What was the first time you saw anything gay in popular media?
You never know where or when you’ll see LGBTQ representation in pop culture. Sometimes you find it in the pages of a comic book. Sometimes it’s on an awards-show stage. And sometimes it’s on a trashy talk show!
Reddit user u/BeneficialMidnight91 asked fellow members of the r/lgbt community to name the first time the saw “anything gay” in popular media, adding, “I ask this because I vividly remember being a 10-year-old reading Percy Jackson and being very confused … How about you guys? Any stories to tell?”
Here are other responses from that thread, starting with more from u/BeneficialMidnight91.
Percy Jackson & the Olympians
“You see, I loved Percy Jackson and had just gotten to a section where Nico … had just been revealed to have had a crush on Percy the entire time. Now, my tiny little brain did a few double takes because, until that point, little me had never understood that being gay was a thing. My parents were homophobic, but they believed that if they didn’t talk about it, it didn’t exist; so I just thought that ‘gay’ was a cuss word of some sorts. Once I read Percy Jackson, my whole world kinda flipped over. I was like, ‘Wait, you’re allowed to do that?’ And my brain stayed confused and was working overtime the entire rest of the day trying to comprehend how nobody could have ever told me about something as novel as this.”
DC Comics PSAs
“I was six years old. Comic books back then were full of more pages [and] long stories with archaic adverts sporting Charles Atlas and his dynamic tension or X-ray spectacles, and some ads were even in color. One featured The Flash and Green Lantern saving two men from an angry mob accusing them of spreading AIDS. They didn’t appear that different in clothes or hairstyle, but for some reason, the mob acted as if it was ascending to Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory with pitchforks and burning torches. The heroes lectured the mob—and the reader—that being gay didn’t mean you were more likely to have or spread the virus. Not one grownup could explain what I was reading back to me. Not one. I didn’t know what being gay meant, or what AIDS was… but I remembered the hate drawn on the faces of the mob, and the looks of terror on the young gay men’s faces. It’s stayed with me for 36 years.”
The Rocky Horror Picture Show
“Picture it. 1997. Halloween night. I saw Rocky Horror for the first time. I discovered there were people like me and they could throw fabulous parties!”
“I’m really not sure… If Elton John and Freddie Mercury don’t count, then maybe Billy Crystal in Soap?”
Adam Lambert’s kiss
“Mine was when Adam Lambert kissed one of the background dancers or musicians (I don’t exactly remember) at the AMAs. I was about 9 at the time, and I can say I was honestly shocked ‘cause of how young I was, but not disgusted, more confused. Luckily, my mom explained it to me in a super nice, non-homophobic way, and I saw it as nothing wrong and normal. I remember being so sad and confused when she told me about all the backlash about it, ‘cause I saw nothing wrong with it.”
A tabloid talk show
“So, back when I was a kid, there were a lot of daytime talk shows—some considered themselves higher-class than others, and some were super exploitative and stirred up drama on purpose. It was a whole thing. I don’t remember exactly what show or topic, but I remember that’s how I learned: from some overdramatic talk show, like ‘My Husband Left Me For a Man and Now I’m Carrying Their Baby’ or whatever. I did at least absorb the fact that gay men, lesbians, and trans women existed; I would learn about bi people and trans men later, as well as everyone else. (And then a family member came out shortly thereafter; I very awkwardly told my parent on that side that I knew about gay people, I didn’t need ‘A Talk.’) I felt bad about that for a while, since that situation was so exploitative, but then I learned an interesting fact. There were some activists who intentionally played into the tropes the shows were looking for in order to get on camera and raise awareness/visibility, even if it was in this bonkers context. Because back then, pre-most-internet, it was a lot harder to get any visibility at all. So that’s kind of badass.”
Imagine Me & You
“When Imagine Me & You was playing, like, every single day on HBO, I would stealthily watch it so my parents wouldn’t see. Many weird feelings I didn’t know what to do with.”
“I wouldn’t really say I was ever ‘introduced’ through media, since a teacher at my preschool was actually lesbian. (It was a Christian preschool—shocker! Later on, we also got a new principal, who was gay as well, and he would do ‘presentations’ in class about his and his husband’s adoption process.) And long before that, I already knew about LGBTQ+ [people]. (Very young and a-little-bit-silly me thought trans people transitioned because they were, for example, a woman attracted to another woman, and so they had to become a man to date the other woman? Kids’ perspectives on things are very… special.) But I guess the first ‘introduction’ to anything gay in popular media would’ve been Adventure Time!”
“Mr. Smithers from The Simpsons, as odd as that sounds. I also had the DVD of the Simpsons movie that had a two-second clip of two male police officers going into a room and kissing when Marge thinks her family is about to be caught.”