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How Criminal Minds Fans Think Reid Helped The Push For Representation On TV

CBS's "Criminal Minds" is full of relatable characters (and some less sympathetic ones, too), but Matthew Gray Gubler's role as Dr. Spencer Reid is a fan favorite. Part of what makes Reid so lovable is his combination of genuine kindness with social awkwardness — and of course, his almost annoying intellect. At times, it seems he has a child-like innocence, but the grisly details of his job conflict with this characterization. Reid's inconsistencies make him feel very real — even as the character very unrealistically earned three PhDs by his mid-20s!

Despite Dr. Reid's extremely high IQ, "Criminal Minds" fans love him for how relatable he is, with some fans even finding their marginalized identities and difficult past experiences represented by the character. In a recent post on the Reddit community r/criminalminds, fans shared their stories of being different and how seeing Reid on the show made them feel a little less alone in the world.

Dr. Spencer Reid was "the first character I saw who represented me"

The post about Reid on r/criminalminds has already gained 69 upvotes in only two weeks, indicating the importance of the character to some underrepresented viewers searching for stories like their own. On why they love "Criminal Minds" so much, the original poster wrote, "Reid was the first character I saw who represented me. An autistic, queer coded character with a schizophrenic parent. A character who didn't have many friends growing up and didn't really fit in. The one who was generally prided on their intellect, to the point where, in my case, my entire worth became academia ... Representation is important and I was so happy to find a character who represented me."

Other users agreed. One wrote, "I'm autistic ... [and] Reid is one of the first characters I've ever related to. No one understands me when I go on long tangents about random topics I love and I always feel different from everyone else and Reid is just himself." Another user identified with Reid's relationship with his parents, writing, "The thing with his parents speaks to me, having to be an adult since childhood kills u."

Fans with diverse lived experiences identify with the character of Dr. Spencer Reid, from autistic people to members of the LGBT+ community to those who had a rough upbringing. But in this complicated world where representation is always imperfect (yet often to an inexcusable degree), it should come as no surprise that Gubler's portrayal of these experiences is pretty flawed.

Where Reid excels, Gubler falls short

While the character of Dr. Spencer Reid was not officially written to be autistic, Matthew Gray Gubler has stated that he sees the character as such, and then some. In an interview with LiveAbout, the actor said of his "Criminal Minds" character, "He's an eccentric genius, with hints of schizophrenia and minor autism, Asperger's syndrome. Reid is 24, 25 years old with three Ph.D.'s and one can't usually achieve that without some form of autism. They've hinted at shades of schizophrenia with Reid. I know his mother was schizophrenic and he has a fear of going schizophrenic himself."

Regardless of whether or not Reid is actually autistic, it's great that some autistic viewers find his character so positive. But things soon took a turn in the interview, illustrating some of the dangers of representation when the representative is not actually of the marginalized group being represented. "I'd like to think that one day down the line he will go schizophrenic and maybe turn into the type of person they'll chase relentlessly," Gubler continued. Here, schizophrenia becomes just a juicy plot point — and one that reinforces negative stereotypes of schizophrenic people. Even worse, when asked how his personality is similar to his character's, Gubler replied using a slur for neurodivergent people, saying, "He's not too similar. He's a genius and I'm technically and functionally retarded [laughs]." Big yikes.

Reid also isn't actually queer, although he might have been in another world. "Criminal Minds" creator Jeff Davis once tweeted, "Fun fact for 'Criminal Minds' fans. I was originally planning for Reid to be bi. That got shut down by 4th episode" (via Yahoo!). A lot has changed with regard to LGBT+ representation in mainstream media since "Criminal Minds" debuted in 2005, so it is perhaps unsurprising that Reid never had a relationship with another man. But that viewers continue to identify his character as queer really says something about how important actual representation is in television.