Last Sunday, Showtime premiered the second episode of the seventh season of Shameless. This show in particular is quite possibly one of my favorite shows on television currently, mostly because of the main characters realistically diverse personalities and the show’s ability to always keep a steady flow of chaos. Last Sunday’s episode, however, left me with a bad taste in my mouth. The show regarded bisexuality/sexual fluidity in such a manner that correlated these sexualities/sexual identities with infidelity in romantic relationships, which ultimately perpetuates stereotypes and stigmas surrounding them.
First – here’s some background: Ian Gallagher is the third Gallagher child, who identifies as a gay man, and after quite a long on-again-off-again relationship with Mickey Milkovich, who’s now in jail, Ian meets a firefighter named Caleb toward the end of season six. Caleb is a genuine person who cares about Ian and provides great representation for someone who is living with HIV. I was so excited about this character and this couple. Then – Caleb mentions that he’s meeting up with an old high school friend, a woman named Denise. Ian secretly follows Caleb to the meeting, not trusting him when he says that Denise is just a friend. Ian sees them kissing and draws the conclusion that Caleb is cheating on him.
Ultimately, yes – Caleb is a cheater. He lied to Ian, telling him that Denise was just a friend, when, in fact, Caleb and Denise have and currently still sleep together frequently. Caleb notes that he does this because he is sexually fluid, which means he doesn’t identify with a label for his sexuality. Ian gets frustrated and aggressively asks: “Since when have you been such a bisexual?”
I have many issues with this plotline and character development. First of all – there is not a correlation between identifying as sexually fluid and cheating on one’s monogamous romantic partner. Caleb kept his fling with Denise a secret and never discussed his relationship with her to Ian. If Ian and Caleb were in a polyamorous relationship (much like Kevin and Veronica and Svetlana on the show), this most likely would not be an issue. Second – sexual identities are not an excuse for infidelity. Caleb used his sexual fluidity as to why he was sleeping with Denise. That’s not how it works, Shameless writers. Third – I was terribly uncomfortable with Ian’s “bisexual” statement. Ian is a part of the LGBTQ+ community. He should not be making transphobic comments like he did in the first episode (saying he hoped Denise had male genitalia) and making demeaning remarks about another sexuality. If Caleb is bisexual or sexually fluid, this is totally fine, and Ian should attempt to understand his partner. Caleb should have discussed his perspective with Ian before overstepping boundaries (aka cheating).
I understand that these are merely television characters and that they aren’t perfect (hence the television show title, Shameless), and I understand that this is only one episode and both Ian and Caleb could learn their lessons and change their perspectives by the end of the next episode. Caleb could just be a bad person who cheats on their significant others. Ian could just be ignorant. I understand all of this. Regardless, this episode provided a terrible representation of bisexuality and sexual fluidity. I am ashamed of the way this was portrayed in Shameless, especially since it tapped into many stereotypes and stigmas surrounding less discussed sexual identities. The ways in which these sexual identities were depicted totally misconstrued the reality of the ways in which people who identify as such actually exist.
I hope, for the sake of representation, that in the future this misrepresentation will no longer exist. And as for Shameless, I guess I’ll have to wait and see what next week’s episode entails.
This semester, I’m an intern at Rowan University’s Healthy Campus Initiatives and throughout the course of the semester, I can focus on whatever topic I’d like, as long as it is related to health and wellness. I decided to focus on sexual health education. Later this month, I will be having my first event, which will be an information table in Rowan’s student center. I plan on providing information about how to prevent pregnancy and the transmission of STIs and HIV. My intention behind this information table is to provide students with accurate information about the different types of birth control, because there are other methods besides just the pill and condom, and to help them decide which method meets their personal needs.
Here is a stream of my thoughts regarding this topic:
Under this umbrella of “whichever method meets their personal needs” is the fact that not all people who have sex and want to prevent pregnancy and STIs/HIV are heterosexual. I really wanted to make sure that the information I was providing was inclusive for all sexualities and identities. The more I looked into contraception and sex education, all of the yielded results were seemingly very much hetero-centric. I realize that same-sex couples are not usually capable of getting pregnant, but even this notion also erases the identities of transgender people who are sexually active. Regardless of how an individual identifies and regardless of how that correlates with what’s below their belt, teens and young adults, especially LGBTQ+ teen and young adults need to be included in and educated about sexual health education.
I guess the problem I seem to be facing here is that it is quite difficult to provide inclusive sex education because the resources that exist for this information completely disregard LGTBQ+ identities. There should not be an undertone of heterosexuality when discussing sexual health. I think all sexual health education should include all identities, because, facing the facts, an individual can get pregnant, contract a STI or HIV, transmit a STI or HIV, regardless of their identity, sexual orientation, or who they’re having sex with.
Maybe I’m looking in the wrong places, or not Google searching the correct phrases, but I’ve noticed a lack of information regarding the LGBTQ+ community and sexual health education. I hope as time goes on that sex ed is overall more inclusive and people of all identities realize that making safe and healthy decisions is incredibly important.
