So I don’t wanna hijack a really legit conversation about queer women into Yet Another Post About Klaine™, but the talk about Brittany and people’s experience with the character as representation made me think a bit so I’m makin’ my own post about it.
On a surface level I have a really uncomfortable reaction to people saying that certain characters are “bad representation” (even though I myself have used the term in the past) because you can’t imagine the amount of times I have heard, from other gay men, that Kurt and Blaine are “bad representations” of gay men. The gist, of course, being basically about how showy and femme and flamboyant those two can be, and so perpetuate harmful stereotypes that we’ve fought for years. Ignoring for the moment the subtle and/or not-so-subtle sissyphobia that can and does stem from that attitude, the end result is that there are a lot of viewers who genuinely object to the “representation” that Kurt and Blaine…represent, because these two genuinely, legitimately do not represent those viewers.
It’s the problem of the model minority, the “strong female character,” the [insert equivalent for characters with disabilities that I can’t think of off the top of my head ‘cause I’m cool like that] that pops up over and over again; it’s impossible for any one specific character or series to represent everyone, so any one specific character or series could “genuinely, legitimately” be accused of bad representation, and doubly so if they portray any culturally-stereotypical traits, regardless of the fact that real life people do often exhibit those exact traits.
And the solution is always the same: more characters. More representation. More diversity. More everything on more shows. This is the part where people (including myself) will resolutely defend Glee because they absolutely are doing their part, just by showing these characters Glee is doing its part, it’s doing something, and at this point it’s up to other shows to take up their share of the solution, to do more than nothing, because only by everyone doing something will anything be solved. Kurt and Blaine don’t represent you? Why not look to Ian and Mickey on Shameless? I personally have no interest or kinship with those characters
other than my periodic pedo tendencies towards Cameron Monaghan, but you might, and more power to you. You can’t relate to Kurt and Blaine as homosexual men? Well, I can, so dill with that.
And that part got me thinking; why do I relate to Kurt and Blaine? Because, on the surface, they’re not actually very much like me either. I’m much more “like” other fictional characters than I am “like” them. And I could write a whole other lengthy essay about this subject, but I think ultimately what it has to do is that their experiences as gay men, instead of their specific character traits, speak to me. What they go through and what they do and what they think about the things that they go through connect more to me than, say, what they look like or where they come from. That to me is a way to display “good representation.”
And — forgive my assumptions here — I venture to say that’s why there are so many debates about Brittany and the viability of what she represents, as a bisexual woman. As I said, I get really uncomfortable when people say Brittany isn’t good representation because she’s not like them. But what I think what people might be reacting to when they feel like Brittany isn’t “like them” isn’t necessarily her character traits or her background or her “magic,” it’s more that her experiences as a bisexual woman don’t speak to them…probably because her experiences as a bisexual woman were pretty underrepresented on the show itself.
As far as I can tell, the most attention and empathy paid to this character’s social identity, by the bisexual community, was during the mid-to-late season 2 span…and there’s a reason for that. Because that’s the period where Brittany’s experiences as a bi woman were most pertinent and well-explored on the show itself. Heck, as far as I can tell, at this point there have been more people identifying with Brittany as a character with disabilities than there have been people identifying with her as a bi woman, because at this point that former aspect of her identity — the part where she struggles with hardships due to her intelligence — has been explored far more profoundly.
So it’s one thing to not be similar to a character, it’s another thing to not relate to their experiences. I don’t believe it’s that she’s “magic” or a comical person most of the time, it’s that there’s not exactly a lot of experience there, as a representation of bisexuality, for anyone to attach to. And that, to me, may be the more implicit form of bad representation, if there could be such a thing.
(Though as always, I could be so off base that I’m running into the stands. Feel free to correct on any points as needed)