What years of agonising aversion therapy, hormone treatment for some, being prayed over and beatings and prison couldn't do, Shortland Street scriptwriters have managed. Again. They turned a gay character straight. Again. Jonathan McKenna on his return to the show has now fallen for Gabrielle, when years ago his youthful character was hailed for helping break down sterotypes about gay men.
Obviously the ex-Gay movement, homophobic religious types and the few remaining psychiatrists who claim we are mentally sick should get on a plane and find out just what their secret is, because they succeed in turning gay men and women straight with remarkable frequency.
I know, I know, it's a TV soap opera and has little to do with reality, but still, I find something nasty about the way they do this. Australia isn't much better, with "Home and Away" nicknamed "Homo Away" as any gay character they ever bring in is quickly moved on. It's like the way the Soviets used to re-write history, air-brushing inconvenient leaders out of photos and history. And even though it's fiction, it tries very hard to pretend that it represents New Zealand. Just without the sodomy.
Given the number of gay writers involved in the show, you'd think they could keep one gay character going in a reasonably realistic manner - they do it for everyone else.
Why can't the lesbians stay lesbian on Shorty? Why can't the poofs stay poofs? Or is being gay really just "a lifestyle choice" as our enemies like to maintain? That is certainly the message you get from Shorty. "Yeah, you're a guy who likes guys at the moment, but don't worry, we'll cure you!" Part of it is obviously financial. The show needs advertisers, and gay men just don't sell that well. Straight men like looking at pretty lesbians and imagining themselves with them, so you can get away with that a bit more - but obviously not too much.
Do people really change from gay to straight with such ease? Not in my experience, and certainly not if you look into any of the research. Changing people's sexual orientation is largely seen as impossible for most, and uneccesary as well. Now, I do know that for some women, love is more important than the physical gender of the person they are with, so some women do move from loving women to men and back - it happens. But most who call themselves lesbians tend to stay that way in my experience.
A long time ago I knew a couple of straight men who decided to "turn gay" out of (I am serious) deeply helpd political convictions based in a radical style of feminism. They thought being with men would help undermine the patriarchy. Last I heard they'd both gone straight again. It didn't take, because where you sit on the spectrum of human sexuality is pretty deeply wired in. And yes, it is a spectrum, but most people tend to be clustered either at the straight end, or the gay end - there really aren't that many occupying the middle ground.
I sure as hell didn't "choose" to be gay, and I get really pissed off when people talk about it as a "lifestyle choice" - it's not a choice, it's an integral and natural part of who I am, just like my height and eye-colour. And it's not something that you can suddenly change by flipping a switch.
Do soap operas have a duty to tell the truth? Yes and no. Obviously it's fiction. But if they only portrayed Maori as drug-dealing gang-members who kill their babies, there would be a justifiable outcry. If they portrayed all nurses and doctors as drug-addicted lazy and incompetent, there would be an outcry.
But if they turn a gay man straight - well, who cares? And have they ever turned a straight man gay? I don't think so. I'd love to see TK and Owen realise their mutual antagonism really stems from their long deeply-held love for each other. But we won't see that.
Visibility matters. It is important that we queers are seen on TV, and seen as normal and part of everyday life - because that is the truth. We are normal. We are part of everyday life. As the old Gay Lib slogan said "We are everywhere!" It is important that young queers of whatever stripe see ourselves represented and know they aren't freaks, and know they aren't alone in the world.We are not something to hide from, to be afraid of, or something to wipe out.
I guess the main imperative is commercial, but that's really not a good enough excuse. We need to be seen. We need to be shown to be part of mainstream NZ culture. Because, that is what we are, and we deserve nothing less.
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