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Select a quote from one article due for that day in class that you find the most interesting, confusing or thought-provoking and explain why. There is no word minimum or maximum, but typically Reading Responses should be about 1-2 pages double-spaced. Attached is the article you need to read and find a quote to basis the response on.

“Google Knows Everything”
Finding Queer Media
Aaron, his boyfriend Miguel, and their friend Alex started coming to
Spectrum about three weeks ago. They always show up as a threesome,
although sometimes they have Aaron’s fifteen-­year-­old brother in tow.
Aaron and Alex are nineteen years old, Miguel is twenty, and all identify as gay men. They are friendly and vibrant and have brought some
new energy to the space in the midst of what had been feeling like a
lull. They made friends with Travon right away, and for the past several afternoons, the group of them has met up to play Bullshit, the card
game. Miguel and Alex are loud and outgoing, while Aaron’s quiet confidence grounds the group.
One afternoon, not long after they started coming to Spectrum,
Aaron approached me and asked if he could participate in an interview.
We retreat to the medical clinic and talk for a little over an hour. Aaron
is a freshman in college at the state’s flagship university. As a Chicanx
and a first-­generation college student, he is one of an elite few to attend
this school. This also makes him quite an outlier within the Spectrum
community as very few of the college-­aged youth are attending college at
all, far less attending a school of this status. He grew up in a rural part of
the state, raised for most of his childhood by a young single mother, as
his father had been incarcerated. He and his mother lived at times with
his grandparents, who, along with his mother, have been strong sources
of support and love in his life. His mother eventually remarried and had
children with Aaron’s stepfather. They live in the northern suburbs now.
Aaron is a film buff who aspires to be an independent filmmaker, so
we swapped stories about some of our favorite filmmakers, like Robert
Rodriguez and Lars von Trier. When I asked him if he feels that film has
influenced his sexuality, he described his experience seeing Brokeback
Mountain for the first time. Brokeback Mountain, the 2005 Ang Lee film
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adaptation of the E. Annie Proulx novella, tells a universal love story
through the experience of two men in a secret relationship with each
other. This R-­rated movie includes scenes of sexual intimacy, much like
any love story drama about a straight couple. Remarkably, the mainstream popularity of the film resulted in it being nominated for and winning several Oscars. This film had a profound impact on Aaron, who
described watching the film in secret in his home, where he had to make
sure no one was around before he watched a film about gay cowboys:
I was into movies, and then there was Brokeback Mountain. Everybody
hears about that. Although at the time it was one of the first one that I . . .
the first gay movie that I had ever seen. And not only like . . . I don’t know.
I guess that not only did it help me be a little more comfortable with
myself—­with my sense of self—­but um, I guess that kind of opened the
world to other . . . other films. But I think that one in particular because
there actually was, you know, a sex scene in that movie. And it was different for me. It’s not like, um, I don’t know. . . . I didn’t watch it because
I wanted to have—­how would I say—­be pleasured by that. But it was just
different for me. You know like, I’d never seen something like that before.
Aaron explained that he had “seen a bunch of, you know, heterosexual [sex] scenes by that time and was familiar with the female body,”
but this was the first film he had seen that included sex between men
that was not live-­action pornography. Aaron’s experience and his longing for a representation of a same-­sex love story outside the realm of
pornography demonstrates the important role media play in the sexual
and romantic lives of young people. This chapter discusses how representations of queer orientations have proliferated in various media
that are increasingly accessible to the youth of Spectrum and beyond.
As media representations of same-­sex sexuality and desire begin to proliferate, both within mainstream and alternative media, arguably most
youth—­not just those who are LGBTQ-­identified—­will have access to a
new set of cultural scenarios that influence how they understand their
sexuality. In other words, queer media are changing sexuality and gender for everyone.
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Finding Queer Media Online
Something happened around the mid-­1990s and into the middle of the
first decade of the twenty-­first century that forever changed the tide
in favor of the queer: the internet. For the first time, people across the
globe had simultaneous, instant access to cultural alternatives outside
the mainstream. The internet and its access to global queer community and alternative culture is probably the most significant factor in
the shifting norms around same-­sex desire and LGBTQ culture for
young people of this generation. Whereas previous LGBTQ-­identified
folks had to move to gay meccas like San Francisco, Chicago, and New
York to find community, the internet provides instant community where
queer culture can proliferate. In some of the earliest research done on
the role of the internet on the LGBTQ rights movement, the psychobiologist James Weinrich found that “one of the most common benefits
of the internet to the gay community . . . is that it permits geographically dispersed minority individuals to interact with one another as if
they were a local majority.”1 The internet and internet communities have
served as a positive source of sexuality information for sexual and gender minorities worldwide who seek an alternative to the derogatory and
missing representations of themselves in mainstream media and formal
sexuality education settings.2 Notably, the sociologist C. J. Pascoe, in
her research on young people using social media, found that, whereas
straight-­identified youth are distrustful of the internet as a way to meet
friends and build community, almost the opposite is true for LGBTQ-­
identified youths, who depend on the internet as one of the few safe
spaces they inhabit, where they can be open about their sexualities and
gender and make friends with those who share their experiences.3
Among the youth of Spectrum, access to the internet appears ubiquitous. Within Spectrum itself there is access to a multitude of computers,
all of which have internet access, and wireless within the building is accessible to anyone with a smartphone. Young people have smartphones
or tablets of their own, including most of the working-­class youth at
Spectrum whose resources are quite restricted.
One of the ways that I encourage interviewees to talk to me about
their self-­understanding of their sexuality is by asking them to tell me
about three things that they feel have most influenced their sexuality.
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While such an open-­ended question is admittedly subjective, it helps me
to get a sense of the things external to the youths themselves that they
consider important to who they are as sexual beings. It pushes them to
consider the influence of the social on their sexuality, beyond simply
the desires they experience internally. The five most common replies to
this question, in descending order, are (1) some form of sexually explicit
content (SEC) via media, (2) intimate relationships, (3) family influence
or family members, 4) friends and peers, and 5) sexuality education
(namely at Spectrum as opposed to school, where sexuality education
is notoriously lacking). While interaction with other people—­whether
family, friends, or intimates—­is clearly recognized as important by these
young people, they claim that media—­the internet in particular—­is the
most significant.
