As many of you know, June is the month of LGBTQ Pride and I couldn’t think of a better time to call out a few tropes that inundate comics and media when it comes LGBTQ characters/themes.
Tropes that if I never see again for the rest of my existence, I’d be eternally grateful. While this by no means covers every trope/issue/fail, it definitely hits the major ones.
Take thorough notes, I’m gonna move fast, and this will not be pretty. Class in session and you’re about to get schooled by Prof. neo_prodigy himself!!!
1) I’m The Gay Guy
One of the biggest sins committed by writers is that when they write LGBTQ characters, they don’t bother to make them a three dimensional character like their heterosexual/cis-gendered peers, they box them in and define that character solely by their LGBTQ status.
An example: I’m watching a television series on DVD now and while it’s doing a lot of excellent things, they failed when it came to the characterization of the gay character. Practically every scene he’s been in has played out like this:
Hi I’m the gay guy. I’m gay, did I mention I’m gay. Gay is me. Wanna know who’s gay? I’m gay. I’m the gay guy. You look like you didn’t know that I’m gay. What’s gayer than gay? Me. Gay guy here. Did you know I’m gay? Let me mention that I’m gay. No I really should mention I’m gay. Did someone say gay? I’m gay. It’s been 30 seconds since the last announcement but in case it may have slipped your mind, I’m gay. Yeah I know, I’m the gay guy. Did I mention I’m gay? This is usually followed by rainbows, techno music, references to Broadway, and/or gay iconic actresses, you know to show how “authentically” gay the character is. Sorta similar to how writers will have black characters use the latest urban slang and emulate what they’ve seen on MTV/BET to show how “authentically” black they are.
A friend of mine, a queer WOC made an excellent point on her blog:
“When it comes to race, a lot of people (including people of color) assume – if not outright state – that White is a lack of race, an empty ethnicity, the default, normal, invisible. As a result, when it comes to matters of race, Whiteness becomes impartial, objective, unbiased, rational, common sense. I’m sure you can imagine how this plays out in racial discourse. Whiteness is positioned as true and therefore right. Of course, no one thinks that consciously (duh!), but it often comes out in how, in a weird sort of way, White people seem to act like they’re only White when the topic of discussion is racism and not every waking moment of their lives. And this confuses the shit out of me because that’s like a straight person acting like they’re only heterosexual when the issue of gay marriage crops up. Or a man acting like the only time he notices gender is when people bring up sexism. To which the only prudent response is to disengage before the intensity of delusion makes your head explode.”
Just as being white/male/cis-gendered is part of the next person’s identity and yes having those traits and the privileges that accompany said traits will shape their experiences, the same holds true for minorities. Being an LGBTQ is only part of who we are. It’s not the end all be all. We come in all ages, genders, races, socio-economic classes, etc. Some of us are effeminate, some of us are masculine, just like cis-gendered heterosexuals. We’re found in all professions, we’re doing our thing. The point is, our sexual orientation is not our end-all be-all defining characteristic.
A textbook example of this was the Pied Piper during Countdown. Almost in every issue, they beat over the reader’s head (usually through the Trickster) was that he was gay. And while I’m always happy to see my LGBTQ brethren represented, I also like to see them represented right. It wasn’t until the end that they hinted as if they were about to build up the Piper to be a major player in the DC universe but last I heard (I had to stop reading Countdown, the writing just got too atrocious for me), it never came to fruition. Shocker!
And as much as I wanted to enjoy their relationship, this is one of the biggest fails of Thunder and Grace’s relationship in Outsiders when I read the series. The writers wouldn’t let you forget they were lovers and that was the only thing about them worth noting. [ETA: They were being written by blatant bigot Chuck Dixon, they never had a chance] While reading all I could think was okay, two cool female characters are in a loving relationship. Awesome. Can we please do more than that? At minimum please reference Willow & Tara as a reference for LGBTQ characters/lesbian relationships done right.
2) “You Must Be The Man In The Relationship”
This is something I’ve heard too many times in my own life and this is something I’ve witnessed in portrayals of same-gender relationships.
Same-gender relationships are not the same as heterosexual relationships and you know what, THAT’S AWESOME! But apparently some writers didn’t get the memo. When they write gay and lesbian couples, they will often attempt to pigeonhole characters to fit the trope of the dominant alpha and the submissive beta. It’s one thing if one character is a dominant alpha and the other is a passive beta (because that’s just who they are) and they happen to play to that dynamic.
But when we’re talking about two powerful dominant characters who save the planet on the regular, that’s not gonna play. Hell, that doesn’t even work for many heterosexual pairings in comics. Dinah Lance is one of the most powerful women in comics, I do not expect her to being submissive or passive to Ollie or any other man she’s in a relationship with just because she’s a woman and they’re men. I expect her to still be the dominant ass-kicking alpha woman that she is. The same goes for Hawkgirl and Roy (don’t even get me started on the Red Arrow fail). And while it was a mixed bag pairing two of my favorite characters, I will say they’ve done a solid job showing T’Challa and Storm as equals, partners.
The same goes for gay and lesbian pairings. As much as I adore Midnighter and Apollo (and still consider them Full of Win) they’ve been subjected to this kind of fail from time to time, depending on the writer. Apollo may not be the grim brooding badass that Midnighter is, but he’s powerful in his own right and should be on equal footing with his partner.
Wiccan and Hulkling are a perfect example that shows two well-developed gay characters who are on equal footing and it works. Because they’re like partners and equal and stuff. Partners being equal. Wow, what a concept.
3) The Mythical Straight Boy Unicorn
Boy do I have plenty to say on this one.
Stop me if you recognize this plot device or some variation thereof. Miserable gay boy who has given up on love falls in love with the mythical straight boy. Gay boy in desperate need of being rescued falls in love with the mythical straight boy. Gay boy is persecuted by life and homophobes, who shall ever save him? The mythical straight boy. The gay boy is miserable and has no confidence in himself. Who teaches him to be cool, self confident and self reliant? The mythical straight boy. The gay boy is looking to recruit and win over that white knight. So who does he convert? The mythical straight boy. The gay boy needs saving? Who shall save him? I know. How about the mythical straight boy?
No seriously, I am willing to offer monetary and/or sexual incentives to stop this madness.
This stems back to this bullshit notion that cis-gendered heterosexual men have the sole copyright trademark on masculinity, power and strength. All straight guys are tough and strong and all gay guys are sissies.
