My youngest is in the process of graduating from high school, and I’ve got all kinds of feelings about it, so I’ve been escaping to comfort TV and rewatching The Great Pottery Throwdown from start to finish. In season four, they “promoted” kiln man Rich to host (he’s delightful) and replaced him as the kiln tech with Rose Schmitz. They never once mention her gender identity, and she cheerfully helps the potters, encourages them and gets about her job on the show with quiet happy confidence.
In season five, we meet AJ, who goes by “they/them”. No one screws up their pronouns. No one even makes a deal about it at all. Everyone on the show just gets on with doing their pottery things, and AJ is an amazing potter.
Earlier this year, I fell in love with the show Somebody Somewhere. I think I fell in love with almost every character in some way, but the reason I’m diverting from pottery is to talk about Murray Hill. There are a few nods to his transness on the show, like the waiter at the diner flubbing things, but, again, like Throw down, it’s not a huge deal. Where Murray stands out is that Murray is a not just a comic and MC of “choir practice” but we get to see Murray the college professor leading a bunch of students helping out Sam’s dad on his farm. We get to see Murray the professional.
And this is what I love about these three examples: Rose, AJ and Murray and shown first as talented amazing people, who are good at what they do, and are celebrated for it. Their identities are present, respected and acknowledged, without it being the only reason we see them.
This feels like real progress. We’ve seen representation of queer struggle in media for years – of torment, the pain caused by small-minded abusers and close-minded bigots. That’s important.
But, it’s not everything. While we need to acknowledge the pain and struggle of finding yourself and acceptance, we need to show off queer joy and accomplishment. Give me more competent queer people just doing their jobs! Being good at things! Being happy! I want to know that there’s that possible future for my kids, and I’m sure queer kids still coming to terms with their identities need to see it to.