MEMORABLE MESSAGES AND LGB+ YOUTH
The 2019-2020 GLAAD “Where we are on TV” reported that 10% of characters on prime-time scripted broadcasts this year where LGBTQ+ identifying (Townsend & Deerwater, 2019). This is up 8% from the roughly 2% GLAAD reported for the 2005-2006 year (GLAAD, 2005). Times have drastically changed for the LGBTQ+ community since the turn of the century. There has been a slow but steady increase in representation from the first GLAAD report in 2005 to today in 2020. The participants in this study lived out their adolescence during the early to mid 2000s and so their perception of the media that they had to help educate them about sexuality is extremely important to understand how the media was really doing during this time.
The media can understand how to better represent and cater to the LGBTQ+ community not only by having more inclusive representation in the production studio but by understanding the targeted viewers' real life experiences interacting with the content they had available during their time of exploration. There needs to be more transparency between the creators of these stereotypical characters and the LGBTQ+ viewers that are growing up being influenced by them. By listening to the viewers and hearing what worked well and what didn’t, the entertainment industry as a whole can be so much better off to create more meaningful and positively impactful media that can have a positive effect on the LGBTQ+ community, especially adolescents who need it most (Cook, 2018).
I refer to both LGB+ and LGBTQ+ as two separate entities because the participants of this study are queer sexuality identifying, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual +. Whereas the queer media they are asked to recount on can be anything regarding the entire LGBTQ+ community. This study will focus on the aspect of sexuality rather than gender identity and this is the reason for the variant in the acronym LGB+ (Bond, Hefner, & Drogos, 2008). I also use the term “coming of age generation” which is meant to signify the LGB+ youth in college who are growing into adulthood and who have grown up in the 2000s.
This study is meant to both help the LGB+ coming of age generation as well as the media industry who create the content that is available to the LGBTQ+ community. The main goal of this study is to help push the research on LGBTQ+ media and the perceived influence it has on the Community. It will serve as a look into the lives of college aged students who grew up in the new millennium and their experience with LGBTQ+ media, therefore helping inform the producers of such media to better understand how to continue making new media. This study will also serve as a reflection for LGB+ people to see what was influential in media in positive ways as well as see that there is hope for a better future of media for the next LGBTQ+ generation. Mainly, I hope it helps allow the community to feel heard and the future media to have a better understanding so it can be better informed for the next generation. The purpose of this study is to help understand the influence LGBTQ+ media has had on LGB+ youth and from this help better inform the creators of this media to create more positive and impactful media.
Sexuality in the media seems to be a very controversial issue in the US, and this is especially true for LGBTQ+ sexuality. Non-straight sexuality is rarely accurately or positively represented, if at all, in the media. Sexuality overall is deemed inappropriate for viewers under thirteen as deemed by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) signified with the PG-13 logo (Leone & Osborne, 2004). The young adult LGBTQ+ community seems to face even more difficulties with sexuality during adolescence as their sexuality is even more stigmatized, if talked about at all, in or around the media. Sexuality in the media is predominantly heterosexual and is targeted to an adult audience leaving no space for adolescents to understand or learn about sexuality. This leads to confusion and misinformation as well as harmful negative stereotyping that can leave adolescents, especially LGB+ adolescents, confused and wondering about the lack of representation and education. This can lead to confusion, misinformation, and a general lack of understanding for LGB+ youth during this crucial time. The study of perceived influence the media has on LGBTQ+ youth on sexuality is continually growing and has shown an increase in research since the 2010s. Several scholars have written extensively on this topic including Craig and McInroy (2016), Brown (2012), and Bond (2008). Craig and McInroy have worked together studying LGBTQ+ and sexuality topics in which one, in particular, stood out as very prominently when conducting background research for my study because it focused on LGBTQ+ youth finding their identities online.
Craig and McInroy (2014) researched the positive influence the media has had on LGBTQ youth. The study utilized participants of varying genders and sexualities aged 18-22 and analyzed how they engaged online to search for answers during this confusing time in their lives as well as how they interacted with others online who may have ben going through similar experiences (Craig & McInroy, 2014). It explained how it is easier for LGBTQ+ youth to come out online and explore sexuality at a distance, from behind the screen, away from the “heterosexism, cissexism, homophobia, and transphobia that exist both online and offline.” (Craig & McInroy 2014, p. 104 ) This study explores media as an active method for LGBTQ+ youth to explore and create a discourse on this topic in a safer and new space. A space that can connect people from all over the world like never before. This proves to be very useful for my study because it involves studying how participants came to find their identity through the media, very similar to my study which involves exploring the passive influence the media has my participants. One key part of their research stood out to me as this is what the purpose of my study was “participants emphasized the ability to explore, develop and rehearse their LGBTQ identities online” (Craig & Mcinroy, 2014, p. 101). This quote showed me that there was a start to the conversation and it allowed me to continue to pursue my research with more confidence I would be adding to something greater.
