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.

“Just Don’t Watch It”

As I watch many many many programmes and critique them I inevitably get someone saying the same damn thing:

“Just don’t watch it!”

There are many replies to this, but irritation has worn me down until even I, who am not generally given to swearing, have to ask

“What the fuck do you expect me to watch?!”

Seriously. I’m a gay man who likes to watch the fantastic – primarily Urban fantasy, what do I watch? Because we’ve now reviewed 37 television series from start to finish (or current) and we’ve got two – TWO – with a GBLT protagonist. Lost Girl, headed by a bisexual woman and her true love/primary love interest is already underscored as being a man. And Sanctuary where Helen Magnus is a bisexual woman – you may have missed it though since it was one reference in one episode of 4 seasons – the rest of the time was focused on men. We don’t even have a GBLT person as part of an ensemble cast.

20 of those don’t have even a brief, token GBLT presence. Not for one second, not a bit actor, not a one off, not a thing. Completely and utterly straight from start to finish. Some of them have managed to reach their 5th season without any GBLT people.

4 of them have a GBLT character who appeared for one or two episodes – out of 8 seasons in some cases (yes, Supernatural, that’s you. Though your subtext means the slash fans love you and ignore your erasure) Of course that doesn’t stop these shows have a running commentary of bad gay jokes (Being Human US, Misfits – ye gods Misfits, the very poster child of a hot mess) or used these single episodes to push the horrible tropes (Being Human UK with the gay vampire killing his human lover).

2 of them have a recurring token. But, frankly, that’s generously deciding the Manscaping medieval prince who faints at the sight of blood (the dead Renly) and his lover, the knight of flowers count as tokens rather than one-offs on Game of Thrones. And despite Danny being nothing more than a token who only shows up in one episode in four whenever one of the straight characters needs something, Teen Wolf will always be loved by the slashers (If you want any greater evidence of how this damages us, both Racialicious and Kiss My Wonder Woman have actually praised Teen Wolf for their handling of sexuality while criticising it for its greater inclusion of other marginalised people. Yay for homophobic double standards!)

2 of them have recurring minor characters – but while I love Dark Angel’s Original Cindy, as the series progresses she just becomes more and more of a support character for Max. It’s pure desperation that has me include Bill Forbes 5 episodes on The Vampire Diaries a recurring character – and after his conversion therapy episode I could do without that as well.

So that leaves me with 7 shows with major GBL characters. With the protagonists that brings it to 9 out of 37

And these 7? We have American Horror Story with raped and murdered gay men, raped lesbian and graphic depictions of conversion therapy. Yay. I couldn’t even watch it in one sitting.

Almighty Johnsons has Sjofen, “the goddess who goes both ways” who has a one night, off-camera fling with Axel (a man) when he’s magically turned into woman and then focuses entirely on men from then on – but they make lots of jokes about her.

Hex and it’s many many many many, ye gods many, dead gay men and lesbians. Sometimes the same character died twice.

True Blood which I’ve already complained about.

Bedlam with a closeted character who was finally revealed as gay, had one kiss with a guy before vanishing without explanation.

So, that leaves Warehouse 13 (which, on day, will stop putting Jenks in the plot box and leave the gay jokes behind), Buffy (which wiser folks than I have complained about)

This is the genre I’m watching. This is what I get served up to me. So, again, what the fuck do I watch? What do I watch which doesn’t prompt me to criticise? And this is just criticising on grounds of sexuality – throw in race, gender and ability as well and the hot mess just gets hotter and messier.

There now follows a moment where everyone tells me to watch Glee or Modern Family or some other soap and sitcom, completely ignoring the genre that interests me. It’s ridiculous that when faced with an entire genre of erasure and shit – multiple genres of erasure and shit – the answer is to try different genres! I don’t like sitcoms, I hate soaps, I loathe high school dramas and I don’t remotely see the attraction of musicals. I don’t want to be bored to tears so I can cling to a show that actually realises we exist.

This is the same reason I rarely boycott shows, because I end up boycotting my entire genre and all the shows I have any chance of actually enjoying. Is that depressing? Yes, of course it is – but that’s reality but that’s also why I want to change things.

Which is why I won’t “stop watching it”. I will keep watching it. I will keep watching it and I will find the parts I enjoy and I will continue trying to be part of the genre I love. And I will continue banging on the window when they try to shut me out, continue shouting when I’m missed and demand that it be better, that it does better. For me to stop watching it would be for me to finally give up on the genre, for me to decide it can’t be fixed and needs to be rebuilt before I get involved again – I’ve already done that with some book genres, and it wounds me to feel driven to it.

This genre has a problem with marginalised people. MY genre has a problem with marginalised people. And it’s not going to be fixed by closing my eyes and pretending the problems don’t exist. Nor will it be solved by anyone who is hurt by these problems being driven away by people demanding our silence, demanding we “just don’t watch it.”

A Semi-Coherent Rant on Homoerotic Subtext

This is something I’ve talked about before with reference to the Bromance in Teen Wolf. But that was through moderate, restrained and I’m done with that. My temper has snapped and it’s time for a rant.