Society pushes this misnomer that even if no other woman finds a cis-gendered straight guy desirable, they can always count on us dirty perverted homos to get in their pants simply because they’re the mythical unicorn of a cis-gendered heterosexual man because they’re “real men.”. And of course all gay guys will jump at the chance to be with any real man.
Unfortunately they’ve got it twisted.
Personally speaking, I’ve found most straight women are far more tolerant, understanding, fair and far more open-minded than I am. I’m far more critical.
Read: if a straight woman doesn’t want their ass, then I sure as hell don’t.
Someone being cis-gendered/heterosexual isn’t going to make them magically more appealing to me. Oh sure, gay or straight, I can appreciate a pretty package and I might even harmlessly flirt (you know if they’re actually hot), but I don’t recruit. Have I hooked up with straight guys? Sure. But 3 things:
1. They were actually attractive
2. They sought me out, not the other way around
3. Fun times were had by all.
A little example. I was chatting with a group of friends and we got on the subject of being on relationships, being gay, and me getting hit on by straight guys.
N-P: For some reason I’m the exception to the rule when it comes to them.
Buddy: Neo, I can tell you right now, you won’t be the exception with me. LOL.
N-P: Oh don’t worry Buddy. You’re totally safe. I’m only into guys who are actually hot.
Everyone burst out laughing and even though he was smiling nervously, Buddy was completely mum after that.
And while we’re on the subject. New Rule: Cis-gendered straight men aren’t allowed to be homophobic and assume that I’m just dying to get into their pants because I’m gay and then get offended when I’m not interested.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve dealt with this scenario where macho guys, who are clearly secure about themselves, freak out the second they learn that I drive stick. Then as soon as they find out I’m gay, the first thing they announce, “I’m straight. I ain’t into that gay shit. I’m only into women!!!!”
“Dude chill alright?” I’ll reply. “I wouldn’t dare try to come on to you or make you uncomfortable like that. That’s not my style at all. Besides, you’re not even my type.”
“What the fuck do you mean I’m not your type? Guy or girl, I can get any piece of ass I want. Look at this beer gut. It’s damn sexy. My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard!”
The male ego, nothing is more fragile.
And while I’m sure Judd Winnick was making a good faith effort with Terry Berg, even he fell into that trapping with his jealousy over Kyle Rayner and Jenn.
I’ve got two college degrees, I work out and I’ve studied martial arts for years. Do I look like I need a magical straight boy to save me? Them being straight is not gonna make them magically appealing. Chances are they’ve got nothing I want, and I’m willing to visit my local bookie because it’s probably a safe bet that mine is bigger than theirs. Does Midnighter look like he need a straight guy to save him? And for those of you who think we masculine tough gay guys are some weird anomalies, let me remind you of our brethren of yore, samurais, Romans and Spartans, military soldiers (YES WE BE GAYIN UP YO ARMIES), prison inmates, you know gay warriors and walking badasses at that.
And yet you expect me, a proud, accomplished, gay and masculine alpha male, to co-sign on this ignorant, disgusting and insulting and homophobic exalting of the cis-gendered heterosexual male mythical unicorn bullshit?
Let me make this as abundantly clear as I possibly can: FUCK THAT SHIT!!!!!!
4) We Can Save Ourselves
This often intersects with #3 but it definitely warrants its own discussion. Typically when an LGBTQ character is attacked or persecuted they require some cis-gendered heterosexual savior to swoop in and save them. This is very similar to the Great White Hope trope where a mythical savior of the caucasian persuasion will will come riding in on a white stallion to save us lowly PoCs from his own kind. Because he’s not like them because he’s a Speshul White Person. Not be an ally and stand tall with us as peers (because that’s awesome) but rescue us in one single-handed gesture.
Like B.Scott said, I’m not waiting for someone to come save me, I’ll do the damn thing my damn self.
5) White IS NOT The Default For LGBTQ
Unfortunately too often the media often portrays the racial default for LGBTQ as good looking cis-gendered whites, usually males. This of course leads to a lot of problem because it pushes the failed mindset that the only marginalized people who exist, much less matter are those that fall into that category. I appreciate a cute white boy as much as the next person but my God is it asking too much to dispel the notion?
Too often people forget that there are LGBTQs of color. So it’s just not enough to have LGBTQ characters in the media they have to be as diverse as we are. We desperately need more Satsus, Renee Montoyas, Lafayette Reynolds, and Xavins who brings the trifecta of win for not only defying the gender binary, debunking the notion that white is the default for LGBTQ but also debunking the failed mindset that white is the default race for humanity in general.
6) My Trans Peeps ARE NOT Your Dirty Little Secret
My trans brothers and sisters are rarely showcased in the media but when they are it’s usually boxed into unflattering roles as sex workers or mistresses, or some other kind dirty secret for one of the primary protagonists of a story. And don’t even get me started on this bullshit here. I write this as cis-gendered male, I can’t even begin to imagine the frustration, anger, and hurt transfolks endure when they witness this.
The transfolks who have been in my life over the years have been entrepreneurs, waiters, teachers, award winning community activists, military veterans, volunteers, actors, directors, computer programmers, media personalities. Accomplishments these men and women have garnered while enduring bigotry and even violence. Funny how THAT never gets showcased in these stories. A little education (and removal of one’s head from their rectal cavity) would reveal this.
And speaking of education, I highly recommend these two blogs:
http://questioningtransphobia.wordpress.com/ by our very own lisaquestions .
7) We’re Not Looking To Assimilate
A trope I see too often in stories is that gay and lesbian characters’ sole raison d’etre is to emulate their heterosexual neighbors: get married, move to the suburbs, get a picket fence, have children, and conform to the “heterosexual ideal” (because we know heterosexuals totally have the trademark on this) and when the issue of homophobia arises in stories, the argument is made that gays and lesbians’ rights and humanity should be recognized because it’s contingent on the fact that they’re willing to conform and be just like the straights.
I don’t want to live in the suburbs, I don’t want children or a picket fence. Not knocking those who do. If it works for them, awesome and blessed be. It’s not for me. And you wanna know what else, my gay lifestyle is awesome. By not having a spouse and a family, I have more disposable income and more time to myself. I can travel abroad at the drop of a mood swing, I can go back to school, I can buy the latest tech. I can have as much indiscriminate sex as I like and I’ll never have to worry about unwanted pregnancies. And you know what, I’m STILL entitled to the same rights, privileges and respect, and human dignity.
