How I Think About Diversity

As a writer and lover of fictional characters, I find myself thinking about diversity a lot. When I’m watching a TV show or reading a book, I tend to think about the diversity of the characters, and wonder if there is enough diversity or if the writers could have done more to represent different kinds of people. I gravitate towards shows that have more diversity. In my own writing, I create a lot of LGBT characters and characters of different cultures with different abilities and disabilities, because I think representation is important and I think that characters are more interesting when they are unique in a lot of ways.

I mostly focus on race, gender, sexuality, and appearance when I think about diversity. I probably focus on sexuality the most, seeking out shows, books, movies, and games with LGBT characters. The main reason I do this is probably because I’m bisexual, so I’m always looking for characters that represent myself and my community. Ever since I’ve known what shipping was, I started shipping male characters with other male characters or female characters with other female characters that aren’t canonically together. Some fans hate on other fans who do this, saying that we’re being ridiculous, but I don’t understand why. Shipping is harmless and doesn’t have to match the canon.

Another thing that people tend to criticize is when a show has “too much” diversity. People often accuse writers of pandering to liberal readers/viewers because they added an LGBT character or had an already known character come out. These characters are often called “token” characters. I think that a lot of the time when people accuse writers of writing in a token minority, the character they wrote in is actually well-written and important to the plot and therefore not a token character.

I have seen a few examples of characters that were added just for the sake of adding a minority. One episode of Once Upon a Time brought in Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz as a character and put her under a sleeping spell to be woken up by true love’s kiss. She received this kiss from Red Riding Hood, a.k.a. Ruby, a character who was somewhat prominent in the first season but rarely appeared by this point. The reasons that Dorothy was a token character are that she only appeared in this one episode, and her relationship with Ruby had almost no development. The next time the show introduced an LGBT character was 2 seasons later with Alice from Wonderland. She mentions a few times that she has had a girlfriend, but her main purpose in the plot has nothing to do with her sexuality, which is why she’s a better character.

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Captain Jack Harkness: A 51st century guy

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In the Doctor Who series, Captain Jack Harkness is a character that is extremely important. John Barrowman’s character, Captain Jack Harkness, first appeared in the episode “The Empty Child”. The first lines that we hear him say are “Excellent bottom.” and “Sorry, old man. I gotta go meet a girl, but you’ve got an excellent bottom too.”, referring to Rose and Algy’s backsides, respectively. This was the first indicator for me that Jack was not 100% straight like most of the Doctor Who characters that we had been introduced to. In fact, the 9th Doctor and Rose talk about how open he is with flirting with everyone. The 9th Doctor says that because Jack is from the 51st century, he is “more flexible when it comes to dancing”, which I am assuming means sex or something similar.

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One reason why I think that Jack’s character is so important to Doctor Who is because he is one of the few characters that is portrayed as not being heterosexual. There are others throughout the series, but most, with the exception of River Song, do not appear in as many episodes as Jack does. While it is never explicitly said that Jack has a specific label, it is clear that he takes interest in more than just men and women. The LGBTQ community has become more widely accepted, but it is still not portrayed as much in the media. The media does a good job including gay or lesbian characters, but bisexual, pansexual, transgender, and others are not portrayed. In this sense, I feel like the media has failed because it excludes those who may not want to label themselves, do not conform to a specific gender, or have different preferences.

A second reason why I think that Jack’s character is so important is because John Barrowman, who plays Jack, is an openly gay actor. In 2013, California’s Supreme Court had overturned the ban on same sex weddings, and Barrowman was able to marry his partner of 22 years. I think that it’s a great thing that the director and casting crew of Doctor Who chose a person of the LGBTQ community to play a non-heterosexual character. I think that a lot of times the casting of a movie or tv show is done poorly because a heterosexual actor/actress will be cast as a character of the LGBTQ community or maybe vice versa, although I do not know of any examples of that. There are other casting mistakes that the media makes in terms of diversity, such as a Caucasian actor/actress playing a character of another race. Even though I am not a member of the LGBTQ community, it was very refreshing and exciting to see representation. I have many friends that are a part of the LGBTQ community and have often heard that some people say that bisexual people don’t exist or that bisexuality is a phase and other things like that. It’s important that all spectrums are represented because it’s comforting to see something in the media that you identify with.

