Are Lesbian Characters Viewed as a Safer Depiction of LGBT Characters in Children’s Television Compared to Gay Characters?

There are many out there who believe that animated television shows are the best they have ever been, especially those aimed at children and young adults. Within these shows, representation for LGBT characters has dramatically increased over the past few years. However, when looking into these depictions, I noticed that in them, especially for shows aimed at younger audiences, the LGBT representation was more greatly seen in female characters.

It seems that recently, it has become more acceptable for older audiences to enjoy animated television shows. I, to an extent, am one of those people. Shows like Adventure Time, The Legend of Korra, and Steven Universe are all aimed at a younger audience, but have brought in older viewers due to some of the more adult themes and topics addressed within them. They also have another feature in common. They all feature female or female coded characters who are or were once in a lesbian relationship. This can be seen in Ruby and Sapphire in Steven Universe, Marceline and Princess Bubblegum in Adventure Time, and Korra and Asami in The Legend of Korra. The latter two shows depictions were slightly less transparent, more so using subtext to get across the romantic relationship that was later confirmed by the creators of the shows.

korrasami

“Still from The Legend of Korra, “The Last Stand,” (Season 4, Episode 13, 2014.) Image from [http://korra.avatarspirit.net/screenshots.php?quality=hd&num=413&page=166].”

The characters mentioned were very important characters in terms of the shows’ story lines, and can be seen as a great win for LGBT representation. It does raise the question, however, of where the male gay characters are within children’s media.

They are not totally absent. They appear within some children’s shows such as The Loud House, Gravity Falls, and Clarence. In these shows however, the gay characters are much less prominent compared to their female counterparts, appearing only sparingly within the numerous number of episodes.

The next logical question would be why this appears to be the case. Why are female LGBT characters featured more prominently in children’s media? I believe there to be two main reasons.

The first reason being that the majority of children’s television shows, and television shows in general, still have male leads. This delegates female characters to more minor character positions, and underlying homophobia would allow a minor character to be in a gay relationship more so than a main character. The second reason, I believe, is that gay males and in turn gay relationships are viewed as innately more sexual than female same-sex relationships, which would lead the creators of shows to include them less in order to keep their shows more kid friendly in terms of the general public’s opinion.

So, while LGBT representation overall is greatly improving in all forms of media, even children’s, this discrepancy shows some of society’s still underlying homophobia, especially directed at gay men.

This report from GLAAD shows some research on representation of many different identities across all forms of media, if you care to read more.

-Tommy O’Haren

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6 Responses to Are Lesbian Characters Viewed as a Safer Depiction of LGBT Characters in Children’s Television Compared to Gay Characters?

  1. mediaphiles says:

    This is a very interesting observation. I don’t know if this is correct but lesbian relationships tend to be more appealing to a broader audience. I know for male viewers this can definitely be true. Also I think that it is very interested that animated shows are showing these LGBTQ relationships as a way to normalize them to children. I think there have been significant strides to show these relationships and this is just another step forward.

    -Maia Scacchi

  2. mediaphiles says:

    Very interesting post. I hadn’t noticed this until reading this post. It is clear that within society people are more comfortable with female homosexual relationships than they are with male homosexual relationships. Even though it may make viewers uncomfortable, its is important that television shows continue to depict a wide variety of LGBTQ characters accurately and authentically. The fact that most of your examples are from children’s shows demonstrates that these relationships are becoming normalized and less taboo.

    -Kylie Long

  3. mediaphiles says:

    I’m really glad that same sex relationships are becoming more and more common in children-friendly cartoons, but it is very interesting that you point out that they are mostly female. You offer up great explanations to the question! It may also be because feminine characters are maternal and therefore seem safer for creators to incorporate into their show. After reading your post, I completely agree that gay characters need more roles in cartoons.

  4. marymdalton says:

    Great content! Might go with a shorter title and qualify by saying “gay male” characters since lesbians are sometimes referred to with the more general term “gay.”

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