As Brian Gerald stated, “Your equality and humanity are not contingent upon conforming to some standard. Give me equality and justice because all humans deserve it, and not because I clean-up well. And don’t forget that queers who aren’t monogamous / don’t go to church / reject marriage / oppose the military / avoid taxes deserve justice also. In fact, we can learn something from these non-conformists!”
How about stories featuring gay characters who are completely happy with their lifestyles and aren’t longing to be assimilated by the heterosexual Borg? Oh wait, we can’t have that. We might start unpacking some privilege and having LGBTQs feel good about themselves. And we just can’t have that.
8) We’re Not Your Girlfriends
If you’ve watched a romantic comedy in the last 30 years, you’ve seen this trope. The gay BFF who ONLY exists to be a shoulder, listening ear for the female protagonist, offer said female protagonist hair/makeup/ fashion tips, or to pull a Queer Eye for the masculine straight guy who needs advice on getting in touch with his heterosexual side. Said gay BFFs are usually cardboard cutouts with no character development. They may have a platonic love interest which we see for like 20 seconds but their love life is usually limited to innuendos. But ultimately their whole existence is to serve the heterosexuals in their life.
I won’t mention how many times when women discover that I drive stick they get giddy like I’m some kind of fucking fashion accessory they just bought. They think they’ve made a new BFF who solely exists for the aforementioned fail. Or when guys need advice on cleaning themselves up and want fashion tips, they automatically turn to me.
“Hey Neo, you’re gay, and all you gays know about fashion looking good. Can you give me advice? I’ll even let you mentally undress me for five whole minutes because that’s what all you gay boys like to do with us real straight men isn’t it?”
And folks wonder why I keep a lawyer and a bail bondsman on speed dial.
9) Orientation =/= Evil
While at Outlantacon last month, I spoke with a woman who was immensely frustrated over a sci-fi series she had been watching. The show featured a confident powerful alpha woman who was extraordinary, accomplished and happened to be a lesbian. Surprise, surprise, she was actually evil.
This led to a discussion the age old trope where writers will make a villain bisexual or a lesbian to add a little bit of kink to their villainy. After all, nothing says true deviant who should be slain by our valiant cis-gendered heterosexual (often white male) protagonist like being an LGBTQ.
How many times have we seen this in comics and other media? The evil lesbian is out to kill ALL men because she hates ALL men. Or the gay guy who is a pedophile because destroying children is our only mission in life. Or that bisexual villain who is bisexual because they needed some extra kink. Or because they can’t make up their mind about what they want or they’re greedy sexually.
In fact, how many times do you actually see bisexual characters in the media in roles other than villains? I can probably only count them on one hand.
Now I already know what some folks are gonna say. “But Neo, some LGBTQs are bad people. Are you trying to imply that they should only be portrayed as good protagonists?”
Not at all.
The problem is that they aren’t portrayed as villains who HAPPEN to be LGBTQs but villains who are evil and diabolical in large part (if not all) BECAUSE they are an LGBTQ. That’s the difference.
10) We Fuck! DEAL!!!!!
I’ve lost count the number of times I’ve endured the following:
“It’s okay if you’re gay and I totally accept it. I just don’t want to hear about your crushes/ kisses/relationships/or details about you having gay sex. Because that icky gay sex is just icky and that aspect of who you are makes me uncomfortable and in all my cis-gendered heterosexual privilege, my comfort trumps your experiences as a human being. But I’m not homophobic at all and I like totally accept you being gay.”
And I’m usually eyeing my cell phone.
Not surprising this fail translates over into comics and the media as well. This is why the most action Doug Savant’s character, Matt got on Melrose Place was a blip of a cutaway kiss.
The blogosphere about flipped it shit when As The World Turns outed Luke Snyder as a gay male and paired him with Noah Mayer. They flipped their shit a second time when they had their first on screen kiss. And the world wide web about damn near had a cyber meltdown when rumblings of the two characters having a love scene arose. But don’t take my word for it. Here are two nuggets:
“I am outraged that ATWT would put a dramatic kiss between two male actor[s]. I have watched ATWT since I have been a young child and am disgusted with the show. It was one thing to have the characters discussing their sexual orientation but I am outraged that they would put this on the screen. I will no longer watch ATWT and I’m sure that my mother who has watched for years will feel the same as myself. I watched Y&R in the late 70’s and early 80’s and intend to return. You’ve lost a long time fan.”
“I really don’t care for the close contact of Luke and Noah kissing. My daughter watches also and I would like to see the show without the actual male to male contact. I am fine with being gay, I just would prefer not to see it on my soap that I have been watching for 30 something years. Please leave it to our imaginations. I will not watch the show if I have to watch sex and kissing among the guys. That does not make me feel sexy. I really felt uncomfortable.”
As one commenter so accurately stated, these people seriously need to check their moral compasses at the door because they’re obviously broken.
And let’s not forget that it was only a year ago that the comic fandom was embroiled in a smilar brouhahaha when Rictor and Shatterstar shared their first onscreen kiss.
This just in. LGBTQs fuck. DEAL!!!!!!!
Yes we have the sex. I fuck. It’s one of my favorite recreations. I think sex is a beautiful thing and one of the greatest gifts God ever gave us. I enjoy bedding beautiful men. I love fucking. I love to fuck, constantly:
On the bed
On the floor
On the towel
By the door
In the tub
In the car
The mini bar.
And just like heterosexuals, I’m still one of God’s children and I STILL deserve to loved (and protected under the law) just like everyone else does.
And while I know you straight fanboys enjoy fwapping to the hot lesbian sex, we gay fanboys are entitled to the hawt man-on-man action ON SCREEN. And I always find it odd that in soap operas, comics and other media regularly features, murder, rape, domestic violence, adultery, fornication, no one blinks an eye. Yet same gender loving arises, then everyone wants to play the morality card.
This goes back to Tim Wise’s point on the Trouble With Tolerance: So what is tolerance anyway? As I see it, tolerance means I don’t burn your church down, or tie you to a fence and leave you to die, or drag you down a dirt road behind my pickup. It means I tolerate your existence and little else. I let you live and breathe for another day. How nice of me.