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The Bees and the Bees

Most of us took sex education sometime between elementary and high school during the awkward years we call “the teen years”.  Most of us remember the class being uncomfortable, awkward, and even giggle worthy at times.  However, for some students the class was even more awkward and uncomfortable than for the rest.  

A lot of sex ed classrooms in the U.S. are very withholding and stingy about what information they give students concerning sex and reproduction.  Some schools refuse to teach it at all, while others give a short presentation over one class period.  Some do better, though.  They talk about the biology, consent, and how to use protection.  Still, almost all schools will only cover two topics when it comes to sex education: reproduction and heterosexuality.  And while it’s important that these subjects get covered, gay, bi, pan, ace, and trans students are largely left in the dark.  This often makes it extremely difficult for non-heterosexual/non-cis people to come to terms with their identity.  And important terms about sexuality and gender can go unknown for years, causing a lot of confusion and frustration both inside and out of the LGBT+ community.

Now, I’m not saying sex ed classrooms should introduce nsfw images and videos of different kinds of sexual situations in order to teach about these different subjects.  I am, however, saying that gay sex and straight sex should be talked about in the same manner, discussing the importance of consent and protection in both cases.  Many gay, bi, and pan relationships do not use protection during sex because they believe they don’t need it.  This is why the number of STDs in the LGBT+ community is so high.  Rape is also an underrated concern in the LGBT+ community.  Whether it’s non-consensual sex or “corrective rape” these types of sexual assaults often go unreported by LGBTQIA+ victims because they don’t understand what proper consent means for non-heterosexual relationships or situations.  These problems can help be corrected by discussing other types of sexual relationships in the sex ed classroom.  

It’s time to crush heteronormativity, and one way that can be achieved is by discussing other types of attraction the same way we talk about straight attraction in the classroom.  A half hour presentation over other forms of sexual and romantic attraction is all it would take to help normalize non-straight sexualities.  In the same way, a short presentation on the differences between gender and sex would help trans and nonbinary people come to terms with their identity, and help cis people understand what it means for someone to not identify with their assigned gender.  Simply acknowledging in the sex ed classroom that other sexual, romantic, and gender identities exist outside the cishet world we’re taught to live in can do wonders in helping achieve equality and understanding.   

Asexuals on Television

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On September 8th, 2017 the hit animated TV series “BoJack Horseman” became the first ever television show to say the word asexual aloud.  At the same time, one of the leading characters, Todd, became the first ever confirmed asexual character on television.

Throughout the series, Todd seemed to struggle with his identity.  Several scenes showed Todd not picking up on sexualy or romantically suggestive situations, and in season four Todd is quoted as saying, “I’m not gay. I mean, I don’t think I am, but… I don’t think I’m straight, either. I don’t know what I am. I think I might be nothing.”

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This line resonated with a lot of people in the asexual community who admitted they felt similarly before realizing they were asexual.  A lack of representation hits the asexual community especially hard.  Few characters on television or in movies have ever shown asexual characteristics, making it hard for a-spec people to find themselves in popular media.  Some characters such as Sherlock Holmes, Sheldon Cooper, and Jughead have been accepted into the asexual community as a-spec characters, but up until Todd Chavez, none have been confirmed as such, much less said the word out loud.

In a heteronormative world with next to zero representation in the media, asexuals and aromantics have an extra hard time coming to terms with their identity.  For some people, Todd exclaiming that he’s asexual on television may have been the first time they had heard the word, period.  And in a sex-obsessed world, it’s no wonder so many a-spec people take so long to realize who they are.

Todd Chavez coming out on television is especially important because of who he is as a character.  First of all, he’s lovable.  He has a quirky, likeable personality, and he’s interesting; someone you’d want to be friends with.  Second, he has several close and loving relationships on the show, and he’s got feelings.  He’s not an unfeeling robot and his lack of sexual attraction doesn’t make him any less human than his companion characters.  This can’t be said for almost all headcannoned asexual characters.  Both Sherlock Holmes and Sheldon Cooper have very stiff, stuffy personalities.  They lack almost any sort of affection whether it be toward friends or romantic partners.  And for the most part, they’re emotionless shells, barely human.  But very few headcannoned asexuals are protagonists in movies or television shows.  Most are cold, unfeeling villains such as Voldemort from Harry Potter, Moriarty from Sherlock, or Dexter Morgan from Dexter.  And if they’re not villains, they’re mentally insane, or both.  This creates a toxic image of asexual people as being less than human.  Todd is one of the very few characters to portray asexuality in a positive light.  

