When it comes to on-screen LGBTQ representation, it’s often easier to cite the bad examples than good ones.
The stereotypical gay best friend … the promiscuous bi character … the unnecessarily graphic transition plot. And that’s when there’s any representation at all!
But living in the age of streaming television means that’s starting to change.
Not only are we seeing more programs center the LGBTQ experience, we’re seeing it done in authentic and much more multifaceted ways. The stories feel more real — with more LGBTQ actors, writers, and directors crafting them — and they’re speaking to parts of the community who aren’t used to seeing themselves represented.
While there is still so much work to do — particularly when it comes to telling more intersectional stories of LGBTQ people — here are a few characters who have really gotten it right this year.
1. Candy Ferocity, Pose
It’s impossible to discuss LGBTQ representation in media without mentioning the trailblazer-in-the-room itself: Pose. Its second season, which ended this summer, built on the momentum of its first by pushing into some of the darker realities brown and Black queer people face every single day.
None of its stories, however, felt more real (or unfortunately more current) than Candy’s. As a Black trans woman with a ballroom House to care for, Candy dove deeper into sex work to provide for her family and ended up killed.
It felt abrupt, often as these murders do in real life, but the show also took the time to honor her legacy. It was heartbreaking to lose this stand-out character (played with aplomb by Angelica Ross), but it also served as a important reminder of the horrifying violence trans people and sex workers face today.
2. Jake Rodriguez, Tales of the City
Netflix’s Tales of the City gave us a gift with Jake Rodriguez, a trans man who is also questioning his sexuality.
When we meet Jake (nonbinary actor Garcia), he’s dating Margot — a cisgender queer woman who he’s been with long-term — and settling more into his life. That “settling” is quickly turned on its head as he starts noticing his attraction to male-presenting individuals.
It’s refreshing to see a man on TV explore his own sexual fluidity and, while I won’t spoil every detail of Jake’s story, it’s encouraging to see his humanity on full display as he figures out who he is. It’s an added plus that we also get to see a trans character feel human — flaws and all.
3. The entire cast of Are You The One?
At a casual glance, it would be easy to dismiss MTV’s queer-centric spin on guilty pleasure favorite Are You The One? — especially given past messy attempts at LGBTQ-inclusive dating shows.
But this one is the real deal. Not only is it fun and funny, it also builds a world free of judgment that allows its bi+ contestants to just exist as they are. So many in the bi+ community feel a need to prove their queerness to others and Are You The One? doesn’t demand that of its cast.
Come for a delicious slice of the queer dating experience; stay for Basit Shittu — one of the stars and a sexaully fluid, gender non-conforming gift from the reality TV gods.
4. David Rose, Schitt’s Creek
There are few characters currently on TV as unapologetically them as David Rose (Dan Levy) is on Pop TV’s Schitt’s Creek. He’s quirky, fashion-forward, hilarious, and he just so happens to also be pansexual.
His sexuality is never really questioned, nor is it met with confusion. He just exists as he is, having relationships with men and women along the way. It is so liberating to see David also dip into more traditionally feminine characteristics and still not have his sexuality invalidated, idyllic as that still feels to so many bi+ men.
5. Gabrielle Carteris, BH90210
You don’t need to be a student of the original Beverly Hills, 90210, to connect to its quirky, meta sequel on Fox: BH90210. It picks up 19 years after the original, starring the original actors as overblown versions of themselves.
We are reintroduced to Gabrielle Carteris (who played Andrea in the original). She’s older now and happily married to a man — until she starts noticing an increased attraction to women. What follows is a fascinating exploration of what it means to explore your sexuality later in life.
Carteris, the character, definitely flubs some of the language at times, but who didn’t in the process of their own coming out? She also has real discussions with her husband and potential partners about where she’s at in her process, which should be lauded.
6. Rue Bennett and Jules Vaughn, Euphoria
Growing up in the closet, many are forced to hide part of who they are and forego some of that quintessential high school experience. Enter HBO’s Euphoria, a shining modern-day example of what could have been.
Throughout this freshman series, sexuality and gender identity are seamlessly woven into the characters as just another facet of who they are. Rue and Jules (played by Zendaya and Hunter Schafer, respectively) are the centerpieces of this show — not their identities — and that’s refreshing as we see them deal with substance abuse, transphobia and, of course, everything high school throws at them.
It also provides a look into a life where queerness just exists without shock or awe. What a revelation.
7. Ryan Hayes, Special
The only entry on this list that is “hard G” gay comes from comedian Ryan O’Connell and his Netflix show Special. Adapted from his memior, I’m Special: And Other Lies We Tell Ourselves, the show follows Ryan Hayes (O’Connell) as he navigates his life as gay man, a writer and someone living with cerebal palsy.
Each episode is a bite-sized treat of 15-ish minutes that stares squarely into Hayes’ fight for the life — and love — he wants. Both his sexuality and his disability are on full display. It’s radical in some ways, but mostly it’s so perfectly human … and wickedly funny, too.
These examples, all unique and fascinating in their own ways, share a common thread: They’re human. LGBTQ stories deserve their humanity and I, for one, can’t wait to see the ones we get next.