It is not surprising that some form of SEC via media is most frequently named as influential to the youths’ sexuality.4 Digital natives,
those individuals who were born during or after the widespread use
of digital technologies, are growing up in the midst of unprecedented
access to information via media.5 The internet allows confidential,
quick, and easy access to diverse, explicit sexual images.6 A study
exploring German adolescents and pornography by media scholars
found that, “for most adolescents, pornography is the only accessible
source of depictions of sexual behavior; pornography might thus be
used by adolescents not only for sexual arousal but also to discover
sexual behavior and explore their own sexual preferences.”7 As Fiona,
a nineteen-­year-­old white woman who identifies as bisexual, shared
with me when I asked her about watching pornography, “You know it’s
how I learned what I like to do when I was younger. Um, it’s how you
learn new things most of the time. You can look up these positions or
whatever. Find out how to do it.” Pornography viewing is quite common among the young people I spoke with and often informs much of
what they know about sexuality.
The youth of Spectrum, and likely a large number of their peers,
know exactly where to go on the internet to look up SEC. They speak
very matter-­of-­factly about the internet, and especially Google, as an
obvious resource. They are not typically shy or embarrassed to tell me
about their online explorations and approach the topic with the assumption that everyone does it. The following quotes from a variety of
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participants—­including youths of various genders, sexual identities, and
racial/ethnic groups—­make evident the ease with which youth access
SEC online through internet connections via computers and phones and
easy-­to-­use search engines like Google:
Especially our generation with the . . . the smart phones, and the internet,
the wifi . . . all of that. It was simple.
—­Anthony, seventeen-­year-­old Latinx, identifies as gay
I don’t know. I wasn’t originally like looking up porn, like, that’s not how
it started out. . . . I was on the computer, probably on some social website
and something, and then I, like, I don’t know, it just popped in my head
and I got curious, so I searched. Like, if you want to know something
what’s the best way to find out? Go look [laughs]. So I did, and I found
like, pictures and videos and I was like, “Oh!” [laughs].
—­Travon, sixteen-­year-­old Black male, identifies as queer
Mary: So you looked at porn? Where did you find that? On the internet or in magazines? Or how did you find it?
Fiona: Internet. Late at night when my parents weren’t awake.
Mary: Okay. And how did you discover that?
Fiona: Just in Google, like, “naked people” or, I don’t even know, like
—­Fiona, nineteen-­year-­old white woman, identifies as bisexual
Mary: Where would you go to find out information?
Nik: Google. ’Cause unfortunate as it is, Google knows everything.
—­Nik, eighteen-­year-­old white man, identifies as gay
As these quotes demonstrate, accessing SEC on the internet is not a
challenge for young people. Further, many of the youths share stories of
accessing the internet and sexually explicit content in their homes with
little trouble. Digital natives tend to be quite savvy when it comes to covering their tracks and in many cases are far more nimble on the internet
than their parents or guardians, making it easy for them to discreetly
access content that adults in their family might find questionable.8 Although some of the youths shared stories about being caught looking at
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SEC online, none of them said that their parents were using any sort of
blockers or restrictions through their internet service.
It is significant to consider the profound shift that has taken place
over the course of the last century when it comes to how young people
become sexual. Prior to the proliferation of mainstream media, sexual
subjectivity was formed largely within the family, church, and school.
All three of these institutions are dominated by adults. But the ability
adults have to control and influence the sexual formation of young people has shifted tremendously with the proliferation and availability of
new media. And while the availability of media is not always liberating,
it has expanded the available options and loosened tight social control
over sexuality. Although mainstream media continues to be largely heteronormative and homophobic in nature, LGBTQ-­identified youth have
access to an unprecedented amount of alternative media—­including
self-­produced media—­in which representations of queer sexualities and
genders are proliferating. In particular, in this chapter I discuss Spectrum youths’ interest in erotic anime and fan fiction as alternative forms
of media. But first I discuss the importance of representation to the formation of sexual scripts and the history of widespread erasure and the
stigma of homosexuality in mainstream media.
Cultural Scenarios and Sexual Scripts
Dramaturgical analysis is a useful tool for demystifying seemingly
“natural” human conduct. In particular, the script and all its contingent parts—­the writer, the producer, the actor, the set, the props, and
the stage—­are metaphors to help us recognize and notice the way that
shared social understandings help members of a society successfully
interact with each other day in and day out.9 Scripts describe learned
social behaviors that, when successfully deployed, are largely invisible in
social interaction yet become obvious when there is a deviation or failed
cue that calls for improvisation.
Sexual scripts describe learned, shared social understandings about
what is and what is not sexual, as well as how to conduct oneself in a
sexual interaction.10 How is it that we are able to identify that something
is sexual or not? How is it that we know how to behave sexually with
another person or alone? John Gagnon, who along with William Simon
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developed sociological theories about sexual conduct using scripting
theory in the 1970s, explains scripts this way: “Scripts [are] most often
treated as heuristic devices to be used by observers to better interpret
sexual conduct at three levels: cultural scenarios (such as pornography and the cinema), interpersonal interactions (as in specific sexual
acts), and intrapsychic processes (e.g., sexual fantasies, plans, remembrances).”11 Sexual scripting theory argues that biology is a weak explanation for sexuality and that, in fact, much of what we think we know
about sex and sexuality is learned behavior, not instinctual. We have to
be taught and learn what sexual is (and is not) and how to engage in sex.
Scripting theory makes this learning more visible.
Cultural scenarios, as one component of sexual scripts, are what help
us to determine the difference between a prostrate or pelvic exam at the
doctor’s office and a sexual encounter with a lover, where the former is
not meant to arouse us sexually while the latter is. Cultural scenarios
teach the (non-­)sexual script in many different ways. Children learn
from adults and peers how to follow the sexual script and pay attention
to cues. In U.S. culture, it is the norm to teach children that certain parts
of their body are private and should be kept to themselves. For example,
most children are taught, one way or another, not to touch their penises
or vulvas in public. This might be one of the earliest moments of learning the sexual script, as children learn that something about their sex
organs is different from other parts of their body. While the example I’ve
used here is quite simple, imagine all of the ways that people are taught
from family members, authority figures, and peers how their bodies are
(non-­)sexual. Scripting theory can help make this process visible.
