[dropcap]R[/dropcap]ecently, How To Get Away With Murder came back with its mid-season premiere. It’s everything you’d expect from another great Shonda Rhimes production, including trademark gay characters. The series has quickly made a reputation for being a high-adrenaline legal drama with killer cliffhangers that all started with the questions, “Who killed Sam?” then, “Who shot Annalise?”
But the real question that needs answering, and the one on the stand today, ladies and gentlemen is, “Are stereotypes in gay characters ever going to end?’
Our first piece of evidence comes from one of the earlier episodes of the series: law student Connor Walsh sits in the courtroom on “Humpr” (a fictionalized version of gay hook-up app “Grindr”). From that moment, we’ve learned that Connor is quite the player. And though he has grown a lot from the first season, he was nonetheless first introduced as promiscuous, sassy, and narcissistic — very stereotypical traits upon which to build a gay male character.
Connor isn’t the only character to have being gay as a dominant facet to who they are. I’m sure you all can think of some off the top of your head, like Will and Jack from Will and Grace, or pretty much any character from Glee.
It’s increasingly frustrating to see writers use a character’s homosexuality as a gimmick to simply create a more ‘complex’ character. And this is not to say that sexuality is not complex, but when it’s the sole facet that dominates a character, what more do they have to offer a storyline other than periodic sassy, comedic relief?
There are other ways to make LGBTQ characters interesting besides featuring their sexual preferences.
There are other ways to make a character interesting besides revealing they have sex with someone else of the same gender. Creating characters devoid of a truly fresh perspective makes them incredibly one-dimensional. When people only base characters off of already insidiously established stereotypes, then there isn’t really much flexing of creative muscles, is there?
Ladies and gentlemen, I now present to you a solution. Characters should be created as people first. Because, if you start off with knowing someone’s sexual orientation, then it already implants a plethora of pre-conceived notions of what they might be like. Wouldn’t it be nice to see a law student drowning in student loans, struggling to keep up with his classes, who just happens to be falling out of love with his boyfriend for once?
I argue that we need characters that are people who just happen to be gay, not gay characters.
Unless the premise of the show is to centrally focus on shedding light on issues only the LGBTQ+ community experiences, a characer’s sexuality should not be their dominant trait. Take, for example, HBO’s Looking — a series that walks you through the lives of very different gay men. And as a gay man, I think it’s appropriate to say that in this case, basing storylines off of the characters’ sexual orientation is important, as one of the results has been to educate people on LGBTQ+ communities.
It’s 2016 and we’re seeing progress; however, much more needs to be written into characters so that this discussion need not happen again.
As a writer who just happens to be gay, I plead this case to you: give us more just representation of LGBTQ+ characters.