LGBT stereotypes

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The Dykes on Bikes motorcycle group in a pride parade, exhibiting a stereotype of butch lesbians.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) stereotypes are conventional, formulaic generalizations, opinions, or images based on the sexual orientations or gender identities of LGBT people. Stereotypical perceptions may be acquired through interactions with parents, teachers, peers and mass media,[1] or, more generally, through a lack of firsthand familiarity, resulting in an increased reliance on generalizations.[2]

Negative stereotypes are often associated with homophobia, lesbophobia, biphobia, or transphobia.[3] Positive stereotypes, or counterstereotypes, also exist.[4][5]

In general[edit]


While LGBT people are associated with irreligiousness, the Human Rights Campaign promotes the idea that an individual can be gay and religious. Harry Knox, a gay minister, has led this movement since 2005. "Seventy-two percent of adults describe their faith as "very important" in their lives, so do sixty percent of gays and lesbians" (US News). Activists are working to bridge the gap between religion and homosexuality and to make denominations friendlier to the community. Many Protestants have opened their doors and the United Church of Christ has ordained gay ministers since 1972.[6] LGBT clergy are also ordained in the Episcopal Church of America and the Presbyterian Church (US).[7] The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force has worked with Jewish individuals in the LGBT community,[8] and organizations like Keshet continue to work with Jewish members of the community both to raise awareness of LGBTQ issues in Jewish communities and Jewish issues in LGBTQ communities.

In fiction: "Bury your gays"[edit]

"Bury your gays" and more specifically "dead lesbian syndrome" describe the trope in fiction that requires that gay or lesbian characters die or meet another unhappy ending, such as becoming insane.[9]

According to Autostraddle, which examined 1,779 scripted U.S. television series from 1976 to 2016, 193 (11%) of them featured lesbian or bisexual female characters, and among these, 35% saw lesbian or bisexual characters dead, but only 16% provided a happy ending for them. Similarly, among all lesbian or bisexual characters in no-longer-airing series, 31% ended up dead, and only 10% received a happy ending.[10] In a study of 242 character deaths in the 2015-2016 television season, Vox reported that "A full 10 percent of deaths [were] queer women."[11] Such statistics led Variety to conclude in 2016 that "the trope is alive and well on TV, and fictional lesbian and bisexual women in particular have a very small chance of leading long and productive lives".[12]

The trope also appears in other fiction, such as video games, where LGBT characters are, according to Kotaku, "largely defined by a pain that their straight counterparts do not share". Facing challenges that "serve as an in-world analogy for anti-LGBTQ bigotry", these characters are defined by tragedy that denies them a chance at happiness.[13]


For years, the media has been moving forward in equally representing members of the LGBT community. While there may still not be many prominent LGBT characters in the mainstream media, the community has completed many milestones in the recent years. In 2016, the coming-of-age drama film Moonlight became the first LGBT movie to win the Best Picture Oscar.[14] In 2018, Love, Simon also became the first film from a major studio that focused on the hardships of being a closeted gay teenager.[15]

On the other hand, LGBT members continue to be underrepresented and typecast. Disney has represented the LGBT community in around 8% of its films as of 2016. Other companies such as 20th Century Fox, Sony, Lionsgate and Warner Bros have featured LGBT characters in up to only 21% of their films.[16]

Murder and violence[edit]

LGBT rights activists have fought against fictional representations of LGBT people that depict them as violent and murderous. Columnist Brent Hartinger observed that "big-budget Hollywood movies until, perhaps, Philadelphia in 1993 that featured major gay male characters portrayed them as insane villains and serial killers".[17] Community members organized protests and boycotts against films with murderous gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender characters, including Cruising (1980), Silence of the Lambs (1991), and Basic Instinct (1992).[18] Theatre scholar Jordan Schildcrout has written about the recurrence of the "homicidal homosexual" in American plays, but notes that LGBT playwrights themselves have appropriated this negative stereotype to confront and subvert homophobia.[19] Such plays include The Lisbon Traviata (1985) by Terrence McNally, Porcelain (1992) by Chay Yew, The Secretaries (1993) by the Five Lesbian Brothers, and The Dying Gaul (1998) by Craig Lucas.


