Celebrating The Era Of The Messy And Relatable Queer Character In TV And Film Storytelling

In recent years, the representation of marginalized communities on-screen has allowed for more diverse storytelling. On nearly every channel or streaming platform, viewers can enjoy films and shows featuring strong LGBTQ+ characters within the realms of romantic comedies, corporate dramas, and hedonistic erotica. LGBTQ+ media has certainly come a long way from being almost exclusively focused on traumatic stories about rejection by families, death by governmental negligence, or domestic abuse. But while we have cozier, happier stories now, tales of the in-between are necessary.

Positive representation of LGBTQ+ characters has proven transformative within the landscape of film and television, but at any age, navigating queer life can be messy, and at times, soul-crushing. And with messy characters on-screen, viewers find themselves empathizing and relating with these characters and their journeys. Flawed representation is equally as important as idealized representation.

The 2020s, so far, have been the era of the messy queer, as many recent films remind us that at any age, LGBTQ+ life doesn’t get any easier. In Bottoms, which had its wide release this past summer, queer best friends Josie (Ayo Edebiri) and PJ (Rachel Sennott) create a fight club at their high school to help them meet hot girls and eventually lose their virginity. While the way they go about it wasn’t exactly ideal, the plotline provides a queer mirror to the movie’s straight coming-of-age counterparts, like American Pie or Fast Times At Ridgemont High — both of which also feature storylines about losing one’s virginity.

High school, in general, is an awkward time for most — but these stories of queer youth can provide a glimmer of painfully relatable comfort. And even into adulthood, the internal battles one faces with their sexuality and identity may often manifest into less-than-favorable qualities.

This year saw Max’s The Other Two come to an end after three seasons. When we first meet the show’s Cary Dubek (Drew Tarver), he is an aspiring actor, who struggles to land long-term gigs. Over the course of the series, Cary books commercials, hosting slots on gossip shows, and, by the end of the second season, a role in a feature film (which sees numerous delays during COVID).

Cary balances his career with a competitive friendship with fellow aspiring actor Curtis (Brandon Scott Hays), as well as a monogamous relationship with Jess (Gideon Glick), the latter of which, he ends in season 2, in favor of exploring his sexuality. By season 3, we see Cary become the villain, expressing jealousy toward Curtis after he books a series role, and berating his agent when she is unable to secure him a coveted role. Having lost his best friend and made an ass of himself in front of his agent, Cary is forced to humble himself.

In an interview with Men’s Health, Tarver opened up about Cary’s journey, explaining that he felt Cary had lost his way.
“Season 3 is kind of an exercise,” said Tarver. “Can you choose yourself too much? Can you lose sight of why you started doing the thing you wanted to do at first in the hustle of it? I think he’s lost sight of what he wanted to do in the first place.”

Without spoiling the end of the series, Cary learns the age-old lesson which all queer creatives learn at some point in their lives; it’s not worth doing if it won’t make you happy.

While there’s no shortage of queer representation for millennials and Gen-Z, it’s equally necessary to showcase the journeys of individuals who come out later in life.

In HBO’s Sex And The City, Cynthia Nixon’s Miranda Hobbes is an ambitious lawyer, who, despite being successful in her career, struggles to find an ideal man in New York City’s bustling dating scene. By the end of the original series, she is married to bar owner Steve Brady (David Eigenberg), with whom she shares a son.

When we’re reintroduced to Miranda in the series’ spin-off And Just Like That, she is struggling with alcoholism, dissatisfied with her marriage and family life, and finds herself entangled with non-binary comedian Che Diaz (Sara Ramirez). In season 2, which premiered this summer, we see Miranda and Che navigate a rocky summer together, as Miranda joins Che in Los Angeles to film a pilot. By the time they return to New York, Miranda is left to navigate her broken marriage to Steve, and the non-traditional dynamics that come with Miranda leaving her straight relationship and entering a queer one.

Meanwhile, Che must grapple with returning to a 9-to-5 job after their pilot tanks with a focus group. Though Miranda and Che remain fairly amicable following their eventual split, things come to a boil when Che alludes to their past relationship in one of their stand-up sets.

Since the premiere of And Just Like That, Ramirez’s character has proven polarizing among critics. The Daily Beast called Che “the worst character on TV” and “a hyperbolized, hypercringe representation of nonbinary identity.”

Ramirez has continuously defended Che and their portrayal of the character. In a New York Times interview, Ramirez expressed their gratitude toward Che, saying “We have built a character who is a human being, who is imperfect, who’s complex, who’s not here to be liked.”

As we grow older, we find that there’s no magical age in which our queer journeys become smoother. But through relatable storytelling of flawed, imperfect characters, viewers find comfort in knowing they don’t have to be aspirational or highly accomplished. They also learn that not having a traumatic backstory doesn’t make their queer journey any less valid, nor do they need such a backstory to justify the pains that come with navigating LGBTQ+ life. Through these messy characters, we learn that simply being human is enough.