There’s an ongoing battle in queer online spaces about representation, and it’s been raging since the LiveJournal days. In it, two sides argue about what makes for Good Queer Representation. One is looking for something gentle and affirming, media that avoids stereotypes and doesn’t include oppression. They often gravitate towards media like Steven Universe, looking for an optimistic world view.
The other side wants more complex representation that explores uncomfortable subject matter and conflict. They want queer characters to be flawed, complicated, and face conflict. This faction wants queer media that pushes the envelope and goes to dark places, including horror stories. They might watch something like Killing Eve, but they likely seek out indie books and TV shows.
The problem, of course, is that these are not opposing views at all, and there’s no reason they have to be in conflict.
I tend to look for fluff in the TV shows I watch. I’m looking for escape, to be able to give my thinking mind a break and just feel entertained for a half hour or so. The Great British Baking Show is my ideal show, and I am happy to endlessly rewatch ’90s sitcoms.
In books, though, I love to dive into complex narratives that wrestle with uncomfortable moral questions. Give me a deeply flawed, even caustic female main character any day. I like my books to challenge me, to get me to think about things in a new way.
Even in the world of reading, though, I can’t read difficult content all the time. I also love books like The Tea Dragon Society (in fact, I just got a print from the artist to hang on my wall), which are soothing, gentle, and hopeful.
There’s no reason that a reader can’t enjoy both fluffy queer stories and dark ones — most of us don’t consume only one kind of media. And even if we did, the publishing industry doesn’t cater to just one type of reader. There’s no need to battle it out to decide which is more important: comforting queer rep or challenging queer rep. Why would we starve ourselves of more options?
This discussion can turn toxic when we associate these kinds of media with a certain type of person. The people who want only positive rep are childish, says the other side. The people who want challenging rep are problematic, maybe even queerphobic, replies the other. It’s easy to build up a strawman version of either side, when we’re really all just looking for more queer media in general.
There should be room for queer media to push boundaries, especially now. For a long time, because queer representation had been almost uniformly negative, the stories we told about ourselves — especially mainstream ones on TV — needed to be unimpeachable. Queer characters couldn’t be flawed, or they were seen as implying that all queer people had those same flaws.
Times have changed, though, and there are far more versions of queer lives on screen and on the page than ever before. We don’t need a single character to represent all of us anymore, and it’s stifling to expect them to. Queer people are multifaceted, and we deserve to have all of that represented. We also deserve to be included in every genre, including horror.
That doesn’t mean letting go of comforting reads and watches, though. Sometimes, we want to read something that just makes us feel good, and thankfully there are lots more queer romances and queer kids’ books being published than ever before, many of which scratch that itch.
For many people, we’ll need different stories at different stages of life (and stages of coming out). When I first came out, I wanted to read hopeful stories that assured me that I could have a good life. Now, I’m much more interested in queer stories that unsettle me, because I have that foundation.
Other people might need to read about situations that reflect their own struggles, that don’t shy away from the reality of homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, etc, especially when they intersect with other marginalized identities.
We need to stop policing each other for things like enjoying a different genre. It is a needless fracturing of the power we can hold as a collective. This tendency pulls us into smaller and smaller circles, searching for people who hold exactly the same viewpoints on every conceivable topic.
Instead, we should fight for more space for all of it. More fluffy queer stories that leave you feeling warm and fuzzy. More queer horror. More complicated queer narratives that destabilize the concepts of orientation and gender completely. More flawed queer characters and more queer role models. I want it all.