Actress Portia de Rossi came out as a lesbian in the early 2000s.

Many 20th-century films put a negative connotation on the lesbian community. The 1961 drama The Children's Hour gives viewers the idea that lesbians live a "dark" and almost depressing lifestyle. However, by the 21st century, the media was portraying lesbians in a more positive light.[20] For instance, in the popular lesbian television series The L Word the media refutes the "U-Haul" lesbian stereotype, which is that lesbians move in on the second date. The show depicts a lesbian couple that starts a family and stays together long term. It intends to prove that lesbians hold the same "family values" as heterosexual couples. The show also uses mostly "feminine" or "lipstick" lesbians to combat the stereotype that all lesbians are "butch", or dress like men. This promotes the idea that lesbians come in all different shapes, sizes, and styles. The show also battles stereotypes through its character, Shane. Shane challenges the stereotype that lesbians catch feelings easily. It is believed that lesbians are easily domesticated, however, Shane shuffles between a variety of girls, to challenge the idea that lesbians get easily attached to their partners.[21] At the same time, however, The L Word reinforces numerous negative stereotypes, particularly in the first season, which depicts a storyline in which the lesbian Marina Ferrer is depicted as a sexual predator relentlessly pursuing and ultimately seducing the straight Jenny Schecter despite herself being in a long-distance relationship and knowing of Jenny's engagement to her fiancé, Tim, which leads to the destruction of Jenny and Tim's relationship, effectively portraying the stereotype that lesbians "recruit" straight women and have no respect for their boyfriends (although Jenny herself was badly received by the LGBT community throughout the series' entire run). Another character, Lacey, goes out of her way to defame Shane solely for refusing to commit to her, in the process risking potential police action and is pacified only when Shane sleeps with her one last time. On many occasions throughout the series, numerous characters are shown starting affairs merely to make their lovers jealous or simply sabotaging their relationships through adultery for no apparent reason, while their ex-lovers resort to petty or childish forms of revenge, ranging from using other people to start their own affairs to more serious actions or even crimes such as defamation (Lacey, who puts up posters and hands out flyers to expose Shane's promiscuity for not committing to her), potential perjury (Tina, who attempts to use her bisexuality to ingratiate herself into a heterosexual family in order to fool the family court into giving her sole custody of her baby with Bette), kidnapping (Bette, who kidnaps the baby to thwart Tina's plot), animal abuse (Jenny, who deliberately adopts and puts down a terminally ill dog to gain sympathy from a vet and sabotage her relationship with her lover), speeding (Alice, who pursues Dana in her car and attempts to run her off the road after realizing Dana used her sexually and then dumped her for her ex, Lara), blackmail (Adele, who steals a sex tape from Jenny and Niki and threatens to expose it in order to further her own career in Hollywood), arson (Paige, who apparently burns down Shane's workplace in revenge for her cheating on her), theft and framing (Niki, who steals the Lez Girls negatives to stop the film from being released and putting them in Jenny's attic to frame her in revenge for her using her), public humiliation (Jodi, who humiliates Bette in retaliation for using her sexually and giving her false hope during her separation from Tina), and a possible murder (the victim is Jenny, but it is left unrevealed if it was a murder or suicide, as all of the characters had a motive, most of them sex-related). Of note, all of the main characters are depicted as having cheated at least once on a lover or engaged in an act of adultery while easily judging others for doing the same, and generally unable or unwilling to commit to a sole partner. The series also adds elements of hypocrisy, as the former lesbian pornographic actress Faye Buckley is depicted as the leader of a fanatic religious group that persecutes other homosexuals in order to save her own image. Though this particular storyline which saw lesbians stand up for their human rights against the religious homophobic community was praised[22], the series came under heavy criticism for reportedly attempting to "reify heteronormativity"[23], for depicting lesbianism as a bad gene passed from mothers to daughters (as demonstrated in an instance when Shane has sex with a mother and her two daughters separately on one of the daughters' wedding day, which leads to all three of them falling in love with Shane and subsequently falling out with each other), and showing lesbian relationships as destined to fail due to lesbians' apparent struggles with monogamy and commitment, while series' creator Ilene Chaiken was labelled as "shameless in her professional upbringing" for her depiction of lesbians in general.[24]

