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Episode 27: You Can’t Be What You Can’t See (2/2)

In our interview with Elizabeth Reed, we discuss the media’s influence — for better or for worse — on LGBTQ identity, culture, and interpretations. We learn how “identities are constituted within, not outside of representation,” we discuss how to combat media invisibility, the ways that the LGBTQ community faces discrimination, and how the media is central in articulating everyone’s identity. Elizabeth Reed is a cultural sociologist and lecturer at Goldsmiths University in London whose research focuses on LGBTQ relationships and families, contemporary childhood, and the role of media and cultural representations in identity-making. _________________________________ To check out show notes from our podcast episodes and learn more about BBXX visit bbxx.world. If you’ve enjoyed listening, please take one minute to write a review for our podcast. We would also sincerely appreciate it if you would give us your feedback using the link on our website or by emailing hello@bbxx.world. Any questions, concerns, ideas, or suggestions are always more than welcome!
The transcript wasn’t added for this episode.

In this week’s two-part episode we talk with Dr. Elizabeth Reed, a cultural sociologist and lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London, whose research focuses on LGBTQ relationships and families, contemporary childhood, and the role of media and cultural representations in identity-making. In the second episode, we continue the conversation by discussing the media’s influence on LGBTQ identity, the history of anti-gay legislation, and the gendered notion of motherhood. 

Queer Characters Have Always (Secretly) Existed 

Dr. Reed notes that LGBTQ characters have always existed in film, although they’ve been subtly disguised. She references the classic Old Hollywood film, Calamity Jane, as an example of media where the subtext reads as distinctly queer, even though the mainstream interpretation might miss these undertones. While popular storylines or characters may not be explicitly queer, she claims the queer community has always been able to find themselves or their stories in culture, albeit inconspicuously. These “cultural reference points” — whether they are easy to pinpoint or more difficult to find — are essential for orienting oneself within society.

The value of being able to talk about your identity through references to other people — through reference to fictional people or real people that you can see in media —cannot be understated.

Non-binary Love Stories Treated as Obscene

In 1928, Radclyffe Hall’s novel The Well of Loneliness, which follows the life of a wealthy lesbian Englishwoman, was charged with obscenity on the grounds that it promoted lesbian relationships.

Non-binary Love Stories Treated as Obscene (Cont’d)

Depicting homosexual love was seen as an  “undermining” of heterosexuality and was viewed as a threat to morality. Dr. Reed points out the similarities between this mentality and the current conservative mentality that trans visibility will “corrupt” and confuse young children.

Section 28 – Homophobic Legislation

In the late 1980s, the UK banned local authorities and schools from “teaching and promoting” homosexuality under Section 28. The clause wasn’t repealed until 2000 in Scotland and 2003 in Wales and England, and its painful legacy can still be felt today.

Motherhood ≠ Feminine 

In her interview-based research, Dr. Reed mentions that many queer women she spoke to lamented the lack of diversity surrounding the concept of motherhood. Motherhood has become synonymous with femininity, leaving many butch-identified lesbians alienated.

There needs to be space to recognize the diversity of gender expression that comes and is tied up with motherhood.

LGBTQ Media & Resources

About the Expert

Elizabeth Reed

Lizzie is a cultural sociologist whose research and writing focuses on LGBTQ relationships and families, contemporary childhood, and the role of media and cultural representations in identity-making. She is interested in exploring participatory research methods and connecting everyday lived experiences of families to wider social and political trends.