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Forget Hollywood: Here's Why Thai and Japanese BL Are Winning the LGBTQ+ Representation Game!

From cinema to television and everything in between, American media has seen a remarkable growth in the representation of LGBTQ+ characters over the past few years. There's no denying the milestone importance of shows like "Glee," and "Steven Universe," or films like "Call Me By Your Name" and "Love, Simon." These projects have boldly brought gay narratives into mainstream media, opening up conversations and challenging stereotypes.


But there's a catch. Why is there always a catch? We're at a point where we need to ask ourselves, are we doing justice to the vast diversity within the LGBTQ+ community? There's a noticeable trend in American media where gay narratives, especially involving young adults, and gay characters appear pigeonholed into a limited set of storylines and character arcs.


The LGBTQ+ Hipster, the Road-Trip, and the Forest Setting (Tumblr...Tumblr...oh Tumblr)


One prominent trope is the portrayal of every gay character as a hipster. What the heck happened to even early gay characters in slice-of-life settings or ABC family random cameos? Even sitcoms and shows like "The Golden GIrls" did it better than what we see today. While it's refreshing to see LGBTQ+ characters breaking free from the clichés of tragedy and persecution, confining them to the hipster aesthetic can be equally reductive.


Likewise, narratives revolving around road trips or forest settings have become all too common. While these narratives can be symbolic and poignant, it's a motif that risks becoming worn out due to overuse.


The Coming Out Drama and the 2014 Tumblr YA Novel Effect


Then there's the ubiquitous coming out story. From "Love, Simon" to "Alex Strangelove," many American shows and movies portray young adults coming out, often laden with drama and conflict. While these narratives are crucial in showcasing the struggle and courage involved in accepting one's sexuality, they also tend to generalize the LGBTQ+ experience. Not every person's journey involves significant drama, and not every LGBTQ+ individual views their sexuality as the primary facet of their identity.


Closely related to the coming-out trope is what I like to call the "2014 Tumblr YA Novel Effect." The term refers to the stylized portrayal of gay characters often seen in young adult novels popular on Tumblr around 2014. Think characters like Nico di Angelo from Rick Riordan's "Percy Jackson" series or Simon Spier from "Love, Simon," both of whom encapsulate the image of the misunderstood, emotionally fraught young gay man.


It's important to clarify that these tropes, in and of themselves, are not harmful. They've given voice to many within the LGBTQ+ community. The issue arises when these become the dominant narratives, perpetuating a narrow view of what it means to be gay. The reality is that the LGBTQ+ community is not a monolith; it encompasses a wide array of experiences, personalities, and narratives.


American media compared to BL in Japan, Korea and more global BL, needs to broaden its portrayal of gay characters. The focus should be on creating well-rounded, relatable characters, whose sexual orientation is part of their identity, not their sole defining trait. There needs to be narratives that show the beautiful simplicity of gay relationships, the triumphs and struggles that have nothing to do with their sexuality, and the diverse ways in which people experience and express their sexual orientation.


Imagine a gay character who's not trendy, not a hipster, but maybe a sci-fi nerd, a diehard sports fan, or an introverted bookworm. Or a storyline set not in a city's bustling streets or amidst nature, but perhaps in the heartland of rural America or even the bustling chaos of a Wall Street office (like even some 90s Yaoi achieved better than America's hot take on the subject). Instead of another coming-out drama, why not depict a middle-aged person finding love after a lifetime of believing they never would? Or a gay couple facing the everyday challenges and joys of raising a family? The Last of Us on HBO Max achieved it and broke the internet. It's needed and it's loved.


The good news is, we are beginning to see changes in this direction. Netflix's "Special" breaks away from cliches by telling the story of a gay man with cerebral palsy, offering a perspective rarely seen in media. Similarly, the critically acclaimed "Schitt's Creek" presents a refreshing portrayal of a pansexual character, David Rose, whose sexual orientation is treated as a non-issue throughout the series. It's a simple, yet powerful testament to the normalization of LGBTQ+ identities. But America needs to learn from other countries on how to handle non-dramatic content when focused on BL. Have the drama, but don't make it so Hollywood.


At the end of the day, being gay is not about fitting into a particular mold, but about being authentic to who you are.

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