Saturday, December 17, 2011

GBLT people and themes in the Black Dagger Brotherhood

Since I’ve finished this series (so far, until the next book) I’m doing a few posts to analyse various series wide tropes. Previously I’ve looked at how the series treats women, now I’m looking at GBLT issues in the series. I think this is ideal in long series because you can recognise persistent patterns that often make an individual problematic scene far far worse that (for example, one of the women being kidnapped? Not ideal. Nearly every last female love interest being kidnapped, stalked or threatened with such is a whole different level of problematic).

Ok, now buckle in folks, because this is going to be a bumpy ride. Eye protection may be needed.

Let us start with what is probably the most extreme and objectionable element - in fact, it is so extreme that I have difficulty criticising beyond this because it becomes redundant. It’s like complaining that the neighbour’s dog has messed in your garden while it’s busy trying to bite your leg off.

The Omega is the big bad guy. He is the evil god that wishes to destroy all of the vampires out of spite and envy. He is evil, sadistic, genocidal - and literally an animate figure of living darkness. He’s also gay. Yes, animate living shadow is gay. But, it’s far far worse then the simple gay villain trope.

See, the Omega’s weapons in destroying the vampires are the lessers. The lessers are humans (usually rapists, murderers and similar) who are inducted to become undead by having their heart ripped out and the Omega’s blood pumped into them. And he rapes them. In the beginning of the series there was a hint that the Omega was raping his inductees and punishing disobient lessers with the same - but when we reached Lover Mine we’d given up on hinting, there’s definite rape going on. But it gets worse.

See, when the Omega is on the outs with his son (more on that in a moment) he gets a new recruit. And, yes he is raped - but, what’s this? Lash listens in and hears sounds of pleasure - why, the rape victim must be gay! Yes, the animate darkness is raping a man (who is having his blood drained and heart ripped out) and the victim likes it because he’s a gay man. Yes, just pause a moment and let that sink in. now think about how there is a pervasive idea that a gay man cannot be raped because gay men like it. But it gets worse!

Because the Omega is seduced by his rape victim, kicks out his disappointing straight son (hey, see what they did there? The gay man is kicking out his straight offspring for being straight - despite it being the opposite that happens all too often) and sets up his new “boy toy” as the head of the lessers. The rape victim seduces his rapist (that would be the animate living darkness).

Ok, take a deep breath and let that sink in, because we’re going to have to talk some more about rape here in the series - because there’s a lot of it. Including a lot of rape-as-emasculation. The Bloodletter, in his warrior training camp had the fighters spar with each other - and the loser was raped. John Matthew and Zsadist have both been raped - both consider the process emasculation - and in Zsadist’s case, he finds being raped by a man far more shameful and demeaning than being raped by a woman. These victims continue to hold their attacks as something that needs to desperately be kept secret (not being raped by a woman, however) and while many victims may feel that way, it’s never addressed or challenged. There’s never any real attempt to make it anything other than a shameful secret. And between the Omega raping his servants as punishment/to show them whose boss, Zsadist and John Matthew being emasculated by their rapes and the Bloodletter having a rape camp where the big strong men repeatedly rape other men to show how much stronger they are - we have an ongoing theme of male rape victims being seen as lesser men. Not just a theme - it’s writ large and bold and constantly repeated.

Ok, we can move away from the rape now, thank gods and move on to another problem - Blaylock and Saxon, the only 2 gay men in the series and probably the only male vampires in these books who can be considered mild. Polite, restrained. It would probably be less blatant coding if it weren’t for the constant emasculation theme and Blay’s existing to serve without even having the Ahstrux Nohtrum to justify it. Which is something else I have to touch on while I’m on the subject of service - while the rest of the cast are members of the Brotherhood, Blaylock (gay man) and Qhuinn (bisexual man actually seeking a relationship with another man) are not independent members - they’re attached to (and serve as sidekicks for) John Matthew, a straight guy. A definite secondary role.

And, in case we missed the whole “gay man as weaker” trope we have going on - Saxon is gay bashed. By a human. A single human. One human manages to beat up a vampire extremely severely.

Moving on now to some transphobic, gender presentation nonesense. The Symphaths. Symphaths are a sub-breed of vampire that can mess with people’s heads - they’re also sociopathic, extremely dangerous, not to be trusted and very creepy. Oh let’s repeat that creepy a few times to get the point across - creepy with their extra-finger joints and androgyny. Creepy with their tall, thinness and ambiguous features. Creepy with the “I can’t tell if this is a man or woman” vibe. yes creepy. did we get the creepy yet? Sadly, the creepy is often linked to the androgyny of the Symphaths and the creepy, evil, androgynous Symphaths contrast extremely with the ultra-masculine Brotherhood (all of which are repeatedly described as huge and muscular). The ambiguous genders of the Symphaths are repeatedly presented to make them seem alien, other, freaky and, of course, creepy creepy creepy.

And we can’t cover transphobia in the books without looking at Xhex. Xhex was, until Payne, unique among the females in the series in that she wasn’t a delicate little flower. She was big and tough and strong - and shamed for it. She is even referred to as “Shemale” (I note that, as she becomes a love interest and certainly as she starts crying over the pretty dress such adjectives fall away, but so does the description of her as being big and strong). Giving us a double dose of transphobia and misogyny in one unpleasant package.

And now let’s look at sex. But we can’t because men having sex with other men is very very carefully concealed lest it burn out your straight eyes. In a book where we see the Brotherhood have sex every which way possible, from every angle and with much description, when we turn to see the men get it on with each other? Well, Vishous is technically bisexual but we never see him with anyone but a woman, in fact his sexual thoughts and musings turn exclusively to women so often it was a while before I realised he was bisexual. And he was crushing on his best friend Butch but thankfully he was cured of that messy little mistake by meeting a good woman. *Phew* that’s a relief. Nearly had a main character doing some man loving!

Similarly, Qhuinn is bisexual. And in his bed/bathroom stall/changing room/back room/anywhere secapades we see a woman and a woman and a woman and another woman and yet another woman and more women and yes, a woman. When Qhuinn was called bisexual and had apparently been with men I actually thought it was retconning because we’d seen him have so much sex and none of it had been with a girl. And then we see his one sex scene with a guy - first they both have graphic (and fairly described) sex with women (so he can seduce the guy who is “straight really” yeah because gay and bi men making moves on straight guys is not a trope at all. But we had to have some after Blaylock’s endless infatuation with Quinn, a guy who wasn’t interested for so long) which leads to sex with each other - but not before the fade to black happens!

And then there’s Blay and Saxon who play snakes and ladders in bed. Hey, they may - I mean it’s not like we’ve ever actually seen them have sex, is it? So we have another series of books where gay sex is scene as so much more obscene than straight sex. In a book series where we literally see every moment of the straight humpage, even a lip lock between the men is on shaky ground.

At this point, I don’t think it’s even necessary to mention to casual homophobic language that pervades the series. It’s redundant. Nor will I talk about the Omega's "liberace" cloak or his sweet, powdery smell or the Omega's "boy toy"'s bright, primary coloured car.

This series is, to me, the very epitome of “erase me”. every time GBLT characters and themes are raised, it’s done in a way that makes me cringe. It reminds me again how inclusion is not always the best policy and in some cases erasure is very much preferred.