The New (Gay Male) Normal
NBC’s now-defunct sitcom The New Normal featured a happy gay couple living in Los Angeles, and their efforts to build a family through surrogacy. The show, like Will & Grace, Modern Family, and Glee, challenges social norms surrounding romance, marriage, and family, introducing same-sex couples into the mix.
But the “new normal” these shows create looks very white, male, and middle class. In many of these gay-affirmative shows, lesbian characters are still confined to side plots or coming out stories.
Writing in Journal of Homosexuality in 2009, scholar Noelle Collier and her colleagues explain that television is an important source of self-mirroring images that validate the experiences of lesbians in the early stages of identity formation. Citing examples like Willow and Tara (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Xena and Gabrielle (Xena: Warrior Princess), they argue that lesbian characters enhance lesbian viewer’s self-esteem and help them to see their own desires and relationships as normal.
But the primetime representations that queer female viewers can draw on remain limited. Fan forums for shows like Rizzoli and Isles and Once Upon a Time call for better representation of lesbian characters, arguing that dynamic female couples shouldn’t be confined to HBO and Showtime. Some shows, such as The Fosters and Pretty Little Liars, are beginning to break the primetime mold by presenting well-rounded characters who happen to be lesbians. Still, we have a long way to go before television shows are reflective of the diversity of the LGBTQ population.