Shameless’s Ian & Mickey: Evolution of Same-Sex Portrayal


So, I’m obviously the Johnny-come-lately of Showtime’s Shameless. I mean, geez, the season 4 finale airs tomorrow night. It’s not that I’d never heard of it. I just never really gave it a chance, which to tell you the truth, I’m pretty much starting to regret here. I stumbled onto a few Ian/Mickey scenes on YouTube yesterday, and it’s pretty much been 24 hours of constant rewatching of all the same clips. Ian and Mickey (played by Cameron Monaghan and Noel Fisher) are the show’s resident gay couple and undoubtedly my newest OTP.

As a teenage couple, the show explores all the issues you’d pretty much expect from such a young gay couple: being in the closet, homophobic family, sleeping with other people… you name it. Anyway, the point of this post isn’t so much about the show per se as it is about my appreciation for the evolution of the portrayal of gay characters on television.

For those who aren’t familiar with the show, Mickey (Fisher) is the more street hardened criminal of the couple. Actually, he’s possibly one of the most street-hardened criminals of the show. He’s got a very macho exterior, quick temper, and isn’t shy about throwing punches. Ian (Monaghan) is the more sensitive of the two. Though he grew up as a member of ROTC, and eventually enlisted in the army, he’s more eager to completely leave the closet – probably due in large part to his family’s amazing acceptance of his sexual orientation, whereas Mickey’s dad hired a female prostitute to literally try to fuck the gay out of Mickey when he found out.

Traditionally, mainstream media has seemed to always portray gay couples as having one dominant masculine partner, while the other is obviously sassy and effeminate. I’d like to go on record stating that there’s nothing inherently wrong with this pairing, as there are couples who fit this description in the LGBT community. However, the point of portraying this type of pairing has nothing to do with the fact that it does exist, and everything to do with an attempt to heteronormalize same-sex couples, by attempting to mould even that after a more socially acceptable male/female pairing. It is this which makes it so incredibly frustrating and offensive. While the masculine-effeminate dynamic does exist in reality, like I mentioned before, you will find that most same-sex couples (male or female) tend to feature partners who are more balanced in terms of behaviour, attitudes and roles. It is one of the features which distinguishes us from heterosexual couples, and that’s okay (not that there aren’t heterosexual couples which have partners who also have these equilibrated-type roles; indeed, it is becoming more and more the norm). My issue really is that this Hollywood-created masculine-effeminate relationship normally depicts – or at the very least, hints – that the masculine partner is the top while the effeminate partner is the bottom. This is super stereotypical, and way out of touch with reality. Very many heteros (and unfortunately, quite a few gays as well) can’t seem to process the fact that a lot of masculine men actually do enjoy being the recipient of anal sex. Why can’t they? Because there exists this ridiculous stigma that being penetrated somehow makes you less of a man. Bullshit. Maybe you will think twice next time you assume that the lispy prancing gay you see is automatically a bottom. This also ignores the fact that lots of gay men are neither exclusively top nor bottom, and actually perform versatile roles depending on the sexual situation.

I’m kinda getting off topic here. My original point is that it is so incredibly refreshing to see that Mickey, who maybe ten years ago had he been in Queer as Folk, would automatically have been written as the relationship’s top, is actually the bottom in his and Ian’s relationship, and never seems to be ashamed of it. Why should he, anyway? After all, as he so eloquently put it…


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