Is big media fetishizing queer behavior?

LGBTQIA+ representation in pop culture is making it easy to be gender-nonconformist. Or is it?

PRIDE LOVE June is about to end, but the discourse on the topic of LGBTQIA+ community never stops. This week’s  Philippine Panorama goes into the heart of the matter (Cover design by Jules Vivas)

If God answered a gay boy’s prayer in the form of a magic pill he only had to pop into his mouth and—voila!—he would have girl crushes like the other boys, he could dream of shooting guns or wearing a soldier’s uniform, and someday he could be a daddy himself with his own mini-mes or his own basketball team, everyone would be happy. And I mean everyone, not only the boy himself, but also his school, his neighbors, his extended family of nosy aunts and uncles, his own daddy or mommy, and even the Catholic Church.

This might have been true for some gay boys and girls only a few decades ago, when being gay was strange or unaccepted, when being gay was seen as some kind of disease, disorder, deviance, sin, or curse.

“Gay people will burn in hell,” the aunts would mutter, rosary in their hands, a veil over their heads. And priests who reigned over boys’ schools would say things like, “We’re all boys here, right? If you’re not, raise your hand.” And nuns who reigned over girls’ schools would say the same, casting side glances at the tomboys, whether they were gay or not beyond their boyish appearance, disposition, or demeanor.

Sometimes, the mothers—or even their fathers—would justify their horror, upon finding out their son or daughter was gay. They would say, “I don’t mind that you are like that, but honey, I’m afraid you will have such an unhappy life.” (Or that you might go to hell.)

It makes sense. To be openly gay back then—or even to be what was termed as straight-sissy—was to risk being an outcast or to be the class clown, especially among the boys, who would tease you every chance they got about your falsetto voice, the lilt in your step, the tilt of your head, your orchid fingers, or your posse of “girl” friends.

Sexuality back then was simple or simplistic, or even oversimple. Either you were a boy or a girl, that’s normal, or you were a girl who wanted to be a boy or a boy who wanted to be a girl. If you were the latter, then you were a freak and people cared not about your feelings—they would laugh at you, call you names, pretend-rape you, ostracize you, make fun of you, or curse you to hell.

Hence, the magic pill.

Now, only two or three decades later, it’s the reverse. In an article I wrote in March, “Why Hetero-Boys Are Pretending to Be Gay on TikTok,” it’s to be gay than straight, at least on TikTok, “where hetero-boys are not only pretending to be gay, but doing gay acts, such as grinding against each other in hotel rooms, while likes, complemented by tens of thousands of comments that go from ‘hawwt’ to ‘slide into my DM maybe,’ pile up in the millions with every pretend kiss, fake hug, or mock cuddle.”

Since early this month, as Pride crusaders flooded the social media sites with “free love,” “Loud and Proud,” and “Pride Is Protest” shoutouts, teen music icon Billie Eilish has been in trouble, having just launched a video accompanying her latest release “Lost Cause,” which she dropped on June 2. Netizens have accused her of queerbaiting, thanks to her music video in which she is seen in bed with girls. She also posted the video on Instagram with the caption: “i love girls.” Now, her detractors are calling her out for pretending to be gay or capitalizing on queerness without offering any real queer representation. They are screaming, “Are you gay or not?” and asking her to come out, if she is as she makes it appear online to call attention to her new track.    

Back then, perception of non-heterosexuality was as limited as the understanding of sexuality in general. Gay to most people was someone born male who would act, speak, desire, or self-identify as a female or the other way around, someone born female who would act, speak, desire, or self-identify as male. The understanding of sexual non-conformity was crude to the point of ridiculous. If you were a gay boy, you would want to be a girl, dress like a girl, make love like a girl, do anything like a girl. No one thought that a gay boy could want to look like a man, speak like a man, grow a beard like a man, “spiiit like a man,” as Jack and Rose would put it in James Cameron’s Titanic, and also love a man at the same time. Or that it was possible that the hottest girl in town—long hair, mini-skirt, red hot lipstick, and heels higher than high—would have the hots for, you guessed it, your sister.

BEAUTIFUL MEN Elite season four Ander played by Arón Piper and Patrick portrayed by Manu Ríos

But now we know—or do we? The 13yearolds know it, the girls and boys, many of them straight (or developing?), hooked on BL or Boys Love series on streaming sites like Gameboys on Netflix, Kumusta Bro on Kumu, and MyDay on YoutTube. Let’s not even talk about all the homoerotic love, whether implicit or out there, in Japanese manga or anime, what they call yaoi, whose fandom for decades has been phenomenal, expressed not only in readership or viewership, but also in the upsurge of fanfiction, video edits, and self-published reinterpretations, in which even non-sexual characters are, to use the words of the youth, “shipped.”

Sexuality back then was simple or simplistic, or even oversimple. Either you were a boy or a girl, that’s normal, or you were a girl who wanted to be a boy or a boy who wanted to be a girl.

Even in the more mainstream films, in teen dramas like the grisly, envelope-pushing Elite or the K-novela Itaewon Class, in sci-fi series Sense8, The Umbrella Academy, The OA, The 100, or Black Mirror, and in thrillers like Ratched, The Haunting of Bly Manor, or The Handmaid’s Tale, there’s some queer representation, whether in spurts or in explosions, whether with respect or just to jump on the bandwagon.

Research after research has looked into the effects of media on the youth’s search for or explorations on such things as gender, identity, preferences, especially in the area of sexuality and social interactions. More and more we are realizing that the movies we watch, the books we read, or the music we listen to either shape us, particularly during the awkward, developmental stage of our youth, or mirror who we are inside or who we may become. How many of our heroes in media—John Wayne or Fernando Poe Jr., Chris Hemsworth or Robin Padilla—might have influenced us to be macho? How many of our female idols made us think that looking good was all it took to conquer the world, like Anne Hathaway as Mia Thermopolis in The Princess Diaries, or that without a man even the most powerful woman on earth could be miserable, like Meryl Streep as Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada, or that fat girls, like Rebel Wilson as Fat Amy in Pitch Perfect, would need a hell lot of talent to compensate for their lack of skinniness.

For today’s kids who are finding idols in the likes of Chris Colfer as Kurt Hummel in Glee, Pearl Mackie as Bill in Doctor Who, Princess Bubblegum and Marceline in Adventure Time, Aisha Dee as Kat and Nikohl Boosheri as Adena in The Bold Type, Lily Hoshikawa in Zombieland Saga, Hunter Schafer as Jules on Euphoria, and Nicole Maines as Dreamer, aka Nia Nal, in Supergirl, I hope there are lessons to be learned other than sticking your neck out when you’re different.

Let’s not forget Arón Piper as Ander and Omar Ayuso as Omar and Claudia Salas as Rebeka and Martina Cariddi as Mencía in the fourth season of the Spanish explosive Elite because, well, they’re really cool and beautiful.