Queering The Script

by Karin McKie

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday October 21, 2019

'Queering The Script'
'Queering The Script'  

Gabrielle Zilkha's two-hour documentary "Queering the Script" talks about the importance of LGBTQ+ representation, as well as the particularities and power of queer fandom.

The mostly-female interviewees share how they learned about themselves via these fictional characters, because "it feels good to see yourself on television: to be validated to be you."

The chronology of out women on TV hits a peak with "Ellen" in 1997, when star Ellen DeGeneres disclosed her sexuality in her sitcom in addition to in real life. A few years before, "Xena: Warrior Princess" "accidentally" showed an ongoing, intimate, female-positive relationship. Star Lucy Lawless is interviewed here, and says it took her years to realize that fans viewed her relationship with sidekick Gabrielle as lesbian.

The woman who runs the "Xenite Retreat" over a long weekend in California says that Xena was a tentpole to her coming out, and that women gather annually to be themselves and find like-minded folks under the auspices of the Amazonian lead.

"Xena"'s run coincided with the launch of the internet, when these types of connections became virtual as well, allowing more women around the world to interface with queer elders and peers.

The documentary's core is footage from 2018's Clexacon in Las Vegas, a female fan convention named after a prominent lesbian relationship on the CW Network's series "The 100" (shortened into "ship") when the two lovers' names are combined into one. Ships and shipping are a big deal in this community and doc.

We also learn that queer stories likely started with "slash fiction," when mainly straight women in the 1970s mused about a gay relationship between "Star Trek"'s Kirk and Spock in stories and drawings. People also wondered about other prominent television pairings like "Starsky & Hutch" and "Cagney & Lacey."

GLAAD reports that queer representation on TV is now more active and diverse, including in shows like "SuperGirl," "Riverdale," "Glee," "Brooklyn Nine-Nine," "Orphan Black," and "Orange in the New Black." The organization notes that statistics tie gay media representation to real-life support for issues like marriage equality. But this current push happened after dozens of lesbian characters were killed off in 2016, in a period of time dubbed "The Bloody Spring," carrying the hashtag "Bury Your Gays."

Fans were "tired of seeing myself die," and sick of the stale TV tropes around lesbianism: Namely, being violently killed (usually right after consummating a relationship) or getting pregnant. They loved Willow and Tara on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," but were outraged by Tara's murder. They termed this queerbaiting — manipulating queer fans without alienating the mainstream, then not caring about those characters. This niche is a fruitful place to attract fans, but writers' rooms now realize they must care for the feelings of this supportive base.

Queer TV remains fairly white, femme and slim, like the cast of "The L Word," but interviewees encourage a change towards fairer representation. Fans have taken their power to create groups like LGBT Fans Deserve Better to break records in raising funds for The Trevor Project. "Queering the Script" documents this microcosm of a burgeoning social conversation. Queer women are drawn to television and web series because "I get to hang out with somebody like me."

Queering the Script screens at the Frameline Film Fest at the end of June: https://www.frameline.org

Karin McKie is a writer, educator and activist at KarinMcKie.com