Considering its Pride Month and we are in a social climate where LGBTQ issues are front and center, the “Breaking Down the Binary” panel at the ATX Television Festival was supposed to be a celebratory and informative discussion about representation and inclusion in the industry, until a guy dressed up as a robot — yes, a robot — interrupted the panel with bizarre remarks that turned to homophobic insults.
What started off a fun panel in a safe space with stand-up comedians and Take My Wife creators-stars Cameron Esposito and Rhea Butcher, Younger actor Nico Tortorella, and The Bold Type star Aisha Dee turned odd when an audience member in a low-budget robot costume began heckling the panel, making comments about being “binary” and making robot noises.
Esposito laughed it off in the beginning, but he continued to interrupt during the discussion to which Esposito told him to cool it. He then started marching down the aisle, causing a scene. Tortorella approached him and asked him to leave so that the panel could continue, but the guy said, “You look like a queer,” which escalated the incident (the video below documents part of the scene).
He lobbed a couple of more insults at people who were trying to get him to leave. The situation was rightfully handled and the man was escorted out to a round of applause.
The incident did not take away the spirit of the panel, and Esposito, Butcher, Tortorella and Dee went on to discuss what they were there for: visibility, representation and inclusion in entertainment.
When referring to non-binary, Tortorella says it’s not about identifying as a man or woman, but creating their own space when it comes to gender. In television, they point out that “it’s been a very white, straight for so long and that binary is about creating shows for everyone.”
Butcher, who, like Tortorella identifies as non-binary, says that non-binary “isn’t just about one thing.” They add that when it comes to non-binary representation on television, it’s about changing archetypes of women and men through a contemporary lens.
Australian native Dee, who is a straight Black woman, says that she has noticed a huge change in entertainment in the past couple of years. “We are seeing TV and movies reflecting our worlds and its sparking conversation.”
She adds that it’s not only for marginalized communities but for men as well. “They don’t have to be what the world has been telling them to be. It works both ways.”
Esposito and Butcher are contributing to the conversation of representation and inclusion with their series Take My Wife, which follows a lesbian couple in Hollywood — very similar to their own lives because they are married. Butcher says that they have been praised for making a show about a queer relationship, but when asked if there will be a time when stories about marginalized communities “normal” they say that’s it’s already normal for them.
“When you can portray universal stories through these lenses, that’s when you can make it feel normal,” says Butcher. They later say, “I want to make the road less bumpy for those behind me.”
Dee urges representation behind the camera as much as there is in front of the camera so that these marginalized stories can be told and so that people can learn.
“Everyone needs to be sharing their stories right now,” adds Tortorella. “The more we hear, the more we see, the more we believe.”