When Will We Get LGBT Characters in Cartoons?

Representation of LGBT people in games, movies, cartoons, and other media have made progress as acceptance within the wider culture has become more main stream. The representation isn’t always perfect but we have started moving away from harmful stereotypes and cliches. One area that seems slower to change are cartoon series aimed at kids.

Adult aimed cartoons have long had LGBT characters at least in bit parts for years now and there is some cross over with the audiences. Simpsons, which I watched when I was kid, had an episode back in 1997 dealing with Homer meeting a gay man and freaking out about it.

Other kid aimed media is starting to become more inclusive.  The stop motion film ParaNorman has a reveal at the end of the movie that one of the characters was gay all along and the early trailers for Laika’s new film Box Trolls blatantly included same sex families. The Disney Channel this year included lesbian moms on an episode of their live action show Good Luck Charlie.

But cartoon television series, at least Western ones, are still hesitant to take the step. I would say it is a combination of the popular idea that there is something more childish about cartoons, GLBT people are somehow inherently more “adult” then cisgender heterosexual people, and studios just not wanting to be the first to deal with the controversy to follow.

Of course the idea that GLBT characters are to “adult” for kids cartoons is kind of laughable when you consider some of the mature themes cartoons handle. Avatar: The Last Airbender tackles the issue of war and genocide but we are supposed to believe a girl liking another girl on the show would be to much?

Show Vs Tell

Of course there are a lot of GLBT people in shows! Just look at what the creators say or  source material or anywhere but in the show!

Unfortunately that is where we are at currently. As far as I am aware, any character that is canonly GLBT, well gay and lesbian really but that is another post for another day, is only because the creators stated it outside the show or it was part of other media.

I am glad the characters are confirmed to be LGBT but mentioning it and not actually reflecting that in the show doesn’t really help representation. Especially when we find out after the show is over or we will never see that character again anyways. I am looking at you J.K. Rowling.

But isn’t it good that their sexuality isn’t a big thing? Don’t want to just make an offensive stereotype where being gay is all they are!

I hear this a lot really. That if the character’s sexuality is erased to the point it could be cut and nothing would change, that is positive representation. But Mr Strawman, we don’t expect the same thing of heterosexual characters. Characters get to have heterosexual crushes and even dating in media without it being the center of their character. There is a middle ground between the two extremes and creators seem to be able to find it for heterosexual characters.

It is important to show the character’s sexuality as a part of their character like you would other character traits. Not just tell us about them. Just telling us a character is funny is terrible writing. You have to give them funny things to say and do.  I am not saying have the character go around kissing people all the time, sexuality is much more then just that.

Baiting the Hook

Not having the characters be out  doesn’t mean the characters aren’t given hints that they might be GLBT. This ranges from mannerisms coded to be read by the viewer as being GLBT related such as a guy being camp, to lots of subtext about a relationship between two characters.

 

 Harley and Ivy and are heavily implied to be in a relationship in Batman: The  Animated Series when they team up. This was later confirmed by Paul Dini and  further expanded in the comics.

 

Adventure Time  in the episode Something Missing, had a scene where Marceline  sings to Princess Bubblegum a song that many read as having subtext of a girl  singing to her ex-girlfriend. Whether or not that was the intention of the  creators,  future episodes interactions seemed to further tease this subtext with  things like the reveal Bubblegum sleeps in the shirt Marceline gave her long time  ago and that she smells it when she wakes up. Something coming off much more like something you would do with a shirt a lover gave you then something a friend gave to you.

Depending how willing you are to accept it this subtext that can border on text can range from being seen as the creators doing the best they can within the constrains of the network to queerbaiting to get GLBT fans (and those that are fans of GLBT relationships) to watch without wanting to actually committing to a queer character.

Why Do You Have to Make Everything So Political?

Of course there is the pushback to the idea of including LGBT characters to cartoons. From those who believe it morally wrong to those that just like things as they are and don’t want people messing with it for the sake of “Political Correctness”. Unfortunately LGBT lives are inherently political due to our lives must often be fought for in order to live them, as people seek to deny us rights.

Of course when you are fully represented in media, you are less likely to see an issue as being an issue.

Why do LGBT people need to push into cartoons? That doesn’t help anyone focus on REAL discrimination!