I am bloody sick over the fawning over shows because of their pathetic subtext. Call it slashwink. Call it “queerbait.” Call it homo-bromance. Call it what you will, I’m sick of it. I’m sick of it being used as a complete replacement for actual GBLTQ content or characters. I’m sick of the massive praise and joy of the latest hint of homoerotic subtext with barely a breath of criticism of the complete and utter erasure those show actually have.

And enough with the fucking “fanon” wish-fulfilment. Slash fans over and over again pretending that the characters are being presented as “bisexual really so it’s INCLUSIVE honest” – of course because it makes their thrice damned ONE TRUE PAIRING canonically possible. Stop! Your desperate attempt to morph the show to fit your fantasy doesn’t make it inclusive or real. Desperately trying to cast Dean as bisexual as canon? Really? And there is no damn indication on the show that Stiles is bisexual (no, Word of Gay doesn’t count, especially when it’s “could maybe, sorta, possibly” slashbait). And if one more person asks me “How did he get the numbers of all those drag queens?” as some kind of proof of his bisexuality, I’m going to scream. He has the numbers because the writers wanted to make a recurring homophobic joke, you clueless fetishists! So they could drag up the drag queens whenever they thought they could get a cheap freaking laugh out of it. The same damn reason they had Stiles fake!come out to his father so he could hit back with a gay joke. It’s not like they didn’t do it before – Scott and Danny dancing, appropriating the hundreds of gay teens who have been evicted from proms for daring not to be closeted – remember that? Yes, mere mention of TEH GAY is considered funny – it’s a homophobic convention that’s been going on since the 60s, if not earlier. Yes it’s old and yes it should have died but it keeps on going – not least  because of slashers grabbing them and jumping up and down with glee over a tired, homophobic, trope.

And don’t tell me that the people who are uncritically squeeing and fawning and praising are the exception. They’re not, they’re really not and, just like with the m/m genre, there’s a distinct lack of criticism of this bullshit and a lot of hostility towards those – especially gay and bi men – who presume to do so. Challenging this subtext is not even slightly the norm.

And yes, the use of subtext instead of inclusion IS BECAUSE OF YOU! Slash is part of the cause! Stop wringing your hands and pretending that slash fandom bears no responsibility for this! That it’s unknown and hidden and why would anyone ever try to direct things at you, the great big secret?! It’s ridiculous to pretend that slash isn’t part of this and then turn round in the same damn breath and be so bloody happy that ZOMG the slashers being TWEETED by the writers of a show and isn’t it amazing?! Or how this actor acknowledged an OTP! Or how you all mobbed a show creator on Twitter and now he’s talking about your pairing! ZOMG!

The writers, the actors, the networks they know about slash. This isn’t new! Or shouldn’t be to you by now! They play to it, all of them. They write the little moments like Stiles passing out on Derek or Castiel talking about his “profound bond” with Dean because they know you’ll lap it up. They produce vids like Tyler Hoechlin cuddling up with Dylan O’Brien on that boat or scenes at conventions like Misha Collins pretending to kiss Sebastian Roche because they know it’s throwing red meat to a large and loud portion of their fanbase. You are having an effect. You are a market they are playing to – and they are playing to you WITHOUT being inclusive because that is sufficient for you.

And don’t tell me this slash fandom is somehow making progress. Supernatural has been running for 8 freaking seasons. Eight. It has openly acknowledged slash in its own canon since season 4. Actual inclusion? Virtually non-existent. Bit characters, usually for comic relief. And why should they do more? They don’t need to be inclusive, and the “offense” risk that brings, because they’ve got a legion of slash fans ready and eager to scream “ZOMG BEST GAY THING EVAH!”

Why make tokens for inclusion cookies anymore? You just have to have hot 2 guys share a lingering look and a gazillion fans will jump up and down panting and hail you as more gay friendly than a rainbow full of glitter covered unicorns. The writers, actors, producers et al are HEARING you, they hear what you’re saying, they see what you’re writing. Congrats, you have been noticed.

But what they’re hearing you say is not “inclusion of GBLTQ people is important,” they’re hearing you say “ZOMG my hot fetish is so hot! Mooooar subtext, rawr!” because that is what you’re saying. Even the protests to make GBLTQ characters canon isn’t “we need some better representation of under-represented GBLTQ characters” it’s far more “MY OTP IS HAWT! I WANT TO SEE IT!”. No-one’s complaining about there being only one GBLTQ character on Teen Wolf and him an under-used token – they’re complaining because they want to see their hawt STEREK!

They’re listening to you – but what the slash community is demanding only pretends to be GBLTQ friendly.

These shows aren’t improving with your slashing. Supernatural, Teen Wolf, Sherlock, Vampire Diaries, Hawaii Five-0, Merlin (and how many others – Being Human UK & US? Grimm? A gazillion more fandom staples) – how many GBLTQ Protagonists? How about main recurring characters?

And this is not only damaging on the inclusion on these shows but it’s also damaging on both criticism and expectation. I’ve seen 2 blogs criticise Teen wolf – rightly – about its crappy depiction of women (we agree, we did too) and it’s awful depiction of race (we agree – and wrote a piece but then Racialicious released their piece a day before, curse our schedule!) and both PRAISED Teen Wolf for its depiction of gay characters. That should be character, of course, single – Danny who only shows up when straight people need something and then for the briefest moment. But hey, he wasn’t been beaten to a pulp! PRO GAY GUYS!!!! This is how low our expectations are – but hey, we got the slashwinks right?

