I recently watched a four-part television documentary series on AppleTV+ called Visible. It was about gay representation (or lack thereof) on TV from the early days of television to the present day.
Needless to say, it brought up a lot of feelings and memories for me. One of the ongoing themes in the series was the power television has as a medium to not only affect change but to make people feel represented and less alone.
Some of the clips shown in the series were touchstones for me as a navigated my own sexuality throughout my childhood. I remember feeling like I had to scrounge for every breadcrumb television (or movies) offered me as far as gay representation was concerned.
I remember this clip from Soap being impactful in my life at a time when I felt quite alone:
And of course, the coming-out episode from Ellen, even later in my life, was a big, big deal for me:
Another show mentioned, My So-Called Life, impacted me as well. Although I did not feel I was very much like Wilson Cruz's character, Ricky, just seeing a gay character with issues relating to his sexuality portrayed in a realistic way was comforting to me.
Or coming home after school and discovering that that day's episode of Donahue was to be focused on gay people.
Although sometimes the negative and hateful reactions from some audience members made the journey harder and more scary, too.
I would sometimes rent movies with gay themes from Blockbuster and then secretly watch them after everyone had gone to bed, afraid someone in my family would catch me watching a movie about gay people and know the truth about me.
One episode of Visible talked about the AIDS crisis, mentioning the TV movie, An Early Frost, which I remember watching. That was a scary time. I wasn't sexually active at all during that time, but I do remember being afraid that if I embraced a gay life, AIDS would eventually be the result for me.
I also remember a TV movie that was not mentioned in the documentary series called Our Sons, starring Julie Andrews, Ann-Margaret, Hugh Grant, and Zeljko Ivanek, which I found impactful. And there was another one called Doing Time On Maple Drive, where a character struggling with his sexuality attempts suicide. This scene, specifically, left a lasting impression on me:
I think what most impressed me was that the scene was about a dad that is obviously having a hard time coming to terms with his son's sexuality but let him know how much he loves him. Even rewatching it now brings tears to my eyes.
Some of the earlier portrayals of gay people could be stereotypes or end in tragedy, but anything that made me feel less alone and seen was immensely valuable to me.
Coming out and coming to terms with one's sexuality is never easy for anyone, I imagine, but I sometimes feel gladdened by the fact that today's youth have so many more positive representations of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and even non-binary characters than someone like I did and certainly more than the generation that came before me.
If you have access to AppleTV+ and get a chance to watch Visible (I love the title, by the way), please do so. It's a very eye-opening look on what it feels like to be gay in the age of television.