I want to start by saying I am a full supporter of as much intersectional diversity as possible, but I am going to focus on my personal experience as a queer person for the purpose of this post.
I often feel lucky when I look at what media I have access to now, as an adult. There are so many lesbian characters on TV right now that they have been ranked, which is absolutely incredible to me. But I also remember being fourteen, and my library telling me that The Woman Who Rides Like a Man is an LGBTQ book (spoiler alert, it’s not). I remember ordering the L Word on Ebay and hoping that my parents wouldn’t ask what was in the parcel, and then watching it locked up in my room and having the thought ‘Huh, lesbians are just like real people.’ Because at fifteen, in rural Wales, I had never met a gay person, let alone a gay adult. I had absolutely no role models or people to look up to, and I had no idea what the rest of my life might look like.
Teenagers today have more than that, and that’s awesome. There are books, movies, and TV shows with diverse casts. There are stories about coming out, and gender identity. There are a thousand amazing YouTubers who young people can identify with and feel supported by, and that’s great. But you know what? It’s not enough. Stories can only be richer and more complex when more voices are added. And sadly, many people still think of diversity as a trade-off, as though we are losing something (whether that be plot, or characters they can relate to with little effort) when we’re actually adding more experiences and stepping outside our comfort zones. We need to have so much diversity that it becomes normal. Because the world is actually not a homogenous mass. We are all so, so unique within our sameness.
I have been informed (on two separate occasions, actually) that someone ‘supports diversity, but doesn’t understand why it has to be everywhere’—in the same tone of voice that someone might use for ‘Why do you have to ruin all the nice things?!’ As though diversity having a wider range of voices means that their particular voice might get drowned out. Like having a Black superhero somehow devalues the story, or showing a gay kiss is more shocking than all cannibals and zombies. Which is, to me, insane. Society has been exposed to the same narratives over and over again, and expanding those narratives can only be a positive thing. Reading teaches empathy—we know this—but wouldn’t it be better if the world learned to empathize with everyone?
One of the best conversations I have had—one that helped me cement my feelings on the importance of diversity in fiction—was with my girlfriend’s grandma. My partner came out to her grandmother just over three years ago, and she’s been wonderful about it. We get along great and I love her to pieces. Last year, one of the shows we both watch, Rookie Blue, developed a storyline where one of their main female characters entered into a romantic relationship with another woman. My Grandma-in-Law said to me, “You know, I think I understand it a bit better now. It’s just the same for you as it is for everyone else. Gail was so cute and it was so sweet watching them work out that they had feelings for each other.” And my heart just sang.
A TV show has given one of the most important people in my partner’s life a way to understand that love is just love. Diversity is so vital to our society, to our humanity because it’s not just my world. Having diversity in our media, in our books and on our screens, gives other people a way to understand and connect with things outside of their own personal experiences. It’s not just teenage me figuring out why I’m not quite the same (and yet exactly the same) as everyone else; it’s also the world of my family, dealing with having a queer kid; my partner’s family; my friends; my coworkers; and my employers. People on the street who maybe could think well, if Smithers is gay maybe that gay person isn’t actually evil.
And we don’t just need more narratives about being diverse. We need more stories where diversity is just what it is in the real world—a facet of the intricacies that make up a whole person. And in that respect, I think TV is doing much better than movies or books. When I write, I try to reflect the world around me, be influenced by real people, and I always hope that maybe someone who hasn’t quite figured themselves out yet will see something of themselves in one of my LGBTQ+ characters and breathe a little easier.
To finish off, I thought I’d do a quick recommended section of media where being LGBTQ is just part of the story.
1) Will Grayson, Will Grayson by David Levithan
2) The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M Danforth
3) Pantomime by Laura Lam
4) Adaptation by Malinda Lo
5) The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
1) Person of Interest
2) Rookie Blue (as mentioned by Grandma)
3) Sense8 (bonus points for trans character played by trans actor)
4) The Fosters
5) The 100
Tash McAdam’s first writing experience (a collaborative effort) came at the age of eight, and included passing floppy discs back and forth with a best friend at swimming lessons. Since then, Tash has spent time falling in streams, out of trees, learning to juggle, dreaming about zombies, dancing, painting, learning Karate, becoming a punk rock pianist, and of course, writing.
Tash is a teacher in real life, but dreams of being a full-time writer, and living a life of never-ending travel. Though born in the hilly sheepland of Wales, Tash has lived in South Korea and Chile and now calls Vancouver, Canada home.