And I’m bloody sick of being asked about boycotting shows for their failed inclusion by people who are loving the damn slashwink bullshit (and completely ignoring GBLTQ erasure in those same shows) – have you seen our watch list? If we boycotted the erased series we wouldn’t have watched half of them – if we don’t include the blatant tokens only a tiny fraction are left!

And don’t even dare to say “baby steps” to me because I am done with that. It is 2012 it’s time to grow the fuck up and start striding – or, since we’ve got so far to catch up – bloody sprinting. We have a media culture that can manage to produce Captain Jack Harkness and openly gay school kids on Glee (for all the many many things wrong with that show), True Blood (for all its many problems) can fit in several gay characters, Lost Girl can have a bisexual protagonist (yes it has problems, but it and Torchwood remain the only programmes I’ve watched not aimed at a GBLTQ audience that actually has us as protagonists). Don’t tell me Supernatural just cannot cannot cannot possibly manage an actual gay character or Teen Wolf couldn’t pull out Danny from the plot box now and then or the Vampire Diaries couldn’t manage a gay character who isn’t putting his straight daughter through torturous conversion therapy while she screams that she’s born this way (yeah that was really fucked up, by the way). Screw your damn baby steps, subtext isn’t a baby step, it’s not even standing still – it’s a great big step backwards to a time when hints were all we can manage. It isn’t the 90s anymore, let’s stop settling for it.

All in all, I am so bloody sick of slashers revelling in, praising and supporting the subtext and completely ignoring or hand waving the erasure and the tokenism. And I am sick of these shows that continually erase us or token us throwing out this subtext and calling it inclusion. We deserve better than this.

When is Erasure Acceptable?

Whenever we criticise portrayal – or, more often, erasure in some media or other, there is always a backlash. Always some excuse why the depiction was totally ok or why the erasure is completely and utterly justified. Always. We could be arguing against a portrayal of an all white Tokyo or an all-straight San Francisco and there’d STILL be someone rushing forwards to defend the erasure. So I’m going to shoot down one of the defences – not that it’ll stop them but at least I can copy and paste a link rather than typing out the smack down all the time. Hey, I’m getting repetitive strain injury from this, I need some time saving methods!

So let’s hit a biggie: Is it Ever Appropriate to have a Completely Erased Programme/Book/Game?

This comes in many forms: my book is set in the outer Hebrides and no minorities live there (because we have better sense)/I’m writing my lived experience and I have no X friends/I don’t want to tokenise etc etc etc. So let’s tackle this and wrestle it to the ground and start with the core problem.

You do not write in a vacuum.

Maybe you had the bestest of best reasons why your cast is so white in bright lights we get snow blind and straighter than a damn laser, no, really, maybe you really really do have a good reason. But whatever that reason is is lost among a sea of media that is erased simply because of good ol’ prejudice. There is nothing differentiating your oh-so-reasonable erasure with the constant prejudiced erasure we have to endure every time we pick up a book, open a magazine, turn on the television or see a billboard.

And even if your honestly-totally-not-prejudiced erasure is still meant with the bestest of best intentions doesn’t mean that yet ANOTHER erased portrayal isn’t harmful – it still adds to the weave of erasure, it adds to the unrelenting message that our stories aren’t worth telling and the overwhelming feeling that we don’t belong, aren’t a part of this world and are the dreaded Other, to be hidden and avoided? Your magical intentions don’t change that your work is part of the unrelenting erasure out there – and yes, that sucks. Yes it sucks that you can’t create your appropriately erased and well intentioned piece of media without it slapping all us marginalised folk in the face, again.

Guess what? It doesn’t suck nearly as much as being those marginalised folk being slapped. You’ll survive and you’ll forgive us if we’re not exactly lining up to help dry your tears.

So let’s look at that location excuse. Yes you’ve tracked down demographic statistics and managed to find Whitesville in Straighttopia, go you.  And that’s exactly what many of us oh-so-cynical marginalised folks believe you’ve done – hey, kudos for effort, most the erasers just take an all White, straight New York or Atlanta or London or Paris or Toronto or Vegas or LA or some other massive, diverse city and erase it, so at least you’ve gone to some effort in your erasure.

What? You’d never ever do such a thing? We don’t know that. We don’t know that you didn’t choose Arse-End-of-Nowhere Maine rather than Arse-End-of-Nowhere Missisi… Missiiisi… Louisiana because you thought you’d get away with your all erased cast. Why should we give you the benefit of the doubt – rule number… well some number, when interacting with marginalised people – we have zero reason to assume good things about you. We have every reason to expect the worst and regard you with our mean cynical eye.

Besides which, we’re there. Yes, in Arse-End-Of-Nowhere Maine, in the Outer Hebrides, we’re everywhere – there isn’t actually a guaranteed minority free zone anywhere on this planet. Unless you want to cast your fun, zany story in Antarctica or the bottom of the sea.

