Straightwashing over GBLT characters

Well, there are certain genres of media that automatically assume that GBLT people couldn’t possibly have existed, especially if it’s set in the future (especially in dystopians. I tell you guys, us GBLT folks are super freaking tasty – the zombies and aliens go right for us!) and especially if it’s set in the past. Because we all arrived in 1960, don’tchaknow.

This erasure annoys me, it truly does. But do you know what annoys me even more?

When they remove already existing gay characters to sanitise a work for television. To have those few tiny crumbs we’ve actually managed to achieve removed lest it hurt the delicate fee-fees of the poor straight world.

So when Tanya Huff’s Blood Ties series of books became a TV show, bisexual Henry became straight and gay man Tony was replaced by a straight woman. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t a big fan for the portrayal in the books – but that doesn’t excuse cutting them out entirely.

Or did you know that in the Walking Dead comics, there were actually gay characters in the prison? Again, I actually hated how they were portrayed because they were a mess of homophobic tropes – but they were there. TV show? 3 series now and not one damn GBLT character.

Even Troy crosses the line with a very straight retelling of the Illiad.

To rub some more salt in the wound, we get an extra straight washing when it comes to historical portrayals

Some are “subtle”, like Enigma which is pretty-damn-obviously-based on Alan Turing, only without all that icky gay.

Or Shakespeare in Love with a very straight Shakespeare. Yes, he was one of ours, deal with it – no it’s not controversial, he wrote love sonnets to men for crying out loud.

Now we’re getting Da Vinci’s Demons, that would be Leonardo Da Vinci, he was repeatedly accused of sodomy, never married, was never connected to a female lover, but repeatedly with men, drew erotic pictures of them and left his most valuable painting in his will to one of his live-in “apprentices” Da Vinci. It’s an act of wilful ignorance to not realise Da Vinci played for our team. In fact, if you don’t want to include us icky gay people then you probably need to stay away from Renaissance painters – especially Florentine Renaissance painters! But Da Vinci’s Demons? Well his love interest has been cast (a woman) and the trailer shows lots of naked sexy times between them. But, fear not, the writer has assured us that there may, sorta, kinda be some male flirting. FLIRTING!

I’m not nearly drunk enough for this.

Then let’s throw in some historical settings. Ancient Greece? Straightest of straightopias that ever declared the overwhelming joy of vaginas and penises being united! Really. Or so 300 tells me and Troy and so many more – I’ve actually read over 5 series using the Ancient Greek gods that are entirely straight. One actually has a homophobic Apollo. Apollo, homophobic. It makes me want to beat someone round the head and shoulders with a mythology text.

It’s not like these examples are one offs, straightening history has been a major habit of the media’s for a very long time. In fact, straightening us in general seems to be a massive requirement and reason #866 why I don’t watch these dancing reality shows is I’m sick of seeing gay celebrities shoved automatically into opposite sex pairs for dancing.

For that matter, straightening history has been a major part of society and academia for a long time. References to GBLT people throughout history have long been buried by academia and that’s on top of the forces of homophobia and transphobia that forced our predecessors to hide and closet themselves when they were alive.

Our past is often hidden from us. Those who come before have been removed from history or been forced into a closet that has lasted decades or centuries after death – perhaps even forever. Our heroes, our past, our foreparents have been lost, taken from us, and that is a terrible loss. It becomes hard to almost impossible to find those who came before us as not only has the closet forced individuals to hide their sexuality, but for much of history denied the existence of the identity itself and denied us a coherent language with which to define that identity and personhood (which is why I really really have no patience with anyone saying “but they wouldn’t have called themselves gay” excuse people love to trot out. For so much of history the only mainstream words for people like us were insults or euphemisms).

And once we’ve found those of us who were rendered invisible it becomes extra impossible to reclaim them from under the tide of heterosexism, cissexism, homophobia and transphobia. So much of the world resists any indication that GBLT people existed in the past (or exists today for that matter). Society also continues to consider being GBLT to be some kind of terrible, shameful thing meaning any attempt to try and find our forbearers is regarded as an attack or attempt to corrupt previous figures. Just look at the Greek lawyers threatening lawsuits on anyone who dared to suggest that Alexander the Great may have loved men.

Most tellingly, they will often say “this person is dead, they can’t defend themselves” because, y’know, being GBLT is an accusation you need to defend yourself against. Or it’s considered “demeaning” because whatever the figure did is suddenly rendered moot by us spilling the icky gay on them! Whatever achievements or brilliant reputation they managed to maintain can only possibly be preserved if they are straight.

