Shutterstock has partnered with It Gets Better to challenge LGBTQ+ visual stereotypes and push for better representation of the LGBTQ+ community. What follows is one woman’s essay on why that matters.
The volume was turned down low. So low, in fact, that the television might have well been on mute. I strained my ears to hear the actors’ voices. I sat in the pitch black living room in front of the glowing screen. My fingers were glued to the “previous” channel button on the remote. Whatever happened, I was ready to hit that button and then click up or back at least once. I was a well rehearsed channel-changing expert.
My parents were sleeping down the hall from where I sat. I was terrified. Terrified of what would happen if they caught me. Terrified not just from shame, but from uncertainty: What “privileges” would I lose if they caught me this time around? How much would the punishment hurt? I was nineteen years old. Fear and secrecy were baked into my DNA.
Even back in progressive NYC, where I was a young musical theater student, I thought my career was over before it began just because I was gay. “Was there ever a lesbian soprano on Broadway?” I wondered. Who would hire me? Could I be gay and be an artist? Would I be allowed to use the women’s dressing room at work? Would people be afraid of me?
It sounds silly now, but I had no point of reference or anyone to look up to at the time (it was 2005). Where were the people who were like me and whose lives didn’t end in tragedy, heartbreak, murder, or suicide? When you don’t see yourself reflected positively in the world around you, it’s hard to know if you’ll ever be successful, find happiness, or experience safety and peace. I didn’t know who to be, what to be, or how to be.
But, I wanted to know those things. I wanted to see my people. So I turned to the Logo Network, a station that gave me access to LGBTQ+ shows, films, musical performances, a spectrum of powerful stories, and a flood of information.
Watching LGBTQ+ programs, created by LGBTQ+ people, was mind-blowing. For those brief moments in the dark, I could see my life validated. I saw people like me receiving support, laughing with friends, thriving at work, fighting for marriage equality, and starting families despite gaps in our legal system. I saw parents who loved their childrens’ whole selves and marched with them in the streets for civil rights. I saw my queer ancestors and learned our history. I saw my people pushing back, celebrating victories, and embracing their lives. I saw survivors and champions.
My battle wasn’t won in a night of secretive television watching. It took years. Like many of us, I had to unlearn all the false, corrosive, and harmful ideas that mainstream society had projected onto me. Trauma and self-loathing homophobia is real, and the journey to self-acceptance and living your truth is different for everyone.
But that journey is easier when the world around you sees you with humanity, value, and dignity. When we show LGBTQ+ people through a positive, authentic, and dignified lens, we tell the truth of our lives and split the world open. We tear down stereotypes, myths, lies, and innuendos, and shatter the closet of shame and secrecy.
We still have a long way to go in terms of full, intersectional LGBTQ+ equality, inclusion, and representation. But looking back at where I’ve been versus where I am now, I choke up. As a teenager, I had to struggle alone to learn about myself and what it meant to be gay, a lesbian, and queer.
I was twenty-four-years-old when the It Gets Better organization was founded. I remember still thinking, “Will it get better?” It’s amazing how being able to access LGBTQ+ stories and information, and seeing my community represented with integrity and dignity, helped to save my life. It did get better. It does get better. I promise.
Don’t stop there, keep reading:
- How Photographers Can Better Represent Asexuality in Images
- Celebrate Pride With a Rainbow Image Collection
- 7 Legendary Activists to Celebrate on World AIDS Day
- 5 Queer Photographers on the Importance of Representation
- Designing for Change: The Role of Protest Art in Social Movements
Cover image via Rawpixel.com.