Looking Back on the Year of “20gayteen” So Far : The Best and Brightest Moments of LGBT Visibility in Popular Culture and Media

By Erin Caine

Lifestyle Editor

On Jan. 1, pop singer Hayley Kiyoko — who caused ripples in 2015 with her unambiguous same-sex love anthem “Girls Like Girls” — posted a now iconic tweet: “It’s our year, it’s our time. To thrive and let our souls feel alive.”

The tweet promoted her upcoming album and was tagged, “#20gayteen,” a phrase since adopted by internet circles to describe moments of LGBTQ visibility and positivity in entertainment and culture.

The year isn’t quite over yet, and there are certainly milestones ahead of us in the months to come, but here are a few moments inducted so far into the year of “20gayteen”:

1. Adam Rippon, Eric Radford, and other LGBTQ athletes made their mark on the 2018 Winter Olympics.

The world of figure skating has always had a troubled, and at times incredibly callous, relationship with openly gay athletes, yet Rippon and Radford made history as the first to appear on a Winter Olympic podium, the two winning bronze and gold medals respectively.

Rippon also circulated a lot of buzz for firing back at homophobic comments with unflappable humor. He also used his platform to condemn Vice President Mike Pence’s anti-gay rhetoric and policies.

Also of note is skier Gus Kenworthy’s televised kiss with his boyfriend, Matthew Wilkas, before his slopestyle run.

Athlete Ally posted an Instagram picture of them and said, “This visibility matters. This moment of affection gives hope and inspiration to LGBTQ people everywhere.”

2. Janelle Monáe’s “Dirty Computer,” amid themes of Afrofuturism and black womanhood, is Monáe owning and celebrating her sexuality.

Many fans were already excitedly anticipating the pop artist and actress’s third studio album, but what made this release even more remarkable is the 46-minute short film that accompanied it.

Monáe dubbed her artistic venture an “emotion picture,” releasing it on YouTube to rave reviews from the likes of Rolling Stone and Pitchfork, the former calling it a “sci-fi masterpiece” which “defiantly celebrate[s] nonconformity, femininity, and sexuality in all its permutations.”

Monáe has always returned to the figure of the android as a way of talking about marginalized experience, and, as a pansexual black woman in America, she is indeed no stranger to alienation. Her “emotion picture” isn’t just a jaw-dropping spectacle of sci-fi visuals and artistic costuming, but also jam-packed with social critique.

3. “Love, Simon,” based on a 2015 young adult book by Becky Albertalli, became the first Hollywood teen film about a gay romance — and it was directed by an openly gay man, Greg Berlanti, to boot.

The film, about a closeted high school boy named Simon who meets and befriends a kindred spirit online, has been praised by critics for depicting Simon’s love story in a powerfully affirming way.

Many have noted that the movie’s sense of optimism and support surrounding its burgeoning gay identities and relationships is revolutionary in itself for Hollywood.

Though there are no official talks of a sequel at the moment, the creators of “Love, Simon” have expressed a willingness to adapt Albertalli’s 2018 book, “Leah on the Offbeat,” which features the exploits of Simon’s best friend Leah as she grapples with self-esteem issues and discovers her own bisexuality.

4. Kiyoko’s “Expectations” and Troye Sivan’s “Bloom” are albums that pushed back against an overwhelmingly heteronormative pop music landscape.

By putting songs about same-sex love and LGBTQ experiences on the radio and on everyone’s radar, artists like Sivan and Kiyoko have welcomed in what Angela Watercutter of Wired calls a “new age of queer pop.”

In an industry where same-sex attraction is often exploited or sensationalized — many point to Katy Perry’s hit single “I Kissed a Girl” as an example of this — these emerging LGBTQ artists are subversive, bold, and distinctive.

Without the need to disguise themselves in ambiguity, they become sources of empowerment and validation for a whole generation of gay youths. Sivan in his video for “Bloom” challenges society’s ideas about male presentation and desire, while Kiyoko’s “Curious” playfully broaches the subject of sexual repression.

5. Ellie Williams, a main character from the widely acclaimed video game franchise “The Last of Us,” kisses another female character in the trailer for the second installation.

Though the sequel to the award-winning game likely won’t be released until 2019 or 2020, the trailer sparked even more interest in the game’s storyline and new characters, and in Ellie’s personal development.

Despite the grim, apocalyptic setting, Ellie and her evident new love interest, Dina, are shown dancing together, flirting, and sharing a deep kiss before the trailer cuts ahead to the gritty action.

Many are rightfully nervous about Dina’s fate, especially considering a long-standing trend in media known as “bury your gays,” in which gay characters are disproportionately done away with without much ceremony.

But the developers of the game, Naughty Dog, are known for bringing the unexpected to their craft, so perhaps this might be the kind of representation everyone has been waiting for in video games.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *