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Completed research project

Title / Titel Challenging Heterosexism from the Other Point of View – Representations of Homosexuality in "Queer as Folk" and "The L Word" (Doctoral Thesis, Dana Frei)
PDF Abstract (PDF, 14 KB)
Original title / Originaltitel Challenging Heterosexism from the Other Point of View – Representations of Homosexuality in "Queer as Folk" and "The L Word" (Dissertation von Dana Frei; in englischer Sprache, abgeschlossen)
Summary / Zusammenfassung More than ever before, present-day television series include gay- and lesbian-themed material and discuss sex-related issues. In addition to the numerous shows that have begun to feature homosexual characters complementary to a mainly heterosexual world of fiction, the past few years have brought about a number of shows, which concentrate predominantly on queer characters and depict their lifestyles particularly as homosexuals. Some mainstream examples deal with homosexuality in a very light-hearted way. Other shows are much more frank in their depiction of homosexual lifestyles and sex, and dare to include very controversial storylines, such as coming out, same-sex marriage, gay adoption, artificial insemination, HIV-positive status, drugs, promiscuity, pornography, or discrimination at the work place based on sexual orientation. Series such as Queer as Folk or The L Word feature explicit sex scenes and reflect upon such previously tabooed aspects of homosexuality in a very straightforward way. The latest seasons of the two shows have even added more such storylines to their already controversial plot, such as transgender/-sexuality, heterophobic violence, or HIV as a gift, which all add to the complex cultural impact these series suggest.
The aim of this dissertation is to analyze how the series represent homosexuality, queer characters and the controversial issues mentioned above, as well as to discuss how these specifically «queer» shows fulfill a function of challenging institutionalized attitudes of society (such as dichotomous notions of gender, heterosexism, homophobia). Moreover, the question will be raised whether they also serve to do the opposite unintentionally, if we consider the question of constructionism. Judith Butler’s notion of performativity does not only apply to gender (and possibly even biological sex), but also to aspects of sexual orientation. On the one hand, for example, the parody and drag portrayed in the discussed shows exaggerate gender and thereby unmask it as performance and a social construct. On the other hand, a television series dealing explicitly with homosexuality and depicting the lives of a number of characters as homosexuals may also harden stereotypes and give a rather rigid image of the concept of homosexual identity. Thus, in the same way as the discussed television shows may challenge certain attitudes of society, they may also harden some others (such as stereotypes and issues of identity).
Publications / Publikationen - Dana Frei: Challenging Heterosexism from the Other Point of View. Representations of Homosexuality in Present-Day Television Series. In: Schweizerisches Archiv für Volkskunde 103 (2007) 83-103.
- Dana Frei: «Identitätsstiftung & Homophobiekritik - Umkehrung der Fremdheitszuschreibung in Queer as Folk». Online-Publikation bei, 10.11.10:
- Challenging Heterosexism from the Other Point of View - Representations of Homosexuality in Queer as Folk and The L Word. Bern u.a.: Peter Lang 2012.
Project leadership and contacts /
Projektleitung und Kontakte
Prof. Dr. Ingrid Tomkowiak (Project Leader)  
lic. phil. Dana Frei
Funding source(s) /
Unterstützt durch
Forschungskredit der Universität Zürich
Nov 2006 to Oct 2008: funded by Forschungskredit der Universität Zürich
Duration of Project / Projektdauer Nov 2006 to Apr 2010