I read some amazing books this summer and some of them were LGBTQ+ young adult fiction. Even though some are more recently published than others, they’re all still definitely worth a read!
The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth
The Miseducation of Cameron Post is one of the most gripping coming-of-age stories I’ve ever read. I loved that this book followed Cameron from a young age and readers get to experience the different stages of growing up. When Cameron was merely twelve years old, both of her parents died suddenly in a car accident. Hours before this tragedy, Cameron was kissing a girl, and in Montana during the 1990s, this was not acceptable.
Cameron develops a relationship with a close friend of hers and then her conservative aunt and paternal grandmother send her to Promise, a camp that practices conversion therapy and promises to teach “appropriate gender roles.” I was truly disturbed by this aspect of Cameron’s story (which is the point, obviously), especially since camps similar to Promise still exist today in our country and around the world.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post was overall a rollercoaster ride of emotions and heartbreak, but in the end, is a great coming-of-age story of a gay teen in the south whose only salvation is staying true to herself.
Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky
Gracefully Grayson follows a twelve year old boy who is battling an internal struggle: he was born in the wrong body. He was meant to be a girl. His identity, however, has been suppressed following the tragic death of his parents when he was only four years old. (There seems to be a trend of dead parents in LGBT coming of age novels…Hm.) Since then, Grayson lives with his dad’s brother and his family. Grayson befriends a new girl, who helps him break out of his shell and audition for the school play, “The Myth of Persephone.” The choices he makes during this audition are life-changing.
Though the main character of this book is much younger than the usual characters of young adult novels, I still encourage YA readers to read Gracefully Grayson. While I was reading this book I just wanted to protect Grayson, he is innocent and fragile, yet very self-aware. I truly admire this book, because I feel readers never get to see this perspective – many stories we hear, books we read, or shows we watch – never focus on young transgender children. We almost always see the “after” – after they come out, or transition, et cetera. We rarely see the “before” – the struggle of a young transgender person trying to figure themselves out. Gracefully Grayson is an emotional, heart-warming glimpse into the “before” that is rarely depicted.
If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo
Amanda Hardy is finally living her life as her true self. Not a single student at her new high school knows about her past – about her attempted suicide (which was when she was previously known as Andrew) or about the brutal assault she experienced in her old town. Amanda is focusing on making friends and fitting in, but all of this seems much more difficult as she gets closer to girls in her grade and a boy named Grant. If I Was Your Girl is truly an outstanding coming of age novel and stays true to the hardships of being a transgender teen, post-transition in high school.
There was one aspect of Amanda’s story that really stuck with me long after I finished reading If I Was Your Girl. Amanda reflects on when she attempted suicide at one point in the novel. She recalls something her mother said to her when Amanda first came out as trans: “I’d rather have a daughter than a dead son.” I found this statement riveting, chilling, and incredibly eye-opening. I cannot stop thinking about it. I wish all of the parents around the world who have trans children had this mindset.
“Amanda’s life and identity would be just as valid if she didn’t figure herself out until later in live, or if she were tomboy, or if she were bisexual or lesbian or asexual, or if she had trouble passing, or if she either could not or chose not to get ‘bottom’ surgery…It is easy to get hung up on these points if you haven’t lived our lives…I hope that, having gotten to know Amanda you will not apply the details of her experiences as dogma other trans people must adhere to but rather as inspiration to pursue an even broader understandings of our lives and identities.” (Excerpt from Meredith Russo’s “a note from the author”).
If I Was Your Girl is not only a story of one young trans girl’s coming of age story as her true self, but it is also a message to the world – trans people’s experiences are valid, regardless of how or when or what or why, and, as Amanda learns, they are deserving of love.
Rage: a Love Story by Julie Anne Peters
Johanna is a senior in high school who lives in the apartment above her sister’s home because both of their parents have died (ANOTHER instance of dead parents…). Johanna loves Reeve. She constantly is fantasizing over her and wishing that Reeve would give her the time of day. A Teacher ropes Johanna into tutoring Robbie, a boy with mild autism, so he can graduate on time. Luckily for Johanna, Robbie is Reeve’s twin brother.
Rage depicts the love story between Reeve and Johanna, for what it is – truly a struggle. As Johanna tries to get closer to Reeve, she begins to experience some of the physical abuse that is a part of Reeve’s everyday life. I give Julie Anne Peters props for depicting this type of abusive relationship – we very rarely see abuse depicted in any way besides a heterosexual relationship in which man abuses woman.
However, there was something about this book that just left a bad taste in my mouth. I was put off by Johanna’s obsession over Reeve – it’s almost as unhealthy as the abuse coming from Reeve’s end of the relationship. (Maybe the reason Johanna stayed with Reeve and endured her abuse is because she put her on a pedestal and thought she could do no wrong..?) The whole story overall felt oddly rushed and didn’t focus on detail whatsoever, but is definitely an interesting read nonetheless.