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“Modern Family,” like “Will and Grace” and “Ellen” before it, seems to bear this out. But the absence of a sexual identity for Cam and Mitch isn’t really just about “Modern Family,” of course.
Cam and Mitch are an integral part of the fictional family, but they don’t get to share in the sexual charge or the schmaltzy innuendo that the show’s other couples deal in. Our culture’s aversion to gay sex, and mainstream entertainment’s squeamishness about showing or even alluding to it, is nothing new.
“Despite all of the legal, social and cultural gains of recent years, most Americans remain profoundly uncomfortable with the notion of gay sexuality.”With the exception of more niche programs (or shows locked behind premium cable pay walls) like “Orange Is the New Black,” “Queer as Folk” and “Six Feet Under,” there is a shocking degree of silence on the sex lives of gay characters.
And when gay characters do serve as the centerpiece of a show, they are often completely celibate.
In the narrow scope of what it means to be “diverse” on network television, it is diverse.
But the show, which has the feel of a documentary film crew capturing all aspects of these families’ lives, has, for each of the straight couples in the show — and even Phil and Claire’s teenage daughter, Haley — alluded to, or outright caught them in the act (of sex! A few examples: Jay, the family patriarch, and his younger wife, Gloria, get pregnant in Season 3.
According to polling data, close to 20 percent of Americans surveyed say that the experiences of gay television and film characters shaped their views on issues like gay marriage.
(That percentage goes way, way up among younger people.) And subtler gains in terms of visibility and acceptance facilitated by the presence of gay characters in mainstream entertainment can’t be understated.“But you don’t really see organizations like GLAAD complaining about lack of gay sex on television,” Bronski notes.
Five seasons into the series, it would seem only natural for the ever-present cameras following this family around to have caught the couple — at least once! Such a non-event could easily be played for laughs, as are so many of the show’s other sexual high jinks. As much progress as we’ve made in terms of representation (class-blind and overwhelmingly white as these gains may be), sex continues to be an abstraction for gay characters.
Imagine Cam and Mitch, the exhausted parents of a young child, making time for sex when — all of a sudden, shirts rumpled, pants hastily refastened — one of them has to run out of the bedroom to check on their crying daughter, Lily. These sexual omissions, the desire and eroticism of gay life that is “so blatantly white washed” from mainstream entertainment, “feels like a lie,” Rich Juzwiak, a staff writer at Gawker who writes frequently about pop culture and sexuality, tells Salon. One which we saw play out, to great success, in the mainstream marriage equality movement.