How To Get Away With Murder is taking the US television scene by storm in the new season. However, its fresh take on legal drama is not what’s drawing unique attention. Instead, the uber-conservative cross section of American viewership is up in arms over the ‘controversial’ depiction of passionate gay sex scenes.
It’s utterly absurd that such a programme would obtain censure for what can only be defined as a truthful narrative of how some same-sex pairings engage in intercourse. It’s long been a taboo on television for same-sex affection to be portrayed on equal-footing with heterosexual intimacy. While it’s true that representation of LGBT+ characters and couples has been growing on the American TV scene since the 1980s, it is still lagging far behind with its tackling of physical love. The bold moves to allow Ellen Degeneres’ character to come out on her self-titled sitcom, which then led to gay couples appearing on more recent series such as Glee and Modern Family have helped normalise gay issues but ultimately there is still a large portion of the gay lifestyle that remains discriminatorily alien over the dread of a polemical storm.
I suppose you could even be excused for thinking, given the relative success of the latter two shows that LGBT+ acceptance has sky-rocketed to near equal echelons to that of heterosexual couples on the small screen. But that’s hardly the case, while there is a much fairer representation of gay characters on television than ever before, their active sexuality, the only thing that really differentiates them from any other character is fundamentally constrained or regulated. Particularly on American television, homosexual intimacy is generally intimated rather than actually shown. How To Get Away With Murder neglects that tradition and does illustrate indelicate gay sex scenes. And, all too tritely some people aren’t happy about that;
As it happens, these racy gay sex scenes are the same as any we’ve seen with straight couples from US TV shows for years and years. On the big four networks in the States; Fox, ABC, CBS and NBC, we’ve seen numerous TV shows in recent times represent zesty sex; Melrose Place, Gossip Girl, Scandal and even Friends to name just a few. And that’s just from the top networks, taking others in to account you can add Game of Thrones, Girls, Masters of Sex, Sex and the City and the US version of Shameless to the list too. This racy heterosexual content is never perceived as problematic to the viewer as it would be if it was homosexual – and we supposedly live in a tolerant time. I notice that nobody complained about the oral sex scene between a male and female in How To Get Away With Murder‘s pilot episode, or the repeated raunchy sex scenes between straight pairings, but did so when a man kissed another man’s back. Maybe you think that niche programming like The L Word and Queer as Folk should encompass all the gay sex we see on television but is that genuinely representative of modern life?
It’s even the case with British television too. Just this year on popular soap EastEnders, they introduced a reticent and reserved gay character who flitted from gay character to gay character, as if corresponding sexuality alone is adequate enough to forge a partnership in the LGBT+ sphere. It’s certainly not archetypal of the plural attitude we’ve come to expect of modern media. Come to think of it, does television ever depict confident young gay people on television? Other than Glee’s Blaine, I am struggling to think of one. Homosexuals are as diverse a social cross-section as any but TV seldom reflects that, it seems that most people think as long as gay characters are not being harassed or attacked with bigoted vitriol then they’re being represented equally, but this minimising view is simply not true and simply not enough.
Believe it or not, gay people have sex as zealously as straight people. It’s not good enough to have heterosexual sex shown to be as passionate as network regulators will allow and then relegate homosexual intimacy to passing inference. Television has a crucial part to play in changing culture and should be the driving force to rid gay sex of its taboo label. People may not enjoy watching same-sex pairings go at it on screen, the same way some people won’t appreciate opposite-sex scenes but it’s vital we treat both alternatives on a storytelling par. Any problems viewers have specifically with depictions of gay sex are carrying around an unharnessed homophobia. Television is supposed to mirror life, and sex is as big a part of life for gay people as it is for heterosexuals. Any problem a viewer has with that is their problem and certainly not that of the scriptwriters at How To Get Away With Murder. Of course, if it has become that pertinent an issue, they could always change channels instead of trying to slow the rate of progress to match their own parochial regime.