My Relationship with Queer Pop Culture

I just turned in this reflection to my professor, and I thought I’d share it here.

Forgive my silence lately- school has taken all my time, and what free time I have left, I am doing Hannibal meta work on Tumblr. However, I’ll be here much more now- time to come back to the blog. Orlando scared me to death, but… this is where I belong.

So, here’s the paper. It’s about my relationship with queer pop culture, and how it influenced me each time I’ve had to “come out.”

Very soon, I’ll be coming out again to my friends, my family, and to my community. I think I’ll document that experience. I need to write about it.

**Spoiler alert for season 4 of Orange is the New Black.



I’ve been undergoing a radical shift in sexuality lately, and this was entirely spurred on by

my study of gay subtext in popular culture- mainly the X-Men films, BBC’s Sherlock, and

the NBC show Hannibal. I grew up in a very conservative, upper middle class white family,

where my bisexuality (as I identified at the time) was constantly demonized. I was

desperate for any visibility of how I felt around me, and it came in the form of Anne Rice’s

Vampire Chronicles. All of her characters are bisexual, and because of this, I was able to

put a name to what I was and how I felt. It gave me a place to belong when I had nothing

else, and so started a long journey and close relationship with queer pop culture. However,

after college, because of how I’d been raised, I eventually conformed to a white, middle

class, straight relationship (albeit to someone I have a real connection with) because that

was the life I’d known, despite my time in the LGBT+ communities on campus. Recently,

however, I’d started hearing about the subtext in the Sherlock and Hannibal shows, as well

as the X-Men films, and I started a journey of studying subtext that lead me to LGBT

history and pop culture. All of this reawakened my sexuality, and started a pathway back

to who I really am: a queer woman. Recently, because of that as well,  I’ve taken in an

immense amount of queer pop culture, researching as much of it as I can find, and

absorbing all of it. So many things have caught my eye, but one thing that I’ve really

connected to is the electronic pop band, the Pet Shop Boys. Neil Tennant, the band’s lead

singer, is openly gay, and came out publicly in 1994. In that year, I had my first girlfriend,

and was basically clinging to her and to Anne Rice for any sense of community. I watched

performances during that year, and afterwards, and was pleasantly surprised to see the

openness with which Neil addresses his sexuality. The band is also famous for the song It’s

A Sin, which is about Neil’s struggle with his sexuality against his rigid Catholic

upbringing. I went to Catholic school. So much of his background is relatable to me, and

had I known about this band when I young, they would’ve also helped me through my

struggles as a bisexual woman in a very straight world. This very idea, that I as a queer

youth, did not have access to the community or the culture because mainstream art was

white and heteronormative is what made me relate so much to Lipton’s search for subtext

in the Archie comics, and his desire to bring that to the youth. I had absolutely no sense of

community with anyone, and that would’ve been much different had I access to those in

the public eye who identified as LGBT. As a child, one is basically at the mercy of the

environment in which they grow, so visibility of LGBT culture in the mainstream is

incredibly important. Harvey Fierstein in The Celluloid Closet talks about “visibility at any

cost,” meaning that whether the exposure is negative, positive, or accurate, is much more

preferable over complete and utter blackout, as if LGBT people didn’t exist at all. I have to

say, I somewhat side with him on this issue because had exposure been given to the LGBT

culture in the early 90s, whether negative or not, it would’ve greatly helped me in my

struggles, and I would’ve felt less alone. This is something that quite a few queer kids

today would relate to, and so I’m watching with great enthusiasm visibility happen more

and more, watching Sulu become a queer gay man of color, watching discourse around Poe

and Finn in the new Star Wars, observing the success of films like Carol. I’m also keeping

my ear to the ground with the youth and listening to their voices, listening to their

reactions to those in the media who come out, or when new LGBT characters are

introduced to shows. The- admittedly still few- examples of LGBT characters have been

enormously impactful, even if they’re not always accurate or inclusive- and when they’re

