that the same issues keep arising. For gay men, it’s the predominance of the camp cliche. For lesbians, despair at the outdated butch-femme stereotypes. Gay women generally are under-represented, unless you count the number of times the word “lesbian” or “dyke” features as a lazy comic’s punchline.

There’s no real mystery that television writers are “lazy” and network execs “dumb things down,” because that is how the industry works, at least according to some antiquated model that says viewers will only tune in if we give them caricatures. Which is why we’re usually presented with the gay BFF, always there to shop or gossip.

When gay characters stop cat-hoarding, scatter-cushion throwing and compulsively shagging — when we’re just sitting around paying bills like Average Jos – then middle England, and the Queer Nation, will be happy.

And as we all know, Average Jos are themselves accurately represented by the over-sexed, money-obsessed, impossibly-thin characters also seen on television.