Growing up in the 80's in small town Maine, there were not many gay icons or characters out there for lil ole me to look up to. While I was dealing with my own sexuality, something that I had realized was different from the norm since the third grade, I searched for someone to have a connection with. For television, we only had 4 stations, 2, 5, 7, and 12 and sometimes 13. The last two were PBS, 1/2 British and all French Canadian programming respectively. Anyone remember Mr. Humphries from Are You Being Served? The only gay person I saw day in and day out was a fellow student and he was someone I did not click with at all. So there would be no partner in crime as it were. So I stayed in the closet for it was easier. If I came out, I felt I would have been even more alone since there were no role models in person or on the television.
The '90s found me in college dealing with my portable closet, but still in small town Maine. The friends at college were great. They knew of my sexuality before I came out, but they gave me space and let me live in that closet throughout my college years. Some people ask what took you so long to come out. We all have our own reasons. I didn't come out for I wasn't comfortable with myself and I wasn't clear as to how I would be accepted by friends and family. Where was my healthy example of a gay out and proud individual?
Mid to late '90s found me coming out of the closet due to me needing the love and support of my family and friends after a horrific occurrence with a soon to be ex. One good thing came out of that relationship and that was coming out. Will and Grace was THE mainstream show in the late '90s and early 2000s that had a cast that I could somewhat relate to. For me, it was entertaining, but still could not fully identify with Will or Just Jack. I found myself wanting to know Will's boyfriends instead of him. I was still itching for someone to latch on to and watch and want to see myself in, but that wasn't happening.
Queer as Folk was in the early 2000s and you could enjoy it if you or your friends had Showtime and that left me out of the mix. Still living in small town Maine, I was left to satisfy my gay tv watching with Will and Grace. Ugly Betty introduced a couple of fellow gay characters in the late 00's but the characters didn't draw me in to watch for their story lines to develop.
What about reality tv? Where has gay reality tv been? The hype around "Big Brother" Zankie, was neither a good or bad thing, but most of us tuned in to see what might happen with this bromance. Apparently to find an attempt at gay reality tv, we have to go back in time.
It’s been over 11 years since the 2003 July Bravo debut of “Boy Meets Boy," which was the gay version of the Bachelor and a show I wish was still around. This was the same year, month, and channel for the Queer Eye debut, later to be renamed Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. The former consisted of 6 episodes while the latter spanned 5 seasons. There were other short-lived attempts at reality offerings. Those were “A-List: New York” and “A-List: Dallas,” which casted a definite lime green light on some personalities that I keep running into at multiple locations across the country – and keep trying to avoid.
For tv, reality or not, I think the roles gay characters have played in mainstream programming have been altered and have declined over the past fifteen years. If we look at the types and amount of roles, we see that they have died down from being the comic relief or supporting roles into almost nothingness. I believe the lack of gay characters in mainstream television is the cause for us adopting EMPIRE as one of our own. From the beginning, its creators stated they wanted to make a black version DYNASTY and a show that would challenge homophobia in the black and hip hop communities. Whatever their intent, I say bravo! I was excited to watch HBO's Looking when it first came on, but as this current season started, I realized that there was no draw for me to follow the stories of any of its characters. I can see enough cheating and drugs by signing on to Grindr or Adam4Adam. But for EMPIRE, I must tune in and I hope the writers do our new interest well.
Instead of the lack of gay characters on television, maybe I should have said, there is a lack of gay characters I look forward to tuning in for and supporting and seeing myself in. Since I have been old enough to remember, I have not had that. I guess I am a little surprised that it took FOX to give me someone. I'd love to cheer for The Walking Dead's newest character and that gay law student and Oliver on How to Get Away With Murder, but those shows have a tendency to kill characters off.
Of course I am highlighting prime time television since I work during the days. I know there are now daytime soaps that have added gay characters recently. Are there any gay characters you cheer for? Tune in for? See yourself as? Has tv given us any strong gay role models or have we just been given characters that are place fillers or comic side kicks? Did you have a connection with Will or Jack? Who replaced them for gay tv characters to tune in and watch?