At some point in this timeline, straight culture surprisingly decided that gay people were hot. Not in the loud and proud way but in the secretive, sexy and shameful way. That’s probably why your ex-boyfriend watches so much lesbian porn, or God forbid is addicted to what is still categorised as “she-male” content.
This phenomenon is old news, straight girls have been making out at parties to impress horny men for what I can only assume is centuries. Yet, as of late, there has been a curious influx of a new wave that almost serves as the foil to the male obsession with WLW (women-loving-women) content.
Heartstopper, Young Royals, Red, White and Royal Blue. Ring any bells? Well, if you’re a cis woman, queer or otherwise, you most likely have at least heard of these shows through the grapevine. If you’re like me, you know several women who are obsessed with these shows and will not shut up about them.
If you’re not up to speed let me give you a quick synopsis on the general premise of all these stories, in one go.
There are two major characters: Boy 1, feminine, skinny and small in stature; and Boy 2, masculine, usually taller and more broad. If the writing is good, they have instant chemistry, and we as the viewers embark on a love story about secrecy, shame, coming out and usually, conclusive acceptance. Clean cut and simple. On the physically intimate side of things, it is obtusely obvious that Boy 1 is meant to read as the girl and Boy 2 as the boy, falling back into tired tropes and an overarching game of house.
I must admit, this is not inherently bad media. I’ve read Call Me by Your Name like three times. I’m a fan of problematic gay media and I am fully aware of its problems. My issue with these stories, such as the recently released Red, White and Royal Blue, is that they are simply straight media masquerading as progressive in order to not be accused of fetishisation.
One brisk peruse of TikTok and Instagram will give you an idea of the mainstream audience of this media: queer people and women. Further down the rabbit hole on websites, such as on Archive Of Your Own or Fanfiction.net, the members who populate the more dedicated fanbase are further revealed. Put plainly, I have never seen so many women flush over queer men and write gay smut in the most inaccurate way in my life. The roles of top and bottom become synonymous with man and woman. Heterosexual gender roles are projected onto a new canvas.
Shows such as Heartstopper are so unassuming and inoffensive because they are so afraid of challenging the female audience’s superficial understanding of gay people and culture, ever more afraid of pushing the boundaries of the dominant straight culture that shows like theirs are able to exist within. Every main character in that show is physically attractive and morally inoffensive. I have a clear memory of a cis female classmate stating her surprise that Elle from Heartstopper – a transgender character – was played by an “actual trans person” since she “looked so normal.” …Awesome allyship.
As this media surrounding queer men continues to be fetishised through the guise of progressivism, the majority female audience can feel like an activist, an ally, a good person, without doing any of the work it takes to be any of those things. Just like my classmate, she can watch Heartstopper and still be insanely ignorant, continue to date her homophobic boyfriend, have dinner with her transphobic family, and live an overall easy life in that regard, while still enjoying the shows. The queer people that she is awestruck by in fiction would never be her friend in real life, much less live the life she leads with such ease.
It’s underwhelming to find that the male gaze is not just a problem solely caused by men, seeing how easily it has now translated into the female gaze. Although due to the more romantic nature of the female gaze, rather than the hyper sexualisation of WLW relationships from straight men, it has almost flown under the radar.
So, as sapphic shows such as Netflix’s First Kill or I Am Not Ok With This continue to be cancelled after their first season due to low numbers, Heartstopper and Young Royals are renewed for at least three seasons. Thus, almost paradoxically, women are still the ones overall losing as female-led queer content that aims to satiate the female gaze rather than the male perspective, are forgotten as MLM (men-loving-men) shows take precedence.
We tend to forget to check ourselves, and though I don’t like complaining about queer representation, since we still have so little of it in the grand scheme of things, this is not something I can stand by nor accept. It’s becoming more and more apparent that these gay shows are not being made with gay people in mind and I don’t think queer people should have to settle for that. Our community deserves our own gaze, so maybe every once in a while, we can pander to our own predilections, free of the shame projected and lusted after by straight audiences.