We are in the era of peak TV, where we are constantly bombarded with a blizzard of TV shows and the obligation that comes with keeping up with them. Inevitably, we are also seeing an uptick in the representation of the LGBTQ community. It’s rather sad that, in this post-millennial age, we still harbour the myth that gay culture on TV corrupts children. It’s being cast as an inducer of moral decay, and a nasty, terrible leech that feeds off children’s innocence and leaves them as dark, twisted, sentient beings.
Growing up as a child, LGBTQ television wasn’t accessible, because it wasn’t visible then as it is now. Comics and cartoons, with their bright, hyperbolic air, were safely grounded in the sweet, conventional notions of family. In fact, it was too safe that parents could blissfully leave their kids with these materials without worrying about them corrupting their minds.
But now, even the everyday children cartoon show straddles a gay character arc, subtly challenging society-based prescriptions of sexuality and gender. For a fact, I know parents try as much as they can to limit what their children view on television, like sex and gratuitous violence. But for the on-screen portrayals of LGTBQ characters, there’s usually a collective moral panic and the overflogged argument that children have to be “protected” from the scourge of homosexuality.
In 2015, public outcry forced MultiChoice Nigeria to pull off I am Jazz from its schedule. That an American reality TV series about a transgender girl named Jazz Jennings was stifled to death even before it began showing. On Disney Channel, the live-action show Good Luck Charlie, which aired from 2010 to 2014, featured lesbian parents in an episode in its final season and faced backlash from One Million Moms, a conservative group. In 2016, Nickelodeon’s animated series Loud House, though lauded for its portrayal of two married interracial gay dads, still attracted negative responses, encouraging parents to forbid their children from watching the show.
These examples are strongly indicative of the toxic, sex-gender normativities and structures that have calcified into the backbone of our society, dictating oppressive ideals and punishing those who don’t comply.
The question shouldn’t be if we are ready to expose our children to gay culture or LGBTQ-inclusive shows, but how we can utilise them as a tool to help unlearn homophobia. The society is what it is today because homophobia has been taught to children from homes, internalised and nurtured into adulthood, so that it forms a part of who they are. More to the point, there is a nuance and complexity that comes with the portrayal of LGBTQ characters that offers diversity and inclusion, a breakaway from the essentialising of heterosexuality and restrictive gender norms. Catch them young, the phrase goes, isn’t what we should be doing?