Queer representation in film and TV has been something that has been pleaded for since far before the LGBTQIA+ movement took place. Being able to identify with characters on the screen not only gives someone self-reassurance that they are not alone but also serves as an educational figure for those who turn a blind eye to marginalized communities.
Specifically, we have seen a colorful blossoming of gay cis-gendered male characters in visual media. There are so many monumental characters and actors that have been able to change the narrative for gay cis-gender male representation, showing that we do have power on screen. With this increase in representation, comes a greater responsibility to make sure that every gay cis-gendered character that is shown in visual media is breaking down barriers rather than putting up new ones that can place the gay cis-gendered male narrative in a box. Sometimes I personally feel nervous when I hear of a new gay character in visual media as they might be stereotypical or based off of tropes that have been perpetuated by society. Representation is important but it is just as important that we make representation that speaks to the community as a whole rather than one narrow window.
Here is a list of guidelines for creating Gay cis-gendered male characters in visual media as well characters that I feel embody these guidelines well:
Have gay cis-gendered male actors play gay cis-gendered male roles:
CW’s “Dynasty” is full of fashion, drama, money, alcohol, and sex. Yes, in that order. With a mix of elements as explosive as that, you can only imagine how an openly gay character would only add to the explosiveness. To the contrary, Sammy Jo played by Rafael de la Fuente (who is gay in real life), adds some sort of stability to this topsy-turvy world of “Dynasty”. You can always rely on Sam to give you his honest opinion, his ultimate loyalty, and first-rate fashion. Sam starts off as a naïve hustler trying to make his way to the top of the economic ladder but eventually grows into a legitimate hotelier who struggles to find a love that is worthy of his time and energy (so relatable). Sam stole my heart not just with his cute smile and amazing skin but also because being gay for him is something internalized not something extensional that he has to grapple with. This partly is because the actor, Rafael, is a gay cis-gendered man in real life and that kind of on-screen comfort is something that not even the best actors can embody. The show seamlessly normalizes his sexuality and doesn’t make it something that has to be registered; it just is something that is. There are so many talented gay cis-gendered male actors out there who can play these roles and we need to stop allowing straight male actors to play a narrative they know absolutely nothing about. Sam charges onto the screen already confident with his sexuality and you get to watch him grow as a human being not just as a gay man.
Being gay doesn’t need to be a central theme in order to be represented:
Many remember the Bollywood hit movie, “Kapoor & Sons”, for its catchy soundtrack, heartthrob Siddharth Malhotra who plays Arjun Kapoor, and Alia Bhat’s spunky on-screen persona Tia Malik however, some overlook the quiet gay superhero that is Rahul Kapoor played by Fawad Khan (straight in real life sadly). This real-world drama tells the story of two estranged brothers and how their dysfunctional family reconnects after their grandfather passes away from cardiac arrest. Rahul is the responsible older brother who has always been a pillar for his parents while younger brother Arjun is wild and care free. Rahul and Arjun struggle to readjust to life at home and the story unravels in various directions. The one surprise direction is when it is revealed that Rahul is gay and has a boyfriend. His mother reacts in a typical dramatic way by shunning her son entirely. However, in the end she comes around and the family reunites stronger than ever showing that their son’s sexuality cannot lessen their love for him. The delicacy and subtlety of Rahul’s sexuality is something I enjoyed as the movie didn’t revolve around it. This showed that Rahul could still be the perfect son and family caretaker all while being his true authentic gay self.
Sexuality is fluid and allows characters to embrace this:
“Schitt’s Creek” has been one of my favorite comedies of all time thanks to Daniel Levy’s ingenious writing and creativity. Daniel Levy (fabulously gay in real life) also plays the pansexual character of David Rose on the show: a sassy rich kid who goes broke when his family loses all of their money. David explores his sexuality and finds himself tasting different “wines” as he says on the show, explaining that he likes the wine itself rather than the label. This one line broke the binding chains that sexuality labels create ultimately trapping so many people. David effortlessly demonstrates that love stems from growing a connection with a human being rather than what they identify themselves as. Sexuality needs to be viewed as a spectrum rather than a monolith that people need to fall into. David in the end falls for Patrick Brewer, a man who doesn’t originally identify as gay but fell in love with David’s personality, and the couple take you on a journey where once again sexuality isn’t the central focus but rather just two human navigating their relationship. In the end, the couple become successful small business owners showing gay economic success and eventually get married showing that love is love.
It is important to show coming out in a real and grounded fashion:
“Love, Simon” has been one of favorite rom-coms of all time not only because the story follows a high school boy going through the challenges of finding one’s self and coming out but also does so in such a relatable way that you cannot help but fall in love. Simon (played by Nick Robinson, another straight man playing a gay role) knows he is gay from the beginning of the movie however struggles to tell his friends and family leading him to cover up his sexuality. He finds refuge in writing online letters under an alias and finds a companion who reciprocates Simon’s sentiments. However due to being stuck in the bubble of high school, he gets trapped in various scenarios and ends up having his sexuality revealed by someone else rather than himself. With accepting friends and family, Simon is able to overcome this obstacle and owns his sexuality while also finding his online companion in real life allowing for an amazing on-screen couple. In my opinion, the movie successfully catalogs a coming out story in a realistic fashion and isn’t necessarily glamorized. While this coming story cannot be viewed as that for every gay cis-gendered male, it certainly can be an uplifting beacon of hope for some. It definitely was for me.
Allow gay cis-gendered men to be strong and fearless:
In my opinion, “Made In Heaven” is the best modern day South Asian show of all time. Zoya Akhtar’s impeccable ability to break down all social scaffolding that restricts South Asian culture has allowed “Made In Heaven” to empower so many South Asians like me. The show centers around Tara Khanna (played by the amazing Sobhita Dhulipala) and Karan Mehra (played by Arjun Mathur who is also straight), two wedding planners who run their own wedding planning company. Wedding by wedding, they challenge century old social norms, change viewpoints, and shed a light on harmful mentalities. Outside of this, Karan is shamelessly gay during a time when it was illegal to be gay in India. You get to indulge in Karan’s passionate, lustful romances as well as his fight against society for his right to be gay. The show highlights the viewpoints of gay allies that support Karan and even shows the struggles that so many closeted South Asian men still face to this day. Karan is another refreshing character you get to watch being a bold, strong, and fearless gay man without adding flamboyance or frills to the mix. Everyone can be gay however they please and it is important for us to show the limitless possibilities that gay men can have.
These characters that I have mentioned above, are just some of the amazing cis-gendered gay male characters that we see in visual media. They all represent important, key guidelines that need to be considered when creating gay cis-gendered male characters as empowering representation presents some validation for gay men, like myself. Sammy Jo, Rahul, David, Simon, and Karan all show us that gay cis-gendered men can be strong, intelligent, successful, loving, powerful, compassionate, masculine, feminine, and fabulous all at the same time.