Friday, September 7, 2012

GBLT Characters in the Anita Blake Series

When it comes to the portrayal of GBLT people, the Anita Blake series is a classic warning that quantity is never a substitution for quality and that mere number of portrayals does not make a book, TV series or film friendly to GBLT people. We’ve seen this in True Blood as well, where, again, sheer number of portrayals doesn’t change the very large problems with those portrayals.

I can understand the reaction. Most books and series simply don’t have any GBL inclusion at all. And when they do it’s usually one or two characters, in minor roles (usually as best friends and support staff - barely even side kicks). We have started praising even the tiniest inclusion - it’s depressing when we see even progressive blogs analysing media, praising Teen Wolf for its single bit-token gay character, while criticising it for its portrayals of other, more numerous, minorities. So when we see a series that has several GBL characters it is extremely rare and it is tempting to praise it - especially when tiny, virtually characterless tokens are seemingly due fawning.

But quality matters. A book with a terrible, trope laden stereotypes is bad, problematic and prejudiced. The mere fact you have a hundred of them rather than just one doesn’t makes these terrible, trope laden stereotypes ok. And this is abundantly clear in the Anita Blake series.

The easiest place to begin is to look at some of the villains of the Anita Blake series, because I think I spot a pattern:

  • Asher, bisexual – was a villain but was redeemed to the good guys by the sweet love and gentleness of Anita (behold the power of a straight woman’s love!) Its bitter, implied sadistic and now confines 99% of his sexing to Anita.
  • Raina, bisexual. Sadist, rapist, murderer, torturer and generally not a nice woman. Also rapes straight women. Is portrayed as “perverse”.
  • Gabriel: Bisexual, sadist, rapist, torturer, pimp and generally not a nice man. Rapes straight men. Is also portrayed as “perverse”.
  • Chimera: gay or bisexual. Sadist, rapist, torturer. Is more than implied that the reason why he is a sadistic murdering, multiple personality (yes there’s ableism there) rapist is because of his rejection of his own sexuality.
  • Belle Morte: Bisexual, rapist, makes straight people have sex with their own gender for her amusement.
  • Traveller: Gay. Uses his power to possess straight men so he can have sex in their bodies (i.e. rapes them).
  • Niley: Gay, rapes straight men. And tortures them. Bonus points, deals with daemons and is actually looking for a holy relic to defile it.

Did you catch the pattern? When you have more GBL rapists in a series than you can count on the fingers of one hand? There’s a problem.

But, of course, not all the GBLT people in the book are villains - but let us look at how these are portrayed. Firstly, the series does its very best to make the men in Anita’s immediate circle as straight as possible while still opening up the possibility for the hawt mansex. Byron makes it clear that Jean-Claude massively prefers women and that Asher is “an exception.” (Nearly had a bisexual character as a leading man there, - danger! Danger!) Much the same applies to Micah, maybe Jason and even Nathaniel. In later books, Laurell K Hamilton learns the phrase “heteroflexible” and instantly stamps it on Anita’s men rather than risk having gay or bisexual men running around as major character.

And the “hawt mansex” is labelled there for a reason - because the sex between men is presented in an extremely fetishistic manner. While Anita is happily in her merry threesomes, foursomes, moresomes - the men keep touching each other to a minimum for fear of upsetting her (and gods forbid that affection between men offend a straight person). This changes when Anita lets it be known that she likes to watch 2 men get it on, then everyone gets in on the heteroflexible action for Anita’s viewing pleasure. The affection and sex between 2 men became acceptable only because a straight woman enjoys it. That is fetishistic in the extreme, really homophobic - and one of the Slash and M/M genre’s biggest problems.

With the heteroflexibleness, there’s actually only one of Anita’s men who is actually allowed to be bisexual - and that is Asher. Oh some of the tigers may be, but if you can even remember their names at this point, it’s only because you have a very good memory and they have very very very ridiculous names.

Asher - the biggest, whiniest drama queen the books have ever seen (perhaps even surpassing Richard, but at least Richard’s are based on real issues). He stomps, he pouts, he sulks, he has epic, whining tantrums. He dishes out emotion laden ultimatums, his ego constantly needs pampering, he wallows in angst, he’s possessive and he is ludicrously over-emotional. Surrounded by all these heteroflexible guys, it’s the actual bisexual who is throwing his toys out of the pram, unable to control his emotions and generally wallowing in that stereotype. At this point, I actually loathe Asher more than I loathe Richard or Micah.