In the television series Gotham, the character Renee Montoya is a lesbian and recovering drug addict, while the characters Fish Mooney, Barbara Kean and Tabitha Galvan are bisexual. Fish Mooney is introduced as the second-in-command of mafia boss Carmine Falcone, with a penchant for ruthlessness and ambition to overthrow both Falcone and Sal Maroni and become Gotham's sole crime boss. Montoya does not hide her grudge against James Gordon for being in a relationship with Barbara, her former lover. When rumors surface that Gordon may be corrupt, it is implied that Montoya is not entirely convinced, but she nevertheless becomes determined to put Gordon behind bars in the hopes of winning Barbara back rather than enforcing justice, even though it will cost the Gotham City Police Department one of its few honest cops determined to bring Falcone and Maroni down, and after she briefly succeeds in resuming her affair with Barbara, she pushes Barbara away when Barbara appears to be going back to depression and drug addiction. After Gordon begins a relationship with Leslie Thompkins, Barbara is driven insane with jealousy and eventually progresses to become one of the series' main antagonists. The second season introduces Tabitha Galvan, the bisexual sister of Theo Galvan, and who is also depicted as a ruthless, sadistic mercenary who has an on-again-off-again relationship with Barbara.

Many lesbians are associated with short hair, wearing baggy clothes and playing sports.[25] Further, news coverage of LGBT issues reinforces stereotyped portrayals of lesbians. Often news broadcasts highlight stories on more "masculine" lesbians and fail to give equal coverage to other more faceted lesbian identities. Thus, the populations who receive information about marginalized communities from a news source begin to equate lesbian sexuality with masculine presentation. The way lesbians are portrayed leads people to make assumptions about individuals in everyday life.[26]

Typically, lesbians are stereotyped as belonging to one of the two following categories: "butch and femme". Butch lesbians dress in a more masculine manner than other women. "Dykes" (a pejorative term that the Lesbian community has reclaimed, to an extent) are considered members of a community that is perceived as being composed of strong and outspoken advocates in wider society.[27] Actress Portia de Rossi has been credited for significantly countering the general societal misconception of how lesbians look and function when, in 2005, she divulged her sexual orientation in intimate interviews with Details and The Advocate which generated further discussion on the concept of the "lipstick lesbian" ("femme" women who tend to be "hyper-feminine").[citation needed] These stereotypes play out within the LGBTIQ+ community itself, with many women reporting feeling rejected by the queer community for not appearing or acting in the accepted way.[28]

Lesbian feminists assert that a sexual component is unnecessary for a woman to declare herself a lesbian if her primary and closest relationships are with women, on the basis that, when considering past relationships within an appropriate historical context, there were times when love and sex were separate and unrelated notions.[29] In 1989, an academic cohort called the Lesbian History Group wrote:

"Because of society's reluctance to admit that lesbians exist, a high degree of certainty is expected before historians or biographers are allowed to use the label. Evidence that would suffice in any other situation is inadequate here... A woman who never married, who lived with another woman, whose friends were mostly women, or who moved in known lesbian or mixed gay circles, may well have been a lesbian. ... But this sort of evidence is not 'proof'. What our critics want is incontrovertible evidence of sexual activity between women. This is almost impossible to find."[30]

Gay men[edit]

The contrast between a twink and a bear can be seen in this group of men in the Capital Gay Pride parade in Albany, New York in June 2009. The young blond (center), Naked Boy News host J.Son Dinant, is generally considered twink-ish because of his slender build and overall youthful appearance, while the man on the right, porn star Manuel Torres, would generally be considered a bear because of his stocky build and body hair.[31][32]

Homosexual men are often equated interchangeably with heterosexual women by the heterocentric mainstream and are frequently stereotyped as being effeminate,[33] despite the fact that gender expression, gender identity and sexual orientation are widely accepted to be distinct from each other.[34] The "flaming queen" is a characterization that melds flamboyance and effeminacy, remaining a gay male stock character in Hollywood.[35] Theatre, specifically Broadway musicals, are a component of another stereotype, the "show queen", which generalizes that gay men are involved with the performing arts, and are theatrical, overly dramatic, and camp.[36]

