Friday, August 21, 2015

Homophobia in Lynsay Sands's Argeneau Series

One does not pick up the Argeneau series in search of literary art but to serve as a slight distraction to pass the time.  For the most part, Sands is able to accomplish this with witty humour despite the formulaic nature of the Argeneau series. At the end of the day, the couple will get together after facing some small hurdle or convoluted misunderstanding and then sail off for their happily ever after. To expect more than that from The Argeneau series would be ridiculous. That being said I should be able to expect a series which is free of homophobia, particularly given that in twenty books, Sands has yet to include a gay character. In fact, it took until Immortal Ever After (book 18 of the series) for Sands to make it canon that gay immortals do exist and have found lifemates. Unfortunately, we have yet to meet a gay immortal and this series continues to be erased.

In the Argeneau series, being gay isn’t part of one’s identity; it’s simply a device employed to bring a straight couple together (yes, I know this makes no sense) or as a pejorative or as comic relief. Even the closet, which is a painful result of our heterosexist culture, is invoked for the purposes of shits and giggles.

But invoking gay people for comedy is but one aspect of the homophobia in this series - there’s also a terrible amount of appropriation. In Under A Vampire Moon, Sands reaches a pretty epic level of offensiveness when she has Christian pretend to be gay in order to woo Caroline; who is middle aged and is not comfortable entering into a relationship with Christian because she fears that she is too old for him. Being a descendant of Atlantians, Christian doesn’t age and is immortal. After members of the Argeneau family read Caroline’s mind and discovering that she spent years playing the role of beard to her friend, Christian pretends to be gay to put her at ease. Christian explains his need for a beard by claiming that his family will disown him and reject him if they discover he is gay. Yep, there’s not much that Sands won’t appropriate. Without including any gay characters at all, Sands is willing to play on major, painful and even traumatic issues like the closet and devastating family rejection just to maintain a convoluted joke. LGBT issues are invoked as a plot device, as a joke, without even the slightest shred of respect or regard for the community she uses so blatantly as a tool. This is only exacerbated by pushing the idea of deception and the closet (doubly so in this case, with this lying straight man pretending to be gay).

The very first reference in this series to homosexuality comes in Single White Vampire.  Lucern the vampire in question sends down to the front desk of the hotel for some condoms.  When the condoms arrives he is naked and is forced to send Chris to answer the door.  When the bellman sees the naked Lucern he assumes that Lucern and Chris are about to have sex. This so upsets Chris that Lucern has to wipe the memory of being thought of as gay - yes being thought of as gay is so extremely traumatic it requires a mind wipe. From the very beginning as far as LGBT inclusion, Sands was off to a terrible start. This isn’t even the only incident in Single White Vampire where characters express disgust at the thought of being read as gay.

In Under A Vampire Moon it’s Zanipolo who is read as gay. In response Zanipolo cuts his long hair and then goes to great lengths to assert his masculinity and heterosexuality.  He even questions whether or not his walk is effeminate. It’s bad enough that an apparently adult man freaks out so epically because a complete stranger thinks he may be gay or bisexual - but an ancient, centuries-old supernatural being has this level of freak out over being read as gay? That’s a whole extra level of ludicrous and a story which is really invested in forcing that homophobic “comedy.”

It’s not just straight men who are traumatised at the very idea of being thought of as gay. In A Bite to Remember, Jackie is actually hit on by another woman in a bathroom. Most reasonable people are pleased to learn that someone finds them attractive regardless of the sex - or at most they politely demure -  but that is not the case when it comes to Jackie.

Nothing on God's green earth could have stopped her from whirling to face the girl with a look of abject horror and disbelief. Jackie even almost blurted, Do I look gay to you? before catching herself back, but it was her first thought. A Stupid one, she acknowledged.  You couldn't tell someone's sexual preference by their looks. (page 130-131)

Alas given the issues with this series, it seems almost petty to point out how dated “sexual preference” is - “sexual orientation” is more correct term.

Clearly Sands tried to pull back Jackie’s homophobic reaction to being hit on by a woman but the mere fact that she was horrified speaks volumes and is completely unnecessary to the plot or character development. The Argeneau series is all about straight romances and heterosexuality. The very idea of a same sex interaction sets a character off this way, reifies the idea that heterosexuality is natural and good while homosexuality is perverse and wrong.  

