Why Are Teenage LGBTQIA+ Relationships In The Media Toxic?
With the show Sex Education trending on Netflix the moment it airs, teenage relationships have been brought into the limelight. While topics which previously considered taboo are now being discussed openly, we are still falling behind in one particular aspect: how are LGBT people depicted in the media. Here are certain aspects of such portrayals that need some serious reconsideration.
Call Me By Your Name
This is inarguably one of the most famous LGBTQIA+ romances that show the different dimensions of a gay relationship. Even though the movie garnered a lot of positive attention, it had a more complicated undertone beneath it: grooming. Elio, a 17-year-old teenage boy, gets romantically involved with a 24-year-old man. Even though a 7 year age gap might not seem that striking, their emotional maturity needs to be considered.
This movie has been hailed as one of the best comings of age movies, but it fails to tackle the question of the involvement of an adult is necessary for coming of age? A person of 17 years has an emotional maturity far different from that of a 24-year-old. This places the older partner in a naturally dominant position making the other vulnerable. Portraying a gay couple with this dynamic in soft and romantic light is not exactly empowering.
One of the more recurring themes of LGBTQIA+ romances has been that of a tragic ending. Even this movie ends with Oliver leaving Elio. The screen blackens with us coming to know that Oliver is engaged to be married leaving Elio in tears. Is the movie trying to portray that gay relationships are destined to fail? One can contest that even a lot of heterosexual couples have a tragic ending in movies. Here we need to compare the number of movies that portray the two. There are only a handful of movies targeted towards the LGBT population. Hence the dire need for one which empowers the community is essential.
One of the better and more positive aspects has been the portrayal of a soft and sweet relationship. It showed that a gay relationship is just like any other heteronormative one. Relationships are forged between the people and not the sex.
Sex education can be treated as a cultural revolution. By treating teenagers as human beings and not merely ‘kids’, it has opened the door for many types of conversation. Even though Otis and Maeve have been the main focus, there is one other character who has managed to steal the spotlight. Eric Effiong, played by Ncuti Gatwa, has been one of the most eye-catching and dynamic characters, especially in the LGBT community. It shows him romantically involved with two guys- Rahim, a recent transfer student, and thereafter Adam, his former bully.
There is a lot of debate about how Eric and Adam should or shouldn’t have ended up together. Here is my opinion of it. The relationship between Eric and Rahim should have been the end game for Eric. Here we have Rahim, a guy who owns his sexuality and is well out of the closet, unapologetically himself and unafraid to show his feelings for Eric. They constituted a healthy relationship which, I believe, could have been a role model for the teenage LGBTQIA+ community.
On the other hand, we have Adam, a guy who is confused and is ashamed of his sexuality, not to mention how he used to bully Eric as he mistook his attraction to him for hatred. Quite envious of his confidence, Adam regularly made Eric’s school life a nightmare. We may ask why do we see them developing a romantic plotline. There are instances where Adam has refused to acknowledge his ingrained homophobia and is ashamed of expressing his feelings. All of his traumatic instances considered, we have seen he has put in little effort into changing himself for Eric.
This show has missed a major chance of portrayal of a healthy LGBTQIA+ relationship. The show being as popular as it is could have given the LGBTQIA+ teenagers the role model they deserve.
Blue Is The Warmest Color
This movie won the Best International Independent Film at the Cannes Film Festival, 2013. A negative criticism of this movie is hard to make as it is a beautiful portrayal of a teenager, Adele coming to terms with her sexuality. We are shown various dilemmas she faces along the way, how she was unable to be attracted to her boyfriend and found a release with a senior student, Emma. As much as it is a movie that is a major conversation starter, there are some aspects that I found problematic in the relationship between the two.
As much as we talk about free healthy conversations about sex, sapphic sex is still not a major topic in those. However the society which we live in has somehow twisted the narrative from freedom to love regardless of gender, to something that caters to their needs. Similarly when we talk about sapphic relationships, the first thing that pops up in our minds is the sex that people fantasize about. Sapphics are transformed from real human beings to a projection of fantasy. This is what happened in the movie.
We are shown that the relationship between the two is mainly carnal and sexual in nature. While there are emotional moments, the main focus is sex. This is not only damaging to the sapphic community but to the LGBTQIA+ community as a whole. The movie has propagated the relationship to cater to not as a liberation but as a fantasy.
Sex is a major aspect of a relationship for a lot of relationships however it shouldn’t be the only thing that is present. We need more portrayals of healthy sapphic relationships that do not center around sex only.
Needless to say, our society needs some healthier depictions of teenage LGBTQIA+ relationships. The concept of unhealthy and toxic representation must be done away with. It makes young minds think that toxic behaviors are romantic and desirable. Dating an older man when you are young is the epitome of adulthood. This is not what our media should aim to achieve. The target should be optimism. The media must give the younger generations hope that love has nothing to do with your gender and everyone deserves a happy ending.
Our generation is very in touch with their emotions when compared to the previous ones. To make the place a better one for the future ones, it is important to focus on all aspects of a person’s life making sure that no community feels neglected. The easiest way to do so is to bring their issues to the forefront and be done with stereotypical ignorance.
Cover Illustration: Vani Nirwan