But, in the end, whenever you produce media that is all erased (or includes only tokens) you harm us, you demean us, you add to the culture of prejudice that rejects us – and yes, you’re going to get us saying mean mean mean things about you, Precious. And I don’t think there’s any way your erased media is going to avoid that.

So what’s the solution? How can you produce your “realistic” erasure without us being such big meanies? Cultural and societal shift. Sorry, that’s about it. If you want your erased work not to be a slap to marginalised people, if you don’t want your precious magic intentions questioned and if you don’t want to harm us – then we need to change the culture. Because erasure (and tokenism – which is mini-erasure and erasure by another name) will only be non-harmful when it is no longer the norm. When we can turn to your media type and assure that we will be consistently well represented then your all white/straight/whatever piece will be free from this damaging context and be free to be as erased as your little privileged dreams wish. Because it won’t matter – because it won’t be part of a grand context of excluding us.

Until that happens? Well until then, when you produce your super-erased media we will criticise it and your excuses won’t cut it. Deal with it – because we have to.

First of all – let’s have some actual portrayal

I’ve realised I talk a lot about the need for good portrayals in books (and other media). I talk about stereotypes and tropes, about the damage of bad characters, about the annoyance of tokenism, about never being the protagonist  – in fact, there’s no end of things I can rant about at great great length. There’s a lot of bad out there.

But I realise I’m actually teaching an advanced lesson, because, shockingly, the very concept of “portrayal” seems to be fraught in and of itself. And after leaving another argument about this, I feel the need to define what portrayal actually is – or, better yet, isn’t.

Now I can feel people scratching their heads – because surely this is a simple concept? If you want to portray a GBLT character, you include a GBLT character – how hard can this be? Well, apparently very difficult indeed. So what, in the eyes of Sparky, is not a portrayal?


If your GBLT character needs extra-textual support to make them GBLT – congratulations! They’re not a GBLT portrayal. Because you have not portrayed a GBLT person. This does not seem like an overly complicated thought process. If I cannot read the book and say “look, Fred’s gay” then Fred is not gay.

So that means if you decide in an interview that one of your characters is GBLT rather than actually including their GBLTness in the text, then that means you haven’t portrayed a GBLT person. If I have to consult your author notes or google every interview you’ve done or rely on gossip to inform me that your characters were actually GBLT, but your forgot to mention it/didn’t think it was appropriate to mention it/your publisher/preacher/agent/editor/pet dachshund said not to include it – then you have not portrayed a GBLT character. I am not going to give any points for inclusion if I have to google your book/game/film/series to find it. That’s not inclusion – that’s a treasure hunt.

That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t write long biographies for characters that never work their way into the book, or you shouldn’t have author notes or even have interviews about how you envision your characters above and beyond where the text takes them. But it’s not GBLT portrayal – because you haven’t portrayed those characters as GBLT. And, ye gods, please don’t present your extra-textual retcon as inclusion.

And yes, this does mean that as far as I’m concerned there are zero GBLT characters in the Harry Potter series. *Hides in bunker from outraged fanpoodles*

And while I’ve pissed off the great beast of fandom with that line, let’s poke with another stick. Hints, suggestions and “maybe, possibly is he isn’t he” also don’t count as a portrayal. A great rapport between 2 characters of the same gender doesn’t count as a GBLT portrayal. And subtext, vague implication and most certainly slash goggles do not count as a GBLT portrayal either. Just as the author’s extra-textual notes don’t create a GBLT portrayal, nor do our own extrapolations, fanfiction, slash goggles or sexual fantasies.  I used to have wonderful imaginings of Nightcrawler when I was younger (don’t judge me) it doesn’t mean the X-men included a gay character by including him.

And I know this sounds ridiculous – but it happens. In the big battle over Disney not having a single GBLT character to be found there were fans pulling out their slash goggles and subtexts and implications and listing characters they thought COULD be GBLT. Whether it was a look they held or maybe the banter between them or just because they were just such a hot couple – we’re seeing fan hope or fan fantasy presented as actual inclusion.

To another excuse often trotted out – ambiguity is not a GBLT portrayal either! At best it’s an ambiguous portrayal – at very best. But the forces of heterosexism and cissexism in society means that it’s probably going to be another damn straight, cis portrayal. In fact, ambiguous portrayals actually annoy me more, partly because you’re trying to claim inclusivity cookies without even throwing in a characterless token and partly because the “ambiguity” inevitably rests on some gross stereotyping. And if the creator intended this implication then I still call foul – straight, cis folks get to be openly themselves in every single genre and media form we can imagine, yet we have to be obliquely referred to with sufficient deniability in case the haters lose their shit? Yeah no inclusion cookies for you, unless launched with great accuracy at your head.

Speaking on the subject of heterosexism and cissexism – and I’ve mentioned this in passing before – your “unlabelled” character is straight and cis. Yes they are. Because that is the default in a privileged society – if you don’t show any information to the contrary everyone is assumed to be cis and straight. And yes, that’s annoying and yes, that’s wrong – but it’s reality. So don’t tell me your unlabelled character is really GBLT (or could be GBLT) –because there’s no way they will be read as GBLT. Also, of course, since you have presented an actual GBLT character, you have, yet again, failed to portray an actual GBLT character.