The bear subculture of the LGBT community is composed of generally large, hairy men, referred to as bears.[37][38] They embrace their image, and some will shun more effeminate gay men, such as twinks, and vice versa.[39]

Appearance and mannerisms[edit]

Gay men are often associated with a lisp or a feminine speaking tone.[40][41] Fashion and effeminacy have long been seen as stereotypes of homosexuality.[42] They are often based on the visibility of the reciprocal relationship between gay men and fashion.[43] Designers, including Dolce & Gabbana, have made use of homoerotic imagery in their advertising. Some commentators argue this encourages the stereotype that most gay men enjoy shopping.[44] A limp wrist is also a mannerism associated with gay men.[45]

Recent research by Cox and colleagues demonstrated that "gaydar" is often used as an alternate label for using stereotypes, especially those related to appearance and mannerisms, to infer orientation.[46]

Sex and relationships[edit]

Gay men on a pride parade float in Rome.

Research also suggests that lesbians may be slightly more likely than gay men to be in steady relationships.[47][48] In terms of unprotected sex, a 2007 study cited two large population surveys as showing that "the majority of gay men had similar numbers of unprotected sexual partners annually as straight men and women".[49][50][51] Another study found that gay men sometimes faced social boundaries because of this stereotype. Participants in the study reported finding it difficult to befriend other gay men on a platonic basis. They found that when they would engage with other gay men there would be an assumption of sexual motivations, and when it became clear that this was not the case the other men would not be interested in continuing socialising. These stereotypes permeate throughout all facets of society, even influencing those subjected to it.[52]

Another persistent stereotype associated with the gay male community is partying. Before the Stonewall riots in 1969, most LGBT people were extremely private and closeted, and house parties, bars, and taverns became some of the few places where they could meet, socialize, and feel safe. The riots represented the start of the modern LGBT social movement and acceptance of sexual and gender minorities, which has steadily increased since. Festive and party-like social occasions remain at the core of organizing and fundraising in the LGBT community. In cities where there are large populations of LGBT people, benefits and bar fundraisers are still common, and alcohol companies invest heavily in LGBT-oriented marketing.[citation needed] Ushered in by underground gay clubs and disc jockeys, the disco era kept the "partying" aspect vibrant and ushered in the more hardcore circuit party movement, hedonistic and associated with party and play.[53]

The relationship between gay men and female heterosexual "fag hags" has become highly stereotypical. The accepted behaviors in this type of relationship can predominantly include physical affections (such as kissing and touching), as in the sitcom Will & Grace.[54]

Sex and drugs[edit]

The term party and play (PNP) is used to refer to a subculture of gay men who use recreational drugs and have sex together, either one-on-one or in groups. The drug chosen is typically methamphetamine, known as crystal or tina in the gay community. Other "party drugs" such as MDMA and GHB are less associated with this term. While PNP probably has its genesis in the distinct subculture of methamphetamine users, and is most associated with its use, it has become somewhat generalized to include partying with other drugs thought to enhance sexual experiences, especially MDMA, GHB, and cocaine.[citation needed]

A report from the National HIV Prevention Conference (a collaborative effort by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other governmental and non-government organizations) describes PNP as "sexual behavior under the influence of crystal meth or other 'party' drugs."[55] It has been referred to as both an "epidemic" and a "plague" in the gay community.[56][57] British researchers report that up to 20% of gay men from central London gyms have tried methamphetamine, the drug most associated with PNP,[58] despite methamphetamine use being relatively unknown in the UK outside the PNP subculture.[59]

Extreme sex or bondage is also a stereotype in gay men. People often presume that gay men often conform to the stereotype of leather and chaps, including fisting.[citation needed]

Pedophilia and predation[edit]

It is a common stereotype that gay men are sexual predators or pedophiles.[60] The former perception can lead to a knee-jerk reaction that created the "gay panic defense", usually in straight men, who fear being hit on by gay men, and can be either a cause or an expression of homophobia.[61] The perception that a greater proportion of gay than straight men are pedophiles or child sexual abusers is one contributing factor of discrimination against gay teachers, despite the stark contrast to statistical figures, which have generally revealed most male child sexual abusers, including those who target boys,[62][63] are heterosexual and usually married with children of their own,[64][65] and research on child sexual abuse shows that most instances of child sexual abuse (one cited percentage being over 90%) are perpetrated by heterosexual males raping underage females.[66][67] Research has consistently indicated that a significant minority of child sex abuse perpetrators are female (5–20%),[66] but other research has indicated that almost 40% of child sexual abuse against boys, and 6% of abuse against girls, is committed by women.[68]

