I’m Selina, Awards Circuit’s queer Girl Friday for all things LGBTQIA+ on TV! Each week I take on television’s biggest stories through the rainbow lenses, and this week, “Fresh Off The Boat” stole the spotlight in its coming-out episode. But not all is well for LGBTQIA+ characters, as a new GLAAD study shows that while LGBTQIA+ representation is at an all-time high, Hollywood still favors the white, cis men in our community.
Asian-American comedy “Fresh Off The Boat” has been killing it this season, bringing on Rex Lee (“Suburgatory”) as a Huang family friend, an upcoming appearance from gay icon George Takei (“Star Trek”) and featuring Luna Blaise’s (“Memoria”) Nicole coming to terms with her sexuality and coming out to her loved ones. “Acceptance” is the buzzword this season, with Nicole confiding in Eddie that she prefers girls during the premiere (watch below).
But this week’s episode blew the premiere out of the water, as Nicole steps into a lesbian bar The Denim Turtle and is caught by her stepmom Honey. The bar goes quiet when Nicole looks like a deer caught in the headlights, with the neighborhood lesbians grabbing champagne, readying a cot and running to the jukebox for a “welcome to the team” celebration. Luckily, everything went off without a hitch, and the bar cheered as Nicole’s stepmom hugged her, with Jessica (Constance Wu, “Crazy Rich Asians”) not entirely sure what’s happening but happy, all the same. Honestly, do yourself a favor and watch the opening scene, lesbians in flannel sounding the “Coming Out” alarm is my jam forever and for always.
According to New Now Next, “Fresh Off the Boat” creator Nahnatchka Khan is an out and proud lesbian, and she really knocked this episode out of the park. The episode featured Nicole’s struggles with coming out to her father while Jessica coaches the Denim Turtles’ softball team (yes, the ultimate lesbian past-time) against Louis’ (Randall Park, “The Interview”) Cattleman’s team. Marvin (Ray Wise, “Twin Peaks”), Nicole’s father, is thrown at first, upsetting his daughter, but ultimately brings it home with a hug and an apology for ignorant remarks he’d made about “playing for the other team.”
Two things stood out for me with Nicole’s coming out: Marvin’s jerk reaction, and Jessica’s ignorance but blind acceptance of queer women. The episode was obviously a hang-in-there to young queer girls, with every character’s reaction and lines proving thoughtful and at their core, kind. Marvin’s reaction wasn’t the after-school special that stepmom Honey gave Nicole, but it also wasn’t the violent explosion of every queer kid’s nightmares. Instead, it mapped out a middle ground, with Nicole being accidentally outed by a well-meaning Jessica and her dad shutting down and sulking by himself for a while. Coming out is hard work and things do always go as planned, but ultimately, parents usually come around after a while.
Jessica’s reaction to lesbianism hit even closer to home with me. As a queer half-Asian kid, coming out to my mom was as anti-climatic as it gets. My mom’s reaction was as bored but supportive as Jessica’s was, though my mother at least knew what lesbians were. It was wonderful to see a coming out story with no screaming matches or over-the-top affection. Sometimes, coming out to your Asian mom is a non-issue, and having varied, positive reactions to a teen’s coming out is the kind of television that makes a difference.
Overall, it seems that television is slowly but surely bringing LGBTQIA+ people to the small screen. A new study from GLAAD found that of the 901 regular characters on broadcast scripted primetime TV, 58 characters with LGBTQIA+ with an additional 28 recurring LGBTQIA+ characters. Bisexual+ characters have also been moving into the public eye, with 28% of all queer characters being bisexual.
Best of all, there are 17 regular and recurring trans characters in broadcast, cable, and streaming TV, of which four are non-binary. This was the first year GLAAD was able to count non-binary characters in their findings. Asexual characters did not make it into the study’s broadcast count (though I’d argue Varys from “Game of Thrones” is ace), but cable and streaming claimed an ace character each with Raphael of Freeform’s “Shadowhunters” and Todd on Netflix’s “BoJack Horseman.” GLAAD did, however, acknowledge that Archie from the CW’s “Riverdale” is canonically asexual, but nothing’s been said for sure on that front.
However, not all the news is good. Of the 70 LGBTQIA+ characters on streaming TV, 77% were white and only 43% of characters on broadcast TV were women. Only two characters in all of primetime TV were depicted as HIV-positive, down one from last year, and a number of disabled characters on TV is still a measly 1.8%. The Advocate also pointed out that 55% of the LGBTQIA+ characters were cis men, with 77% of streaming, 62% on broadcast and 64% on cable being white characters. In the era of Trump (ugh), LGBTQIA+ characters of color are more important than ever, and these numbers need to spike across the board in 2018. Clearly, we’ve got some work to do.