So What I Was Thinking About With Canon Queer Characters
I think fandom plays a huge role in enjoying media. A HUGE role. And while I have issues with some of it (particularly when it comes to race or the treatment of female characters) I think shipping culture and slash fandom is just as big.
But, at the same time, downplaying the importance of canon queer characters just because there were existing characters who were heavily shipped with other characters of the same gender without ever being officially “outed” bugs me to an extent. Particularly since I think representation and diversity are important issues in media and not everyone is as actively involved in internet fandom as the rest of us.
So for instance I recently saw someone deride the character of Starling in the Birds of Prey by saying she was mad at the attention the character got for being confirmed as queer “despite the fact that people were shipping Babs and Dinah for years without it ever being made canon”, as though Starling’s existence was somehow an insult to the fans of that pairing.
Now, here’s the thing. Yes, many people (myself included) shipped those two well before Starling was ever created. Yes, it is valid to read both of them as queer. No, that does not somehow make the character of Starling less important or make her status as the team’s first queer female member any less true.
Because, like I said, not everyone is going to be into internet fandom to the extent a lot of us are, and as a gay African American, I can tell you how important seeing people who look you or have the same sexuality as you can be when we’re discussing fiction. And while as I said, shipping and fandom and little hints and teases and flirting are all well and good, sometimes some of us need a little more than teases of something that will never happen because of the popularity of the characters involved.
Just my thoughts.
These are really good thoughts!
Where my complaint would be is not necessarily in that I dislike Starling/resent her for being canon when Dinah/Babs was never given a chance. I love that there have been new characters created who are canon queer.
But what bugs me sometimes is the fact that they feel they NEED to create new characters IN ORDER to fill some sort of queer quota… It just drives the point home that the Main Cast is always default heterosexual (and cisgender), and the only way for them to represent any queer people in their stories is to create new characters. It’s a little…Othering, to be honest? I don’t know if that’s the right word, but.
It is in no way the new characters’ fault, or even the people who created them. And I’m always happy to have new queer characters, and hell, Starling being confirmed queer is pretty much why I’m going to start picking up the new BoP.
But it just rubs me a little wrong that they apparently wouldn’t even consider the possibility that an already established character could be anything but straight, because straight is the default.
HOWEVER, I will note that Kate Kane kind of is an example of them taking an established character and having her come out. I mean, Batwoman wasn’t around as she is now, but she was already a character that they took and tweaked into the Kate we know today, and she’s a MAJOR success.
I don’t place blame anywhere, honestly, except with the fans, kind of? The fans who would turn their back on a character or book just because they came out, I mean.
Like, for instance, say a well known comic writer decides to do a book where Tim Drake finally comes out. They want to out an established character who, to many people, is already pretty much queer. Let’s say by some miracle, that book is allowed to be made.
Suddenly, privileged fanboys are OUTRAGED. They identified with Tim Drake SO MUCH like all those times the was with the ladies, and they were like, “Man, Tim Drake, I would love to be that guy,” and then they find out he is…well, not the ladies’ man they thought. Those people would be angry and probably stop buying Tim Drake books, despite the love they once had for the character.
And unfortunately, I feel like it’s those people whose voices are heard the most. :\
Good commentary. There’s a few rare instances of canon characters who come out, but they’re generally either minor characters or ones that have mostly been ignored and are revived with the publicity. (Batwoman, Shatterstar.)
When Gail Simone said she was surprised that readers didn’t pick up on her “hints” that Catman was bisexual, I couldn’t help but think of how many canon characters have queer subtext - and how many times fans who point out that subtext are shouted down and harassed by other fans who find implication that a character might be queer personally insulting. (And can’t see why anyone would find the idea of “gay=BAD” offensive.)
Look, I love some good subtext. But homoerotic subtext is (if intentional), too often a bone (heh) thrown to a certain subset of fans. If it’s not confirmed in canon, the creators have plausible deniability and can turn around and say, “No, they’re not gay, why would you ever think that they’re gay?” You get burned on that a few times and subtext just isn’t as much fun anymore.
Sometimes I wonder if certain areas of slash fandoms forget that heterosexuals do actually exist. Straight people are a majority. It’s not unfair for them to be represented as one. It’s unfair for minorities to be ignored completely but it’s not unfair to have more straight characters than queer ones. It’s just not.
Personally I like writers using new characters because it’s easier for them and therefore more likely to be done well.
Established characters come with baggage. Namely years of romantic entanglements to sort out and explain. As queer readers we should want this subject to be dealt with properly. A woman in her 30’s who’s only ever dated men is not going to suddenly realize she’s gay. We know this. We sure as heck wouldn’t want a writer doing that with a character because it’s lazy, cheap, and silencing. It ignores the emotional turmoil involved with coming to terms with your sexuality at that age. It ignores the confusion and the fear you deal with in that situation.
Doing that story justice would require a lot of set up. Possibly too much set up for most comics. Remember, these are super hero comics not romance comics. These characters can’t spend 10 issues doing nothing but introspective reflecting. They have bad guys to kick in the head and other readers to satisfy. Plus writers change titles. To do that story you’d want a writer who KNOWS he or she is going to be on that title long enough to finish it. If not you end up with Shatterstar and Catman.
Which brings me to Shatterstar. Shatterstar is not an example of writers suddenly making a character gay. Shatterstar’s story works because it was set up years ago. You can read all about it here. TL:DR version Nicieza established Star as a sexual tabula rasa. He left X-force before figuring out what Star’s sexuality was. Jeph Loeb came on next and wanted Star to be gay but never had a chance to get it into the book (like Gail with Catman). It all got left unsaid until Star joined Rictor in the current X-factor title.
It wasn’t some sudden development, it’d been in the works for years so the X-factor writers had a basis to build on. That storyline wouldn’t work on 99.9999% of characters because they don’t have that foundation.
It’s just easier to bring in new characters or use little-known characters who don’t have a history to deal with. Babs and Dinah have YEARS of boyfriends to account for. Starling is a clean slate who can be done well and properly.