My study is retrospective, looking back through my participants coming out experiences and how they came to understand sexuality with what they had available in the media during that explorative time in their lives. Numerous studies focus on the influences media has had on LGBTQ+, but none explicitly looking at memorable messages and so this is what lead me to pursue such a study. While the previous study looked at how the internet positively affected LGBTQ+ youth, another study adds to this idea by exploring exactly how they sought out said information.
Bond, Hefner, and Drogos (2008) focused on how LGB+ individuals sought after information. It focuses on how participants utilized the media during their sexual development, which can help better understand why LGB+ youth so heavily rely on the media that is available to help feel seen and understand themselves. The study was conducted through collecting information via surveys disbursed at regularly scheduled LGBTQ+ events at a midwestern university. The surveys asked participants about their coming out process with family and what influenced them in their understanding of sexuality, as well as any sexual health information they received during their coming out process. This study proved useful for my study twofold because not only did it explore how and why LGB+ individuals seek information through media, but also that the study was conducted through a survey. Initially, I was not planning to conduct research through a survey but this study helped me formulate how I would have to reconfigure my research into that form factor. The study focused mainly on the internet and its role in effecting the LGB+ adolescent’s dynamic with family and acceptance during their sexual exploration. The finding that proved most impactful to conduct my research was the idea that the media allowed for an escape for the participant and allowed them to feel comforted by not feeling alone. This idea of feeling alone ties into media representation, a quote from a participant, a 24 year old gay man, said: “I saw myself trying to relate to the few very stereotyped representations I saw in books and on TV” (Bond, Hefner, & Drogos, 2008, p. 41). This was an important affirmation for me that representation plays a vital role in influencing the opinions of LGB+ people about themselves and sexuality. The study also had participants retrospectively reflect on the influence the media had on their understanding of sexuality.
I found this to be influential for my research as I would be having participants recount retrospectively on the media that influenced them on such topics. The idea of sexual health and sex positivity in the media for LGB+ youth is almost nonexistent and this can cause difficulties for those during such a transitional and exploratory period in their lives. Another scholar has written about the influence the media has on sexuality and sex practice, which can help better explain and understand the sexual stigma that is present especially for the LGBTQ+ community. The sexual stigma in media is crucial in understanding and exploring sexuality stereotypes that exist. By exploring the role sexual media has in influencing adolescence, I can better understand exploring my research questions about sexuality and education that is in the media.
Sexual media specifically can have a great effect on adolescents during their adolescence, Schaefer, Bobkowski, and Brown (2012) studied this in their work involving the effects sexual media has on adolescents. It explores the role sexual media plays on the sexual socialization of adolescents.This research explores the different forms of sexuality and sex takes in the media and the influence it has on youth, not specific to LGBTQ+ youth. Through exploring the different sexualized media that today’s youth are exposed to, they can study the effects they have on the adolescents' understanding and engagement with sexuality. The study breaks down how often adolescents are accessing sexualized media as well as the different types such as pornography and adult television shows they access and why. This is important information to know while I was conducting my analysis because it allowed me to better understand how and why adolescents seek out such media for information. It brings up the idea of “protecting” youth from the harmful effects of sexualized media, and this is especially prominent in discussions over LGBTQ+ media. The idea that sexual media, even regarding sexual health, is too mature for children helps continue the stigma about teaching children about sexualities. This makes their adolescence, a time when their bodies are changing and they need to understand this very topic, a very difficult one to navigate especially for LGB+ youth because of the added stigma.
Media can also be a catalyst for LGBTQ+ youth aside from it just being a took to help understand and explore sexuality and sexuality in the media. Craig, McInroy, McCready, and Alaggia (2015) explore how the media can positively inspire and strengthen the LGBQ+ youth. This study points out ways that the media, regardless of its imperfections, can still be extremely beneficial for LGBTQ+ youth. It looks into the different forms of media LGBTQ+ youth use in regards to their sexuality and expression. It looked at a group of LGBTQ+ individuals, aged 18-22 who used on and offline media. The participants were interviewed about their media usage categorized by online media, Facebook, blog posts, Twitter and YouTube, and offline media, about television shows and celebrities they watched. A look into social media can help my study in understanding the difference in content when compared to television and films and help understand why some forms of media are more useful or influential than others. There were a few LGBTQ+ participants who mentioned LGBTQ+ media and shows they watched that influenced their acceptance and understanding of their sexuality. “Sophie, a 20-year-old lesbian woman, and Gavin, an 18-year-old gay man, respectively, also used offline media as escapist coping” (Craig, Mcinroy, Mccready,& Alaggia, 2015, p. 12). The idea of escapism stood out to me. It gave insight into another reason why LGBTQ+ youth rely on media for information because it not only is one of the only means they may have but also a way to escape into a safe place where they can feel seen and have their voice. It explained how media can help connect LGBTQ+ youth which helped inform my study. Focusing on the positivity and empowerment the media brings to the community, despite its imperfections, is an extremely important and influential fact to keep in mind, something that I kept in mind through my research. Sexuality in the media can play a huge role in people's lives and studying it and adding to this conversation can only help us understand the phenomenon better.