Beyond family, friends, and other adults, cultural scenarios are
learned through various media, including television, film, books, comics,
songs, art, and social media. Society learns what is culturally appropriate
through media, which in the United States relentlessly demonstrates a
dominant narrative about sexuality that is heterosexual, male-­centered,
penile-­to-­vaginal, and largely monogamous. While there are certainly
alternatives to this dominant cultural scenario, many of the intimate,
sexual relations portrayed through media are incredibly monotonous in
their portrayal of human sexuality. Of particular interest here is the rampant heterosexuality portrayed in the media. This does not mean that
alternative scripts are not available, but when it comes to mainstream
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media and sexuality, heterosexual pairings rule the day. But heterosexual
scripts are not fixed, and as society’s notions of appropriate sexuality has
shifted, the dominant scripts have changed, too. For example, while still
largely heterosexual in nature, it is more common to see sex scenes on
television or in film that ostensibly focus more on women’s pleasure, like
an increase in scenes where men perform oral sex on women.
In many ways, cultural scenarios via media can be helpful tools for
novices who are just learning about sexuality, yet they can also stifle
creativity when it comes to sexual behavior because they may limit one’s
notion of what’s possible or acceptable when it comes to sexual conduct.
In his discussion of how sexual scripts influence gender preference,
Gagnon stresses that people experience “changes in gender preference
in erotic relations” across the course of their lives. But he points out
that this instability is particularly common among adolescents “when
gender-­appropriate sexual scripts are in the process of acquisition.”12
Children and adolescents typically have had less access to a diversity
of scripts because of various institutionalized forms of control through
family, religion, school, and restricted access to media. Too often they
are shielded from a potentially diverse array of sexual cultural scenarios
that inform their scripts. At the same time, they are still new to sexuality
and not yet socialized into heteronormative sexualities in the same ways
that adults may be.
In his critique of using scripting theory to explain sexuality, Jonathan
Green argues that sociologists are guilty of relying too much on the social to understand sexuality, and not enough on the subconscious or
psychoanalytic. He argues that, in addition to cultural scenarios and interpersonal interactions, both of which can be observed empirically, the
intrapsychic processes are influenced by an erotic habitus that is formed
largely in our subconscious but influenced by the social. He urges sociologists to consider that, “stretched into an all-­purpose, one-­size-­
fits-­all framework,” scripting theory fails to adequately explain sexual
desire.13 “Indeed, a ‘script’ is not a master status, nor a social structure,
nor an unconscious, psychic structure. Scripting processes are, however,
relevant to how these elements bear on what we do sexually and with
whom.”14 Therefore, keeping in mind that the media we consume does
not predetermine our sexual desires and sexual subjectivities, the cultural scenarios youth encounter through media provide a plethora of
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examples with which to explore how young people do learn something
about sexual conduct. Given one’s sexual habitus, in particular one that
is queerly oriented, the absence or presence of same-­sex desire and homosexuality provided via cultural scenarios is important to consider.
In a society in which same-­sex erotic desire has been intentionally
censored from the mainstream media (which I discuss at more length
below), same-­sex sexual scripts are acquired largely outside the mainstream. For example, scripts might be learned within a community of
peers, like an LGBTQ center. When it comes to alternative media, same-­
sex sexual scripts abound in various sources on the internet, including
pornography and social media, along with other forms of media like
foreign film, novels, and poetry.
Therefore in the United States there is a lack of mainstream cultural
scenarios that represent same-­sex desire. It becomes clear within this
study that the youth of Spectrum value same-­sex and genderqueer cultural scenarios that they discover outside mainstream media. Arguably,
as the normalization of homosexuality increases in U.S. culture, so has
the quantity of representations of same-­sex desire. This has implications
not only for those who claim LGBTQ-­identities and experience same-­
sex desire but also for the increasing acceptance of sexual and gender
fluidity among all sorts of people. Compared to a previous generation
of LGBTQ-­identified people, who had to seek out community in bars,
clubs, and other public places where gay people congregated, Spectrum
youth have access to a global community via the internet and, therefore,
a multitude of cultural scenarios that represent same-­sex desire. In the
coming decade, we are likely to see a mainstreaming of same-­sex sexual
scripts and cultural scenarios that will permanently change the sexual
landscape of our culture.
Missing and Misrepresented on Screen
The twentieth-­century censoring of U.S. media—­film, television, and
print—­resulted in a cultural erasure of homosexuality.15 This, along
with the medical and psychological professions’ past (and in some cases
ongoing) treatment of gayness as something to eliminate, rather than
affirm, has contributed to a deeply homophobic and transphobic U.S.
culture that we are still contending with today.16 In the context of such
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powerful social control, the battle for LGBTQ rights has been difficult.
While the movement has recently been wildly successful at combating
institutionalized transphobia and homophobia, including the reversal
of legislation like the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and Don’t Ask
Don’t Tell (DADT), along with other major legislative and legal wins,
U.S. mainstream culture continues to marginalize representations of
LGBTQ lives.
