Consider this the first post in what will probably be a highly intermittent series; I’d like to start examining specific examples of LGBQT folks on television and talk about how they are depicted. (If there’s a character you’d really like me to take a look at, please let me know!) I would like to note that television tends to focus primarily on the LGB and sometimes Q, with nary a sign of the T. In fact, I can’t think of any shows with a recurring trans character. Can you?
Today’s post focuses on Tyler Briggs, played by Kevin Rankin. Briggs appears on NBC’s Trauma, a medical drama set in San Francisco which revolves around paramedic crews. I should note that this post will probably include some spoilers, so if you aren’t up on the latest episodes or you have not had a chance to watch this show first, you might want to skip this and come back later.
Tyler Briggs is an LGBQT character whom I actually really like, which is one reason why I decided to start with him. He’s partnered with Cameron Boone, another paramedic, and both characters are introduced in a kind of slow, quiet way. We learn bits and pieces about their personal lives, and eventually Briggs comes out to his partner, and to television viewers.
One thing I like about Briggs is that the writers have managed to avoid making him into a troped caricature of a gay man. Yes, he didn’t seem to have any personal life or relationships in the show before he came out, which is kind of classic for television, but they haven’t made him overly effeminate, which seems to be the only way television can deal with gay men. (I have a theory about this, which I won’t get into at the moment, but it is worth thinking about; how many bears do you see on television, especially network television? How many shows express gay sexuality as a spectrum with a lot of points on it, instead of a single stereotyped caricature, the effeminate and often non-threatening gay man?)
What makes their dynamic especially interesting is that Boone is a bit homophobic. He makes a number of nasty comments about homosexuality, most notably in the Castro Halloween episode, “Masquerade,” which is also the episode in which Briggs comes out. Boone overreacts to a young man who playfully hits on him, and Boone challenges him, saying:
I just see people trying to live their lives and the Castro is filled with people who were beat up when they were a kid for being gay, kicked out of their house and disowned by their parents at age fourteen, and just knowing that a place like this even existed is a better alternative than offing yourself because you can’t change who are, is why they come here. [pause] That’s why I came here.
One thing about this episode which I really liked is that they kept Briggs earnest and fresh and interesting without making it a Special Learning Experience. Having talked to a lot of gay men in San Francisco and beyond, I can say that, yes, a lot of gay men do move to San Francisco for the reasons Briggs does. And they are also starryeyed, especially at the beginning, about the inclusive attitude they see; not just on Halloween, but every day. His speech rang very true to me, without veering into an expository lecture for the straight people.
In “Masquerade,” we also didn’t reach any kind of resolution between the two characters. Boone is clearly uncomfortable and things are uneasy for them, and it takes them a while to reach an equilibrium. It’s a nice change from the “holy choirs and aura of light” approach to coming out which seems to be common on television, where an LGBQT character comes out and is instantly and lovingly accepted.
Trauma also hasn’t been afraid to let these characters grow with time. We’ve watched Boone become more accepting and aware, and I think that points to a very real issue in the world, which is that casual homophobia is usually the result of fear and lack of understanding, not any particular hatred of gay men.
This is not to say that every homophobe will magically be made better by being partnered with a gay men so that they can have a deep personal relationship and grow to trust each other. But it is to say that we should be addressing the fact that early intervention can make a big difference in the development of bigotry. The fact that LGBQT youth are coming out younger and younger is, I think, a good thing, because people are starting to be exposed to the fact that straight is not the only reality at an earlier age. And that makes it less easy for homophobia to entrench itself.
It’s easy to hate that which you don’t understand. It’s easy to judge things which you understand only in the form of abstract ideas and concepts. But actually being faced with it forces you to make choices; do you really want to hate the partner you’ve worked with for three years? Do you really think that members of a group you thought you hated are so bad when you get a chance to interact with them?
Coming out isn’t always necessarily safe, and this should not be understated. Briggs had no way of knowing that things would turn out with Boone the way that they did, and Trauma did kind of underscore the fact that he was putting himself at risk by showing Boone behaving violently towards a young, out gay man. But I am kind of glad that the show ended up going with the narrative in which the phobic character’s phobias break down when faced with reality; I think that Trauma has done a pretty good job of showing one facet of the LGBQT narrative and I’m curious to see where this storyline goes. (Like, will Briggs be allowed to have a boyfriend?)