Benjamin-rileyI cope with stress by watching comfort television. When shit really gets me down, all I want is to be at home, surrounded by the televised role models of my teenage years.

Back then I had my go-to shows. Buffy the Vampire Slayer and her sassy witch friend Willow would calm my nerves by showing me all you need to fight vampires is a few good friends. On Star Trek Voyager, I looked up to Captain Janeway, the strong leader and caring mother figure I always wanted to follow into uncharted space. And while most young men interested in politics might fancy themselves as one of The West Wing’s manly politicos, I was always the protégé of press secretary CJ Cregg, a powerful but compassionate woman in a man’s world.

As a young gay man I don’t remember having any decent gay role models to look up to. On more than a few occasions I would stay up late in my bedroom watching episodes of Queer as Folk on SBS, but their world was more fantastical than aspirational. The blur of strobe lights and rippling abs might not have been personally inspiring, but it did make me glad I could lock my bedroom door.

I’ve heard other gay guys my age express similar feelings – in the absence of positive gay male role models, we turn to the next best thing: women.

allison_janneyThis feeling started early, long before my homo-tendencies were even a glimmer on the cover of my very first DNA Magazine. I remember rooting for female characters on most shows I watched as a kid, identifying with them in a way I never could with the machismo of ’90s TV hunks. I was always a Xena: Warrior Princess fan more than a Hercules fan, eye candy taking a back seat to my respect and admiration for Lucy Lawless’ iconic character.

I’ve often wondered why this happens. Perhaps it has something to do with feeling distanced, even from a young age, from a paradigm of masculinity where the popular kids in school were the tough boys. Without gay men to look up to, strong women show us we aren’t alone in not being able to live up to the impossible ideals of masculinity, and that’s okay.

Slowly but surely, more gay male role models are appearing on television, and I hope gay kids now have more people to look up to than I did. That said, I’ll always take comfort in and be grateful for the women in my childhood who made it okay for me to be different.

Follow Ben Riley on Twitter: @bencriley

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