By Maria Rotelli
LGBTQ people have said they are tired of seeing certain stereotypes over and over again, but they also are concerned about the “invisible” sexualities and gender identities like asexual or gender neutral. Audio dramas are one of the only places in which these kinds of people find characters that they can relate to.
Jeff Heimbuch, writer and voice actor on the horror/comedy podcast, “Return Home,” said that he wanted to have his characters’ sexualities not be a huge deal and didn’t want to be shouting from the mountains that they were introducing a gay character.
“I never felt the need to scream that sort of thing and making it their main focus, because, to me, that doesn’t help normalize it at all,” Heimbuch said, “We’ve spent our entire lives watching cisgender males be the norm in entertainment, and you have to fight to get any other sort of representation in there. But, if it’s just who a person is, and not an overblown part of their character or story arc, it’s just normal.”
He also pointed out that this is true in regards to queer couples, not just individual characters.
Their romance isn’t all they are, they are so much more than that,” Heimbuch said.
Audio drama creators tend to be like Heimbuch and interact with fans on social media a lot. Fans tend to communicate with creators on Twitter, but on Tumblr there seems to be a bit more of a community of fans talking amongst themselves about their favorite shows.
A post was put out on Tumblr as an open invitation for folks to talk about their experiences with LGBTQ+ representation in audio drama. People then reached out via the site’s direct messaging service, or through the “ask” feature.
“The Bright Sessions” was cited by almost all of the Tumblr users that reached out as hugely impactful. One of its main characters, Chloe, says very simply, “it’s difficult being asexual,” and that was how the audience found out. A few minutes later, another character, Sam, when asking about Chloe’s ex Alex, has to ask, “So is this girl Alex or boy Alex?”
“Any time somebody’s sexuality has been mentioned in the podcast, I’ve always tried to do it in the way that like, this is relevant to this conversation because of X, Y, and Z,” said Lauren Shippen, writer for “The Bright Sessions,” “And that’s why it’s being brought up, and maybe everybody in the room already knows this or maybe this is new information for one or two people, but it’s not a big deal.”
Many audio drama fans cited that one of their favorite things about audio drama is that writers tend to be more subtle and not as dramatic as some other mediums are about introducing the fact that the character they are introducing is queer and that this is going to be their main character trait from now on.
For example, on the sci-fi drama, “Wolf 359,” a character we didn’t know much about casually mentions being gay. Flavie Schmitz on Tumblr gave some insight on this scene.
“I have to mention Jacobi from Wolf 359 and his iconic line, ‘I do like the menfolk,’ He doesn’t have any romantic interest in the story so making him come out didn’t serve any purpose besides including a queer character in the story,” she said.
“I’m a big fan of the way that podcasts are very casual about their representation,” said Allie from Tumblr, who declined to use herlast name, “Like, with ‘The Adventure Zone’, ‘Alice Isn’t Dead,’ and ‘The Bright Sessions,’ the characters’ sexualities are rarely, if ever, the focus. At the same time, there isn’t the dancing around the issue that TV does. Characters explicitly use labels like bisexual and asexual that are so rare to see in other media, or are acknowledged to have/had partners of the same gender,” she said.
Sofia Dimas said something similar, but also brought up that on TV or in movies, LGBTQ+ characters tend to be bridesmaids but never brides.
“Usually I find that people in the [LGBTQ+] community are always side characters. The main characters in literally anything are almost always straight,” Dimas said, “Stuff like ‘Love, Simon’ made me so happy because for once a gay character isn’t the secondary character, he is a main character. That’s why I love podcasts because most of them are a part of the community and I can actually see myself as a character and truly relate to a character. I have never had that before I found podcasts.”
These Tumblr users and countless others report that they owe a lot to audio drama. That said, this podcast is a discussion with audio drama writers about why they find representation important and how they are writing the LGBTQ+ characters that these listeners love.
Guide to the podcasts discussed: