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LGBTQ visibility in films and TV is at an all-time high, there’s no doubt about it. Television viewers and fans of the big-screen movieplex are consistently presented with queer characters of all stripes, and sometimes they even have complex storylines! And fall in love! And have kids! Other times you can tell a film’s of TV series’ queer characters weren’t written with much consideration for positive queer visibility — or with much thought at all. With that in mind, one Tumblr user has gone so far as to suggest a new “gay Bechdel Test” that would effectively ensure positive representation of the queer community on-screen.
This “gay Bechdel Test” (like the original Bechdel Test before it) is a series of requirements that must be met for a film or TV project to be considered “good representation” of the LGBTQ community (or, in the case of the original Bechdel Test, the representation of women).
First things first, what is the Bechdel Test?
The Bechdel Test is something coined by American cartoonist Alison Bechdel. She wrote a comic strip called Dykes to Watch Out For, and the Bechdel Test first appeared there in 1985. You may also know Alison Bechdel for Fun Home, her 2006 graphic memoir that later became a (really amazing) Tony Award-winning Broadway musical of the same name.
For a film or TV series (or episode, even) must meet three requirements:
1. The project must have at least two women in it. (Some people say those women must also be named.)
2. The project must have those women talk to each other.
3. And in the project, those women must talk to each other about something besides a man.
If a film or TV series meets all three of those requirements, then it meets the Bechdel Test.
Bechdel has in the past said she intended her “test” as “a little lesbian joke in an alternative feminist newspaper” but it has since become a very valid and much-studied academically. In 2018, the term “Bechdel test” was added to the Oxford English Dictionary.
What is this newly proposed “gay Bechdel Test”?
This “gay Bechdel Test” was initially proposed by a Tumblr user named @therebewhaleshere, and much like the original, it proposes three requirements as well, intended particularly for gay and lesbian romance films.
For any film or TV project featuring a queer romance, the gay characters cannot:
1. Have an illegal or otherwise creepy age gap.
2. Cheat on each other or anyone else (especially not if the cheating is portrayed as romantic).
3. Die tragically, violently or at all.
Some people may think this “gay Bechdel Test” is strict, but is it really? A film or TV project that passes this new test would not only be positively representing LGBTQ people (always a great thing), but would have created queer characters that are more than their sexuality and gender identity.
Why would some form of “gay Bechdel Test” could be great for film and TV?
Well, to put it simply, a gay Bechdel Test like the one proposed by @therebewhaleshere would be great for films and TV series with LGBTQ characters largely because of the history of how those characters have been treated, going all the way back to the 1920s. Film aficionados may be familiar with something called The Hays Code.
Another Tumblr user, @feministbatman, responded to the “gay Bechdel Test” with a little history lesson that perfectly explains why a test like this could be great for film and TV:
From 1922 to 1968 the Motion Picture Production Code (commonly known as the Hays Code) enforced rules regarding the treatment of gay characters in TV and film. Homosexuality and gender nonconformity could be acknowledged, but it had to be punished to show that consequences would come from such “immorality.”
Showing these characters as creepy, predatory, unfaithful, etc etc was common, and for decades pretty much every queer or queer-coded character was brutally murdered. The homophobic tropes born from the Hays Code are pervasive in media today.
The sheer amount of tragedy and violence written into queer media in the last century has in the long term damaged people’s perceptions of what queer stories are “supposed” to look like.
New Bechdel-like test for gay/lesbian romance films: If your queer piece of media complies with the Hays Code, start over.
It’s easy not to realize how much surrounding the treatment of queer characters in film and TV is attributable to longstanding insane policies like the Hays Code and “queer coding” in general.
And while queer representation and visibility on-screen is without a doubt improving, this new “gay Bechdel Test” provides a smart and fun way to think about the quality of LGBTQ storylines and characters going forward.