How nice indeed.
11) Retconning Lesser Characters As Gay Is Not Progressive
Something I’ve seen too often in comics is that a lesser character (often a villain) will be retconned as gay. However they are kept at a minor role and if readers get turned off, they can always kill them off or retcon them back as straight. Or if they do get a featured role and are propped up as a publicity stunt like say the Rawhide Kid, they play to every denigrating stereotype.
Visibility is not progress. But we already knew that.
12) Being Gay IS NOT A Tragedy
Just as there’s far more to the POC experience than racism, there’s far more to the LGBTQ experience than homophobia, coming out, HIV/AIDS. Yes those are important issues worth exploring and I’m not saying we should stop. In Hollowstone, I tackled homophobia in high schools, of course I also showcased queer teens fighting back as well. Yes LGBTQs have our challenges and yes we must contend with institutional oppression but there are perks about being an LGBTQ, many of which I’ve listed in Point 7. On top of that we have rich culture and history stemming back to Greek/Roman times and eras before that. So a few more well adjusted characters who are totally comfortable with who they are (Jack Harkness, Lafayette Reynolds) will go a long way. K? Thanks.
13) The Greeks/Romans/Spartans Were Like Totally Gay
I’m a huge whore……………………for Greek and Roman mythology and too often I’ve witnessed when someone touches on this genre or period of history, they try their damnedest to revise history and straighten out icky gays. Because it fucks with their sensibilities that some of history’s mightiest warriors were actually gay.
If they had it their way, they’d have you think that Zeus and Ganymede were just platonic drinking buddies. This is why we shouldn’t rely on Frank Miller’s homophobic shitfest 300 as historical fact.
The Spartans were like totally gay! The Greeks were like totally gay! The Romans were like totally gay!
Any previous claims to the contrary, FUCK WHAT YOU HEARD!!!!!!
And to Rob Liefeld, in case you’re still bitter about Rictor and Shatterstar going brokeback, maybe this (NSFW) will help you accept it…or at the very least assist you with your anatomy, because God knows you need all the help you can get.
14) Quit Retooling LGBTQ Characters
One of the most infuriating things is when a character comes out of the closet, they completely retool their personality to fit the offensive gay caricature.
Let me give you an example. There’s a show I’m watching now where a frat boy jock recently came out of the closet. While that in itself would be awesome, unfortunately they’ve completely revamped his character with no explanation why. Suddenly he’s now whiny and plays to every negative denigrating stereotype.
And then he and his boyfriend get into a fight with a pair of homophobes and suddenly he doesn’t know how to throw a punch or defend himself. And he has to get saved by a mythical heterosexual. Something else happened, but I didn’t see what because by that point my baseball bat had collided with my flat screen.
Now, it would be one thing if say the character had always been sensitive or a gentle soul or what have you. That would’ve made sense, obviously.
But alas a world of no. This is nothing more than trifling homophobic writers pigeonholing a character in their myopic box about what they think all gay people are like.
When I realized I was gay, the entire content of my character didn’t suddenly shift. Being gay didn’t affect my personality, my interests, my hobbies, etc. I’m still a writer and an artist, I’m a voracious comic book junkie, I’m still an obsessive compulsive overachieving perfectionist. I’m still a quirky geek. I’m those things because that’s who I am, not because my sexuality dictates it.
15) Enough With The Gay Deaths
Sometimes I wonder if writers only include LGBTQ characters if for no other reason than to kill them off. One of the biggest heartbreaks in comics for me (and to this day I’m still raw about it) was the fate that befell Freedom Ring.One of the best characters in years, he easily could’ve carried his own series. Not only did they kill him off, but tortured and sodomized him in the process, none of which they would’ve dared done to a heterosexual superhero.The one time they SHOULD bring a superhero back from the dead, suddenly they decide to keep him dead.
Ironically, I’ve actually defended the storytellers behind two of the highest profile gay demises in fandom: Tara Maclay from Buffy and Ianto Jones from Torchwood.
Don’t get it twisted. I completely get why people were livid about Tara and Ianto being killed. We have so few LGBTQ characters and even fewer who are handled correctly. So we are dealt a major blow when one of them is killed off. And we deserve a little romance from our heroes as well.
I loved Tara, I loved Tara and Willow together. They will always be one of my all-time pairings. However season six which was the worst season ever imho was about Willow’s descent into darkness. If the objective of season six was to make Willow dark, the only way that was going to happen was to take away the one thing that mattered to her most, and that Tara. It was sad and heartbreaking to lose such an awesome character like Tara, but from a storytelling standpoint, I understand the decision.
As far as Jack Harkness/Ianto Jones went, that relationship wasn’t going to last and to be completely honest, I’m shocked it lasted as long as it did. Jack has far too many layers and and Ianto hadn’t even began to scratch the surface. This was a relationship rooted in lust (my favorite kind).
Oh sure, they cared for each other but Jack isn’t the settling down type and Ianto knew that and he was cool with it. That’s why Jack never acted on his feelings for Gwen because he knew she would want the commitment, the flowers, the ring, the kids, the house, all of it and Jack wouldn’t/couldn’t be that man. He’s not that man. What’s also interesting about this is that while Jack is omnisexual, Ianto isn’t even gay. As he explained to his sister, he didn’t have an attraction to men, it was just one man.
This made for very compelling television because it kept their relationship interesting (and yes the man on man action was hot). But you knew they were on borrowed time as most Torchwood agents didn’t live past 26. This relationship would have an even shorter lifespan.
But the difference between Harkness/Jones, Willow/Tara and deaths like say Freedom Ring and countless other gay deaths is that the former deaths were storydriven and handled with care and respectability imho.
They weren’t brutalized or murdered in some exploitative or over the top manner that occurs too often with LGBTQ deaths.
Which leads us to our next trope……
16) Enough With The Specialized Brutality Reserved for LGBTQs
I could cite the seemingly countless examples but rather than doing that, I’m just going to link Perry Moore’s essay Who Cares About The Death Of A Gay Superhero Anyway? A History of Gays In Comic Books. Much in the spirit of Gail Simone’s essay which brings awareness to the industry’s misogyny, Moore’s article chronicles LGBT superheroes who have been met with torture, rape, disembowelment, decapitation, had their genitalia disfigured or removed, and/or was retconned as heterosexual. While the essay is a few years old and some specifics may be outdated, Mr. Moore’s ultimate point still stands and is still a most valid one.
