NYCC '16

Role Models: Queer Representation in Youth and All-Ages Media

David Stehman ’17 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

The first question at NYCC’s “Queer Representation in All-Ages and Youth Media” panel on Friday was “Who were some role models you grew up in media?” The panel, which comprised of five queer content creators, all found difficulty trying to identify off the top of their head a figure in the children’s shows of the 90s they grew up watching that reflected them. Whether or not this response was expected from the moderator is irrelevant to the fact that there is a serious issue with queer representation in children’s media.

Jeremy Sorese and James Tynion IV
Jeremy Sorese and James Tynion IV

Jeremy Sorese, the writer of the Steven Universe comic books, remarked how young queer fans are starting to have a representation on television. Sorese, who came out during college, expressed delight that fans are finding themselves on TV at a young age: “Things existing now haven’t existed before. You can have that beacon.”

It’s true that much progress has been made in queer youth media, from the Gems in Steven Universe to Korra and Asami in The Legend of Korra. However, the panel was unanimous that J.K. Rowling’s announcement that Dumbledore is gay after all seven books were finished with no direct textual evidence was counter-productive. James Tynion IV, writer of The Backstagers, mentioned the problems with the intentions of creating a queer character: “There’s no absolute right, when it comes to it. But you should call it out anyway.”

Kat Leyh and Blue Delliquanti
Kat Leyh and Blue Delliquanti

Even with the progress, there are some facets of queerness that the panel felt needed to be more visible. Blue Delliquanti, writer of O Human Star, felt that gender-fluidity / non-binary would be something she wanted to tackle next. Kat Leyh, writer of Lumberjanes, agreed, adding, “Parents need to give pronoun discussions. Kids need context to be educated.” Leyh also felt asexuality needed more prominence: “There needs to be more female characters without love interests.”

The common argument against educating queer identities to children is the belief that kids are too young to understand it without mentioning sex. Delliquanti made a good analysis of the opposing mentality: “There is a misconception that it is a choice that they have to make later in life. It’s something they are, and they need to know it to prevent misconceptions.” In response to the belief that queer stories can’t exist without mentioning sex, Delliquanti also pointed out the irony: “Heterosexual narratives exist without sex, but we just forget that when it comes to LGBT narratives.”

The panel wrapped on the topic of what should be done to naturally represent sexuality in children’s media. Sorese mentioned not forcing the characters to identify themselves: “You can avoid using tropes by naturally integrating their identities into the scene.” Delliquanti commended future writers for taking the risk of queer identities in a key demographic: “When the story writer goes the extra mile to create a particular world, it was a lot of opportunities for queer visibility.”

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