Numerous researchers have written extensively in recent years on the influence media and media representation has on adolescents but I hope to continue the conversation through my research and propel the movement for better representation and messages through understanding what works and what doesn’t in what is already available. Better positive representation helps the community in two ways, first by putting them in a positive light for the straight community and second it helps those in the community feel seen and valid.(Cook 2018; Leventry, 2019). Sexuality is always a sensitive topic in the media from the Hay’s code to how we regulate which media is suitable for which age groups viewing with the RSEB rating guides (Mondello, 2008). It all goes back to what and why sexuality is stigmatized in the first place and also the relationship to the harsh history of LGBTQ+ equality. It is hard enough growing up and trying to understand sex in a society that pushes abstinence, to then have a queer sexuality on top of that, something that is rarely mentioned about educationally, makes it even more difficult to understand when growing up. Coming out is a difficult process to come to terms with on your own internally and trying to understand what that all means without necessarily having a family to talk to about it or hearing about it in a non-stereotypically or negatively in the media is even more challenging. As our culture becomes more accepting, the concept of coming out and the difficulties surrounding it may subside. But the only way to get to that point is to reflect and study how it was done in our past and from that see how to positively move forward for the future. The goal of my study is to help saturate the topic and gain as much knowledge from our LGB+ youth so we can better help the future generations in understanding sexuality and sexual practices.
Memorable Messages are a crucial part of development for adolescence as youth are so impressionable during this very vulnerable and confusing time of development. Memorable Messages Theory was first studied by Knapp, Stohl, and Reardon in 1981. Memorable messages are defined as ‘verbal messages that may be remembered for extremely long periods of time, and which people perceive as a major influence on the course of their lives” (Smith, Grayson-Sneed, Cornacchione, 2015, p. 2). This theoretical framework focuses on how verbal messages stick with people and how they affect personal growth and development. Campbell (2018) used this framework in her study which looked at how memorable messages can influence identity construction. The idea that memorable messages can have such an influence on one’s identity is crucial to help understand how the media can influence the understanding of sexuality and influence that has on LGB+ youth in my study. Memorable messages stay with us throughout our lives and are incredibly important and impactful during the crucial time of adolescence and coming of age, especially so for those in the LGB+ community, who face even more difficulties. I aim to explore memorable messages in the media and see just how impactful these messages are during the crucial developmental time of adolescence. This theory will be tested as my participants are of college age, most likely well past the years of adolescence and coming out and so recounting back on those events and looking retrospectively with the knowledge and information they have now will help point out what stood out to them through the test of time. Memorable Messages will help determine what the media is teaching about sexuality and this framework will help me answer my research questions. I intend to answer the following research questions through my study:
RQ1: How has LGBTQ+ media used memorable messages to influence those in the community when coming to terms with their sexuality?
Subquestion: What are the recurring themes present in LGBTQ+ media and why do they prove to be so influential to the community’s self acceptance?
RQ2: How has media educated those in the community and how has this influenced their opinions on sexuality?
These questions will help understand the LGBTQ+ media that is out there and the true impact it has on the community. I want to explore stereotypes, misconceptions, opinions of sexuality, education received, or lack thereof, as well as overall how this media has influenced and shaped the community. My three research questions will be explored in my phenomenological research through what my participants recount while looking back on their coming out experiences and relationships with sexuality through the media. I not only want to explore how the media influenced and informed them but also see what types of media are out there and what media was directly influential for them. I intend for my research questions to educate the media industry on their influence on the LGB+ community and hopefully help pave the way for better messages to be made and shared to help the future youth of the community.
To study the perceived influence the media has on LGB+ youth, I surveyed participants who identified as a queer sexuality, any sexuality other than straight, to answer a series of questions that would hopefully conclude the answers to my research questions. Initially, I aimed to conduct in person interviews but that was no longer possible once I started my research. I will go into that further in the limitations in the discussion section of this study. I surveyed college aged LGB+ identifying people on their feelings about LGBTQ+ media during their coming out process, exploring and learning about sexuality, as well as had them recount the perceived influence of the memorable messages they’ve received during these processes. The goal of this research is to understand the memorable messages that stick with the LGB+ community, how they influence sexual experience, as well as to then use this information to promote a better sexual and understanding for future generations involving sexuality to break the stigmas and misinformation that still exist. I want to focus indirectly on the harmful effects this media has had on the LGB+ community by having my participants retrospectively look at how media may have misinformed them about sexuality. I want to explore the stigmas they face that were represented in the media as the truth and how this may have been confusing for them during their sexual exploration. I think it will be insightful to study participants who are mostly New York City transplants, as they can come from anywhere in the world. It will give me a wide range of answers and opinions which is very useful to fully understand the influence of the media. I want to understand this through memorable messages because those are key points that stood the test of time for my participants even as they learned more later on in their journey. LGBTQ+ media while imperfect is still vital for those in the community because it still shows any representation allowing those in the community to feel seen and validate them.
Participants for this study had to be LGB+ identifying people, of any gender, between the ages of 18-24 because this study focuses on sexuality and the influence 21st century LGBTQ media has had on the coming out experience. This age range is crucial because these individuals grew up in the 2000s/2010s, the start of a new millennium and a time where technology was growing and changing rapidly. This generation of children was also raised mainly by Generation Xers born in the the early 60s-80s which may have an impact on the upbringing of LGB+ youth as the media and messages they were exposed to, and the opinions of such media at home, would shape their opinions on their world. (GOAT, 2019; Strapagiel, 2019)
I found my initial participants at Marymount Manhattan College and used “snowball sampling” (Coleman, 1958–1959; Goodman, 1961) to continue to grow my data sample by having my participants share the online survey on social media platforms. I also posted the online survey on my social media platforms for anyone to see, take, and share. Marymount Manhattan College is a diverse liberal arts college in New York City thus giving me a diverse group of participants of many different genders, sexualities, ethnicities, socioeconomic statuses, and upbringings, which I believe will help my research see the broad effects memorable messages have on the LGB+ community. After the surveying process was complete I had 23 participants identifying as 8 different sexualities, with two participants not disclosing their sexuality. The majority sexuality was Bisexual making up 39.1% of the population surveyed. The next most represented sexuality was Lesbian at 17.4%. After that Gay and Pansexual made up 8.7% each. The remaining sexualities participants identified as were Asexual, Grey Asexual Biromantic, Homosexual, and Queer which made up 4.3% each. Lastly, the two participants who did not specify their sexuality made up 8.7% of the population. I chose to not categorize the participant who identified as homosexual as gay or lesbian because while these terms all generally mean attraction to the same sex, one can validly identify with whatever they feel most comfortable with.
I created 12 open ended questions for participants to respond to regarding their sexualities, media, and memorable messages. The survey will ask participants to reflect on their coming out experience(s) and what they can recall where memorable messages they received from the media or elsewhere on the topic of sexuality as defined as sexual orientation and the physical act of sex. I initially planned to conduct live interviews with my participants who I would also receive from snowball sampling, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic and shelter in place in effect, this would no longer be possible. To see a full list of survey questions refer to the table in Appendix A. After the completion of the survey, the final question is for the participant to come up with a pseudonym to remain anonymous in my results. Participants are encouraged to take their time when completing this survey as it is a very sensitive topic for many and to answer only what they are comfortable on the record.
I believe conducting my study through a survey may have benefited my research because this should allow participants to take their time with the questions and be in a more comfortable position to respond to such sensitive subject matter in private. This should allow more openness and honesty that will yield more insightful answers because there is no pressure from being interviewed. The first step of my analysis is to divide participants' responses up by sexuality so see if this impacted participants' responses in any way. The responses will be divided up by similarities in themes of the memorable messages participants recalled. Lastly, I will have a breakdown of the different types of media provided by my participants and why it proved influential for them. To see the full range of sexualities observed and a list of media participants mentioned, refer to the table in Appendix B. I will be looking for correlations between memorable messages between participants to understand what made them so impactful. Through my analysis of what my LGB+ participants recount about the media and their coming out experiences, I will be able to understand the answers to my research questions and from that better understand the landscape of the media that exists with an understanding of how to successfully better it in the future.
This study is answering the question of how media and memorable messages influence the LGB+ community during the coming out experience, as well as seeing how media and memorable messages have educated and influenced the opinion of the sexuality. My research questions are as follows:
RQ1: How has LGBTQ+ media used memorable messages to influence those in the community when coming to terms with their sexuality?
Subquestion: What are the recurring themes present in LGBTQ+ media and why do they prove to be so influential to the community’s self acceptance?
RQ2: How has media educated those in the community and how has this influenced their opinions on sexuality?
Answering the first question and subquestion I have found that media and memorable messages have influenced the community in many positive ways, even if the media is imperfect and some memorable messages were negative. My participants explained how these sometimes negative messages and imperfect media still allowed them to feel seen as well as allowed them to educate themselves with correct and positive information as they now had a dialogue and starting point to do so. It has allowed the community to show resilience through discrimination and hardships by using what they were taught to effetely teach themselves better. Overall, any positive messages and representation in media are better than nothing because it shows progress.
As for the subquestion, the themes in LGBTQ+ media that were mentioned also showed resilience and explored sexuality in a positive and fulfilling light by showing diversity and meaningful stories. Participants mentioned numerous tv shows, films, performing artists, and print media that they felt were positively impactful by having a diverse set of characters, and themes as well as singers and actors who have spoken positively and worked to help the community through education and promoting inclusivity. A full list of media that was mentioned is located in Appendix B Table 2.
My second research question involving education prompted mixed results between participants, as participants had varying upbringings that influenced their education on the topic. Participants reported receiving sex education in school and it was either minimal or robust, and responses that they were taught abstinence and only ever was taught about heterosexual sex, if at all. Some participants say it made them nervous and unsure of who they were since they were never taught about their own bodies while others felt discouraged because they were made to feel shameful by sex at all, and not being taught about themselves made them want to hide their sexuality. Overall, education was something that all of my participants said needs to be better in school.
Themes found within my responses to answer my research questions are as follows:
Memorable Messages: Coming Out - RQ1
Memorable Messages from friends, family, and the media have impacted my participants in mostly positive ways because whether the message was positive or negative my participants showed growth from what they heard and better informed themselves after.
Positive. Participants shared stories of family and friends being either very accepting from the start or at least gradually became more accepting in time. Many parents also mentioned their children’s safety when they first came out to them, which seemed to be a recurring theme through most participants' experiences. Although some parents presented this safety concern negatively with some saying “you can’t come out” or questioning if their child was sure, it was out of concern for the safety of their loved one. While it may seem negative, I am including this as a positive because parents do love their children, even if they are confused and queer sexualities may have not been something they were ever taught before. There were many positive messages from friends and family, messages of unconditional love and acceptance. One of the most powerful responses I came across when analyzing my results for positive messages was this quote from a participant's father, “the world needs more love in it, and I am so proud of you.” Although there were many positive responses there were also negative, although most came from misunderstandings and misinformation on the subject of sexuality and queer identity.
Negative. As mentioned above most negative messages from anyone came from a lack of understanding rather than pure hatred or anything else. Many participants were raised in Christian households and were taught that homosexuality was a sin and must repent and seek help, and so this made it difficult for them to accept themselves let alone understand there were other sexualities aside from homosexuality. Participants mentioned how this was scary for them to even begin to imagine being anything other than straight because their upbringings taught them that LG was wrong; BTQ+ wasn’t even a subject matter that was brought up. The main negative issue faced was lack of education which lead to misunderstanding. The media and messages participants parents, especially those who were religious, were mostly poor stereotypical representations of the community and the general idea that queer sexuality isn’t real and or is wrong and one should not choose to do such a thing. Parents didn’t necessarily mean any harm but this is all they knew and shared this with their kids when they came out. While some participants mentioned losing friends and some family to this, they generally all said it helped them see who is important in their life because those are the people who matter.
Positive and negative messages both deeply impacted my participants during their coming out processes. Although there may have been more outright negative messages they are vividly remembered, the main idea that came from it was that no matter what my participants found the good in the messages and themselves to push forward to find happiness and acceptance.
Media Representation - RQ1 Subquestion
Participants mentioned a mix of really impactful positive media representations as well as many more poor representations, but regardless of positive or negatives, my results showed that all of the messages impacted my participants which lead to them better understanding themselves. The strength and resilience in the community are exemplified greatly by what my participants had to say about how they used media to push them forward no matter what.Positive. Many participants mentioned how the media they consumed helped them feel safe and validated. These were the two major themes that came up in any of the positive media they talked about. This relates to the idea of escapism, how viewers can use this media as a way to escape reality to a safe place where they feel heard. Participants mentioned shows and movies such as Steven Universe, Love Simon, But I’m A Cheerleader, Pretty Little Liars, among many others which can be found in Appendix B, Table 2 at the end of this paper. A few mentioned how Love Simon helped them see that friends will accept you because they love you, as well as in Pretty Little Liars when one character comes to her mom and the mother eventually comes to terms with it over time. Media like these helps viewers have a realistic view of reactions which is extremely beneficial for viewers who are looking for guidance. Another theme that came up a lot was the idea that media representations that didn’t make a whole plot around someone's sexuality were the most vital because this showed that a character, or person, is much more than just their sexuality. This was crucial because it showed how the community held onto these small instances of reality in media and shows how we need more like this. This lack of inclusivity in representation along with plots based solely on a character's stereotypical sexuality prompted mixed responses from participants. While some said they wished there was more substance others said despite this they kept watching and rewatching because it was still a glimpse of hope for acceptance and visibility. Any representation can be helpful for a community so underrepresented. Many also mentioned newer shows like Sex Education where the sex stigma is broken and many identities are represented, and an episode of Brooklyn 99 where a character comes out as bisexual because these shows allowed the viewers to feel seen in a way like never before. Overall, there were many positive messages found in queer and straight media, not as many as there should be but people who need the media were able to find it and have something to hold on to. A final quote of positivity that was the most important idea found in all of the media was the idea that “Love is love, We’re all the same and we just want to belong”, as one participant said.
