When Russell T. Davies' Queer as Folk launched itself onto UK television screens, it inspired me to tell stories. Following the UK show, the stateside equivalent found its own voice, an audience and went on to explore and develop the gay community -- working hard to tackle topical issues and push boundaries.
Then, there seemed to be nothing.
Two years ago, HBO commissioned Looking -- billed as a "Gay Girls," the short-lived drama dared to be different. Unfortunately, it was cancelled, but not before causing an extremely heated debate. I spent many hours reading all of the reasons why it fell short and ultimately was taken off the air. The only thing that keeps coming up (apart from ratings) is that it wasn't supported by the gay community as much as it could have been.
Over the last couple of years we have seen a beautiful influx in LBT television and drama -- something that makes me overjoyed. Now, Orange is the New Black, tackles lesbian, bisexual and transgender themes in abundance and the reaction couldn't be any further from the opposite. Transparent has done the same -- but this leads me to the question: Why? Do these shows not portray multitudes of diversity within their own niche community? Are these representations not always positive? Do they have a broader crossover potential into "straight culture?" Or is it simple: the lesbian, transgender and bisexual characters have the support of their target viewing audiences, but when the gay male community are given their own, they spend a lot of their time dragging their heels. So to speak.
I am not saying that LBT's are all happy with the way they have been represented within television shows of late, merely that the support of these kinds of diversity has been overwhelming positively, and the gay male community should be doing the same.
Andrew Haigh, creator of Looking, said that one of the reasons he believed it wasn't as successful as it could have been was down to the fact that gay men want to be represented -- but only in a good light. But this leads me to another critical question: Why?
Queer as Folk didn't shine a great light on our community at all times. Yes, it diversified in the way the stories were told -- but didn't Looking do the same? It seems more possible that as a gay male community we feel we have come a lot further than what Looking had to offer -- but the reactions to the show lead me to believe that we really haven't at all.
I watched both seasons of Looking and read many pieces on it during and after. I didn't feel I was "one specific character," but I was more of an amalgamation of multiples. I also see that it had flaws -- like many other shows out there. But the flaws on those shows, which represent LBT culture, caused no size of uproar as much as Looking did.
I'm going to be bold and say that it wasn't the Looking creators who went wrong, but the gay male viewing audience who tied it to a cross and let it burn. However, unbeknown to us at the time of burning, we actually created a bigger problem: Gaining further representation on television and in film.
Recently, I have been going through multiple creative processes and forms of storytelling around gay and straight characters. However, my concern is that in writing these stories and creating these gay men, I will eventually reach more impenetrable roadblocks like the ones I have already met. Could this be because of the unspoken "caution" on gay male characters that the community has essentially placed on itself?
Due to gay male character ensemble shows off-screen not gaining support, we are now in a position where it is difficult to gain it on screen. It wasn't the creators of Looking who failed us -- we failed them, and in turn we closed the door for widespread representation in our own faces. Now, we may have a long time to wait until one brave broadcaster is willing to open it again and take that "risk."
We can't cry out for representation and then spit on it when it arrives. We can't lap up other shows dealing with our cohort's problems and lives and stamp on our own because we feel like we've been given the short straw. We can't decry characters that trade off sex for information, or hurt others, or don't fully show who we as individuals are. That mentality in itself -- from the gay male viewing audience -- is not helping the fight for gay male rights.
My experience as a gay man is in no way the same as someone else's. Sometimes, I am not a good person. But that's not because I am gay. It's because I am human and we all make mistakes no matter who we wake up next to in the morning. For me, any gay character on screen whether I relate directly or not is just as important as the last. Instead of rallying when it's too late -- we should be more active as a gay male community in the entertainment business, but also in support of other gay males who dare to be different and take a stand in showing off our wonderfully unique opinions, characters and world.
I don't want myself or fellow writers to be limited in terms of who we choose to write. I have a voice, and like countless more I intend to use it. I will continue to write all forms of gay men -- because I believe that's how we should be seen. I will never make any apologies for doing so.
I'm a gay man and I want to see it. Any form of representation, beats absolutely none at all.