The Gay return: Queer Representation revisits, challenges, and new directions.

deadline for submissions: 
January 20, 2023
full name / name of organization: 
Sarah Baker Auckland University of Technology
contact email: 

It has been around 40 years since Vito Russo wrote the pioneering book The Celluloid Closet (1981) that catalogued the long painful history of gay representation in Hollywood film. The Celluloid Closet was produced during the AIDS epidemic and was one of many texts that drew attention to the lack of gay representation both before the 1980s and catalogued the changes that were occurring in gay media representation at the time. Lesbian representation has been historically represented by invisibility though was also impacted by the change in representation that the AIDS epidemic started. Gay male representation was always problematic while lesbians were invisible and heavily affected by the stigma of AIDS at this time. As the AIDS epidemic grew, one of the reactions of the time was an explosion of gay and lesbian media representation. The type of films that were produced at the time ranged from independent films that catalogued the changed life of gay men who were particularly affected by the mounting death toll of that epidemic to lesbian coming out stories and romances like Go Fish (1994) and films like Philadelphia (1993) which won an Oscar and mainstream critical success.

The last twenty-five years have seen a proliferation of gay texts and characters and what could be called a reformulation of gay characters as ‘normal’. Ellen DeGeneres’s high-profile coming out episode on her show Ellen and then on Time Magazine in 1997 was another watershed moment in gay cultural history. It was important as though initially receiving acceptance the programme lost ratings and then was canceled. DeGeneres then got a second chance at acceptance and mainstream success with her talk show which concluded in 2022.  Lesbian representation, however, appears more problematic than ever with films like Ammonite (2020) and Benedetta (2021) have received critique and mixed reactions to their representation of lesbians, with their focus on corsets and Benedetta reviewed in the Guardian as “Benedetta review- Verhoeven's saucy nun romance goes out with a wimple” (Bradshaw, 2021).

In recent years the films Rocket Man (2019) and Behind the Candelabra (2018) took a nostalgic look at two popular gay musicians with their emerging coming-out stories situated in the 1980s demonstrating the journey to gay acceptance even if tinged with tragedy. With the abundance of positive and ordinary representations of gay characters serving as signs of progress for gay representation and queer struggles for social equality the question remains if this rise in images of normal gay characters means that the battle for acceptance and visibility is over.  It seems important now to examine these new post-feminist and post-queer images in popular culture and consider this representation in relation to the history of gay representation. In a recent GLAAD report (2022) the new report found LGBT representation on US TV at a high, with nearly 12% of regular characters who are LGBT, up 2.8% from last year. The study found that there were shortfalls and missing opportunities to tell a wider range of stories about LGBT characters. This book aims to examine these post-queer images and critique the still-existing conditions of prejudice and stigma that continue to shape gay and lesbians representation.

Possible topics might include, but are not limited to:

-       Where is Lesbian representation in film and television?

-       What is happening with Gay male representation in film and television?

-       The limits and potentials for new queer visibility

-       Post Queer representation and the new gay normal

-       Where is representation today? Has it improved or regressed or is it merely tokenistic?

-       Tensions around Queer Baiting and retroactive representation

-       Trans representation in film/ television

-       The tensions around ‘normal’ gay representation in the 2000s

-       Does gay representation need new ways to explore meaning and limits?



This volume is intended for inclusion in the Routledge advances in popular culture studies book series.


Please send 300-word abstracts with a title and biography to Sarah Baker to   by January 20 2022.