Negative. For every positive representation and story in the media, there are many more negatives that come from it. The overall themes seen in responses about the negatives found in media were underrepresentation, stereotypes, and over sexualization of sexualities. Many participants mentioned a lack of representation as to why it took them longer to self accept themselves because without seeing someone like them represented they felt alone and different. There were also mention of poor plot lines that showed a poorly stereotyped gay character with no substance to their characterization die or only be used as a “token gay”, as one participant stated. They mentioned how these stereotypes were unrealistic for many and so it felt unreliable rendering them mostly useless and defeating their purpose. These unrealistic characters were usually hyper sexualized and not very diverse, which made it hard for my participants to see that queer sexuality isn’t just “something you see in porn”, as one participant mentioned. This made some feel ashamed because they felt their way no one else like them, and therefore felt dirty because if they did find anything it was overly sexual for no reason. Overall, the general idea between participants' responses was there needs to be more realistic and inclusive information because there is more bad than good media for the community which can be extremely harmful making those coming out take much longer to find their own self acceptance on their journey.
Despite the negative stereotypes, participants explained how even though representation wasn’t perfect it was still something which allowed them to feel a bit better about themselves and then find better resources for themselves with what they now knew they were lacking previously. The positive media proved to be growing which my participants mentioned made them hopeful for the future so things can be easier for the next generation. No matter what the representation, my participants continued to show their strength and how they were able to use all they were given to help build themselves up stronger internally. They knew the media wasn’t perfect but in the end they were still able to use it to better inform themselves, at very least by knowing what wasn’t true.
Education and Sexuality - RQ2
Education on LGBTQ+ sex education is extremely lacking as my participants have mentioned. Many suggested ways sex education in schools should be reformed for better inclusivity and how and what information to be taught. Overall my participants said they received minimal if any sex education in school as many were raised Christian and attended Catholic schooling. There were not many direct positives when analyzing my results to answer this research question but there were a few indirect positives worth mentioning that my participants shared on the matter.
Positive. The few positives my participants mentioned on sex education were that some actually had teachers who explained their queer questions as well as having the internet to rely on. The emergence of the internet gave this generation more accessibility to queer sex education than ever before, especially more than they could ever receive informal education. The internet is a place they could interact with others in the community and learn from each other. From their lack of education in the classroom, my participants explained how they had to research and figure things out for themselves, which may have not been the best or fair compared to the experiences for heterosexual youth, but it allowed them to find themselves in different ways which seems to be a uniquely queer experience which shows strength.
Negative. LGB+ sexuality is something seldom mentioned in sex education anywhere, especially in schools and this can be detrimental to youths in the community who are looking for validity and answers. One participant made an important point “It fails to educate queer students which are inherently dangerous and unfair, and it also forces the idea of heterosexuality onto students, implying that anything else is lesser and invalidated by the fact that it isn’t described in school.” This was something also mentioned by numerous participants explaining their own experiences with sex education which made them feel invalidated and helpless because they were taught so little about their own bodies. Most mentioned having only heterosexual sex education that solely focused on condoms and STDs, while others said they didn’t even receive that much, only abstinence education. Sex education in general seems to be a topic that requires much change, especially with its lack of inclusivity of other sexualities. If there was any LGBTQ+ education it was just that there is “gay or straight”, one participant mentioned, or if it went a bit further just that some men sleep with other men and no mention of women or anyone or anything else. They mentioned there needs to be inclusive sex education taught for all bodies, sexualities, and genders because without it participants resorted to using the internet which is amazing but also very very flawed and mostly unsafe for this type of education.
The internet was where most participants mentioned they received any type of LGBTQ+ sex education, but it was very dangerous because most searches prompted pornography which many said was something they were not ready to witness at that delicate age. Also, misinformation was rampant because of unreliable sources and bigotry on the internet and so it made for a very confusing time for many. There seemed to be no proper way to learn about their own bodies or sex because it wasn’t taught in school and the internet bought up mostly pornography leading to participants feeling overly sexualized and shameful for being who they are. Even the pornography that was out there on queer sex was usually lesbian sex that was catered towards white cisgender men, so many mentioned that was also not helpful.
Lack of sexual education enables the continued spread of misinformation about the LGBTQ+ community and sex, which leads to the continued idea that queer sexuality is perverted because the only real information on the topic is mostly pornography. This toxically negative cycle is what is continuing the negative stigma the LGBTQ+ community faces, which continues the belief that queer sexuality is perverted. Many of my participants made the previous statement by mentioning how they faced this stigma first hand when coming out and trying to ask questions about sexuality to educate themselves. Because heterosexuality is the norm, many people aren’t used to and comfortable talking about sex, especially anything other than heterosexual sex. This has caused many to learn and now have to unlearn misinformation about LGBTQ+ sex as they continue to grow and encounter these experiences first hand. Overall the lasting result from my analysis of this question is that LGBTQ+ sex needs to be fixed and for the community to feel validated and be treated equally, it must be normalized and become standard the way heterosexual sex education is.