Bisexual people[edit]

Rock musician and personality David Bowie was one of the world's most famous bisexual people.[69]

Bisexuality is romantic or sexual attraction to males and females,[70][71][72] or romantic or sexual attraction to people of all gender identities or to a person irrespective of that person's biological sex or gender, though numerous related terms, such as pansexual and polysexual, are also equated with this description and there exists debate with regard to the terms' interchangeability.[73][74][75] People who have a distinct but not exclusive preference for one sex over the other may also identify themselves as bisexual.[76] Bisexuality has been observed in various human societies[77] and elsewhere in the animal kingdom[78][79][80] throughout recorded history. The term bisexuality, like the terms heterosexuality and homosexuality, was coined in the 19th century.[81]

Woody Allen is quoted saying, "Being bisexual doubles your chance of a date on Saturday night."[82] Common bisexual stereotypes include an inability to maintain a steady relationship or be trustworthy (based on a perception that bisexuals are promiscuous because of their attraction to more than one gender),[82] and indecision as to whether one is gay or straight (which assumes a binary, either-or spectrum of sexuality). Over a person's life, one's sexual desires and activities may vary greatly.[76]

Common stereotypes accepted and joked about within bisexual people can include indecisiveness, bob haircuts, awkward hand gestures (finger guns, peace signs) and outerwear (leather jackets, flannel, hoodies). These stereotypes are often found in internet groups, quite often in the format of 'Which bisexual are you?' posts where commenters will identify themselves with one of the stereotypes listed in the post.

In 1995, Harvard Shakespeare professor Marjorie Garber made the academic case for bisexuality with her Vice Versa: Bisexuality and the Eroticism of Everyday Life, in which she argued that most people would be bisexual if not for "repression, religion, repugnance, denial, laziness, shyness, lack of opportunity, premature specialization, a failure of imagination, or a life already full to the brim with erotic experiences, albeit with only one person, or only one gender".[83]

Rock musician David Bowie famously declared himself bisexual in an interview with Melody Maker in January 1972, a move coinciding with the first shots in his campaign for stardom as Ziggy Stardust.[84] In a September 1976 interview with Playboy, Bowie said, "It's true, I am a bisexual. But I can't deny that I've used that fact very well. I suppose it's the best thing that ever happened to me."[85] In a 1983 interview he said it's "the biggest mistake [he had] ever made",[86][87] in 2002 elaborating: "I don't think it was a mistake in Europe, but it was a lot tougher in America. I had no problem with people knowing I was bisexual. But I had no inclination to hold any banners or be a representative of any group of people. I knew what I wanted to be, which was a songwriter and a performer ... America is a very puritanical place, and I think it stood in the way of so much I wanted to do."[69]

As for bisexual people portrayed by Hollywood, from the end of the McCarthy era to even today, "The history of male bisexual characters in film has been one of negative stereotyping."[88]

Transgender people[edit]

Transgender is an umbrella term that encompasses a wide range of people with more specific identities. In general, a person who is transgender identifies with a gender other than their gender assigned at birth. The term may apply to any number of distinct communities, such as cross-dressers, drag queens, and drag kings, in addition to transsexuals.[89] The beliefs that transgender people are all prostitutes and caricatures of men and women are two of many erroneous misconceptions.[90]

One common stereotype of trans women is that they're assumed to be drag queens.[91] While historically some trans women have been innovators within the drag scene alongside gay men, trans women are not drag queens.[92]


A transsexual is a person born with the physical characteristics of one sex who psychologically and emotionally identifies with a variant or different gender than their physical sex characteristics.[93][94] Stereotypes of trans women include that they are generally taller than cisgender women, and that they may have larger, more masculine hands.[95]

Transvestites and cross-dressers[edit]

