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Is it Okay to Be Gay? How Mainstream Media Culture Influences Gender & Sexuality

Categories: Popular Culture, Gender & Sexuality, Women's Studies, Comics & Graphic Novels, Cultural Studies, Film, TV, & Media
Event Date: 2019-02-15 Abstract Due: 2019-02-15

Deadline for submissions: February 15, 2019

Project name: Is it Okay to Be Gay? How Mainstream Media Culture Influences Gender & Sexuality

Full name / name of organization: Christiane Rinck and Heidi Tilney Kramer, University of South Florida

Contact email: Crinck@usf.edu




According to the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law (Gary J. Gates. “How Many People are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender?” April 2011), 3.5% (or 9 million people) of the US adult population identify as part of the LGBT community; another 19 million Americans (8.2%) have engaged in same-sex relations, while 25.6 million (11%) recognize their own same-sex attraction; further, there are 700,000 transgender individuals in the US. NBC News tells us that worldwide overall LGBTQ acceptance has increased, though in a polarized fashion. (“The Shifting Global Terrain of L.G.B.T.Q. Rights” The New York Times, 6/21/18) Although gains have been made, legally as well as socially, nationally and globally, there are also continuing challenges. We would like to provide a platform for authors to discuss these challenges and the many ways in which media representation influences LGBTQ+ perceptions, hence policy. This will take the form of a critical reader to be used across disciplines and will function as a primary or ancillary text for undergraduate college students. Thus, we are in need of fifty-plus essays which are mindful of influencing the latest generation of scholars.     


We expect this reader to be global in experience in order to reflect not simply place, but historical and contrastingly current differences in ideology regarding sexuality. While it is appropriate to include US examples since US media has such a far reach, the reader will not be limited to US experience. In addition, this collection seeks to include news media (print, TV, online) as a viable source, not simply television and film. Indeed, societal influences are sought, not least YouTube/online comments, religious opinion, cartoons and comic book series, video games, education/camps, etc. That is to say, what are the contributions of pastors, sex ed courses, the latest superhero films to the cause? Which LGBTQ+ stories are featured in the news? Do any depict favorable tales? How has living on the Internet changed our perceptions? How are gay characters portrayed in video games? Are there any video games representing those in the LGBTQ+ community? Are these portrayals more favorable outside the US? Where?   


Additional queries to consider: What forms societal opinion? In what ways do these various forms of media shape the perception of the communities? What is the perception of the hetero community toward the LGBTQ+ community? How have past representations injured/inspired those in the community? How does mainstream media enforce a strict gender binary? As tech replaces community spaces, how does this limit interaction between groups?   


Early representations of gay men in the US are limited, and even the idea of female relationships virtually non-existent when it comes to general cinema and television. However, Vito Russo's Celluloid Closet: Homosexuality in the Movies (book, 1981; documentary, 1995) and Transgender Warriors: Making History from Joan of Arc to Dennis Rodman (1996) by Leslie Feinberg, show us how to view and analyze historical accounts. How far spread and successful has the movement been generally?


The following '70s reference stands out as among the first, though the humor surrounding it is insulting, perhaps beginning or at least facilitating the trend of only mentioning purportedly alternative lifestyles within a mean comedic framework, whether though such characters' lips or about them from others. 


Reliably, "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" was early in introducing a gay character – and cautioning us about media conglomeration, as it happens. In the 1973 episode, "My Brother's Keeper," Phyllis' brother visits and he starts hanging out with Rhoda (Phyllis' nemesis). Phyllis is terribly upset about this but then becomes incensed when Rhoda tells her he's not her type. Phyllis extols her brother's virtues. When Rhoda adds that he's gay to her list, Phyllis' chin drops. But because she is so happy that this news means he isn't interested in Rhoda after all (or maybe because she is so blind-sided by it, or maybe because it was the '70s and we had Native American comedians on prime time and the workers had unions to protect their jobs, or, maybe just because it was the right thing to do), she doesn't seem to be bothered by her sibling being gay. 


Films such as The Rocky Horror Picture Show introduced late-night cult audiences from the'70s onward to what was then outré - omni-/pan-sexuality, transvestitism, and other rarely “out” activity…and permeated society, all the creation of the man who played Riff, author and screenwriter Richard O'Brien. It would become one of few outlets for one to play with one's sexuality. Anyone could come in drag and sing along. 


Among the first songs which make reference to supposed alternative sexuality was Cyndi Lauper's 1984 "She Bop," because she refers to a Blueboy (formerly Blue Boy) magazine, which was a gay porn mag from 1974-2007. Before that, Liberace, Elton John, and Joan Jett seemed the only famous references—and those weren't confirmed. 


Depictions of LGBTQ+ in media have grown over the years, yet more does not always mean better; while it is amazing that programs such as "Will and Grace,” “Queer As Folk,” and "The L Word" eventually appeared on our screens, these sometimes contained mean-spirited references and engaged in patriarchal discourses, along with, arguably, being queer-specific shows. Forward to shows like "Modern Family" and “Scandal” with more developed portrayals. However, most normalized and nuanced LGBTQ+ characters are relegated to pay formats, such as HBO, Showtime, and Netflix.  Not to be forgotten, the list of non-binary characters can easily be counted on one hand.


Combining media texts with academic anchors such as Hilton-Morrow and Battles' Sexual Identities and the Media: An Introduction (2014), Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference (2010), or Bronski's A Queer History of the United States (2012), for example, document the rocky road from early Hollywood to now. Explore the range and dynamic of sexuality and gender diversities within media. What were indicators characters were gay in the early days of media and how did they transform over time? Or have they? How did studios handle what was once a sensitive subject? Is this the same in lands outside the US? Examine and explain whether most current representations are beneficial. 


Topics may include, but are not limited to:


- How does media affect perceptions of the LGBTQ+ community inside/outside the US?


- Are current LGBTQ+ depictions realistic? Positive?


- Differences between historical and modern media images


- In what ways are LGBTQ+ representations better now than in the past? 


- Historical references and their significance 


- How do audiences, particularly children, get to view different GSD (Gender and Sexual Diversity)? 


- Problematic areas in media regarding LGBTQ+


- Queerbaiting


- How do choices in featured news stories affect perceptions?


- Evolution of LGBTQ+ topics or persons in popular music


- How is LGBTQ+ representation in the United States affecting cultures elsewhere? And, how are portrayals or (un)acceptance of LGBTQ+ people elsewhere affecting the LGBTQ+ popular media? 


- What is the significance and impact of using of non-human LGBTQ+ characters?


- Industry changes affecting LGBTQ+ characters


- Casting process and outcomes of LGBTQ+ characters




We anticipate that this referenced anthology will include 50+ essays, and as a working guide, the essays should be 4000-4500 words. Essays must adhere to the most current MLA format. We have granted exclusive rights to the initial review of this reader to University of Nebraska Press (UNP), Cultural Criticism and Theory Series. For over 75 years, UNP has been a prestigious university press with a worldwide distribution platform and more than 6,000 titles still in print.


Submission Guidelines: Send a 500-word abstract in Word, followed by a short bibliography showing the paper's scholarly and theoretical context. Also include a brief bio and full CV.


Send to: Christie Rinck (crinck@usf.edu) by February 15, 2019.



Dr. Christie Rinck