We live in a world that whenever a minority, or a theme that isn’t considered mainstream, is featured in a TV show or a film, the Internet shouts that it has turned “woke”. I’m here to tell you why representation matters in media and how it has helped me accept who I am.
The following contains spoilers for Ted Lasso and Our Flag Means Death.
Now, don’t let the cover photo mislead you. I’m not a pirate nor am I a Midwestern fella with a moustache, but I do see parts of myself in Jim and Ted. This isn’t about music, but it is one of those situations where there are thoughts rattling around my head and I must get them out, but I suppose that is sort of the purpose of a blog.
In a time when I felt I was being treated differently due to personal issues (although that could have been paranoia), I stumbled across a TV show that was appealing because of its football themes. I love football and I was definitely sceptical at the beginning of my Ted Lasso watch because of having that love. A comedy about a Premier League football team written by Americans? I knew any irregularities would probably annoy me, but I ended up binging the first two series over one weekend because of the show’s positive and wholesome ethos, as well as being drawn in by certain characters’ makeup. For the purpose of this post, I am going to focus on Ted but not for the reasons you may think.
Ted Lasso is actually a complicated character with dimensions I wasn’t expecting when I watched the trailer. He has mental health struggles including suffering with panic disorder. One of the main reasons the show had me gripped is because of the representation of panic attacks and anxiety – it may be the best I’ve seen in visual media.
My jaw dropped when I watched ‘Make Rebecca Great Again’ (S1E7) during which Ted had his first panic attack. It winded me because it was like I was looking at myself through a screen. It made me feel not completely abnormal for the first time in ages.
We have seen throughout the different series the journey Ted goes on to deal with his panic. The attacks, the understanding, the conversations, the eventual acceptance, how you can be fine one minute and then the next panic disorder can grab you by the throat out of nowhere. I didn’t think a TV show could give me a different perspective of my own struggles, but it has. It has helped me talk about my thoughts more easily, given me some drive to be better, and it made me believe in myself again which I really needed.
They have continued the storyline going into the third series but have shown how although Ted is pretty much on top of his panic attacks, panic/anxiety disorder doesn’t just completely go away. You just learn to cope with it. This is something I relate to as someone who thankfully hasn’t had a panic attack in a long time but has experienced the symptoms and I have had to, on occasions, take a minute or two to reset. Jason Sudeikis played the part perfectly.
Talking about actors who are perfect for their roles, Vico Ortiz immediately comes to mind. They play Jim Jimenez in queer pirate romance Our Flag Means Death. This is a show that blew people away and captured the hearts of the LGBTQIA+ community in particular, including myself. Jim is a fantastic character. They are multi-layered, badass, and very funny. However, it isn’t their tale of revenge, impressive knife-throwing capabilities, or blossoming romance with Oluwande that caught my attention – although all of these things are a great watch.
It is that Jim is non-binary – and so am I.
For me, getting to this point has been a complicated journey. It had to start with accepting my sexuality (hello I am pansexual) and that meant I could start to properly think about who I am. If it weren’t for the industry I work in and a lot very accepting colleagues, then I honestly believe that I would still be hiding inside the closet. I know I still have a way to go, but I am proud of how I have changed for the better over the past year to be happier with who I am.
I’ve never felt completely comfortable with being a “woman”. I was labelled as a “Tom Boy” when I was a child which sure as hell didn’t feel healthy when attending a single sex school but that is a whole lot of baggage and trauma for another time.
The gender argument has interested me for a while, but I think I had been so wrapped in trying to get others to accept themselves, that I didn’t give any time for myself, or maybe it was a way to hide my own insecurities. I suffer with body image issues and have done for as long as I can remember, it is only more recently that I’ve come to understand that these issues stem from gender dysphoria. Seeing this character being strong whilst also being non-binary, was frankly life changing. It is a positive representation (even if the character does have flaws).
At the beginning of the series, Jim is on the run, so they disguised themselves to be a mute pirate with fake facial hair and a prosthetic nose. After it gets out that they aren’t who they claimed they were, their identity as a “woman” and as “Jim” was questioned by the rest of the crew, but they were soon accepted by everyone. One of the big reasons why I love the show so much, is the general acceptance of anyone part of the LGBTQIA+ community. It is refreshing.
Jim didn’t make me non-binary. There’s a bigoted misconception that improving representation in media will make people gay or speaking more widely about mental health is why there is an increased number of people who are being diagnosed with mental health issues. None of this is true. You can’t make someone be queer. You can’t make someone be non-binary or transgender. You either are or you’re not. See below a LinkedIn post by LGBTQIA+ ambassador, Max Siegel, who puts this in a great way.
I can say that me watching Our Flag Means Death was like that meme of Leonardo DiCaprio pointing at the TV. It was a moment of oh OH. It made me delve into reading about other people’s experiences of being non-binary and how they came to that conclusion, and I realised that I related to a lot of it. But I also realised, it is okay to relate to it because it is okay to be non-binary.
I’m conscious that stories hit people differently. I’ve told people to watch OFMD who I thought would love and relate to it, but I was wrong. I also know I’m wired differently to many because I do have a history of hyper-fixating on TV shows, so I guess this is my story and quite personal to me.
Despite what the haters say, it still isn’t easy to find LGBTQIA+ representation in TV and film, not helped that television companies and streaming platforms seem to cancel queer shows regardless of their popularity. However, we are making tiny little baby steps in improving representation in media.
One of my coping methods during the Covid-19 pandemic was to re-watch shows that I loved when growing up and it hit me how poorly certain groups were represented even just a decade ago. I hope that now with things improving (although they are far from being perfect), there will be new generations who find it easier to find acceptance in themselves, like I have found just later than I would have liked to.
In this post, I wanted to just focus on two characters and TV shows that have personally helped me in particular.
If I wanted to write an essay as opposed to a passage of text that is being uploaded on some lowkey WordPress site, then I would talk about how the introduction of queer storylines in the newest season of Ted Lasso made me love the show even more, or how A League Of Their Own impacted me when I watched it, or how I wished there was a popular series like Heartstopper available when I was teenager to help me accept myself sooner, or how having a non-binary comedian as a contestant on Taskmaster has made me feel valid (big up Mae Martin <3).
These are all examples of representation in media that have helped me. Everyone is different, some people may read this and not understand the direction I’m coming from, but I can tell you – hand on heart – that all these people and characters and TV shows have made me more comfortable in myself, and if I can have these moments of clarity, then I believe that amongst the hatred in this bigoted world, others will also have these moments too.