Friday, May 27, 2016

The Horror of LGBTQ Inclusion: #GiveElsaAGirlfriend and #GiveCaptainAmericaABoyfriend

Hailing the awesomeness of Hyperbole and a Half

Among the many recent twitter issues that have been burning around have been two hashtags:

#GiveElsaAGirlfriend and #GiveCaptainAmericaABoyfriend both of which have become very popular.

While neither of these franchises are ones we follow, the issues raised by these hashtags very much apply to our genre - or, well, any genre.

And I’ll be the first to say there are flaws with both of them. For example, I’m not a great fan of Idina Menzel weighing in on how Elsa having a girlfriend would be cool because I really hate it when actors, writers, directors, producers, etc. play the whole “oh it would be totally cool to have LGBT representation” when we know there’s absolutely no damn chance of it happening. I’m not a fan when the Russo brothers or anyone remotely connected to Star Wars does it either. That’s just another way of playing up the media while not delivering.

I also think a substantial number of the #GiveCaptainAmericaABoyfriend hashtag are more concerned with hawt that would be rather than any genuine desire for inclusion.

Yay, Slash Allydom!
But a lot of the criticism of these hashtags has been far from good, pretty bad and so very very ugly. And, yes, homophobic.

Let’s look at what seems, on the surface, one of the more reasonable arguments: wouldn’t it be better to have original LGBTQ characters rather than taking a canonically straight one and “turning it gay.” Well, firstly that ignores the reality of the closet and bisexuality - there are a whole lot of LGBTQ people out there who have a history of opposite sex relationships before coming out or otherwise revealing they’re LGBTQ people. And secondly it ignores the reality of how LGBTQ characters - and minority characters in general - are treated. Let’s face it LGBTQ characters tend to be minor characters, not part of the main franchises and often confined to alternate universes - and this certainly applies to the superhero genre (it doesn’t apply to the Disney Princess genre because there are no LGBTQ characters there in any form). LGBTQ characters that are introduced do not receive the same backing or promotion as long standing straight, cis, white characters like Captain America, Thor, Batman, Superman et al.

In fact, even long standing straight marginalised characters like Storm and Wonderwoman are woefully poorly treated in the movie adaptations (how can you even depict Storm as less than toweringly awesome? How do you even manage that?). The idea that we should have expressly-created-to-be-LGBTQ characters and that those characters won’t be dumped into greater obscurity than the winner of The Voice 3 years ago denies reality. There is an ideal situation, and a situation we can hope for in a dream world where it rains rain coffee and mornings aren’t declared illegal by international treaty.

That’s the far from good and now it’s time for the pretty bad. The utter outrage that “they” want to taint their precious straight characters with the dreaded gay is a prevalent homophobic trope which we see raised time and again. The idea that being seen as gay is a mortal insult is a deeply degrading trope that continually dehumanises and attacks LGBTQ people. The idea that your heroes, your icons, your role models are irredeemably damaged if they are LGBTQ - but that is repeatedly what we see with any suggestion that a character - fictional or even historical - is LGBTQ. That person is degraded, insulted and demeaned by being associated with us.

And these are media forms aimed at children - so guess what that feels like for LGBTQ kids

Of course, some would argue this is more about the… “authenticity” of the character. The same argument we saw when these guys were confronted with the possibility of a female Thor. Yet, it’s interesting how marginalised people destroy a character’s authenticity yet so much else doesn’t.

Frog Thor, waaaaay more authentic than lady Thor

No, really, Captain America with a boyfriend is impossible for the character. But Captain America the Nazi?
Nazi - totally more acceptable than being gay or bisexual
And there’s more “pretty bad” out there: because “allies” have come up with a particularly choking bit of concern trolling.


See, if we depict LGBTQ romance that means we’re missing the opportunity to portray platonic friendship. Oh those poor platonic friendships, it’s terrible that we’re sending the message that all closeness between people must be romantic and two guys just can’t be friends….
I’m sorry, what world are you living in?! In what world do you live in where you think portrayals of friendship are RARE in the media? In which world are you living in where romance between 2 people of the same sex is somehow MORE common than this friendship? What media are you watching where same-sex romance is overwhelming platonic friendship? Really? Does the presence of LGBTQ people really shock you so much that the few crumbs we have seem overwhelming to you?

Thankfully @fangirljeanne posted some excellent take downs of this idea that depictions of friendship are just so damn rare

But I can look at our shows alone and see how many of them rest on or heavily involve themes of platonic friendship: 12 Monkeys, Almost Human, Atlantis, Being Human (both of them), Dark Angel (hey, look, lesbian with a female friend!), Hemlock Grove, Lost Girl, Once Upon a Time, Supernatural, Switch, Teen Wolf. And this is being pretty restrictive in my definitions because I could easily list a whole lot more. Platonic friendship has absolutely no chance of dying out any time soon.

While the number of LGBTQ characters? Well that’s not so common. Same-sex relationships (that don’t end in tragic death due to stray bullets) are even rarer. And we have to say this yet again, Slash is not cannon. Just because there is a segment of fandom which will assume any vaguely attractive men are fucking if they share a screen for more than 2 seconds, the fact is most of fandom doesn’t. And even if they did, it still wouldn’t be actual depiction of LGBTQ people. What we have is depiction of friendships, lots and lots of close friendships (those portrayals you’re so terrified of dying out) in ridiculous, in-no-chance-of-dying-out numbers. LGBTQ people, LGBTQ kids, are still not seeing themselves in the vast majority of media - we’re just not there, certainly not in any kind of notable numbers and or significant roles.

To hear “allies” shout down calls for some of that erasure to be combated because their precious straight friendships are not overwhelmingly consuming everything is beyond galling.

Which brings us to the really ugly - in response to these hashtags there was an opposition hashtag of:


There are 11 Disney Princesses. Number of them depicted as LGBTQ? None. I’m not even going to count how many Disney Animated films there are, but the non-existence of LGBTQ characters continues. And Marvel? There are 13 films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Number of LGBTQ characters in those films? Yeah… not exactly overflowing with rainbows here. There are 9 more films planned and there’s no indication that ANY of them will have LGBTQ characters. Look at the Highest grossing films of all time? See many LGBTQ characters here? What about the highest grossing films released in 2015? Not so much...

Of the television shows we follow, more than half of them have either no LGBTQ characters at all, or have an LGBTQ character who appeared, briefly, for one episode. We follow a lot of shows in the speculative fiction genre, approaching 120 and I can count the number of LGBTQ protagonists or co-protagonists (more usual) on my fingers.

#StopGayingAllTheThings? You need to START gaying SOME of the things before you can stop. We’re not campaigning to GAY ALL THE THINGS, we’re desperately struggling to have SOME inclusion, just some meaningful inclusion. We’re desperately struggling to be able to turn on the TV or go to the cinema and have a chance of seeing ourselves - just something more than the crumbs we have. The crumbs straight people seem to resent us having so much.