17) LGBTQs Are Not Your Punchline?
Do I even need to explain this one?
18) The Invisible Queers
One trend I’ve noted in a lot of television series is this tendency to reference gay characters who the audience never meets. On one show, one of the main characters repeatedly discusses his gay neighbors, who never appear on screen. On another television show, one character has two moms and both characters are repeatedly referenced, but they only exist through the referencing by the cis straight characters. You could almost make a drinking game out of the number of times they’re referenced and yet…they never appear on screen.
This tactic is an attempt for a series to illustrate how forward and progressive a series is….you know….without being….well….forward and progressive.
I see what you did there.
19) @Cis Straight Men, You Can Stop With The Copouts
One thing I’ve noticed with too many cis straight male writers (particularly in comics) is that when it comes to including queer characters, they’re usually all for it……when it’s women.
It never ceases to astonish me that in many cases (though not every, obviously otherwise there wouldn’t be this list), queer female characters are actually written with a modicum of respect [tough strong ass-kicking female who happens to like other women] whereas queer males are reduced to being the caricatures and the comic relief.
Now don’t get it twisted. This isn’t to say that queer women have it so easy or any crap like that, because they don’t. In addition to heterosexism and queerphobia, they also have to contend with misogyny. But because of the intersecting institutional oppressions of misogyny and patriarchy make “girl on girl action” a bit more acceptable, too often we get this failed mindset.
And of course the male writers’ only excuse is that they can’t help it, they’re just more comfortable with female characters.
I’m going to need cis straight male writers to start including queer men in their work and to actually write us with the same respect as they do their [author inserts] cis straight male characters. Because orientation notwithstanding, we’re not different.
And I’m not even trying to hear that bullshit about how straight men are simply more comfortable writing queer women. Because if m/m action is that unsettling for you, then why are you REALLY uncomfortable?
20) @Women, Gay Men Are Not Your Avatars
For some reason, many women tend to believe that gay men are their ideal menz because they believe we’re all sensitive, we long for romance, we love shopping and we just aspire to be their girlfriends and honorary womynz.
[giving the black folks side-eye something fierce]
And while I can forgive folks simply being unenlightened on these matters, the second I try to educate folks because I want them to do better in portraying me and mine, you find yourself on the receiving end of some of those vitriolic attacks for ruining their fangirl squee. I won’t mention how many times I’ve been personally attacked for daring to say that gay men deserve better representation and here’s how.
I’ve mentioned this before, with the exception of an elite few, I don’t read queer male fiction written by women for the same reason with the exception of an elite few, I don’t read works “tackling racism” that are written by white people, for the same reason I surmise that queer women are hesitant to read works depicting their sexuality from straight men. The universal thread here: mofos are writing from a place of privilege who couldn’t be bothered to do any actual research. And usually there’s a not-so-veiled agenda attached.
And male pseudonyms or not, I can usually tell within a few pages whether a piece was penned by a man or a woman. Because it’s easy to distinguish an outsider’s perception of queer males as opposed to someone who has our insight. And really, is the male voice that hard to figure out? We’re not that complex?
The Problem With Slash at bare minimum is creepy fetish BS like this here.
At worst, we start noticing a trend like this here.
I will not begrudge anyone for appreciating man on man action. Hell, in fact, hit me up and I can make recommendations for some top-notch media that excellently features it. But when you’re fetishizing and appropriating gay men/gay culture and inaccurately depicting us for your own agenda (stories about gay men written by women for women and simply using gay men as their author inserts), then you need to seriously need to stop because that shit is not cool.
21) Gay Male Characters Do Not Necessitate Gay Romance
Look I’m not bashing gay romance. While it’s not always my personal cup of tea (though I’ve enjoyed an occassional story or two), as a genre I respect it and I’ll be the first to say there is a serious need for it. However, I must insist that not every story in every genre featuring a gay protagonist has to be a gay romance.
If I’m searching for an action novel with a gay protagonist because I want to see my gay brothers kick ass and take names (a la Jack Harkness or Midnighter), it shouldn’t be a romance story with a little action sprinkled in. If I’m searching for a horror story that features a gay protagonist, it shouldn’t be a sappy melodrama with horror elements sprinkled in. Believe it or not, there is more to being a gay man than falling in love and relationships. Just like there’s more to being a heterosexual man than falling in love or having romance. Believe it or not, many gay men have the same outlook on romance as straight men do. And shocker, some of us don’t want to get married. EVER!
I’m not even saying the gay protagonist shouldn’t have a love interest in stories or shouldn’t get laid. I want them to get laid. Gay men getting laid is awesome. And I’m speaking from personal experience. But gay romance shouldn’t dominate every story in every genre because it features gay protagonists.
That’s all I’m saying.
22) Being Queer Is Family Friendly
I’ve spoken in depth before about how Gear was a gay teen superhero in the series Static Shock but wasn’t allowed to be a visible gay because of FCC regulations. That’s right FCC WILL NOT allow gay characters to be included in cartoons or children’s programming.
Too often people have this mindset that queers are deviants whose sole existence is to corrupt innocent children with our icky sodomizing sex.
Said mindset also translates into real life and legal legislation. In Tennessee, the word gay was outlawed in public schools.
Unfortunately writers have this mindset as well that queer issues aren’t kid friendly and should be left for an adult audience.
Why this is fucked up, let me count the ways.
There’s a difference between sex and orientation. Many characters can identify as heterosexual in a story and never engage in intercourse. The same goes for queer characters.More than that, this mindset is dangerous because it erases our humanity. It also erases queer youth who do exist, who know who they are and have to be invisible less they’re met with denigration and even violence.
Queer youth need stories about them and for them. More than that, cis straight youth (and for that matter parents and other adults) need to see stories about queer youth and for them to be reminded that they’re still entitled to human dignity and respect.
If you’re looking for examples of out young gay characters who are handled with respect then look no further than Thom Creed in Perry Moore’s Hero or Kevin Keller in Archie Comics. He’s an excellent gay character who is actually handled with RESPECT and is family friendly! If Archie, of all places, can do it right, then what’s your excuse?
23) Escapism, We Need It Too
Just like our cis-gendered heterosexual brothers and sisters, LGBTQs turn to art to uplift us when our lives need lifting. We too need to be whisked away to magical worlds where being a minority is not a scarlet letter but something worth celebrating.