One of the genre wide commonalities is the nature of male love interest and Sands is no exception.  All of her male love interests are hyper masculine as well as sexual. They are strong and extremely good looking. Due to ignorant stereotyping in this genre (and in general) writers have made being gay the antithesis of this in order to establish that their male love interest is a manly man. This is why in Under A Vampire Moon, Christian questions whether he needs to talk or walk effeminately and if he has to change his voice when he pretends to be gay to woo his fair lady.   

For all the worry that Christian puts into being read as gay by Caroline In Under A Vampire Moon, he sets off her gaydar. Yes, Sands actually uses the word gaydar (a term that, itself, usually relies on gross gay stereotypes, assuming their are common ways of acting and presenting that indicate whether someone is gay). It seems that because Christian doesn’t want to try on the white shirt that Caroline picked out for him and doesn’t dance to fast music he is “lame for a gay guy.” Ironically of course, Caroline’s so-called gaydar was working because Christian is not gay but in fact straight. See how that all fits together? Take a deep breathe and tap down that gag reflex, there’s more to go.

In One Lucky Vampire, Nicole Phillips assumes that Jake is gay because he takes a job as her housekeeper. Surely a man who likes to cook and do housework cannot have a heterosexual bone in his body (yep, snark). Being an immortal Jake, like every other male love interest in this series is extremely hot and so Nicole cannot help but be attracted to him. Can you guess what comes next?  Nicole expresses sadness at the idea that Jake is probably gay because she wants to jump his bones. This manages to combine both offensive stereotyping with the needs-to-die-yesterday “it’s such a waste he’s gay” trope. The vast majority of the world is straight, folks, people who are gay are not a waste, shame or reason to be disappointed; especially since gay people are plagued with people expressing sadness when they come out. It’s not funny, it’s painful and it’s cruel. This trope was old 2 decades ago.

Supposedly readers are to be fascinated by the fact that the male love interest has been read as gay by some members of his community due to the fact that he doesn’t interact with women. In this series, immortals lose their sex drive after the first few hundred years of life and don’t regain it until they meet their lifemate. Naturally not seeing someone of the opposite sex make regular appearances at their homes sets the neighbours to gossiping. In Born to Bite, Mrs. Ramsey is actually ecstatic to learn that Armand is not gay and crows about informing her friend that Armand is straight. Who does a happy dance when they learn someone is straight? Why, a homophobe who believes that being gay is bad does. There’s not even the (offensive and convoluted) excuse of Mrs. Ramsay wanting to enter a romance with Armand - she’s his housekeeper. But she is, apparently, deeply invested in her employer’s heterosexuality

You pick the gay stereotype, somehow Sands has managed to invoke it while never actually having a real gay character. This needs to be stressed for emphasis - because we have a series of 20 books here with an immense number of characters and not one single LGBT portrayal. Frankly, the stereotyping, offensive jokes and appropriation of this series would be intolerable in any books - but to have all of this in a series  that hasn’t deigned to include one teeny tiny token LGBT character and only gave a token nod to LGBT existence in book 18, is just pouring salt into an already gaping wound. The message is clear - LGBT lives are useful to mine for humour and tropes, but LGBT people are not worthy of inclusion. They’re tools to use, not people that can be portrayed.

This erasure is only made more glaring when we consider that many of the characters are, apparently, from Atlantis (a Hellenic culture - and Ancient Greece was hardly a bastion of homophobia) and the story itself is set in many diverse locations including Amsterdam, Toronto, Los Angeles and New York. These are not exactly cities that have driven out all LGBT people.

It’s sad to say that many of these tropes are not exclusive to the Argeneau series and many Paranormal Romances, especially light or funny paranormal romances draw heavily upon them in the name of humour or quirkiness. It is especially glaring in the Argeneau series because of the sheer number of books and the repetition of these offensive tropes. This is particularly problematic in the paranormal romance genre because this exploitation, stereotyping and general offensive usage of LGBT people happens in a plot line that inevitably raises up a perfect, idealised opposite-sex relationship. While LGBT people and their relationships are used for giggles and throw-away tropes, a straight romance is elevated to its natural, even magically ordained, Happily Ever After. The contrast is glaring and only makes the tropes all the more problematic.