I’ve actually had comments that a character is GBLT, we just don’t know it and, afterall, people don’t need labels to define themselves as GBLT. Now there’s a lot wrong with this – but from a portrayal perspective there’s one big flaw. We’re talking about characters, not people. If I meet Fred, we killing a large number of werewolves that keep digging up my lawn and he then goes home to his boyfriend then yes, he’s gay even though I am completely unaware of the fact. The fact I don’t know whether he’s gay or not doesn’t change that he is gay. But, if I READ about the fictional character Fred killing werewolves and the book ends with the last fuzzy death and we have no GBLT label to attach to Fred? Then he isn’t GBLT – because even while a real person has a life beyond the book, a character does not. The entirety of that character’s existence is in those pages and if none of those pages include any reference to him being GBLT, then it doesn’t matter that we imagine that he COULD go home to a boyfriend, because he isn’t – he’s doing nothing. His story has ended and his existence is limited to those pages that contain nothing of his supposed GBLT identity.

And don’t’ even try to invoke the closet. The closet is what we, as GBLT people, are forced to endure to try and survive this ridiculous heterosexist and cissexist world. In fact, I’m not going to give it that much credit – this homophobic and transphobic world. And by all means portray that if it is part of the story – but closeting your characters from the reader? You think that’s necessary or that it’s impossible to show a closeted character and without extending that to the reader as well? And, really, if you’re going to do that then what is the point? Here is your GBLT portrayal who is so closeted even the reader thinks they’re straight and cis? Oh… yay, give me a second I’m going to bake you a whole batch of inclusion cookies for that one!

We are talking about portrayal. How GBLT characters are portrayed and the very first step of that has to be them being actually portrayed as GBLT in the first place. And if we can’t even do that, how can we do anything else?



Why do I fawn over GBLT computer games characters?

I am a gamer, I looove my computer games. I can merrily sink several wasted hours into my lovely shiny pixels, especially story-based RPG type games. Yes it’s the official seal on my geekery.Sometimes my slightly obsessive nature can require Beloved to physically pull me from my computer so I do things like eat and go to work.

And you know one thing that can nearly guarantee my leaping to the games shops (well Steam) with my money? Gay characters. Let me see a gay character inb that game and my wallet’s already in my hands. Yes, I’m thrusting my gay agenda into your games! Nothing is sacred, straighties.

See, I’ve actually bought games purely because they’ve had a gay character. That’s been enough for me. Does that sound pretty damn desperate? Probably – but it’s so damn rare to pick up any game that isn’t wall-to-wall straight folks that just once, just for a second, being able to escape into a world where I actually get to be me is precious.

And I know right now that there are people running to say how many computer games there are that don’t include any sexuality at all! That is has no straightness! That sexuality is just irrelevant! Or that xyz character could be GBLT.

Don’t. Really, don’t. That excuse is a poor one unless you come from a la-la land that doesn’t have heterornormativity. And you don’t. And heteronormativity bites us on the arse twice here.

First of all – if that character shows no inclination for any sexuality whatsoever? Congratulations – heteronormativity will render them straight. Because of the myriad joys of privilege, straight is the assumed, the default.  If you see someone with no indication of sexuality at all, they will be taken as straight. Unless there is an overt indication that someone is not heterosexual then that is what they will be assumed to be. And don’t tell me that the game designers and distributers and 99.9% of the game players won’t see it through exactly the same lens. And yes it’s annoying and no, we shouldn’t assume straightness all the damn time – but we do and that’s not likely to change any time soon – if ever, given how much straight folks outnumber us. This is why I’m less than amused by the *hint hint wink put on your slash goggles* pretend-inclusion people expect us to buy.

When “no sexuality until shown otherwise” is considered default then I’ll concede that a game/book/TV series has no sexuality (and even then, I doubt it) until then, let’s not fool ourselves or pretend we’re looking at something that is anything but straight.

Secondly, I can nearly guarantee that I can look at your “completely-sexuality free” game/book/programme and see straight sexuality somewhere. We don’t see straight sexuality because our heterosexist society presents it overwhelmingly as the norm. We are so bombarded with heterosexuality from the very moment we open our eyes that it becomes background noise. This is why the sight of 2 men holding hands is ramming our sexuality down your throat and worthy of someone throwing a bottle at us, while my having to watch endless hours of straight folk all but having sex on TV advertising everything from perfume to cooking utensils is considered quite normal. I can’t even watch them hock loans to me without seeing a happy straight couple.

So, there probably is straight sexuality in that “sexuality-less” game of yours. A family, a couple, a love interest, a crush, something – something that, were it a gay or lesbian relationship, would leap out from the screen, doubtlessly yelling “PC” “gay agenda” and whatever other whining I’ll have to hear from disgruntled straight gamers who have been traumatised by the dreaded gay.

So, why does this matter so much to me? Why would I buy a game I know nothing about just because it has a gay character, regardless of its other flaws? Well, I’ve said before again and again why it matters.