Transvestites are often assumed to be homosexuals. The word transvestism comes from the combination of Latin words trans meaning "across, over" and vestitus meaning dressed.[96] Most transvestites are heterosexual.[97] Transvestism may have a fetishistic component, whereas cross-dressing does not; although many people use the words interchangeably, transvestite has increasingly become a derogatory term. Most prefer to use the term cross-dresser or cross-dressing.[98]

Origins and prevalence[edit]


Social scientists are attempting to understand why there are such negative connotations associated with the lesbian community.[99] William James assumed that it was a repulsive instinct that came naturally to each woman and that, when an individual enjoyed same-sex interaction, it was because it became a habit. In short, he assumed that "tolerance is learned and revulsion is inborn" (PBS). In 1908, James and Edward Westermack attempted to understand the violent actions taken toward homosexuals by Jewish, Christian, and Zoroastrian religions. They believed hostility existed because of the historical association between homosexuality and idolatry, heresy, and criminal behavior. Sigmund Freud asserted in 1905 that homophobia was shaped by society, an individual's environment, and the individual's exposure to homo-eroticism. Sandor Ference (1914) believed that heterosexual women's feelings of repulsion toward those identifying as lesbians was a reaction formation and defense mechanism against affection from the same sex. In other words, he believed heterosexual females feared being labeled as lesbians.

Taking an individual that adheres to stereotypes of LGBT people and putting them in face-to-face interaction with those of the LGBT community tends to lessen tendencies to rely upon stereotypes and increases the presence of individuals with a similar ethnic, religious, or geographical background, and who are accepting of homosexuals.[100]

Intersections between LGBT, race, and class stereotypes[edit]


Hispanics generally have a difficult time within the culture of the Hispanic American countries, yet not in Spain, this is due to this cultures being more traditionalist (With the exception of Argentina, Uruguay and Chile). There have been some shifts away from these stereotypes in recent years, but it has been to different extents depending on the culture. The strong belief in "machismo" has caused these shifts in attitude to be so small. Machismo refers to the male dominant role in society that provides more social authority to men that are not experienced by women. Female homosexuality is less explicitly accepted in many of these cultures, while in certain countries and in certain social status it is accepted, they do not enjoy the acceptance similar to that of Western countries.[101] Many Hispanics stray away[clarification needed] from coming out because of religion.[citation needed] The LGBTQ Hispanic community of faith helps people understand that they can be gay and also be religious without judgement.[102]


Asian American women that identify as lesbian or bisexual may face sexual fetishization by white men or women and are stereotyped as "spicy", leading to frustrations about Asian lesbians feeling they are not taken seriously by society, stereotypes about Asian women as "freaky", and yellow fever.[103] Gay and bisexual Asian men are stereotyped as "effeminate, submissive, and docile".[104] As both ethnocentric and heterocentric minority groups, LGBT Asian Americans face intersectional invisibility, which offers them some protection from stereotyping and active prejudice while also making it difficult for them to establish recognition or be recognized.[105] Asian Americans are typically overlooked in discussion of race, which focuses mostly on a white/black dichotomy and renders Asian Americans invisible.[106] Similarly, gay and lesbian Asian Americans are marginalized within mostly-white LGBT communities at large.[107]

Gay Asian American men in media are portrayed as both hypersexual (as gay men) and asexual (as Asian men).[108] Stereotypes of Asian women as either a Dragon Lady or China doll are dominant in mainstream media representation of Asian women, and butch Asian women are relatively invisible, giving way to more femme, or feminized, depictions.[109] GLAAD is working to have a fair depiction of the Asian community in the media by educating the public on language referring to Asian Americans, including refraining from phrases that are Eurocentric like "The Orient", "Far East", and "Asiatic", among other measures. GLAAD is also working to connect media networks with Asian and Pacific Islander LGBT leaders and organizations in order to create less biased media coverage.[110]

In Japan, adult lesbians (better known as "'bians") are frequently portrayed as smokers in Japanese Media. Japanese culture also heavily fetishizes LGBTQ relationships, often seen in the prevalence of yaoi (male homosexuality) and yuri (female homosexuality/lesbianism). While Japanese culture heavily discourages interest in homosexual fiction matching the reader's sex, certain publications, such as manga magazine Yuri Hime, have repeatedly reported their dominant consumers as the same gender as portrayed for most of their operational life.

See also[edit]


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