LGBT+ televisibility in Flanders: The presence of sexual and gender diversity in Flemish television fiction (2001-2016)

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Florian Vanlee

Frederik Dhaenens

Sofie Van Bauwel

Published Jun 11, 2020


Fictional representations of LGBT+ people offer a way to study how socio-cultural discourses on sexual and gender identity are reflected in popular culture. Notwithstanding the fact that particular contexts play a pivotal role in this dynamic, queer television theory currently derives exclusively from U.S. cases. With a quantitative analysis of LGBT+ characters in Flemish television fiction between 2001 and 2016, this study provides a descriptive framework to engage with the representation of sexual and gender diversity in a different context. Firstly, the study establishes the prominent presence of LGBT+ characters in Flemish television fiction. It shows that differences between Flemish public and commercial fiction content are negligible, but that discrepancies between genres are significant. The scarcity of sexual and gender diversity in externally produced ‘quality’ fiction, moreover, suggests a need for channels to formulate stricter expectations to production companies. Concerning individual characters, the study points to an overrepresentation of gay male characters, a lack of LGBT+ characters of color and the pervasiveness of gender conformity. Closer analysis, on the contrary, reveals a disarticulation of Flemings of color from homophobic violence, and the recasting of gender non-conformity on straight characters. This suggests a critical, self-reflexive awareness of stereotyping in fiction production. Accordingly, the findings of this study offer a point of departure for qualitative engagements with LGBT+ televisibility in Flanders. The data presented should not be conceived of as a finality, but as a necessary framework to internationalize and diversify the study of sexual and gender diversity on television.

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