Gaming is escapism, in some ways even more so than reading – especially the story-based games I prefer. It annoys me to read a book and be expected to identify yet again with a character who is nothing like me and be transported yet again to a world where I don’t exist. But it annoys me far more to actually participate, to play a part in this story and have my role represented by a straight person as well! I’m not just supposed to identify with a straight person, but I have to play one as well.

I loved Mass Effect 2, I really did, I had to be physically dragged away from the computer.  But it annoyed the hell out of me that there I was, Sparky Shepherd, saviour of the galaxy, having to dodge Miranda and Tali’s constant romance hints (there’s no “actually I’m gay, stop asking” option) while at the same time Jacob and Garrus and Thane were there WITH romance scripts but for some reason they weren’t an option – unless I played a female Shepherd. And if I played a female character, I’d have a choice of aliens who don’t have a male gender at all – or one potential fling that doesn’t even count as a romance option. And those not-as-equal-as-straight-relationship-straight-gaze-lesbian-relationships still make this game more inclusive than 99% of what’s out there

And is it really that much to ask? Is it really so much to ask that I get my geeky escapism going as well? Is it that hard to have a gay man as the hero? Do I have to play it straight every time – I did enough of that in real life, I don’t need to do it in fiction as well.

Why Fangs for the Fantasy?

It’s vaguely possibly you’ve noticed I’m involved in the running of Fangs for the Fantasy by my oh-so-subtle plugging. But yes I’m one of the ones behind it and I likes it I does. But there’s always the question of why, especially given how little time I have and how much time it takes.

Well, let me count the ways. I like Fangs, I like the reviews, I like an opportunity to snark, I like the new series its exposed me to and because it’s fun, lots of fun.

But also because I think it’s important. Especially analysing books from a social justice perspective. Yes, analysing fluffy, trashy, frequently silly Urban fantasy is important. Especially since it’s popular and, if anything, becoming more so and establishing itself very firmly as its own genre.

Our society is shaped by the media. In fact I think the media is one of the grand pillars of our culture. The media we consume reflects the stereotypes and tropes of society, reinforces them, encourages them and spreads them. We as a society, as a culture, as people are shaped by the books we read, the television we watch, the films we see and the games we play.

When we see the same type of people showcased front and centre, the same stereotypes paraded, the same groups erased, the same insults given, the same bad behaviour showcased, excused or justified and generally the same prejudiced, and –ism scented problems repeated again and again then yes it shapes us.

And I know there are people out there saying “but why urban fantasy? Who cares about sexist werewolves or homophobic vampires or racist witches?” there are many reasons – I can talk about how we tend NOT to analyse these types of books so the genre is even more unchallenged and just accepted. I can tell you it’s because I love the genre – I really do – and as such I want to be able to consume it without sporks and with more joy; as something I love, I want it to do better. But most of all, it’s because if we’re going to challenge any media, it has to be popular fiction that is consumed broadly for entertainment.

What do you think shapes culture more? A verbose, dense literary fiction artistic epic read by English literature professors in a university congratulating each other on how wonderfully dense and nigh incomprehensible it is, so full of metaphor and depth? Or Twilight? Or True Blood? A series that is read by thousands if not millions, turned into a TV series or a film and watched by yet more? Personally, I think it’s the latter that will have the greatest effect on our culture.

I also don’t think that you can truly change culture without addressing the media. Ultimately, no matter how many laws we pass saying that misogyny, homophobia, racism, transphobia, ableism et al are Not OK, no matter how much we fight, no matter how many bigots we vanquish, if everyone goes back home to books and TV full of hate speech and stereotypes and tropes and marginalised servants and villains or – and most commonly – to fictional worlds where we don’t even exist – then how much can you change? “Hearts and Minds” are the key here – and it’s in the pages of books and the light of the TV screen where we will reach them.

Yet if you turn round and say you’re going to analyse the dusty book of pretention everyone will nod and smile. Say you’re going to analyse True Blood and we get “it’s only fantasy! Don’t take it so seriously!” It’s a genre that seems to actively resist and deny analysis even more than most.

Do I claim I’m doing some massive cultural changing thing? Gods no. I snark too much for that :P. But it matters, it does matter.

Also, of course, I need to say the inevitable – we have yet to read/watch a perfect book/TV programme. We have always found something to criticise. That’s not because we’re joyless curmudgeons who hate everything – it’s because our society is so well and truly messed up that it’s nearly impossible to produce something lacking in problematic issues in a society that has saturated us with them. I say again, criticism does not mean “I loathe this book and all it stands for!” it means there are problematic elements that could be – need to be – better. For our opinion on the book, check the fang rating (and if it’s 0.5 fangs? Yes, I did loathe that book and all it stands for!). I will say that we’ll never just say “I hate it.” There’ll always be a why – so even on a negative review you can be a recommend – since you can see “oh Sparky hated this book because he loathes X, Y and Z. I actually quite like them so this book is worth reading”.

So, yes, Fangs. I like it.

Poking again at the aftermath of the YA drama

There have been a lot of rumblings after the well publicised YA drama of (OH-SO-SHOCKING! Except, y’know, not) GBLT protagonists being rejected. And one I have seen a lot of are people flocking forward to post book lists. Books with GBLTQ protagonists – come read ’em. Which I was fairly glad to see – I dropped in, had a look… and sighed. I sighed because, of the books I’d read, I would most certainly not recommend them or their portrayals. Here are just some I saw being recommended


Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments. Aside from the fact I found these books extremely homophobic, I boggle at the idea that you can consider Alec to be a main character of the books. He barely even qualifies as a side-kick.