It’s hard enough to try and dig up historical GBLT people in the first place with our prejudiced society, harder still to hold them out of the closet and present them as they were with the constant forces deciding to bury us or hold that we’re too obscene and need to be hidden from, well, everyone.

I am British. I went to a British school. I went to a British school during section 28. I didn’t know who Alan Turing was, imagine that for a second. Never mind Shakespeare, Marlowe and Da Vinci, I thought Oscar Wilde was straight. I was taught Oscar Wilde was straight. I didn’t know GBLT people were holocaust victims. There has been a movement for GBLT equality in the UK since even before the Mollies of the Victorian period. I still don’t know enough about it, I can’t find enough about it or the brave heroes involved, I certainly was never taught their names. I never knew Polari existed. I never heard of Edward Carpenter, John Symonds, Labi Siffre, Magnus Hirschfeld, Mother Clap, Roberta Cowell, Jeremy Bentham, the Lily Pond and so many others whose names and places are lost to history.

So this is my context. Our history is not only lost but actively removed and vehemently silenced. And then I turn on the television and find not only erasure, not only straightwashed characters who dared to be gay in books but was a step too far on the screen, but actual historical figures, one of the precious few we’ve managed to reclaim, being straightened for public consumption.

8 thoughts on “Straightwashing over GBLT characters

  1. I also want a prize for producing my first ever post that I didn’t screw up horribly, need to edit 4 times and panic because I thought I broke Ars Marginal

    *is accomplished*

  2. Society also continues to consider being GBLT to be some kind of terrible, shameful thing meaning any attempt to try and find our forbearers is regarded as an attack or attempt to corrupt previous figures.

    This. So much this. Instead of other orientations simply being other possibilities when examining a historical figure, it’s considered a “smear.” A smear! I ask you!

    It reminds me of the backlash against people calling Obama a Muslim. I mean, yeah, it was factually untrue, but I find it horrific that everyone acted like it was some sort of awful vilification. I thought the clearly correct response was, “Well, no, as it happens he isn’t Muslim, but so what if he was?

    This stuff turns my stomach. (And Greek mythology? Come on!)

    When they remove already existing gay characters to sanitise a work for television.

    Because the exact same act between two characters of the same gender is more “inappropriate” than it is between two people of the opposite gender, right? ::screams::

  3. And as I’ve talked about this weeks ago, Western imperialism is the reason why much of the rest of the world is doing the same shit, so that’s another angle to consider.

    Yeah, it’s really funny that people would argue that queer people didn’t exist in, like, the medieval times! But then there’s Richard the Lionheart! I think I read somewhere that the homosexual behaviour was still seen as not sinful by the populace at large from the early to middle medieval period, because it’s not like the you can go from the Roman’s practices to the Church’s victory in seeding heterosexism without a middle period where it’s a mix.

    But then, the mainstream never teaches us the truth about Romans and homosexual behaviour.

    Me, I live in a former British colony. I had to grow up being taught that anything not hetero or cis is a product of “Western decadence” when the truth is that we had those realities suppressed by Western imperialists. The anti-sodomy law here is a holdover from the Victorian era, but the government won’t admit that. Here, sex ed is outsourced and I remember an incident when a group came under fire and was banned for teaching that being queer isn’t abnormal. Meanwhile, when I had sex ed, I was told that homosexuality was an invention by Greek soldiers.

    They didn’t at least tell me that having an all-male army of lovers worked very well. Sacred Band of Thebes, anyone?

    All this in the name of “Asian values” and let me tell you, it fucked up my psyche for a long time. I didn’t even know I was in the closet until a few years ago and even then, I took years to accept that. But because I’m told that these Victorian values are actually Asian, I bought into white supremacy. I actually believed me, my own people, and everyone else tied to this continent was inferior.

    And I better stop now before this becomes a short article.

  4. If your depiction of a real person that was doesn’t depict them as the real person they were, why are you doing it in the first place?

    • I look back on that post, especially: “So for the past few weeks, I’ve been searching for quality gay sci/fi fantasy fiction where 1) the gay male is the primary protagonist. 2) the story is not a romance and/or a straight woman’s fetish 3) it’s devoid of heterosexist bile.” And think that if you’re going to look for something impossible you might as well try for the fountain of eternal youth. You have about the same chance of finding it.

      Another example of a gay character made straight for TV. There are so many of them and I gape that people don’t realise how truly offensive this is. How utterly and totally inexcusably offensive

      And yeah, if it had kept its protag gay it would have done well. Because even if it were shit a gazillion people like me and thee would have checked it out because we’re looking for that damn holy grail

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