The 1915 Supreme Court case Mutual Film Corporation v. Industrial
Commission of Ohio ruled that the film industry—­determined to be a
for-­profit entertainment product as opposed to a member of the press—­
should not be protected by First Amendment freedom-­of-­speech rights,
leaving the film industry vulnerable to censorship. Vito Russo’s extensive
history of representations of homosexuality in the U.S. film industry,
The Celluloid Closet, explains that “by 1922 there were censorship bills
before the legislatures of thirty-­two states, and throughout the nation
the distinct odor of moral indignation was rising at an industry that at
times seemed to embody wicked behavior of all sorts.”17 Homosexuality, as a form of deviant sexuality, was a censored topic in all of the
various statutes. While not specifically forbidden, “cross dressing, weakness in men, and over-­intellectualism were sometimes direct statements
about deviant sexuality,” meaning that characters associated with the
sissy were associated with homosexuality and therefore also subject to
In addition to the state censorship statutes, the creation of the Motion
Picture Production Code in 1930 (and similarly the Code of Practices for
Television Broadcasters in 1951) had a profound impact on the lack of
representations of homosexuality in film in the United States. The role of
the Code and the office that administered it was to anticipate censorship
before it happened and therefore was a form of self-­regulation for the
film industry. Often referred to as the Hays Office (after Will H. Hays,
who led the Motion Picture Producers and Distributers of America from
1922 to 1945), this self-­censoring body ensured that films coming out of
Hollywood were in line with Christian—­specifically Catholic—­morals
and values. In addition to forbidding nudity (even in silhouette) and sex
perversion (homosexuality being among the perversions), the Code forbade representations of miscegenation, the illegal traffic of drugs, white
slavery, and ridicule of the clergy, among other things. Thanks to the
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Code and various censorship statutes across the country, representations
of queerness or homosexuality, save for the most metaphorical, were
successfully removed from mainstream media in the United States. The
Code was enforced within the U.S. film industry beginning in the 1930s
and continued through 1968, when the Motion Picture Association of
America film rating system went into effect.19
Decades prior to the censoring of the film and television industries,
the Act for the Suppression of Trade in, and Circulation of, Obscene
Literature and Articles of Immoral Use, commonly known as the Comstock Act, also had an important impact on the repression of homosexuality and other forms of “perverse” sexuality. The Comstock Act, passed
in 1873, made it illegal to send obscene materials like erotica, abortifacients, birth control, sex toys, personal letters alluding to sexual content
or information, or any information about the above-­mentioned items
through the U.S. Postal Service. Combined, the censorship statutes, the
film and television industry’s self-­regulation of content, and the Comstock Act effectively removed representations of same-­sex desire and any
notion of the homosexual from the mainstream media. This kind of censorship contributed to the formation of a transphobic and homophobic
culture, taking a destructive toll on sexual and gender minorities.
A growing secularism and rejection of conservative cultural norms
saw the relaxation of censorship measures in the 1960s and 1970s. In
part, control of the media became less realistic as the culture globalized
and technology advanced, making it impossible to censor all media. For
example, foreign films that portrayed complex characters and stories
with homosexual content made their way to U.S. theaters. Further, in
1952 the U.S. Supreme Court had overturned its previous decision that
films were not subject to First Amendment rights, which opened the
door to more freedom of content.20
As the Code was slowly abandoned, representations of queerness
began to surface more and more in U.S. films, but too often the narratives told were pathologizing. LGBTQ characters were portrayed as
dangerous serial killers, like Jame Gumb, aka “Buffalo Bill,” in Silence
of the Lambs,21 or as damaged individuals whose lives end in tragedy.
According to Russo, “In twenty-­two of twenty-­eight films dealing with
gay subjects from 1962 to 1978, major gay characters onscreen ended in
suicide or violent death.”22 When gay/trans people weren’t represented
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as pathological, they often filled the role of comic relief. Even though
the gay rights movement was in full swing and various industries were
paying attention to what they saw as a new market, the film industry
continued to rely on old tropes. This legacy continues to this day, where
LGBTQ-­identified characters have proliferated but whose storylines are
still commonly written as tragic, dysfunctional, and outside the norm.
For example, in Brokeback Mountain, Ennis learns from his lover Jack’s
wife that Jack was killed in an accident changing a tire, yet Ennis then
imagines Jack being beaten to death by thugs with a tire iron, leaving the
viewer with the distinct impression that Jack was killed for being queer.
Since Russo first published The Celluloid Closet in 1981, the treatment
of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender characters and lives in film
has changed considerably. Elimination of the Code, the progression of
the LGBTQ rights movement, and shifting mores have resulted in an
increase in films that deal more honestly with homosexuality and gender
non-­conformance. Yet many of the sensitive, complex stories are told
through independent and foreign film, while mainstream Hollywood
blockbusters continue to be unapologetically homophobic. Further,
among those mainstream blockbuster films and television shows that
do feature LGBTQ characters, they tend to reinforce hegemonic masculinity and heteronormativity.23
During the late 1990s, when the youth of Spectrum were children,
there were few representations in mainstream media of healthy gay or
transgender people or of same-­sex desire. The tide began to change
when, in 1997, Ellen DeGeneres came out as lesbian on national TV and,
in 1998, Will & Grace, a sitcom featuring a successful, healthy, happy gay
lead, began airing. While incredibly important icons in the cultural representation of gay people as complex characters, neither Ellen nor Will
(the gay male lead in Will & Grace) are necessarily bastions of queerness. Too often, gay characters and celebrities who are most palatable to
an ostensibly straight viewing audience are the ones who get the most
screen time.24
A string of significant U.S. television shows and films were produced
in the late twentieth and early twenty-­first century that featured complex gay characters, breaking the spell of dangerous, broken, or absurd
LGBTQ stereotypes. These include Philadelphia (1993), The Bird Cage
(1996), Queer as Folk (2000–­2005), Six Feet Under (2001–­2005), and
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The L Word (2004–­2006), but much of these were geared toward adult
audiences and are less accessible to young people. Television shows
for teenagers with LGBTQ-­identified characters—­including Buffy the
Vampire Slayer (1997–­2003), Dawson’s Creek (1998–­2003), and Felicity
(1998–­2002)—­have had an important influence on the young people
who grew up watching them, of course, but they are exceptions, not the
rule. Depictions of healthy, average, regular LGBTQ children or teenage characters on television or in the movies have been essentially non-­
existent until the last decade.
Children in U.S. society are largely framed as sexual innocents, therefore acknowledging a child character’s sexuality is quite outside the
norm. Yet, as culture scholars like Jack Halberstam have pointed out,
while it may not specifically refer to sexuality, children’s programming is
known for being rather queer. In the book Gaga Feminism, Halberstam
praises the animated show SpongeBob SquarePants (1999–­present)—­and
others like it—­for transgressing gender norms: “While earlier generations of boys and girls were raised on cartoon worlds populated by cats
and mice, dogs and rabbits chasing each other across various domestic
landscapes, this generation has come of age to an animated mythological universe populated by characters with eccentric and often simply
weird relations to gender.”25 SpongeBob SquarePants, a favorite among
the youth of Spectrum, is a recognizably queer character in definitively
straight pop culture.