Ann McCaffrey’s Dragonflight Series. Seriously – Ann “Tent peg” McCaffrey is presented as a RECOMMENED GBLT YA. The gross stereotypes, the demeaning, insulting portrayals, the condescension – and even then out of the whole series, the gay characters cannot be more than the smallest, most minor of bit characters.


Terry Pratchett’s Monstrous Regiment? Don’t get me wrong, I love that book – but there were 2 lesbians and a portential for trans characters (albeit a bit of a stretch and arguable) and none of them could be called the protagonists.


Even George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones. How any of the GBL characters in that series can be remotely considered protagonists is beyond me.


Mercedes Lackey was mentioned – now I only read a few of her books but there was a whole lot of abuse and rape going on.


And it frustrates me, actually I have a full blown tantrum. Because even when confronted with the blatant lack of decent GBLT characters out there we respond by putting together lists of stereotypes, tokens and sidekicks? Or even utter side or bit characters. Is this the best we can do – or is this the best we can expect? Well, I know that the answer to both those questions is “no” but I do fear the answer to the third – is this what we’re willing to settle for?


Because sometimes I feel just the presence of a GBLT character, no matter how minor, how offensive or how token, is enough to garner rhapsodies of praise and a legion of cheerleaders.


Personally, I say no – hell no in fact – I am not settling. And I’m not going to write my own recommended list because, frankly I don’t have one. I haven’t come across enough half-decent portrayals, certainly not in dominant roles, to justify writing a list. But I will make a demand list – what I want from a book before I will praise it, recommend it and give the author those precious precious cookies for it


I want a lot when it comes to fiction. Not because I’m demanding – but because we’re currently so lacking. Because there are so few portrayals and so few good portrayals. And because there’s so much damage caused by our erasure and the deeply flawed portrayals we so often see.

  1. Drop the homophobia. Just drop it. I’m tired of books that don’t even HAVE a GBLT character still throwing f*ggot around. Or having a HILARIOUS scene where 2 guys realise that someone thinks they’re gay and they have that oh-so-funny freak out. Enough.
  2. I want a GBLT presence. Preferably more than 1. And this is ACTUAL presence. Not subtext, not “oh they looked at each other for 5 minutes, totally gay” not slash goggles or implications or possibly could/maybe. No retconning after the fact. No author edits after the book has been published. In fact, no single blink-and-you’ll-miss-it reference from which their GBLTness never ever rises again
  3. I want a GBLT protagonist. That means the book is about them. They’re the person we follow, the main character. Not the side-kick, not the villain, not the supporting cast, not the distressed damsel – they can be them as well, sure, but I want a protagonist. I am sick of being the supporting cast in someone else’s story
  4. I want to see an actual decent portrayal, not a cookie cutter stereotype, not following the same insulting tropes. I want it written for our gaze, for the consumption of GBLT people – not something odd for the straighties, not something grossly fetishised or presented as some exploration of the alien. And I want to see diverse portrayals. I don’t want us doing the same thing every time, acting the same way every time.
  5. I want to see GBLT people doing things beyond coming out/facing bigotry/transitioning/being bullied/dealing with AIDS. I want to see us on every shelf, not just the special issue shelf. I want us doing everything straight, cis protags do. And I don’t want our stories being treated as “niche” just because it has a GBLTQ character – a sci-fi novel with a GBLTQ character and a historical fiction with a GBLTQ character shouldn’t be filed together


When I get this lot? Then I’ll praise, hail, cheerlead and bake a hundred cookies. But I’m not settling for less and I’m not hailing less. I’m tired of settling, I’m sick of praising the mediocre and really beyond fed up with the scraps from the table

I don’t think I’ll be doing that any time soon

When media is prejudiced, there is no “but”

I’ve always been a commentator on media and social justice and that’s only increasing. I’ve said why I think it’s important and why it matters and, besides, at this point I don’t think I could watch/read/play something without being aware of the various problematic, prejudiced portrayals or erasures that will inevitably arise.

But it seems nigh impossible to criticise the various -isms in the media without argument. Now, I don’t claim to be infallible (though do not tell my husband that. As far as he’s concerned I am correct in any and all matters and he should just accept it and do as he’s told, yes yes he should) and if I say something was prejudiced and you disagree – by all means present a reasoned rebuttal.

No, what I object to are the JUSTIFICATIONS for the -isms. They don’t argue that I’m wrong about the prejudice – but that, for whatever reason, the prejudice doesn’t matter. That something else about the work makes the prejudice irrelevant. And I call shenanigans, I do. Because it always matters – and it is never justified. So, I am I am debunking the inevitable excuses that always arise over and over – I am calling out the “buts” because there really is no but here

But but but…. it’s funny!