When I watch Doctor Who and Torchwood, I want to be in that world and want to know what it’s like to be a gay male who defies labels and plays by his own rules and still manages to be a kickass character. I want to know what the world could be like without racism, sexism, homophobia, that’s actually inclusive of everyone. I sometimes need to escape to a world where I can live vicariously through a loving gay couple who are able to be out and affectionate without fear of violence, like say Wiccan and Hulkling.
Just as showcasing the oppressions bring to light the injustices in the world, I think the escapism can often serve as a blue print of what the world could be like for all of us if we made a good faith effort.
24) We Can Take The Lead
If Torchwood, Batwoman, and the Question are any indication, we are more than capable of leading the team and being the primary protagonists
While it is wonderful that LGBTQs are featured in stories as supporting characters, we not only need more stories featuring us done right but stories featuring us as the heroes and heroines of our tales, we’re more than capable of being the sidekick or the teammates.
To quote Rob Van Dam, we can be THE WHOLE EFFIN SHOW!!!!!!!!
25) We Are Whatever We Want To Be
In another post I mentioned a friend is working a novel which features two characters. Close as brothers, this story is not only well-written but it kicks ass because the assertive stoic dominant alpha character just happens to be a gay male and the sweet sensitive clumsy one just happened to be the straight guy. Well the feedback she’s been receiving from (heterosexual) female readers is that they don’t approve of the story because they don’t feel the gay character is authentic ie he doesn’t adhere to stereotypes and ergo isn’t realistic.
I had a similar situation awhile back while collaborating on a comic book. It was a team story and one of them featured a devout spiritual knight who happened to be gay. I got pushback from some folks because it was mansplained and straight-talked to me that it’s unrealistic that gays could be religious or spiritual because it goes against the Bible.
Once again, this is why I keep an attorney and a bail bondsman on speed dial.
This type of fail is what led to John Barrowman being passed over for the role of Will in Will & Grace. He was too masculine and not authentically gay. The producers rather wanted a straight man playing a stereotypical and denigrating gay man, rather than a gay man defying convention.
LGBTQs are not the Borg. We come from all walks of life and have myriad of experiences and perspectives. We are more than our demographics. And it’s not unreasonable for us to expect the same from LGBTQ characters.
You see people love to put minorities in a box in order to satiate their superiority complexes. They base their self-worth off of what others can’t/aren’t supposed to be doing.
Speaking for myself here, I’m gonna do me, and I’m gonna be the best me that I can possibly be. And if you got a problem with that, then that’s your problem.
Because it sure as hell ain’t mine.
With all of this being said, storytellers: your game, do step it up.
Here endeth the lesson. For now.
42 thoughts on “Queer Tropes (Redux)”
Oh I recognise so many of these! We actually refer to the first trope as “lesbian sharks” after we read a book where it felt like the lesbian character had to keep chanting “lesbian” under her breath every 5 seconds or she’d stop breathing – like a shark has to keep moving.
Oh , really yes to all of these. please let them end.
The GBF trope especially irritates the hell out of me because it’s seen as PROGRESSIVE “look I included a GBF! give me gay rights cookies!”
On sexuality as evil – it’s also used for “outlandish” “alien” or “dangerous” I see it a lot of urban fantasy – the straighter the vampire, the more likely they are to be musty, “no eating human blood” etc. The more bisexual to gay they are? The more ‘ambiguous’ their morality
Oh and I’ve just read a book with a spartan barracks, lots of spartan soldiers and lots of homophobia… yeah they used being gay as an insult to mock one of the warriors (he wasn’t. None of them were… yeah) This is… Sparta?
With Ianto’s death I’m less bugged by that as I am the fact that thre three characters who died – Tosh, Owen, Ianto – were the GBL characters, they’d all had same-sex experiences. While Gwen had only had a chemically induced same-sex experience and Jack was immortal. To survive as GBLT in Torchwood, you needed to be straight or immortal – that bothered me
We’ve referred to the Invisible trope as Maris Gays. Like Maris on Frasier – you never ever see them, but they’re referred to.
And you know my views on slash, m/m and the like., Oh yes
Owen’s only same-sex experience that was shown was when he alien-drugged both a woman and a man in the very first episode and it was played for laughs. Suzie, who never gave us any indication she was anything other than straight died in the first episode. That doctor who they looked like they’d be recruiting in Children of Earth, died too. Now admittedly the other Captain Jack died and both the queer aliens were disposed of, and we’re left with Captain Jack and Captain John being the only two GLB characters who survived. John Hart wasn’t immortal or straight.
For me the high body-count was the problem, as opposed to killing off the GLB characters. Which isn’t to negate what you’re saying because I do agree it’s a very valid point.
Neoprodigy, you’re the only person I’ve ever seen who’s said that the Jack/Ianto relationship was rooted in lust and wasn’t going to last. That’s pretty much my take on them as well. I did assume that Ianto was lying like the lying liar he is when he said he was just attracted to Jack and not to men in general. Although he is obsessive enough maybe he did believe it. When he’d Lisa after all she was pretty much his own and only reason for everything. I find that slapping a “one true love” on the whole thing just robs the relationship of what made it interesting for me.
Ianto’s death made for great tv and the last episode just wouldn’t have worked or been so powerful without it. I’d have rather a less senseless, more heroic death. He died a passive victim unable to do anything about his circumstances, his purpose to motivate Jack into doing something truly terrible. Just like Tara died.
Okay, I do have a problem with passive deaths used as motivation.
Which if we’d more GLBT characters on television would be less of a problem.
At least Owen and Tosh got heroic deaths, saving the whole city from disaster.
Ianto’s statement about not being attracted to men but just a man makes sense to me. He did freak out when he first met Jack because Jack’s pheromones was causing an attraction and Ianto realized that he was attracted to him and if he’s been heterosexual at that point, it made sense to me.
I’ve joked that with Torchwood you can always count on two things. Kissing someone of the same gender and getting killed. LOL!!!!
Women using male pseudonyms to write gay fiction skeeve me the hell out.
I think what is particularly skeevy is when, men or women, take it beyond just that.
Writing fiction for women with a female pseudonym, or writing fiction for men with a male pseudonym makes commercial sense and is often a decision that comes from the publisher.