The results I concluded from the surveys my participants completed answered my research questions because my participants responses were clear examples that memorable messages impacted their sexual understanding during their coming out processes and help them in many ways in developing their identities. My participants explained how artists, television, films, and other types of media left them with impressions of the community both good and bad, but from this, they understood the imperfections and used this to help better educate themselves. The media they mentioned that was positive proved extremely influential and important to them because it acted as a safe place to feel safe, seen, and validated. The results exemplify how the LGB+ community views the media representations and messages that are out there. My participants are LGB+ people who have grown up with the media and its opinions and attitudes towards the community as well as gone through experiences in their home life while coming out that left lasting impressions on them through memorable messages, which are all evident in how they responded to the questions. Each had a tone that expressed what they have gone through and as I analyzed everything, I was able to understand the impact of the importance the media and messages meant to them. They all seemed to also have memorable messages from the media and home that positively pushed them which was reassuring to see that the media is making strides in the right direction to more properly inform and educate everyone about the community which will not only help society but the viewership which will create a cyclical pattern of positive change for everyone involved. My participants explained that what they held on to has shaped them and allowed them to grow, but also gave reason for why the media and messages were so powerful in positive ways. This latter piece will be important to help the media industry and content creators by giving insight into the true impact of their work.
The Memorable Message Theory was evident in my results seen by the way my participants recounted on such influential times and experiences in their lives. This theory explains that messages we receive hold a lasting impression and these messages that can be evident in our future thoughts and actions. Memorable messages influence one's identity and this can be seen in my participant's responses. My participants recounted significant conversations with friends or family that influenced their understanding of how they should understand LGBTQ+ sexuality as either positively or negatively. While some had fond memories of acceptance and positive interactions, others described painful words spoken to them that discouraged them in the moment but eventually allowed them persevere and come out from the experience stronger by finding their self acceptance and confidence in themselves. As found in my research memorable messages, whether positive or negative, seem to help the LGB+ community validate themselves either initially or after contemplation depending on the message.
Conducting my research using the memorable messages theoretical framework allowed me to make connections between validity and identity within the LGB+ community. It was interesting to see how my participants held on to negative things and remembered the bad times where they were put down, but used these memories as a way to lift themselves up and show how far they’ve come in their journey to self discovery by being able to say these events made them stronger. In my research, I specifically asked participants to recall and explain memorable messages they received during their coming out experiences and it prompted truly inspiring words of perseverance and courage during the bad times and heartwarming words in regards to the positive messages that they held close. My results allow the theory to be understood within the context of the LGB+ and LGBTQ+ community as a whole which shows just how impactful and true this theory is. The theory confirmed the prediction of my results because the LGBTQ+ community faces many hardships other communities will not face, especially not in the same way, and so it just proved how impactful the messages the community hears are to one’s identity and well being.
Implications of Study
My results imply that there is still a need for more accurate representation and positive messages to help spread accurate and positive information to viewers in or outside of the LGBTQ+ community. As with better information comes more people understanding the community which can lead to hopefully less bigotry and hinders the spread of negative and false information. Accurate and positive LGBTQ+ characters and storylines will not only help the community feel validated but will help everyone see that an inclusive space is a good space.
This study is also intended to help the media industry and content creators see the true implication their works hold on viewers. The more informed the industry is about how their work is being received can help future works be better and continue to create more positive and meaningful work for the community. The more research that is done on LGBTQ+ media, the better it can be understood and thus improved.
In this study, I analyzed surveys of 23 LGB+ respondents and while this is a start into understanding the impact media and memorable messages have on the LGBTQ+ community, it is a much smaller sample size than a study like this would need to fully understand the implications and more broadly answer my research questions. Having 23 transplants to New York City may have helped even out the bias of having such a small sample size and I so am still satisfied with the results, although I know this study could have been more comprehensive with more participants.
Initially, the study was to be conducted via in person interviews and so I had hoped to interview more participants and have more in-depth and comprehensive questions to respond to. This was no longer possible due to the COVID-19 pandemic which prompted a shelter in place put in effect and specifically “NYC on PAUSE” where the study was being conducted. This order required my transplant participants to leave the city and fly back home which made in person interviews not possible. This happened right as I was working out how to gather participants for my study and so it required me to start the process over in a new no contact format. This is why I conducted my research through an online survey, which was not ideal as I could not have dynamic conversations with my participants. This also made it challenging to gather participants as everyone who lived on campus was uplifted from the city, which created additional worries for people. I created an online survey that I posted to my social media as well as the colleges, to try and get as many people as I knew to see it but with everyone trying to get home to their families it was not a top priority of anyone to be browsing social media.