Well Mr. Strawman there is a pretty simple reason why LGBT people want to see themselves in all media. We exist. Adding an LGBT character might seem contrived but I find it much more contrived that no one apparently is queer in this world that is being created. There is no natural reasons why character’s can’t be diverse, the creators have to choose, consciously or subconsciously, everything about this world they are creating.

You may see people wanting representation and think it only applies to people like me, adult fans, but the series are primarily for kids. Whether they are out yet or still don’t understand it, there are GLBT children also watching these show and seeing representations that matter to them are important. It validates their identities and boosts self-confidence. It combats homophobia and transphobia they may absorb in their daily lives.

Beyond LGBT  kids, representations of LGBT people in cartoons helps break down stereotypes kids learn young and helps humanize  an oppressed group. Teaching tolerance not through hamfisted PSAs or lessons of the week but through creating relatable, likeable characters you start to care about.

Who and When?

I guess it is kind of bad I asked a question but don’t really have an answer. I think it will happen soon and slowly after that it will become a much more common thing, but I am not sure who will make that plunge first. When they do though it will be important to show support for the move because, while I think majority of people will be on board with it or at least indifferent, those that oppose it will be the loudest and most heard.

Feminist Dragons Read “Tooth and Claw”

I’d like to say one thing upfront, and that is that I’m borrowing this review format from the lovely Mark Oshiro of Mark Does Stuff.  I didn’t invent the wheel here, I’m standing on the shoulders of adorable professional media consumers.  I highly recommend that you check out his MarkReads site, where he’s currently reading through all of the Discworld novels in chronological order, as well as all of the works of Tamora Pierce.  His past reviews are all listed, and his upcoming reading list can be found here.  If you find that you enjoy his work as much as I do, please consider supporting him by commissioning a video of a future chapter.

Tooth and Claw, by Jo Walton

Tooth and Claw, by Jo Walton

If there’s one thing I love about reading, it’s sharing that love with a bunch of other people anonymously on the Internet.  It’s hard to say if I like introducing people to things they haven’t read more than I like finding people who love the same books I do, but I find both of those things incredibly rewarding.  So given the tone of this site, I thought it would be fitting to start a review series of Tooth and Claw, a Victorian-style novel about dragons written by Jo Walton.  The reason I’m borrowing Mark Oshiro’s review style is because I think reading the book aloud will help people follow along, if they aren’t able to get their hands on a copy.  You can find those videos embedded at the end of the post – maybe start with those first if you haven’t read it.

This might help some of you clarify the relationships between the characters that are introduced in the first chapter:

The best I could do - I'm even confused by human genealogy.

The best I could do – I’m even confused by human genealogy, so you can imagine how complicated dragon genealogy can be.

The chapter opens on Bon Agornin’s deathbed.  Right away, Walton introduces us to the religion of dragons with Blessed Penn attending his father in his capacity as a parson, and we learn that Bon’s body will be consumed by his family according to dragon tradition.  Bon’s heart is uneasy, though, and he worries about his fate in the afterlife if he is not allowed to die without first confessing a heavy burden.  It is the religious and social custom of the dragons for the high-ranking ones to consume weaker, lower-ranking dragons in order to ensure the strength of the overall dragon population.  Bon’s father met this fate, as did several of his siblings.  By the time he was old enough to grow wings and seek his own fortune, Bon had not yet consumed enough dragon flesh (which has particular properties to help dragons grow quickly) to ensure his survival.  So he ate his remaining brother and sister, before setting off to make his fortune.

Penn is rightly shocked to hear this, as this is outside the approved guidelines for dragons to practice cannibalism.  But he also wants his father to die feeling easier, and so he risks his position in the Church by granting him absolution, a rite that had fallen out of favor and practice for thousands of years.  And after Bon dies, Penn calls his family down to feast.

Up in the Speaking Room, Bon’s daughter Berend, her husband Daverak, and the local parson Blessed Frelt have congregated to wait until Bon passes.  Berend left Bon’s cave to marry Daverak about seven years ago, and has since laid her first clutch of eggs.  All three of them hatched successfully, though little green Lamerak would be considered a weakling and eaten if he were not under Daverak’s protection.  Daverak hopes that if Lamerak eats some of Bon’s liver, he will grow stronger and change to a different color to show it.  Daverak, being lord of his own establishment, has the right to eat the weaklings of the dragons who work his estate.

