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"They tell us who we are, they tell us who we aren't" gay identity on television and off /

by Freymiller, Lyn J.

Abstract (Summary)
Recently, much has been made of the prevalence of gay characters on television, but there has been little investigation of the construction of gay identity on television. Meanwhile, these gay representations are presumed to sensitize straight viewers to gay people, but little study has focused on the responses of gay viewers to portrayals of fictional gay characters. This project consists of two studies that explore portrayals of, and gay viewer responses to, gay television characters. The studies are guided by the communication theory of identity and its tenet of identity as consisting of several interrelated dimensions including personal, relational, and communal. The first study investigates three notable television texts featuring gay and lesbian characters and analyzes how the characters are constructed on various identity dimensions. Analysis finds that gay characters are portrayed as struggling with integrating gay identity into their personhood (Six Feet Under), as committed but strained in their relationships with other gay as well as straight characters (Will & Grace), and as experiencing tensions between gay and straight community as well as within their own community (Queer as Folk). The second study involves interviews with 22 self-identifying gay, lesbian, and bisexual participants to assess their responses to portrayals of gay characters on the different identity dimensions. Results find that some respondents find television portrayals to be varied and relatable, while others find them limited and compromised. The second study also explores how interviewees sense that media portrayals have influenced their own identity formation, and finds that interviewees frequently identify an actual or possible media influence. The studies conclude that gay characters on television do have complex identities, but that more is possible in terms of varied portrayals, and also that the interaction between media portrayals of gay identity and the lived experience of gay identity could be usefully explored with people struggling with sexual identity. iv
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School:Pennsylvania State University

School Location:USA - Pennsylvania

Source Type:Master's Thesis

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