First of all, it probably isn’t. I have yet to see this excuse used for anything that has made me crack a smile. Of course, the problem is that humour is subjective – after all, I’m sure there are people out there who actually laugh at sitcoms with laugh tracks (and is there ever anything so mind breakingly unfunny as those damn laugh tracks?). Which is a problem, because the “it’s funny” excuse can apply to anything.

But. Y’know even accepting that there is humour there, I still say “so?” Sorry, maybe my priorities are a little messed up but I don’t really see “it made me giggle” as justifying prejudiced portrayals. In fact, I find it faintly demeaning – yes it is damaging, stereotyped, made you cringe and overall reduces your standing as a person – but it was funny so it’s totally ok, right? Um… no.

But but but… think about when it’s made!

So it was made in the 60s/80s/90s whatever. Is it never going to be watched/played/read again? It’s still being consumed, it’s still part of the narrative of our media and our society – and yes, maybe back then such problems were more common place but it doesn’t mean that the prejudiced portrayals are NOT PROBLEMATIC. A deeply stereotyped portrayal is STILL a deeply stereotyped portrayal, even if it was written at a time when such 2 dimensional tokens were rare. It’s still problematic, it still needs commenting on, it’s still not OK even if it was better than most of its contemporaries.

But but but… it’s only fantasy/sci-fi/urban fantasy/YA/Whatever

Genre is irrelevant. If the media is mass consumed then it shapes our culture, our perceptions of people and our lives. In fact, a “trashy” novel or a computer game has far more effect on us as people than a pretentious, over-written, dreadfully dull composition that will be read by dusty English professors patting each other on the back at how impenetrable and highbrow it is.

Prejudice isn’t irrelevant in any genre. It is never unimportant – and the more common the genre, the more widely read, the more people it reaches then the more good – and the more damage – it can do with its portrayals. I believe a simple widely read YA novel that has good respectful portrayals does far more for us than a dozen scholarly treaties about our rights. Conversely – a widely read YA novel with gross stereotypes and prejudice does a whole lot of damage.

But but but… they also did THIS and that was good!

And? Maybe that over work they’ve is good and progressive and avoids the fails I’ve criticised. That doesn’t mean that THIS here that I’ve just read/watched/played has problems. This media I’ve just consumed was problematic – the writer may have made something else that was vastly better but that doesn’t change what I’ve just read/watched/played.

But but but… it’s a great portrayal of Y marginalised group

And I applaud that, it’s wonderful when we see a marginalised character written well. But just because a book has great female characters or great POC characters etc etc doesn’t mean that erasure or grossly awful portrayals elsewhere are acceptable. Just because it isn’t prejudiced one way, doesn’t make it immune to being prejudiced another way.

But but but… This writer is my heeero and you should have seen them at X and and!!!

Well this is kind of why I don’t have heroes. Look, there are some great writers out there and they do amazing things – but that doesn’t mean we’re all supposed to pretend that the naked Emperor is wearing clothes. This is what I hate about heroes – look, no-one’s perfect and you don’t have to pretend they’re perfect and untouchable to appreciate their work – and they probably don’t need the fanpoodles to swarm in yapping at the critics.

But but but… I loooove it!

Yeah, maybe I do too. “What!?” you gasp? Yeah, there’s a good chance I love it to. No, really, I’m not some bitter, twisted grumpy git who hates everything. In fact I know most of the media I enjoy – be they books, computer games, films, series – they’re all problematic. My most favourite of favourite things I love are sadly rife with stereotypes, erasure, damaging tropes and out right prejudiced portrayals.

Of course they are. I grew up in this society too – and no matter how much my own marginalisation hurts me or how much I try to learn about others, I still carry their stains, I still have their programming. Besides, if I wanted to avoid problematic media I’d have to move to a cave in a mountain somewhere and dedicate my life to staring at the wall. And even then there’d probably be an advert there full of problematic elements.

And aside form that, yes some stories are awesome. The plot is immense, the performances are amazing, the settings phenomenal – I am transported, awed, amazed and overjoyed by them and watch/read them over and over and over again. And every time I STILL see the stereotypes, the tropes, the erasure and the plain prejudiced fails and say “I love them… BUT”

And yeah, it’d be really really nice to read/watch/play something and say “I loved it!” without having to include the “but.” But the answer to that is to keep SAYING “but” until there’s nothing to say “but” about – not to pretend that the problematic elements don’t exist or are justified because it’s an awesome story/game/film/whatever.

So, I beg here, please, stop the kneejerk defence. Stop jumping up and down hissing about your precious. If you disagree with something being problematic, if someone has said “this is homophobic/racist/sexist/etc” and you think (with reasons beyond privileged ignorance) that they are mistaken and you have a respectful and well thought out counter then fine – but don’t EXCUSE the prejudice, don’t pretend it doesn’t exist or doesn’t matter.

On Gay actors

Now this drama has been dragging along for something of a while now, and it’s beginning to stink like those left overs you keep putting off dong something with because you’re incapable of cooking for less than16 people *ahem*

So it seems there is some debate about gay actors playing straight roles. Because it’s just not realistic enough. Audiences just can’t see gay actors in a romantic lead (and, as an aside, can I give a big side eye to the fact “romantic lead” always means man/woman sexing?) It completely breaks their suspension of disbelief and they cannot believe the role.

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