Teenagers are more often framed in popular culture as having a
sexuality, therefore one would think that, throughout the 1980s, 1990s,
and 2000s, more television shows and movies portraying gay teenagers
would have been produced. Despite the recent increase of LGBTQ characters in mainstream media marketed to adolescents (most of which
were just coming on the air as I encountered Spectrum)—­including
popular television shows like Supernatural (2005–­present), Doctor Who
(2005–­present), Glee (2009–­2015), RuPaul’s Drag Race (2009–­present),
Teen Wolf (2011–­present), The Fosters (2013–­present), and Sean Saves the
World (2013–­2014)—­most characters and narratives continue to perpetuate a heteronormative world view. Same-­sex attractions, behaviors, and
relationships depicted in mainstream media as normal, healthy, developmentally appropriate human behavior continue to be the exception
to the rule.
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Half a century of social justice activism on the part of the transgender
and LGB community has still only more recently succeeded in a significant increase in acceptability of media representation of members of
these communities. But it has also resulted in an alternative cultural explosion, in which those whose representations are missing or distorted
create their own cultural representations. Many of the young people of
Spectrum, when asked what has influenced their sexuality, rarely, if ever,
referred to any sort of mainstream media as a source of reliable representations of gender, sexuality, romance, and intimacy. Rather, a few
described the lack of stories or representations of individuals with same-­
sex desires in the media.
Jack, an eighteen-­year-­old, white transman who identifies as pansexual but “leaning towards gay,” explains that, in fact, his lack of access
to cultural scenarios that accurately represented his experience meant
that he had the opportunity to develop his own authentic sexuality. He
wanted information about how to be in a same-­sex and/or genderqueer
relationship but could not find those representations easily:
It was kind of the lack of those things that I think I got to come up with a
more authentic, what’s “good for me” thing. . . . The lack of specifics being
part of it, but then also in terms of this idea of how various relationships
develop and such that was something that, you know, [pause] first of all,
your major media has one kind of fairy-­tale view to it which I never really
bought into that much because none of the major media fairy-­tale stories
every really worked out for me.
Through Spectrum, peers, and the internet, while young people were
in the process of discovering their sexuality, they were also discovering
queer media and finding a place for themselves within it.
Anime and Fan Fiction
A number of Spectrum youths mention their interest in anime—­
Japanese animation—­and manga—­Japanese graphic novels, as having
been significant influences on their sexuality. Anime is animated storytelling, similar to cartoons in the United States. But anime differs from
cartoons because in the United States cartoons are largely associated
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with children’s programming, while anime in Japan and other East Asian
countries is produced for audiences of differing ages, encompassing a
wide variety of genres.26 Anime, a wildly popular genre of media in Japanese culture, first came to U.S. television in the 1960s but really saw
broad exposure in a wave of licensing and distribution in the United
States in the mid-­1990s. Anime shows were broadcast in the United
States with English subtitles or dubbing, but otherwise they were left
unchanged from their original versions, resulting in a curious unintended consequence.
Given that gender and sexuality are social constructions, meaning
that gender norms and roles considered appropriate in the United States
might differ from those of another country or culture, Japanese animation featured characters that appeared notably queer to a U.S. audience.27 Gender-­bending characters who show affection and intimacy for
characters that appear to be of the same-­sex are normal in many anime
stories. This is a reflection of Japan’s own social constructions of gender
and sexuality, where homosexuality is not criminalized to the same extent, nor is sexual orientation a strong marker of identity. Therefore, art
created in a culture that is more tolerant of queer gender and homosexuality may appear queer through a U.S.-­centric lens.28
Many of the Spectrum youths mentioned first being exposed to anime
as young kids through Sailor Moon, a Japanese anime show that began
airing as an English-­dubbed version on network television in the United
States in 1995 on Fox and the WB networks and later, in 1998, on Cartoon Network’s anime show Toonami.29 As an example of queer gender
and homosexuality, Sailor Moon features a character called Haruka or
Sailor Uranus. Haruka, a female character who was often androgynous
in appearance, if not outright masculine at times, shares an intimate
relationship with another female character, Michiru, or Sailor Neptune.
Although the show’s original creators have acknowledged Sailor Uranus
and Sailor Neptune as a same-­sex intimate pairing, in a perhaps ill-­fated
attempt to erase their lesbianism, the two were made out to be cousins in
the U.S. English-­dubbed version of the show, albeit cousins who kissed,
held hands, and competed in and won an “affection contest.”30
Another example, Ranma ½ (pronounced “Ranma One Half ”), was
released on video in the United States in 1989. This popular anime features a boy named Ranma who is cursed when he falls into an ancient
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well. As a result, whenever he encounters cold water, he turns into a girl
version of himself, and when he encounters hot water, he returns to his
boy self. Beyond the gender bending that is inherent to the show’s overarching plotline, there are various minor plotlines that raise the specter
of queer sexuality when, for example, Ranma’s enemy, Tatewaki, another
boy, falls in love with Ranma’s girl self.
Released on DVD in 2008 and airing on the Funimation cable network starting in 2009, Ouran High School Host Club is the story of a high
school version of a host club, a type of bar that is popular in East Asia
where men (hosts) cater to the needs of their female clients as a form of
entertainment.31 In this anime, the hosts are male students who wait on
the privileged female students of Ouran High. When a new girl student,
Haruhi Fujioka, stumbles into the Host Club and accidentally breaks
a ridiculously expensive vase, the boys of the host club, mistaking her
for male because of her androgynous appearance, give her the option
to work off what she owes for the broken vase. In addition to Haruhi’s
gender-­bending role, the show includes a set of boy twin hosts who, in a
homoerotic narcissistic twist, appear to be in love with each other. And
Haruhi’s father, Ryoji, is a professional cross-­dresser, who works in a
host bar himself.
These are just three examples of anime the youth of Spectrum identified to me as having queer characters and plot lines. These descriptions
should not be confused for a critical cultural analysis of anime. Rather,
I’ve given very brief synopses here in order to give readers unfamiliar
with gender-­bending and same-­sex intimacy tropes in anime a sense of
what it can look like. Debates about the various queer interpretations
made about these shows exist among true fans and experts of anime and
manga and are widely accessible on fan wikis, blogs, and publications.