When it starts getting fucked up is in situations like The Gay Girl in Damascus, where a white straight man from a first world country pretends to be a Syrian Lesbian. Or where a white able-bodied straight man pretends to be a deaf lesbian. Both of them appropriating identities not their own and doing so in an extremely harmful manner. They’re hardly the only cases but they are the most recent to make news.
I don’t think the writing of a fiction under a pseudonym is, in itself, harmful. But I do also agree that in the majority of cases it’s easy to differentiate between gay characters written by women and by men, and the stories written for women or those for men. Just as the reverse is true with stories about lesbians.
It was one huge joke back when I was on Second Life that the majority of ‘lesbians’ there were actually straight men. And I’d presume a sizeable amount of the ‘gay men’ were women. Where it’s fantasy and roleplay and fiction I don’t see the problem with it. When it crosses over into real life and you start involving real people and real issues. Especially when you then have these fake-GLBTQ people drowning out the voices of actual GLBTQ.
I do think that it starts getting harmful when the lines between fiction and reality start blurring. When you have authors insisting online that they are indeed the gender and sexuality of their pseudonym, all from the safety of their nicely married with 2 kids and opposite-sex partner house.
And then those who’re legitimately trans or genderqueer start getting thrown under buses and attacked from both sides.
Okay I forgot about this.
It’s skeevy in situations where women with male pseudonyms, publishing m/m fiction, start claiming they’re being discriminated against because they’re not eligible for awards due to their heterosexuality.
Or that books targetted at gay men, are discriminating against them because women like that stuff too.
It gets worse when they then all gang together and start drowning out the voices of actual GLBT authors writing what they know.
Okay! Maybe I do agree that there’s skeeviness to it.
“It gets worse when they then all gang together and start drowning out the voices of actual GLBT authors writing what they know.”
And unfortunately too many white women pull this shit far too often and rarely (if ever) get called on it.
I won’t mention the number of times my blog has been flamed and I’ve been personally attacked because of their bullshit.
Damn people and their sense of entitlement.
That one is abjectly horrible. I do find it amusing that they flirted with each other without knowing the other is a dude, even though IRL both were straight men. Fucking hilarious, I hope they got an attack of sexual insecurity afterward as we know most dudebros would.
With regards to pseudonyms, my beef would be like: suppose I pick up a book and the author’s name and biography lead me to believe the author is a lesbian/homoromantic woman. I’d go “oh, cool, one of us!” Then it turns out the author’s a straight dude exploiting this market. Would inspire great disgust. Erastes, one of the women who broke out in hives of rage when Lambda was denied them, did this–for a while she pretended, online, to be a gay dude. noplz kthx.
I’m sure there’s a webcomic around somewhere with two men pretending to be lesbians flirting with each-other. I wish I could find it.
Erastes is a subject I don’t feel too comfortable touching. I think that Erastes identifies as genderqueer and I don’t think it’s right to police gender identities. I don’t think Erastes should have had that biography implying they were a gay male because that’s appropriation and they definitely shouldn’t have posed as one.
You might find http://erastes.com/2008/03/a-while-ago-i-had-a-friend/ hypocritical though.
My lol-o-meter just exploded.
No I think a straight woman writing under a male pseudonym when writing m/m fiction IS appropriating an identity she doesn’t have – she’s pretending to be a gay man, let’s be honest here. She IS appropriating gay male identity. It’s grossly out of line and has been done so many times in the genre that I will side-eye any woman with a male pseudonym writing m/m. It’s appropriative, it’s faking authenticity and it’s deeply exploitative.
The Damscus and Lez Get Real were horrendous extreme examples, but though far worse than the others, the difference is one of scale (vastly different scale) not kind.
The name in and of itself doesn’t bother me. The use of pseudonyms is widespread enough in the publishing industry that I tend to expect them.
J.K. Rowling was famously asked to just use initials because there was a widespread belief that boys wouldn’t want to read a book written by a woman.
Yes it’s exploitive to use a specifically gendered name in order to try and gain a certain audience but I see that as a marketing tactic.
So the name I tend to take with a pinch of salt. It’s often a publishing decision and not a decision made by the author.
It crosses the line the instant they start using male pronouns in their biographies when they identify as female. Or when that biography information is fictional. Or when they start posing online as male. That’s my line.
If your line’s the name then fair enough. Since they are admittedly using the name to trick people into buying their books by pretending the author’s something they’re not.
I think there’s a vast difference in using a pseudonym to overcome unreasonable prejudice (as mentioned with Rowling or the classic exmaple of George Elliot) and a whole different kettle of fish to to use a psuedonym to claim an authentic audentity I don’t have. To me it’s akin to claiming to be a Doctor when writing a medical drama book when you’re not – in fact it’s worse because appropriating a marginalised identity which is above and beyond appropriating fake qualifications to write fiction
So yeah I keep the line at the name – not least because of the general awful behaviour in the m/m genre
I can see your point.
I’ve been reading. I read your article on the subject on your blog. I read a few others.
I then stumbled upon a few old posts that confirmed my suspicions about a certain author, an author who I’ve seen claimed to be one of the few gay male authors in the m/m romance genre. Who is then saying they didn’t make those claims after all. And that lie, if it is a lie, is one of the unique selling points of their books.
I stared at the names on the backs of my anthologies and started to wonder and doubt.
Would it be acceptable to choose a name of a different ethnicity in order to appear more authentic?
Would it be acceptable to use a title that claims qualifictions you don’t have to add authenticity?
Should men write feminist fiction with female pseudonyms? What about anti-feminist? What about romance? What about lesbian fiction?
The questions go on and on.
I want to say it shouldn’t matter. If it didn’t matter there would be no name changes in the first place. There’d be no names on the cover at all. Author’s names do matter.
It is appropriative and it’s not harmless.
And on top of appropriating like a motherfucker, they’re also taking opportunities away from marginalized artists whose voices need to be heard.
THAT’s the part that pisses me off the most.
Amen and agreed 🙂
Thank you. And THANK YOU!!!!!!!!
A lot of them don’t realize that gay men wouldn’t otherwise read their work, for good reason and a few pages into the story I can usually tell that it’s written by a woman and will stop reading anyway and won’t support their work if it hits my personal redflags of heterosexism.
What further gets me is they say “gay men won’t read my work” and you know WHY there’s such wariness of straight female authoted m/m fiction is fuckery like this
Oh hell yeah that is really getting on my last nerve.