not, the audience will let you know. It’s quite interesting, actually, and I can see this exact

same thing starting with bands like Pet Shop Boys, as I go back to the start of visible LGBT

music. As they perform their songs, especially those that are dealing with issues of

sexuality, you can see the audience react positively to this in a way that’s different to the

band’s other songs. The Queer pop culture is community for the youth who have no way

out of the situations they’re born into until they’re of age, and it’s so important that they

be given access to this. The internet has had an unprecedented impact on this, with social

networking bringing the youth together, and giving rise to many indie voices, including

many queer people of color, those who are gender fluid or non-conforming, transgender

individuals, and women. So much art is being done on an indie level, something that is

having quite an effect on mainstream pop culture- like the consistent fan push for Edward

Nygma and Penguin (both of whom are played by queer actors) to be an item on Fox’s

Gotham, the amazing performances of gender fluid X-Factor contestant, Seann Miley

Moore, or the vlogging of the genderqueer YouTube star Jeffrey Marsh. The more people

come out, the more people speak up on social media, and the more voices that are heard,

the more visibility the community gets, and the more of the youth we can reach. However,

it’s important that the youth be exposed to the entire history, and not just what’s popular

today. To paraphrase “Aunt Vivian” in the 1990s show Fresh Prince during a conversation

with her nephew, Will, about black history: “You must honor the entire struggle.” The arts

are mirror for us, and that reflection is even more important to the LGBT+ community,

especially those of the community that are usually silenced or marginalized. It’s also just

as important that those same voices be given the ability to create as well, so that the art

comes from personal experience, or theories in the flesh, rather than outsider

observations as we see in Paris is Burning. For instance, the newest season of Orange is

the New Black made a call with the black lesbian on the show, Poussey, that had everyone

(including myself) up in arms. That kind of outcry, mingled with the “supposed

intentions” of the show’s white, straight creators, reflects the kind of social outcry when

crimes like that happen in real life, and also gives it more mainstream attention. When I

was young, I would’ve absolutely benefitted from social media, the increasing visibility of

queer culture, and the continuing discourse surrounding all of it. Rather than feeling

entirely isolated and alone, I would have seen my reflection in television, or film, or music,

and I would have been able to lend my voice via social media towards justice and change.

As it stands now, I’m a 35 year old queer woman undergoing another sexuality re-

identification, and getting back in touch with the community, and that started- as it did in

the beginning- with queer pop culture. This time, however, my definition is much more

inclusive and broadened, thanks to this education, my obsession with learning everything

about the evolving LGBT+ community and watching this new dawning of queer youth

redefine what it means to be gay, or transgender, or gender fluid. The arts are starting to

reflect this, with indie films and shows now being given a platform, and LGBT+ directors,

actors, and showrunners gaining a solid mainstream voice. While with that comes the

dangers of corporatization, as evidenced in many of the Pride parades today, it also means

that the “rights battle” has entered global consciousness, which means it won’t be

forgotten. That’s a victory achieved by the activists who fought for that visibility, most of

the time at great personal cost, and that’s the kind of information that needs to be

accessible. Accessibility means that information will eventually become common

knowledge, and common knowledge means that it’s visible. I’m a bit of an idealist, and I

realize that my relationship with and love for queer pop culture greatly influences how I

see things, but I see the fruits of what was laid down over half a century ago coming to

visibility. The community, especially the youth who are still denied their voices and

identities, deserve to watch this happen, and realize how important it is. Even if the

discourse is brought about by a tragic event or fueled by discrimination against the

community, the point is that silence and invisibility are forever broken. Permanent

visibility is something that, if handled correctly, can only produce fruitful results, and

queer pop culture can evolve into a more timely reflection of the actual LGBT+ community,

thus giving the youth (and those in intolerant areas) a community in which to belong.

About hln351

Student of Gender and Sexuality Studies with a focus on Queer Studies, collector and purveyor of all things LGBT+, and passionate lover of the Arts.
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