More important to my analysis is the point that, in a U.S. media culture
where same-­sex intimacy and queer gender has been largely suppressed,
particularly in programming marketed to kids, anime’s representation of
gender fluidity and negotiation of shifting norms around sexuality speak
particularly strongly to the youth of Spectrum.
When I asked Zia—­who is nineteen years old, Black, and identifies
as queer—­to name three things that most influenced her sexuality, she
explained why Sailor Moon was one:
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Hmmmm. Let’s see [pause]. Sailor Moon? [laughs]. Yes, ’cause there’s this
one character . . . she’s just so beautiful and so magical and so hot. And
like, when I saw her I was just young, I was young when I was watching
Sailor Moon. . . . She was the outcast, but she was very mysterious. Which
made me just really attracted to her. . . . But she just had a very defining
look and, like, a very mysterious and, like, alluring personality, which just
like made me super attracted to her. Plus her . . . fighting partners were
lesbians, so I was just like, when Sailor Uranus came on I was like, Is that
a guy or a girl? It’s like, it don’t matter, they’re all hot.
Ditto, a twenty-­year-­old bisexual, biracial Latinx, described a similar
connection with the queer, gender-­bending characters in Sailor Moon:
The wonderful thing about that, they were like, “This person is gay and
this person is cross-­dressing and this person is doing this and this person is now transgender.” Even in Sailor Moon, the Japanese version had
sequences where, like, full guy characters, looked like a guy, act like a guy,
would transform into a chick, and it was like, it was not a big thing. Yeah,
that thing, and it just does that, it just happens. They walked down the
street and walked around the corner, that’s how casual it was. So connecting that with me coming out was like, yeah, walk down the street round
the corner, it was the casual flow through, which was really nice.
Gabe, an eighteen-­year-­old genderqueer Latinx who identifies as bisexual, explains here how his childhood impression of a gender-­bending
character in one of his favorite animes, InuYasha, changed as he got older
and became more aware of queer sexuality and gender:
The main . . . homosexual character that’s blatantly obvious, but I was not
aware of when I was thirteen, was . . . Jakotsu who, he is a mercenary who
works with this . . . with this band of seven brothers. And um, he’s very
flamboyant. Looks like a woman. Has lipstick on. Wears a female kimono
and I had no idea . . . like, the whole time—­when I was thirteen through
fifteen—­I thought it was just a girl pretending to be a guy. And then it
wasn’t until I hit sixteen and I was watching the series over again, it got
near the end and Jakotsu came on and I’m like, “Wait a minute.”
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The character Gabe refers to, Jakotsu, is described on the InuYasha website as “a stereotypically flamboyant homosexual; examples of
which would be his admiration of Kōga’s loincloth, his advances towards Miroku and Inuyasha upon meeting them, and his admiration of
Sesshōmaru’s appearance during battle.”32
Not all of the youths I encountered referenced anime specifically as
one of the things that influenced their sexuality, but most, if not all,
Spectrum youth are familiar with anime, associating it as part of queer
culture. For example, in a conversation I had with César, Spectrum’s program director, he explained how gay kids and anime fans often intersect.
While he was in high school, members of the Gay-­Straight Alliance and
members of the Anime Club were often the same people. Anime, as a
component of nerd culture in the United States, has long been associated
with outsider, or queer, status.
While Sailor Moon and other cartoons like it may have been the
youths’ first exposure to anime, once introduced to the genre, the internet opened up an entire world of access to anime as queer culture.
The youths quickly discovered that the seemingly deviant gender and
sexuality norms portrayed in Sailor Moon were common in anime from
Japan. Susan Napier describes a characteristic of anime as the “mode of
the festival . . . for a brief moment norms are transgressed or actually inverted. The weak hold power, sexual and gender rules are broken or reversed, and a state of manic intensity replaces conventional restraint.”33
In the United States, cartoons have typically been considered children’s
entertainment. In Japan, anime is not just for children, but for people
of all ages, and in fact, various forms of erotic-­themed anime (cartoons
and comics) exist and are accessible to just about anyone with internet
There are several different genres of erotic anime. Each genre represents a different sexual preference, orientation, or fetish. For example,
the most commonly discussed among the youth of Spectrum were yaoi
and yuri, boys’ love and girls’ love, respectively. Both of these genres,
which tell stories of same-­sex attraction, romance, and intimacy, appeal
to fans of all genders.34 Adam, an eighteen-­year-­old white man who
identifies as gay, told me of his early fascination with Sailor Moon and
how later he discovered anime erotica and the profound impact it had
on him:
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Gay anime was such a . . . breakthrough, I guess, because . . . I don’t even
know how I even started watching it, or how it came about. . . . It was during seventh grade going to eighth grade. And I started watching—­I don’t
even know how I got to it—­I think I was watching regular porn, and then
I saw a link or something and it was like, “Oh, what’s this?” And it was
two guys and I was like, “Oh, what the fuck?” And then I was like, “Oh,
let’s explore this.” I think that’s how . . . I think that’s what happened. . . .
So to just see like, two super hot anime guys like, liking each other, and
going at it with each other was like, “Oh, this is hot.” That’s just . . . oh,
that’s so appealing to me. And I couldn’t understand why at the time and
I didn’t know what it meant at the time, but I just knew that secretly I
would have . . . I would like, find it when everyone was asleep or everyone
was out of the house, I’d watch it. And I was like, “Oh this is . . . this is my
shit.” And I’d just watch that same anime over and over and over.
Isaac, a nineteen-­year-­old who identifies as gay and male, has a white
father and a Black mother. He has a warm, gap-­toothed smile with eyes
so dark they are almost black. His soft, tightly curled hair is generally
kept short. He tends to dress in dark clothes and often covers his head
in a hoodie. Isaac is an artist and an introvert who speaks at a slow,
measured pace in a deep tone. He first came to Spectrum when he was
seventeen, and the summer I interviewed him, he had been showing up
just about every day. A huge fan of all things Japanese, Isaac helped me
to understand the varying degrees of intimacy portrayed in manga and
Yeah, yaoi and yuri, um, they range ’cause some of them are more intense.
