THIS Is One Of The Best Representations Of Queerness On TV

Photo: Courtesy of Showtime
Most queer-identified folks know that marriage equality barely scratches the surface of the range of issues that they face. Most people, even some LGBT allies, remain ignorant of the true complexities of queer identities, relationships, and practices. Part of the reason for this cluelessness is a serious lack of accurate, holistic portrayals of queerness in popular media, especially TV.

Most of the shows that portray LGBT characters, like Modern Family, The Fosters, and even Orange Is the New Black are rooted in heteronormative family structures or simplistic relationship models. Girl + girl = gay. The end. The Q in LGBTQ always seems to get left out of the narrative. But one of my favorite shows, Shameless, goes further.

Currently in its 7th season, Shameless is a Showtime dramedy that follows the life of the Gallagher family in Chicago. They’re white, poor, and dysfunctional in every sense of the word. Viewers get to watch them navigate poverty, love, and life on Chicago’s Southside. It’s crass, vulgar, and hilarious. In addition to the biting commentary on class, which I’ll save for another time, the show tackles queerness from multiple angles and adds some much-needed nuance.

In the most obvious example, there is middle son Ian Gallagher, who identifies as gay. Since the beginning of the series we’ve watched him struggle to come out to his family, endure an abusive but passionate relationship with another local boy, engage in sex work as a homeless, queer young person, and later fight to maintain a new, healthy relationship after a bipolar diagnosis.

This season, after attempting straight sex and hating it (one of the funniest scenes so far), Ian meets a new guy, Trevor, who just so happens to be trans. Ian initially resists with his attraction to Trevor because yes, even queer people can be transphobic. But as their friendship and relationship grow, Ian opens up to the idea of sleeping with Trevor. But there’s a barrier: they’re both tops. Some honest, awkward conversations lead them to a compromise in which they both agree to experiment with bottoming. They shop for dildos, establish a safe word for the experience, and flip a coin to decide that Ian goes first. These scenes helped to fill a huge void in portrayals of queer and trans people.

And then there is the non-traditional “throupling” of V and Kev, friends of the Gallagher family and owners of the neighborhood pub. The couple have a set of twins together and decide to bring a third partner, former Russian sex-worker Svetlana, and her daughter into their relationship after she and V have a steamy affair. Kev, a man, takes on most of the household and childcare responsibilities while the two women run the business more effectively than Kev and V did on their own. This queer, polyamorous relationship shines a light on how class and resources come together to dictate how and with whom we choose to partner.

Shameless is a brilliant commentary on those living on the fringes of the popular American imagination. It recognizes the trauma and hardship that come with such a position without completely pathologizing it. It’s hilariously human.

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