Friday, September 28, 2012

GBLT characters in The Parasol Protectorate Series

One of the saddest things we can come across with any media is something we love - but has a massive problematic issue in the middle of it that slowly poisons it for us. The Parasol Protectorate is a series of books we love and adore for so many reasons. We love Lady Alexia Macon, she’s funny and powerful, we love her relationship, the setting and the plot. Who wouldn't want to read more about Ivy's antics? This could be one of those series that racks up nothing but 5 fang reviews all through - but there was a problem that started in the first book and just grew with each extra novel to intolerable degrees.

Lord Akeldama. And, from that, all of the gay characters in this series.

From the onset of this story, Madame Lefoux wears masculine clothing. She is strong, and highly intelligent.  In and of itself, this character isn’t problematic, until one realises that she is juxtaposed to Lord Akeldama.  The fact that she is so masculine, underscores Akeldama’s femininity and that makes them both read as highly stereotypical.  Again, there are certainly lesbians who are exactly like Madame Lefoux but this is predominantly the image of lesbians in media, unless they are being used as sexual eye candy.

In the first book, Soulless,  Lord Akeldama starts off as very stereotypical gay male. He is extremely effeminate and while there are gay men who are like this, the problem with this type of representation, is that it has come to define gay male sexuality in the media.  To make matters worse, though he is resourceful, he functions as nothing more than the typical gay best friend to Alexia.  Akeldama put the dandies to work for Alexia as well and though we are told they are capable and devious, they, like their leader, are also effeminate.  Biffy for instance, is more than familiar with women’s toilette and is up to date on the latest hairstyles and fashions. All of this is bad enough, but the fact that Carriger then had the dandies working as wedding planners moves their representation from stereotypical, to downright mockery.

This should have been a warning about what is to come.  By Heartless, Lord Akeldama has gone completely off the rails.  What follows is a quote from our review of Heartless.
Akeldama doesn’t walk. He Sashays. He Wafts. He Flounces. He even Minces. Yes, minces. He flourishes his napkin. He is outrageous and fabulous and straight out of central casting for a stereotypical gay caricature.

In a series where everyone else studiously refers to each other by their surnames (as is proper etiquette and is part of the wonderful way this series truly expresses the Victorian era and sensibilities), Akeldama uses pet names. Pomegranate Seed, Lilac Bush, My Hooney Poo (I kid you not), Dew Drop, Dolly Darling (he uses darling a lot). He speaks with lots of itallics so we can see he is emphasising many of his words, darling yes, that classic dramatic, over-emphasised speech of a stereotypical gay man. Why not just have him lisp?

Akeldama owns not one, but two closets. Two closets big enough to be bedrooms. Sacrificing them is a truly shocking event. His clothing is always described (and is immaculate) - and it is always outrageously elaborate - right down to his matching series of jewelled monacles. He and his drones have a ludicrous love of interior decorating.  They’re fascinated by women’s clothes (getting fashion plates from Paris) and Akeldama is near tears when he suggests Alexia dress as a servant to go undercover.  Akeldama has also successfully overcome a vampire’s aversion to citrus - to make him stronger, tougher, harder to kill? No, so he can use lemon juice on his hair.

While Akeldama is the most glaring example, the other gay characters are not free from the same problematic portrayals. Biffy, when he becomes a werewolf, stands out among the much “butcher”, scruffier, hairier, burlier men, who make up the werewolf pack; the straight men are vastly more traditionally masculine. The only werewolf who is more “refined” and “delicate” is Lyall - who is bisexual. It’s hard not to infer a pattern.
In Timeless, thanks to the fact that Lord Akeldama was largely absent, the amount of active homophobia was largely reduced but that doesn’t mean that it was without it’s problems. As you will come to see, a significant part of the problem with this series is the same sex relationships.

These are doomed to tragedy and failure and often treated with contempt and disregard by the rest of the cast. Madame Lafoux’s love of Genevieve ends in tragedy with her death and little regard is given to her grief. More, Madame Lafoux herself is not overly concerned with sadness, being more inclined to continue her not-very-subtle flirting with Alexia.

Lord Akeldama’s relationship with Biffy is treated with far greater disdain. Biffy becomes a werewolf, while Akeldama is a vampire, which instantly sets up this relationship to be painful and fraught with the antagonism between the two groups. It could have been a touching and determined battle to pursue their love no matter what - still not ideal, since so much depiction of gay love requires crawling over broken glass, but it could have worked. Instead, Alexia simply insists that they split up, their love could no longer continue. It is inconvenient, awkward and not sensible. Never mind that there’s no way that Alexia would have tolerated such an interference in her own love life - nor was such an ultimatum laid on Ivy’s relationship with Tunstall, despite the class difference making it an awkward match. Biffy and Akeldama’s relationship is simply not regarded as valuable, as precious or worth fighting for - and in a book where Alexia is quite willing to battle for her own family, that is glaring.

To compound this, Biffy then joins the werewolf pack where it is expected he will form a relationship with the bisexual professor Lyall. It’s an annoying trope that if you put two gay or bisexual men together then they are inevitably bound to be a couple. Of course, it happens and for a while we have what appears to be a sweet, developing relationship and maybe some redemption. But, no, we can’t have that - Lyall’s cunning plotting catches up to him and to placate the outraged Scottish pack, Lyall is sent off to join them for 50 years. So, another same-sex relationship is split up for the sake of practical politics and at the demand of Lady Macon. And this, of course, follows Lyall’s relationship with Lady Macon’s father, which ended in tragedy. Again. Happily Ever After is reserved for straight people.

It is a tragic shame when a series we love contains something that is such a barrier for enjoyment - and such a pointless barrier at that. This is a text book example of a pass at writing gay people.