And some of them are very light. Like the ones I found I actually found at
a Barnes & Noble [bookstore]. So they have really toned down the ones
in public, but if you’re looking for ones that are a little more deep into
the sex and the sexual intercourse, you would most likely be able to find
that online or just read it on online websites that people post that whole
thing on.
Both Adam’s and Isaac’s comments suggest that erotic anime is one
form of alternative media where LGBTQ youth are discovering cultural
scenarios that represent homosexual sex and queerness. I discuss boys’
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love in anime, or yaoi, and its impact on queer culture, in more detail
Another form of queer culture popular among the youth of Spectrum
is fan fiction. Fan fiction writers expand on popular literary canon, like
the Harry Potter series,35 for example, by reimagining the characters and
storylines to suit their own creative impulses. Typically, fan fiction is
shared among a community of fans, both readers and writers, not sold
or published in print. The education scholar Rebecca Black recognizes
in fan fiction “the many ways in which fans are taking up elements of
pop culture and then redistributing them in new forms that are imbued
with meanings that are grounded in the lived realities and social worlds
of fans.”36 Although fan fiction is not necessarily a new phenomenon,
it has grown in popularity aided largely by the internet, which fosters
an enormous community of amateur writers and their reading publics.
Creators and readers of fan fiction flock to various webpages and social media sites to reimagine their favorite characters from Harry Potter,
Twilight, The Hunger Games, and more.37 Like anime, fan fiction is associated with fandom and nerd-­dom; it has largely existed outside the
cultural mainstream as a site of queerness. Isaac, who not only reads
fan fiction but authors it, explains the important role fan fiction plays in
the lives of youths who are often misunderstood and misrepresented in
mainstream media:
I just believe . . . considering when you’re a teenager, finding the things
that relate to you is really hard to do. So I just figure if I take characters
that possibly a lot of people are familiar with, and actually associate with,
and relate to . . . reading about them going through possibly a similar association that you’re going through is something that they can really do
and be something really enjoyable for them to read.
The internet greatly facilitates the distribution of fan fiction, although
sharing fan fiction online is not a necessary component of the process.
Red, a white twenty-­year-­old who identifies his gender as male and sexuality as “other,” discovered Spectrum about two years ago by googling
“LGBT center” right after moving here from a rural community in another state. Red is a husky kid with dark brown hair cut short up around
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his ears and neck. He has sideburns, long eyelashes, and a kind smile.
Red loves Buffy the Vampire Slayer, singing karaoke, and performing in
the monthly drag show. His was also the first interview I did in which
yaoi manga came up. He described yaoi as a form of erotic manga that
is popular among gay men in Japan. He was first exposed to it when
a friend received one as a Christmas gift. He told me that he and two
friends were involved in collaborative role-­play in which they lived out
their sexual fantasies by writing yaoi stories. Each of them plays a character in the story and writes that character’s part. The three swap the
book around at school, taking turns with it to add their part. Although
none of them were sexually experienced, Red explained that by living
vicariously through these characters, they gained a certain amount of
sexual experience.
Fan fiction is an outlet for creating stories and cultural scenarios that
are too often missing from mainstream discourses about sexuality and
gender. By reading and writing fan fiction, LGBTQ youth can reimagine characters in their favorite movies and television shows as being
more like them by writing in same-­sex desires and relationships or non-­
normative embodiments of gender among characters. By sharing their
stories and reading the fan fiction of others online, as well as co-­writing
stories with their peers, the youth are creating a network of information
about what sex and relationships can look like outside of mainstream
cultural scenarios.
The Queer Story of Slash Fan Fiction and Yaoi Anime
Long before the youth of Spectrum discovered Harry Potter fan fiction
and Sailor Moon anime, two significant queer cultural phenomena had
begun to occur almost simultaneously in the United States and Japan,
testaments to the lack of representation of same-­sex desires and gender
non-­conformity in mainstream media. Slash fan fiction in the United
States and yaoi manga and anime in Japan are both forms of amateur
art in which fans of popular media—­television shows and movies in the
United States and popular manga and anime series in Japan—­rewrite
leading male characters into same-­sex romantic and sexual encounters.
Both slash and yaoi developed during the 1970s, were created by women
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for a largely female audience, and were produced and shared via low-­
budget zines.
The term “slash” originates from the joining of two characters names
by a backslash (/) to signify a story about their sexual pairing. For example, one of the first and perhaps most well-­known slash pairings is
between Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock of Star Trek, titled K/S. Similarly,
yaoi artists paired ostensibly straight male characters from Japan’s most
popular anime shows, portrayed as young, somewhat androgynous
“beautiful boys.” Yaoi is also sometimes referred to as boys’ love (BL)
manga/anime. Both forms of fan fiction, slash and yaoi, allow individuals who are fans of particular stories to reimagine storylines and character development, often with the goal of countering masculinist, sexist
plots and storylines in mainstream media. Matt Thorn, who writes about
the Japanese amateur comics scene, describes slash and yaoi creators
and their readers as queer: “In a sense the two genres mirror each other
and speak to the desires of those who by choice or circumstance, do not
fit neatly into society’s prescribed norms of gender and sexuality. They
do not see themselves as the conventionally beautiful characters who
inevitably get the perfect guy or girl in mainstream media for women or
men.”38 Both slash and yaoi were outlets for women to contribute to the
culture of the sexual imaginary as subjects, an imaginary they had been
largely left out of because of the objectification of women in mainstream
culture. Interestingly, in both Japan and the United States, virtually simultaneously, these women artists chose to explore sexuality through
male-­male sexual encounters, queering the hegemonic norm.
Although there are differences between these two phenomena, the
role they play as tools of counterhegemonic discourse, particularly related to sexuality and gender, cannot be overstated.39 Speaking about
slash, Henry Jenkins, a self-­described “aca/fan”—­someone who is an academic who studies popular culture as well as a fan of popular culture—­
was one of the first U.S. academics to talk about the counterhegemonic
power of slash fiction. In his book Textual Poachers: Television Fans and
Participatory Culture, he states that “slash . . . has many progressive elements: its development of more egalitarian forms of romantic and erotic
relationships, its transcendence of rigidly defined categories of gender
and sexual identity, [and] its critique of the more repressive aspects of
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traditional masculinity.”40 Matt Thorn expresses a similar sentiment
on the subject of yaoi: “There can be little doubt that both the artists
and the readers who are drawn to boys’ love and yaoi are unhappy with
mainstream norms of gender and sexuality.”41 By queering male and/or
androgynous characters—­as opposed to female—­yaoi and slash creators
could both avoid the male gaze that so frequently dominates representations of same-­sex sexuality among women and play with the power that
inherently comes with masculinity and maleness.
