Tokenism: the need for all-queer shows

While tokenism has arguably existed in the media we consume for a very long time, it has recently become much more acknowledged, and is finally getting the attention it deserves as a relevant issue. A few years ago, being queer meant there was barely any way to see yourself in TV shows, movies, and books. The odd ones out, like Queer as Folk, was mostly seen as precisely that: odd. Once the highly anticipated episode was over, it meant going back to all the straight shows on TV; there was no alternative. Nowadays, the situation has changed. Queer characters seem to be everywhere—and this comes with its own problems.

Having only one show dedicated to queer representation is limiting, but it is something to hold on to, something stable and constant, a way of knowing that, no matter what happens, there will be queer characters until the show comes to its end. The L Word and Queer as Folk were incredibly popular because they reassured us of our existence; they were validating, and they were important. The queer characters we are presented with today tell a different story: they speak of inclusion within exclusion, of anxiety and the threat of being killed off, of being a box that gets ticked in the name of diversity and views. In the now infamous The 100, Lexa sleeps with her girlfriend just to die minutes after; in The Originals, the only gay character loses his boyfriend to an attack from the enemy; in Supernatural, the fan-favourite, nerdy lesbian is found dead in a bathtub. The L Word and Queer as Folk had their own ‘bury your gays’ issues, but they represented something else.

When Dana Fairbanks dies of cancer in The L Word, her group of lesbian friends steal her ashes, visit the summer camp where she met her first girlfriend, and say their goodbyes. When Vic Grassi dies in Queer as Folk, his family mourn him for the rest of the show, his legacy is always present and felt by the rest of the characters. They decorate a Christmas tree the way he would have wanted them to, and when this goes wrong, the pain of his loss is haunting, and a scene that is initially about Christmas decorations becomes extremely memorable.

Watching Dana and Vic die prompts questions about health, age and disease, about how you will be remembered. It is emotional, but it is hopeful, the moment of death followed by love and care from the queer community. Watching Lexa and all the queer characters that stand on their own die prompts questions about sexuality. Their deaths being brushed aside, mentioned once in the episode after and never again, hurts in its subtlety. Knowing that these characters served their purpose as the gay newcomer, the gay plot twist, the gay friend, only to be forgotten, leaves a bitter taste in your mouth. The difference between the image of your friends getting together to steal your ashes from your homophobic parents, united by a common social rejection, and that of dying alone, the odd one out, makes for a raw feeling for the queer community, one that is complex and difficult to fully understand as an outsider, or to even fully explain as an insider.

This feeling is precisely the reason we need shows like Queer as Folk and The L Word to come back. We are tired of being the secondary characters, of being the only queers in the group. It is a fact that queer people tend to find each other—so let us be united again, give us an all-queer cast, let the straight people be the minority again for once. Let us die among queer friends when we do. And do not limit these friendships to clubbing and work; make us monster hunters, dystopian survivors, vampires and werewolves. Queer people are everywhere, and we want to be seen.


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May 2022
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