I’ve seen them claim it’s for “authenticity” Yeah really.
I’ve also seen them claim that real gay men totally support and appreciate them in e-mail. Because that makes everything all right, of course. Yup.
Also, for straight cis people:
Just because I don’t wear skirts and makeup does not mean I’m butch.
I’m so tired of being made to feel like a lumbering colossus just because I’m not dressed like some fancy desert.
This is an amazing list. Thanks for writing it. I don’t think I said that above. So thank you. It’s a great read. I’m dotting around all the points going “yep, yep, yep.” I want to write something about all of them. There’s so many pertinent points.
Thank you. I truly appreciate it.
Okay, working my way through with just some random thoughts.
1) I’m The Gay Guy
I remember being overjoyed when I picked up an issue of Xmen to discover there was finally a gay character on the pages. Only to wade through the whole issue, and then the next one and for Northstar to not shut up about how gay he was. Even at the most inappropriate moments he kept going on about how gay he was. He didn’t show us how gay he was, oh no, instead he just talked about it all the damned time. On and on and on about how gay he was. Those were the last Xmen comics that I bought and I’ve not been back to comics since.
2) “You Must Be The Man In The Relationship”
Yeah that’s bullshit. Back when I read fanfiction it was a very, very common trope as if the writers could somehow not conceive of a relationship where there were not these strict gender divides, with a strict notion of exactly what happened in bed, and which one was taller, more muscular, or whatever crap they used to decide these arbitary rules.
On the rare occassions I’ve accidentally purchased m/m anthologies this crops up again and again. Small, beautiful, delicate, boy who cries at the drop of the hat, who’d be a horrendously offensive character even if they were female, with the taller, handsome ‘man’ of the relationship.
3) The Mythical Straight Boy Unicorn
I loved what UK Skins did with this trope. They had the set up for it. Tony, the handsome, charismatic, intelligent, seemingly straight guy and his gay friend Maxxie. But it was Tony that hit on Maxxie, eventually got him drunk, gave him a blow job, and rather than falling head over heels in love, Maxxie says Tony wasn’t good at it. Yeah, mythical straight boy unicorn was not good at giving blow jobs to guys.
But it didn’t destroy their friendship and there was no lingering desires from either of them. When Tony has his accident, Maxxie is the one friend that really sticks by him, who visits him every day, and who helps him on his way to recovery. Not because of any romantic feelings either, but because Maxxie’s just that sort of guy.
I love how this post humorously yet carefully breaks down queer tropes that most of us are sick to death of seeing on our screens, ad infinitum. I also find that a lot of slash fan fic written by het women to be fetishistic and voyeuristic. This is really an excellent post Neo – all of it. Points 23 – 25 in particular, put me in mind of an old ‘Racefail’ post written by Yuki Onna that really resonated with me, but it took me a a while to search through the archives and find the link. But I think that your poster and her post intersect quite nicely. I hope you don’t mind if I put the link here? (You can delete if it goes against the site’s policy)
Thank you for this post. Very well stated.
Thank you for sharing that link.
This is a truly kickass article. My one quibble is with the sissies comment. I kinda feel like it’s a little femme-phobic. I would argue that, yes it is indeed wrong to portray all gay men in fiction as effeminate, as it’s inaccurate and a perpetuation of a rather limiting stereotype, but suggesting that effeminacy is a negative trait kind of rubs me the wrong way.
But generally a kickass article.
Unfortunately the video is not loading (curse you WordPress) but in the article I actually have a clip of Lafayette Reynolds (who I referenced later in the article) to showcase femmes kicking ass and taking names. The clip was the famous AIDS burger scene from True Blood.
If you haven’t already seen it, definitely You Tube it.
I LOVE THAT SCENE! I also love femmes kicking ass and taking names! I also wish fiction would feature more effeminate straight men, as well as butch gay men, because otherwise we end up with “Well not all gay men are effeminate, but all effeminate men are gay” which is… weird and inaccurate.
I’m currently working on a piece with an incredibly badass effeminate heterosexual male protagonist. He and his wife (another badass femme) spend most of the story kicking ass together. It’s odd, but I feel like despite them both being cisgender, and the “penis + vagina” lovin’ their relationship, they’re pretty queer for a straight couple (femme on femme isn’t something you see a lot of outside of… wank material intended for straight dudes) and it feels like effeminate straight male characters are often paired with dominant butch women so that media can keep something of the “femininity = passivity” paradigm
As an reader I can tell the gender of the author within a couple of pages, mainstream or within my genre. I don’t care as long as the men sound like men, and the women aren’t two dimensional bitches.
As an author, who makes no attempt to hide her gender, the biggest compliment I can get is a guy telling me my characters don’t sound like chicks with dicks. I personally hate the straight guy/gay guy trope because I hate the way the straight guy is suddenly fine with being gay and all’s right with the world after one night in bed with the guy.
I have spoken to enough men who love the trope, so maybe I’m just biased. I have written it, and no, it wasn’t a HEA and dancing through the tulips.
Jack and Ianto would never have worked, or maybe that’s my dislike of Ianto showing. And yes, I wrote the fanfic. I am guilty. I would have liked to have seen Jack and real!Jack pursued in an ideal world.
I laughed at the idea of fashion tips from any of my gay male friends. Do T-shirts and sweats count?
Finally, I’m bi. Why am I suddenly a threat to certain friends with their husbands? No idea. I have my own taste and they aren’t it. I wish they’d get over themselves.
This is a brilliant post which highlights many of the biggest problems in how LGBTQs are portrayed, and I believe- I hope- that I can write about people who happen to be LGBTQs without stereotyping them, mistreating them, et cetera. My problem is, I have a story I want to write whose main character happens to be gay- but I’m not gay, I’m asexual.
I’m afraid of getting it wrong. There’s a large part of me that is backing off after reading this, saying ‘I don’t want to fuck up,’ but I don’t know how to check to see if I’m writing in a way that would be considered offensive to LGBTQs, even unintentionally. I honestly hope I can write about LGBTQs without offending anyone, but I would feel far more assured if I could check, rather than putting things out there and offending people who I didn’t mean to. Is there any site I could use as a guideline, any checklist I could go over to ensure my work isn’t unintentionally offensive?
-An aspiring author.
You just don’t know how helpful this is to me.
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