Gay stereotypes in TV & Film

Every gay man likes shopping, dancing and being a “gay best friend”. Every gay woman has long hair, wears full make up, and occasionally likes to dabble in heterosexual sex. This is far from true, as we’re all aware, but tell that to Hollywood. How can we be annoyed with the heterosexual community mistaking these stereotypes for reality, when the vast majority of gay and characters inpopular, mainstream films and television shows conform to them?

Let’s start with the boys.

Damien Mean Girls

Too gay to function?

From the extremely popular teen film “Mean Girls” we get the phrase “Almost too gay to function.”  The film’s gay character Damien uses words like “fierce”, “own it” and “fabulous”, alongside camp acting and being overly protective of his pink shirt.Interestingly, Damien is one of the only characters never given a love interest. Why were the directors happy to exploit gay

stereotypes, but leave out the only human feature which makes a person gay – attraction to the same sex? Would it have altered the popularity of the film if Damien had been given a boyfriend? We’ll never know, but I have one more question for Mean Girls: How can

a character be “too gay to function” if he never actually gets the chance to be explicitly gay?

Popular TV show Glee is another culprit in stereotype exploitations, with main character Kurt’s high singing voice and love of

fashion. At least Kurt is allocated a boyfriend at some point in the series, and as far as I’m aware, this hasn’t altered the show’s ratings at all.

Britain isn’t exempt either; “reality” show The Only Way Is Essex provides us with the character of Harry, whose main influence on the show is being a camp stylist in an entirely pink beauty salon. We’re never told Harry is gay, but the show’s creators seem to use the clichéd characteristics as a shortcut.

Lesbian representations are a totally different story. In most mainstream shows which feature lesbian characters we see examples of femme lesbians, and not much else. The example which springs to mind first is Carol from friends. Other examples of well-known Carol FriendsFemmes include Arizona and Callie from Grey’s Anatomy, and characters from Skins and Sugar Rush. These women are all feminine, and tend to be open to heterosexual sex too.

Who are these homosexual characters for? Not the LGBT community, that’s for sure.

Numerous heterosexual women are drawn to the idea of boys who can give them fashion advice and go shopping with them, whilst occasionally entertaining them with a spontaneous dancing session. Straight men love the idea of a conventionally beautiful bisexual woman.

It’s no wonder more masculine lesbians come under fire from heterosexual females when there are little to no examples of them in popular culture, and it’s no wonder gay men are met with the patronising “gay best friend” tag.  When will we see characters that highlight and celebrate the diversity and variety of the LGBT community?

This piece was written by Roisin Morrison, member of Newcastle Univeristy LGBT Society. If you would like to tweet her thoughts, you can find her at @RouxShn


  1. I agree. These stereotypes on TV are a little old. However, in reality, I tend to see it as the opposite. I can’t talk about gay men, but I see more femme lesbians coming under fire from more-masculine lesbians, than vice versa. It could be influenced by this lesbian stereotype television has portrayed.

    • Roisin

      I suppose it depends on experience. I know that I receive more comments from my heterosexual friends about it being strange that I would wear masculine clothing to a straight bar than I do from my butch friends when I decide (however infrequently) to wear a dress to a gay bar.

  2. It’s funny, as soon as I saw the title of this article, I thought ‘I’m going to talk about Damien from Mean Girls’, and woops, you’ve beaten me too it!

    I think its easier for characters to play a gay stereotype, but then is the stereotype always that wrong? Most of my gay friends are camp, have a preference for pink and love Kylie. I know more gays that are like this than ones who are ‘different’ to the stereotype.

    Saying that, occasionally you do come across a gay character which is completely different to the stereotype. Allow me to say:
    Alex from As If (remember that show on Channel 4? It was great and he was not camp at all!)
    Judy Dench’s character (Barbara) in Notes on a scandal. (not typically lesbian)
    Matt Smith did a very good portrayal in Christopher and his Kind on BBC the other week.
    And…. erm… Velma from Scooby Doo?

    They are the only non stereotypical LGBT characters I can think of off the top my head!

    • Roisin

      Yeah, I agree that the majority of gay men DO fit neatly into the stereotypes, but there are also men who play rugby, fight in armies, listen to slipknot etc, and I think they should be represented too.

      Velma?! Really?! Wow, did not see that one coming!

  3. Hannah Nimmo

    Love the post firstly, however I slightly disagree with your comments about Kurt from Glee. As being a total Glee fanatic in the original screenplay, the character of Kurt didn’t actually exist. The producers were just so astounded with his singing capabilities that they wrote a part especiallyfor the actor Chris Colfer a.k.a Kurt Hummel. I do agree with you points about gay characters being stereotyped especially in Hollywood. Just with case of Kurt i think they wrote a part that characterises Chris hence not necessarily much acting been done.

  4. I really don’t think that when a person thinks of a lesbian they think of a femme lesbian. At all. The people who watch shows like the L Word are those who ARE a little more enlightened than others and don’t seek to stereotype – so what the rest of the populus has access to is a stereotype built in the mouths of comedians and the mainstream lesbian celebrities they see – who are, on the whole, lacking in the femme department.

    And if we’re citing Sugar Rush – have you seen Kim? She’s no glamazon. She shops at Monsoon when she’s 15.

    Carol wasn’t all that glam and Susan definitely wasn’t.

    I think having any lesbian character on TV is a good thing. And I think that the increasing prevalence of lesbian characters who look like the rest of mainstream society is excellent. It was needed – people needed to see that to be a lesbian doesn’t mean to LOOK like a lesbian. Jo Brand has done us no favours in constantly stating that she looks like one. What does a heterosexual look like? Anything. So what can a lesbian look like?

    Representations can and will shift. Maybe there are more femmes on TV now than before, but that’s good, and in time the characters will be even more diverse.

    From a real-life ‘femme’.

    • Jamie

      That’s the Italian film isn’t it? It got quite positive review from what I saw. I must watch it, you not a fan then?

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