Kristen Vrachas (pictured below) is an account manager at OMD Sydney and member of the Omnicom Open Pride Committee. In this guest post, Vrachas applauds the brave media for embracing LGBTQI+ themes in their storytelling…
I love everything Christmas. From putting up the tree with my housemates and embracing the beautiful street lights, to selecting humorous (yet practical) Secret Santa gifts for my colleagues and bingeing cheesy Netflix films (and the classics, like Love Actually) – all by the time Christmas Eve rolls around. When Happiest Season (main photo) came out in cinemas in November, I, like many LGBTQI+ people, was so excited to finally be shown a same-sex relationship at the heart of a Christmas film.
It is well known within the LGBTQI+ community that lesbian relationships are cursed across film and television. Often this is because the characters tend to either be background characters, killed off the show, lose the love of their life, or have their coming out story at the front and centre of the whole plot. The new movie represented something with more substance, following Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis as Abby and Harper, a young lesbian couple who head off to see Harper’s conservative family for the holidays.
Truthfully for a holiday movie, the film brought some heavy relationship issues to the forefront yet received mixed reviews on the ending. While it’s okay to not be ready to come out, Davis’ character Harper abandoned all fundamentals of being a truly supportive partner the minute it became too overwhelming. The movie brings to life two universal messages that can apply to any story:
Whilst it’s great to know that the person you love, loves you in return, it’s important you know that they are proud to love you.
Someone (including family) that makes you deny your truest self isn’t always thinking with your best interest at heart. To be clear, being gay is not abnormal. Refusing to love or accept your child unconditionally because of it, is abnormal.
The cruel reality of the film is that the characters do exist in real life. Many within the queer community have been an Abby, dating someone struggling to be accepted by their family, or a Harper, filled with crippling fear and anxiety of losing their family, and in turn, hiding and pushing away the best parts of themselves.
Australia has come so far with equality these past few years. While it is important to celebrate the successes of where we are, it’s all the more important to acknowledge the journey and struggle that coming out still holds for so many, which is where the film does ring true.
Coming out is one of the rawest and toughest emotional experiences someone can go through. It can be a buried fear that sits in your chest, emotionally suffocating you. Like many young gay people, I kept my feelings hidden and held onto the turmoil of deciding whether to tell anyone for close to three years. When I came out in my early twenties, there wasn’t a big controversy. My parents told me that they loved me and wanted me to be happy. Within three months I had thrown myself out of the closet to everyone with a new lease on life. I started to accept I would be able to live the life I had talked myself into believing would never be possible.
A large part of the reason why I was confused about my sexuality for so long was because growing up I struggled to find any representation of myself in the media. As someone who did not know any LGBTQI+ people personally, I relied heavily on film and TV characters to bring my experience to life. At the time, I struggled to identify with the stereotypical gay women I saw on TV; I didn’t fit the edgy shorthaired skater girl image I kept seeing. I loved my long hair, the colour pink, binge watching One Tree Hill, and had (and still have) a distaste for beer, despite continuous efforts. Reflecting on it six years later, coming out was beyond the most rewarding decision I ever made. I’m incredibly proud of the person I am today as a result of it, and despite being born gay, I still wouldn’t “choose” to be anyone else if I could.
So yes, like many others in the queer community, I get so excited whenever I hear of a new movie, advertisement, or television series with a gay character in it. Nor do I care if it’s deemed tokenistic for the brand when these characters are portrayed validly. I remember in 2019, Renault released a new ad following a love story between two women. I started tearing up, shoving my iPhone into the faces of anyone I encountered. I cannot reiterate enough that I know nothing about the make or model of majority of cars, however Renault’s brand has etched itself in my memory because of that two-minute TVC.
Following the same theme, Home And Away began airing its first storyline foregrounding a same-sex female relationship in years towards the end of 2019. I grew up with the popular Aussie soap on my family’s television every weeknight up until the point of leaving home. As I grew into my teen years, I stopped feeling a sense of connection to the characters. You bet, though, that when I found out last year there was going to be a lesbian relationship airing, I tuned right back in every weeknight for a month. Although finding myself represented in media from the United States is becoming more common, finding it from Australian film and television is extremely rare. Unfortunately my Home and Away investment once again waned when the series made headlines for removing a kissing scene between the female couple in Australia. When it came to the New Zealand version of the show, the decision was made to release the episode in all its glory. This frustrated me because they went to the effort of cutting two scene options in the first place.
Earlier this year, Proctor and Gamble released insights from their first ever report into how non-LGBTQI+ consumers perceive queer representation within advertising and media. Some 72 per cent of those who were exposed to LGBTQI+ people across the study afterwards identified themselves as more comfortable if learning a family member was queer, versus just 66 per cent from those not exposed. The positive impact of exposure to diverse sexualities flowed through for brands. A further 80 per cent of those studied were more favourable to brands using queer people in their ads, believing it reflects the company taking a statement towards the diversity and inclusion of LGBTQI+ people. Statistics like the above reiterate the powerful role brands play in creating and driving conversations when they have done their homework as well as considering what more their company is doing to champion their own inclusion policies.
The LGBTQI+ population is only gaining half the media representation they should be receiving if we are to consider population factors, and it is incredibly worse for people of colour. Quality representation needs to come from authenticity in getting more LGBTQI+ people working on sets, both on screen and in the writing room.
Recognising stories regardless of our sexual identity helps us parallel our own experiences to someone else. The greatest gift to come from all this, is that hopefully the next generations discovering who they are don’t feel like they have to hide themselves away in the closet to do so.
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