The conversation is awkward and stilted, which is related to Blessed Frelt’s feud with Bon Agornin.  Frelt had wanted to marry Berend, but Bon put a stop to it.  They had not been on friendly terms since.

In the Dining Room, Bon’s youngest children, Selendra and Haner, reunite with their older brother Avan.  Avan lives in Irieth, the capital, as a member of the Office for the Planning and Beautification of Irieth.  He went to seek his fortune there, being able to do so only because he is a male dragon with wings and claws.  Selendra points this out in anger after she learns that Avan will not be able to inherit and maintain Bon’s establishment.  Avan is not yet big enough to defend his territory, himself and his sisters from the larger dragons of the neighboring demenses, which means that Selendra and Haner will have to live separately for the first time in their lives.

This is where it gets very interesting, and reminiscent of stories like Sense & Sensibility, in that Selendra and Haner are put into a vulnerable position by their father’s impending death.  Female dragons are expected to keep house and bear dragonets.  They are not allowed to have careers of their own – indeed, there are very few “respectable” professions in which they could even attempt to make one.  Female dragons have wings, but no claws to defend themselves against larger dragons.  We see from the presence of Amer, the family servant, that only high-ranking females have the “luxury” of not having to work for a living.  This is the same as it is among humans – while well-off (and usually white) women were socially barred from being able to work, poor women (and usually women of color) had to work menial labor to support themselves and their families.

When Penn calls the family down to the undercave to consume Bon’s body, there is a serious misunderstanding about how the body, and Bon’s wealth, is to be divided.  The strengthening properties of dragon flesh make it a valuable inheritance, and the old dragon had intended to leave most of it to his un-established children – Avan, Selendra and Haner.  Bon’s wealth was intended to be split among similar lines.  However, Daverak considered the flesh and the gold to be completely separate issues, and basically digs right in.

Penn protests, but cannot physically challenge his brother-in-law unless he wanted to risk his career in the Church.  Daverak appeals to Frelt to decide, and Frelt takes great pleasure in thwarting the wishes of old Bon, allowing Daverak, Berend and their dragonets to eat the majority of the body.

This leaves Avan, Selendra and Haner in a grave position – not only do Selendra and Haner have to live with different siblings, waiting to be married off, but they and Avan are denied the advantage they would have had with the extra growth from their father’s flesh.

How will this injustice be addressed?

Chapter 1, Video 1

Chapter 1, Video 2

Chapter 1, Video 3

Where are all of the queer superheroes?

I’m well known for loving superhero movies, especially anything that’s a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but even in my interminable fangirling, I am able to recognize and acknowledge the flaws of these films. First and foremost, many superhero movies just aren’t that diverse in terms of casting. There are no current MCU movies lead by a woman (or a person of color, for that matter), and the MCU’s main competitor, DC/Warner Brothers, isn’t much better. However, with constant talk of a Black Widow solo film and African-American men cast in major roles in the next Fantastic Four movie, it seems we are slowly inching toward more diverse superheroes. That being said, there is still something missing from the conversation, and that is the topic of queer superheroes.

LGBT people exist in comics just as they do in the real world, but you wouldn’t know it watching a mainstream superhero movie. There have been a few characters in the MCU who are identified as queer in the comics but are not out or acknowledged as such in the movies.

For example, in the Marvel comics, the character Mystique is bisexual and has a significant relationship with another character named Destiny. In fact, Mystique and Destiny were originally meant to be Nightcrawler’s biological parents, but this idea was ultimately abandoned for being too controversial. Compare this to the big screen version of Mystique, who has been in every X-Men movie, and whose sexual orientation, if referenced, is usually in relation to a man and only men.

Victoria Hand, a newer character who is very much an out lesbian in the Marvel comics, appeared on Agents of SHIELD this season, but was quickly killed off without ever coming out. As noted in her MCU Wiki entry, “Had [her sexuality] been addressed on the show, she would’ve been the first confirmed non-heterosexual character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.” Interestingly enough, the actress who played Hand, Saffron Burrows, is openly bisexual.

Finally, if you really want to get down to it, fan favorite Deadpool is quite queer in his respective comics, (see here for a somewhat NSFW if in-depth analysis of his queerness) and he has also been in a major superhero movie — X-Men Origins: Wolverine. However, his characterization was so botched, the erasure of his queer identity is hardly the most egregious thing about his movie portrayal.

