In the past few months, I’ve witnessed an explosion of queer media, particularly pertaining to young people. This summer’s youth queer media has given us the representation we have long craved. I find myself wishing I had these shows when I was younger, which makes me think about how queer media has changed in the last decade. Generally, Western queer media today is less tragic, less catered to a straight audience, and not entirely about queerness.
Popular queer media from the 80s to early 2000s—such as Brokeback Mountain—tended to portray tragic coming-out stories of mostly cisgender white men. For most of queer media’s history, queerness has been solely associated with tragedy: parents who don’t accept their children, lovers kept in secret, violence. Today, queer narratives are far more diverse and center joy as opposed to tragedy. Social and cultural movements led by black-queer women have allowed for more opportunity to showcase all the multifaceted aspects of queerness. Queer people of color and non-cis people have been represented more in the past few years than ever before. Queer love contains as much joy as any love and it’s finally getting its time under the sun.
New age queer media also caters less to a straight audience. When watching 2000s rom-coms with my friends, I often bet on if the queer characters will kiss, let alone hold hands (see Valentine’s Day). Now, films or shows do not hesitate to depict queer physical intimacy. In many of the shows I recommend below, there are intricate and authentic queer sex scenes. In addition, labels have been shrinking away, replaced by a fluid idea of queerness we already know and experience. There is less pressure to define a character’s sexuality to appease a straight audience. This new age media is made by and for queer people, refusing the boxes we are put in.
We can all think of characters whose entire existence functions as the ‘gay best friend,’ a side-piece with no identity beyond being queer. Today, films exist with queer characters whose sexuality is not the central focus of their characterization (The Mitchells vs. the Machines). We get to be represented in narrative dimensions that aren’t necessarily about love and sexuality, narratives young children should be exposed to. I wonder how much internalized homophobia I could have been saved from, had there been better media that accurately represented the queer community when I was a child.
The media I recommend ranges from children’s television shows to high caliber cinema, from devastating dramas to pee-your-pants comedy. Here are some of what I believe to be the best queer youth representation from the last few months, in no particular order.
Genera+ion (HBO Max)
A show perfectly curated to represent the diversity of contemporary young queer people, Genera+ion follows a group of queer students and allies in a gloomy, yet earnest, Los Angeles high school. There is exploration of young queer relationships, a discovery of identity (noticeably with or without labels), and trials and tribulations of young adulthood. Characters from diverse backgrounds of class, race, gender, and sexual orientation are portrayed acutely, and with awareness of the tone of the show. Genera+ion is queerness today.
The Owl House (Disney+)
The Owl House is the animated children’s show we all wish we had when we were kids. This magical and wholesome show represents a Latinx queer tween as she navigates life in a parallel realm. The show is made specifically for kids ages 7+, reminding us that there is no minimum age to learn about queerness. The show portrays the queer relationship with complete normalcy and happiness.
Betty (HBO Max)
The show follows a real-life skate crew that was approached in 2018 by a filmmaker who wanted to make a movie about them (Skate Kitchen). In it, a badass group of girls create a skate group in New York City as they also explore relationships and gender dynamics in skate culture. The queer characters in Betty give a voice to queer women who are unapologetically themselves. These women are outspoken, vibrant, and most importantly, awesome skaters.
We Are Who We Are (HBO Max)
Directed by Luca Guadagnino (Call Me by Your Name), We Are Who We Are explores queerness in the unique context of an American army base in Italy. The clash between the sexually promiscuous Italian youth and the strict climate of an American military base leads to repression and secrecy. The kids act mostly on their own, exploring gender and sexuality in a world far removed from the lives of their parents. We Are Who We Are gives a voice to the fluid and non-static nature of identity, representing the time of finding yourself that never truly ends.
Shiva Baby (HBO Max)
Based on the tense and hilarious premise of going to a shiva—a Jewish funeral service—while trying to avoid your ex-girlfriend and your sugar daddy, Shiva Baby represents young bisexual women trying to find their place in the world. The fluid nature and common misunderstanding of bisexual identities are genuinely portrayed owing to director Emma Seligman. The stress and tension between the characters is palpable through the screen as the expert cinematography and divine character development make the film into a cinematic masterpiece. Classically, Shiva Baby represents high-caliber queer art.
Young Royals (Netflix)
This Swedish show manages to break through tropes and become a genuine and devastating love story between two boys as they find their place in the world. Set in an elitist boarding school, a prince falls in love with one of their classmates on scholarship. Their love story is a slow burn that will make your heart melt and ache. The representation of their genuine love saves this show from falling into the classic tropes of young queer love stories.
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Feel Good The Mitchells vs. The Machines
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Photo Credit: WarnerMedia
Ledford is the Commentary Editor and a Sophomore in the SFS studying Culture and Politics