I encountered several youths at Spectrum who either read or wrote
fan fiction and named it as a significant influence on their sexuality,
namely because, within fan fiction, they were able to recognize and produce representations of themselves and their desires.
Rick is a nineteen-­year-­old white transman who identifies as demi-­
sexual. Today he’s wearing a polo shirt, cargo shorts, and flip-­flops. He
wears glasses and his light-­colored hair is buzzed short. He discovered
Spectrum when he was fifteen, and now that he is away at college, he has
stopped in over the summer to reconnect. A fast talker, Rick struggles
with physical and mental disabilities that can be frustrating, but he is
happier now that he is away at school and successfully passing as male
most of the time. Rick claims, “Everything like, everything, before Spectrum, everything I knew from sex I learned about from lesbian fan fiction. Which is, it’s good, it’s well done, and I mean it’s very accurate. . . .
It’s very well done.”
Regardless of the “accuracy” of their representations of sexual conduct, for the youth of Spectrum, slash and yaoi are media in which
queerness is represented in a way they can relate to. In her research on
yaoi creators and readers, Akiko Mizoguchi, a visual and cultural studies expert, asserts that she is lesbian, in part, because of her love of yaoi
as a young person. On being a reader of yaoi or BL, she claims that, “as
I ‘meet’ these gay characters almost every week, I cannot help but think
that the BL genre today is constantly holding a workshop, as it were, that
pursues and experiments with case studies on gay-­friendly society and
gay citizens, even though the genre is mostly populated by heterosexual
women.”42 Entire online communities have sprung up around various
slash and yaoi stories and artists via internet chat rooms, social media
like Tumblr, and websites that host authors’ works.
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Several decades ago, a relatively small group of women artists in the
United States and Japan started a revolution producing “amateur” media
as a form of resistance to dominant narratives in mainstream media.
Now young people like those of Spectrum have access to an entire genre
of queer culture produced by and for queer people in the form of slash
and yaoi. As James Welker wrote in a Signs article where he explored the
impact of yaoi on the sexual subjectivity and identity of its readers, “For
readers whose experience of sexuality and gender contravenes heteronormativity, works like Song and Thomas [early 1970s-­era yaoi works]
offer narrative safe havens where they can experiment with identity, find
affirmation, and develop the strength necessary to find others like themselves and a sense of belonging.”43 Queer media like anime and fan fiction not only give queer-­oriented youth a sense of belonging, they have
the potential to shift norms across dominant culture, as well.
Queering Sexual Scripts
Cultural scenarios play a key part in the process of adopting sexual
scripts. While sexual scripts are not what make us sexual per se, they are
how we learn the difference between what is and is not sexual, allowing
us to interact with each other in a meaningful way. Cultural scenarios,
whether coming from parents, peers, or media, are situated in what is
culturally appropriate; they reflect the hegemonic norms of a society,
including norms that reflect the dominant gender order, among other
things. Homosexuality, as a form of sexuality that was deemed deviant and morally offensive by moral entrepreneurs of the early twentieth
century, was, through a complicated process of social control, effectively
rendered perverse and unnatural. The censorship of the media that took
place during the mid-­twentieth century attempted to control cultural
scenarios, demonizing any sexuality that was not heterosexual, reproductive, and monogamous.
Young people coming of age who identify with homosexuality and
queerness during the rise of the internet have access to a wealth of alternatives to the mainstream and are building community in a different way than those who came before them. Whereas LGBTQ and/or
queer culture was more geographically situated before, the internet has
the potential to shift geographical boundaries and gives anyone with
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access to a computing device and the internet almost immediate connection to community. Even though mainstream media continue to be
homophobic, the vestiges of censorship and social control that lingered
in mainstream media are less influential in online content. Therefore
young people today can, with perhaps more ease, access information,
images, and cultural scenarios that include homosexual sex and queer
community and culture.
Not long before the internet became available, resistance to hegemonic narratives in mainstream media had already begun as a result
of various civil rights movements, including feminism and LGBTQ
rights. By way of example, I explored how women artists who were
fans of particular mainstream media literary narratives reconfigured
the stories and characters of those stories to better represent their own
(the women’s) lived experiences. In a sexist and homophobic culture
that objectified women’s sexuality and pathologized homosexuality, these artists were able to create their own culture as a form of resistance. Slash fan fiction and yaoi manga and anime, while perhaps
initially forms of heterosexual women’s resistance, have come to represent queer cultural scenarios for a new generation of young people.
What was once traded among a small group of people in the form of
handmade zines is now widely available and accessible by many via the
internet. And while slash and yaoi are lifeboats for young queer kids
trying to find representations of themselves in the larger culture, they
are also permeating the mainstream, creating a shift in the cultural scenarios accessed by everyone in U.S. culture. Young people—­LGBTQ-­
identified and others—­have many outlets not only for discovering
queer culture but also for making their own media, media that represent their experiences, emotions, and desires, and they are able to
readily share that media with others. They make up for the dearth of
representations of same-­sex desire and behavior in mainstream media
and in sexuality education curriculum through their ability to share
media via the internet.
Young people of all kinds are growing up exposed to alternatives to
heteronormative cultural scripts. Sexual scripts and the sexual norms
they inform are shifting with the changing culture. This cultural shift has
not just opened up options for LGBTQ-­identified kids; it is perhaps also
queering the dominant culture, making notions of sexual and gender
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fluidity more acceptable. Young people growing up today are less likely
to associate homosexuality with deviance and immorality and instead
see it as a valid, acceptable, and progressive way to be in the world. In
the chapter that follows, I show how queer notions of family are challenging the straightening process of heteropatriarchal family formations,
with broad implications for all of U.S. society.
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