Todd’s asexual announcement has made asexual history, and will hopefully pave the way for even more positive a-spec representation in all forms of entertainment.  Todd Chavez has become an asexual television idol for a-spec people to see themselves represented in.  I have no doubt that by actually hearing the word asexual on television will help many non-asexual people understand the orientation, and many a-spec people come to better realize who they are.

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Diversity in Doctor Who

Since Doctor Who rebooted in 2005 it has made strides in representing diversity on television.  Strides that can’t be said for many other television shows.  We open with episode one, “Rose” set in England, 2005, on a rare scene for television.  Rose is a working class woman who really is working class, not a dramatized version of this.  She lives in a small apartment with her single mother and wakes early every day to clock-in at her job in a department store.  She’s casual, dressing in clothes that certainly aren’t the height of fashion for the time, she isn’t dolled up in makeup only a professional could do, and what’s more; she isn’t the tiny waisted, long-legged pretty girl we’re used to seeing on TV.  Rose sets the pace for the growing diversity we’re about to be treated to in “Doctor Who”.

Not long after we get Captain Jack Harkness, the first openly pansexual in the history of “Doctor Who” who equally and openly shows attraction to men, women, aliens, and the non-gender conforming.  This was a huge leap for sexual and romantic diversity in “Doctor Who”, and one of the very first times queer people could see themselves in a character on television that wasn’t harmful.  

Next comes Martha, the first black companion on “Doctor Who”.  She’s intelligent and able to keep up with the Doctor’s rambling better, perhaps, than most other companions.  For people of colour, Martha is a big deal.  She’s a strong, woman of colour, in a leading role on one of the most popular television shows of all time.  With Martha, the television series continues to push forward for more diversity in their cast.

The next three companions, Donna, Amy, and Clara continue to portray strong female leads with diverse histories and personalities.  Along the way we meet a couple more sexually diverse characters, and characters from all different walks of life.  

Now we come to the most recent companion, Bill, who is both a woman of colour and openly gay.  She is one of the very first leading characters like this on television, a huge influence for women, people of colour, and members of the LGBTQIA+ community.  We finally have a leading character that many minorities can view themselves in in a positive way.

Soon we’ll be treated with something that came unexpected: a female Doctor.  Jodie Whittaker will soon take on the role of the Doctor and make history as the first female Doctor.  Many people are very excited about this.  We get a leading female, and also confirmation that Gallifreyans, or at least the Doctor, experience gender fluidity, which could be a nod toward the transgender community.

But when it comes to diversity, is it enough?  Though Doctor Who has done a great job positively representing different groups of people, we still are left itching for more.  Several groups who wish to see any kind of representation on television have been left out.  Doctor Who has come a long way, but I believe it can, and should, go much farther.  I hope that as the episodes continue to air we will continue to see a rise in representation in the cast.      

Diversity in Sexuality

I have always wondered why people are always so concerned about the orientation of other people’s sexuality. It baffles me that someone else would go to such extremes over the fact that someone is in love. For me, I have never been concerned with this issue and I find it shallow to concern oneself with such things. What others do with themselves is their own business and no one else’s. The media has become more diverse on this issue by casting more gay or lesbian characters, but I still notice that people are uncomfortable by this. One thing that we could do to increase the amount of diversity is make a point to shut down negative comments and attention. If you hear or see someone discriminating against the LGBT community, make a point to divert their negativity and support them by reassuring them that who they are is not something that should be bashed upon. I see a future with an even more diverse outlook on this situation. I think the next generation will be more accustomed to seeing gay couples and will not have the prejudice predisposed in their minds. I look forward to seeing a day when we can accept all of the diversities among one another. In the future I think that it is necessary to challenge these areas of lack of diversity so that our society can become better as a whole. Without challenging these social constraints we would not be where we are today. Segregation might still be happening if it weren’t for those brave people who stood up for what they believed in and shut down the oppression of each group. There is nothing we cannot overcome as a society as long as we stand together and exemplify the mannerism that welcomes diversity.