As to actual gay men... remember Faust? Or Byron? Don’t worry, I don’t think Laurell K Hamilton does. But both are described as naive, weak, boyish and otherwise lesser to the other men around. Oh, and even gay Byron had sex with Anita.

Speaking of weak gay men, let’s poke a stick - make that a 10 foot poll - at another great big stew of fail - the werehyenas.

These need a special mention because there is so much fail here that it’s almost breathtaking.
The leader of the werehyenas is Narcissus. He is constantly referred to by the male pronoun so I’ll use that. He is intersex, seems to present as a gay man and dresses as a woman. It is interesting to see a genderfluid and intersex character in fiction - almost unheard of. Here ends the good stuff, hold your breath because it only goes downhill from here.

He won’t have any women in his clan because a “real woman” would threaten his leadership. He is captured, raped and tortured by a male lover, Chimera, until he is rescued by Her Straightness Anita and His Straightness Richard.

The werehyenas are made up nearly entirely of gay men. About 600 of them. Big muscle bound, sexy gay men as well. Wearing lots of leather (Laurell K Hamilton really needs to start typing with both hands). They are taken over. Taken over by a force that seems to number about 100… at most. They are taken over because they’re not “real fighters” or “real muscle” just pretty, and they just roll over and give in (and can’t fight properly anyway)

They are rescued by the werewolves (read – the real mens). Narcissus learns his lesson and recruits soldier types (apparent heterosexuals since they’re happy to leer at Anita – real mens!) and now, Rafael of the were-rats FEARS the Hyenas (because now they have real mens) when he didn’t fear the pack that outnumbered him 3:1 before - but that was when the pack was all pretty gay men - totally negligible.

Ok deep breath out, we can leave the hyenas behind - but it doesn’t get much better because we have all kinds of hot mess still to cover.

Let’s look at Augustine. Master of Chicago, one of the most powerful in all the US who craves the
Ardeur and seeks to seduce and control Anita. But the tables are swiftly turned by Jean-Claude who establishes his power and dominance over Augustine by having sex with him and Anita - and topping Augustine. Because a man being a top during anal sex means he’s the big dominant man and the other is weaker, right? (Incidentally, did you know that it’s a not-uncommon hate crime for straight men to rape gay men to establish power?) In this context, should we also consider it a huge coincidence that Asher, the bisexual emotional drama queen, bottoms to the manly heteroflexible men?

When it comes to bisexual women and lesbians, we have much fewer examples (we can speculate as to why, and I refer back to my comment on “one handed writing” and fetishism). We have the villains of course. And we have Thea, the Siren, trying to use her seduction powers on Anita (which is totally wrong when Thea does it and totally not like those times Anita uses the Ardeur!).

Other than that? Well we have Silvie, second in line to the werewolf pack. Kind of. Now, first of all the very fact she is a contender to Ulfric is shaky. Most Ulfrics are men because they have to win a drag out fight with the previous Ulfric. Ulfrics and Ulfric candidates are men because they’re generally big and strong (which Anita says makes them more dangerous). Oh and Sylvie was a contender for Ulfric – is she a man? Nooo, but she’s a lesbian. Now this could be totally unrelated and there’s absolutely no reason why a woman couldn’t be this strong and vicious and a good fighter and the fact Silvie is the one could be unrelated to her being a lesbian - except, well, check my previous post on Anita Blake and women.

We also have to note that in later books Laurell K Hamilton seems to forget Silvie is a lesbian - and she certainly disappears into obscurity. And she joins Nathaniel, Narcissus and so many others in being rescued by Anita (saaaave us straightness, saaaave us!) but not before she is raped by a man and a woman. The latter expressly because she is a lesbian.

Recently Anita has dipped her own toe into heteroflexibility (not bisexual! No no no no no, still straight!) with one delicate victim called Gross Asian Stereotype, err, I mean Jade. This pretty much sums up all we know about Jade - she’s teeny teeny tiny, even smaller than the petite Anita (because we need old-school GENDER roles in our same-sex relationships and Anita WILL be the MAN in her’s and Jade will be her teeny tiny fragile partner) has been raped and victimised and just cannot stand the touch of a man any more. Which also invokes the whole idea that lesbians are only such because they’ve had a “bad experience”

Frankly, at this point, I could drag up more examples but it seems unnecessary flogging of a horse that’s not so much dead as an extra on the Walking Dead. This series is a classic example of how numbers are not sufficient for decent inclusion. Merely having a marginalised person is not sufficient for decent inclusion - them quality and portrayal of those characters is what matters