Another limitation that came from my limited participant pool was that the majority of participants were bisexual which can lead to bias as not all sexualities were represented equally. Listed in the participant's subsection of the methods section of this study includes the full breakdown of percentages of sexualities represented. In brief, 9 out of 23 participants were bisexual and the rest consisted of 1 or 2 identifying with of the remaining 7 other sexualities included, with an additional 2 participants not disclosing their sexualities. Having more participants from the entire Marymount Manhattan College population would have yielded a much more diverse and inclusive list of sexual identities rather than those from the college that I knew or followed me or the college on social media. By not being able to hold physical interviews with postings on the campus this resulted in a biased participant pool based on who had social media or access to the online survey via the internet. An in person interview would have allowed me to have engaging conversations with my participants and potentially receive more insightful information as pre-written questions can be static and overwhelming.
Opportunities for future research
If I were to conduct this study again I would properly hold in person interviews which would allow for greater representation for the community and prompt more responses from participants. A greater pool of participants would help fully understand the implications of the study better because there would be more data to analyze. In addition to conducting this study again with more participants in person, this research would be more informed if it also included gender identities of the LGBTQ+ community. A full representation of the entire LGBTQ+ community would yield unbiased results because it is inclusive of the entire community which will also allow for greater participation and results.
The macro conversation of LGBTQ+ media and memorable message will continually benefit and grow from more extensive research and so the next step would be to conduct a cultural analysis of the LGBTQ+ media that is out there today. This will help researchers in the field, the media industry, and content creators understand the media and message that exist. Knowing what stands out as prominent in the community is vital for creators to see what is working and look at the themes and stories that benefit the community most to then be able to create more similar content.
While 10% of characters on prime-time scripted broadcasts is an impressive improvement from the roughly 2% over 15 years ago, there is still much to improve as we study the effects the media that is being created has on viewers. The purpose of this stud, again, is to help understand the influence LGBTQ+ media has had on LGB+ youth, and from this help better inform the creators of this media to create more positive, impactful, and educational media. This study is an important factor in understanding how LGB+ people are influenced by the media and what lasting messages it has left them with. It can help inform the media industry and content creators by understanding what they need to do better from the viewers' opinions on LGBTQ+ sexuality in the media. This study aims to help propel the movement towards better representation for the LGBTQ+ community as a whole by first taking it one section at a time and breaking down sexuality representation. The goal is to continue the conversation to research more into the perceived influence of media to better impact the future media that will be created for the next generation of viewers.
LGB+ Sexuality Coming Out Survey
Hello, I am Ava Makris a Digital Media and Video Production and Cinema, Television, and Emerging Media double major at Marymount Manhattan College. I am conducting a study on sexuality and coming out for my thesis for my Comm 450 Research Seminar class with Dr. Jenny Dixon. This survey will ask participants of college age (18-24), who are any gender, and identify as a sexuality other than straight to reflect on their coming out experience. You will be asked about how the media has influenced your experience with understanding sexuality either positively or negatively as well as reflect on memorable messages that had a lasting impact on you regarding sexuality, coming out, sex education among others related to the topic. I understand this is a very sensitive topic so please answer only what you are comfortable with. Your survey responses will be collected and reviewed by me to help answer my research questions for my thesis. Your responses will be analyzed and may be quoted in my study but all information will remain anonymous in the study. I ask that you put your name and sexuality at the beginning of this confidential survey but in the end, there will be a question for you to create a pseudonym for yourself to be used in the study itself. I will be the only one reading this information and once it is sorted and correctly labeled with your pseudonym, I will delete the survey and responses. Please take your time and feel free to contact me if you have any questions or concerns at email@example.com.
- 1 Please state your name and share your sexuality and the year you came out.
- 2 What was your first experience understanding sexuality, meaning sexual orientation?
- 3 What was your coming out experience like for yourself to yourself?
- 4 What was your coming out experience to friends and/or family?
- 5 Is there anything anyone has said or done during that process that stood out to you and stayed with you? Any memorable messages that impacted you?
- 6 Is there anything that stood out to you and stayed with you from the media such as in TV or Movies, but not limited to just those forms of media? Any memorable messages that impacted you?
- 7 What tv shows/films or media were available to you when exploring your sexuality on your journey to self discovery? Was it positive or negative?
- 8 Is there anything you felt was lacking with your education, either self exploration, and the internet or being taught by friend, family or schooling, about sexuality both as orientation and the act of sex?
- 9 Is there anything you would like to comment on about sex education and the queer community? Please share your thoughts on what you think of sex education in schooling, especially queer sex. Were there any good things you learned or what were anythings you feel were important that were missed?
- 10 Do you feel your upbringing influenced your understanding and education on sexuality? Meaning demographics, religion, values, etc.
- 11 Is there anything you would like to mention that wasn’t addressed in this survey? If so please feel free to share your thoughts on sexuality and media, and or anything else on the topic you would like to say.
- 12 Please come up with a pseudonym for yourself to remain anonymous in my study.
Table 1:Participants and Sexualities
I have included Coming out 2nd and 3rd years because many LGBTQ+ youth may come out in stages or have to come out multiple times for various reasons from finding an orientation they better identify with to having to come out multiple times to be validated and understood.
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