Fortunately, a fully realized LGBT superhero might be just around the corner. On the TV show Arrow this season, Black Canary came out as bisexual and shared a kiss with another female character on screen, making her the first confirmed LGBT person in any DC or Marvel television or movie continuity. Ironically enough, Black Canary is not queer in any way in the DC comics, although she is speculated to be.

Furthermore, the DC character Renee Montoya, also known as The Question, has been confirmed as a regular on the new show Gotham, a Batman prequel series. In the comics, Montoya is well known for dating Kate Kane, the current Batwoman and arguably the most famous lesbian in the DC universe. Montoya was created for the show Batman: The Animated Series, but no mention was made of her sexuality. In fact, it was not until the character was a part of the comic book run Gotham Central that she was revealed to be queer. At any rate, I’m holding out hope that Gotham will give her her due as a lesbian.

Likewise, I hope that as my beloved superhero movies and TV shows become more diverse in terms of gender and race, so too will they become more diverse with sexuality. After all, (some) superheroes are queer, and they’re here, so get used to it.

Republished with permission from The Powder Room. Image via comicvine.com. 

Big Girls Need Adventures, Too

I don’t remember exactly how old I was when I realized adventures were for skinny girls only, but I remember being absolutely devastated at the epiphany. Wendy went to Neverland. Susan and Lucy (and Polly and…) went to Narnia. Meg defeated IT and saved her brother and father. Sophie met the friendly giant. Beatrice rescued the absolutely bonkers Future Faction Society from Kate Winslet.

I desperately wanted to see myself in the Hero’s Journey. I wanted to discover the sapphire ring that looked like the night sky and had magical powers. I wanted to unearth that my mother, who died birthing me, was actually a witch and now I was a witch, too. To angrily flirt with the Attractive Male Love Interest, because our personalities clashed, even though he was supposed to be teaching me about this New World.

You know, the classics.

I realized I was fat in grade eight or so. When I look back, I wasn’t really fat, but I was bigger than the other girls so fat I was. The books I loved now had a sad tinge to them. Adventures never happened to girls like me. Heroines were always laughably average, but not actually average. They were always obviously pretty. To quote The (hilariously on-point) Toast:

She wasn’t perfect. Her mouth was, if anything, a trifle too full, like an overflowing Cupid’s bow.

“Would you…do you think you would like to go to the dance with me?” she asked sportsball captainback.

“That’s disgusting,” he said, sneering. “Your lips are beautiful and kissable and someone better than me is going to point that out to you in just a few years. Get out of my way.”

She cried out of her eyes. One of the eyes had a little freckle in it, which made her disgusting.

“I just don’t know what to do with this,” her hairdresser moaned, comically letting his arms fall to his side. “Your hair is just so wild and unmanageable, a lot like you. It can’t be tamed.”

“Neither can I,” she said, and she roundhouse kicked him in the face, and then she ran outside to find a real man who could handle someone who played as hard as she worked.

“You only thought that was a flaw this whole time,” his mentor that he thought was dead but totally wasn’t dead at all, at least not “dead” in the way you traditionally think of dead told him. “It was actually your secret strength. You don’t have any flaws at all and you’re going to destroy the bad guy so much.”

He totally did.

 

Modern adult fare is only slightly better. Melissa McCarthy exists but she can’t do everything. My aversion to most modern sitcoms keeps me away from Mike and Molly, anyway. I don’t know how many ‘fatty fall down’ jokes I can take. Rebel Wilson? I’ve heard good things. Pam Poovey from Archer is a fan favourite (I did cosplay as her last year!), but the show can be so cruel to her due to her looks. There was a scene in the most recent season where she loses a lot of weight while on the ‘all cocaine’ diet (The secret? It’s all cocaine), and confesses to Archer that she keeps taking cocaine because the company treats her better now that she’s skinny.

That scene broke my heart. It ended with Archer trying to tell Pam that they likes her better before, but then he got distracted by her cleavage and became Archer again. So close. So close.

It doesn’t help that I don’t even know what I want for fat representation in media. Do I want one where it’s shown how tough life can be for a person of size in this society? Or do I want one where her weight isn’t treated at all, and she has an amazing life like other TV shows?

But that is the wrong question. I shouldn’t have to choose which representation I get, because there should be examples of every kind in my media, not just occasional bone thrown in. I’m tired of seeing the same body types over and over again, where ‘curvy’ means a character has boobs.

Be better, media. Be better.