Queer-baiting is a fascinating (and maddening) subject for me. I feel that it’s so complicated because there are different rules for different periods of time and different levels of mainstream. Getting a queer character in a gay newspaper comic was a totally different business than having one in mainstream superhero comics. However, I think I know what my personal dividing line is!
Namely: if a creator never brings up the queerness at all, that is fine. I accept that I am projecting myself and my desires into a work (or that the creator is sneaking under the radar). If a creator brings up the queerness and makes it open, ala Dykes to Watch Out For
, then that too is fine--I have myself a genuine queer character! In neither case do I feel baited.
However, I do
feel baited when the creators make clear that they’ve thought
about the queerness involved and bring it up to the audience, only to then take pains shooting it down, or making a joke about it, or otherwise deflecting it. Then I am left with the feeling that a creator has thought about the idea of having a queer character, only to go, “Nah.”
Creators who intend to have actual queer characters, even if they use subtext at first, will show increasing care for the issues as time goes on, often fighting for more and more representation as their careers progress. That “baiting” feeling comes when the subtext is considered a feature, not a bug, and kept for its own sake, never to change. It’s that context that makes a big difference to me.
( Read more... )
...they deflect. Often with a joke. In I Can’t Believe It’s Not The Justice League!
, pictured above, the joke is at Booster Gold and the Blue Beetle’s expense--it’s funny because they’re offended and wigged out by the implication that they’re “more than friends,” or that their teammate would tell Booster’s wife that. And sure, this is a comedy book where everyone acts ridiculous, but still, the base undertone of the story isn’t that being gay for your best friend is okay. (For even when characters say “there’s nothing wrong with it,” it’s hard to believe them when there are no queer characters to model it.) It’s that being gay for your best friend is... well, a joke. And also might get you in trouble with your spouse.
Even when the joke is ostensibly “friendlier,” the deflection aspect bugs me. The bromance of Hot Fuzz
doesn’t have the same punch-line as the I Can’t Believe It’s Not The Justice League
joke. In Hot Fuzz
, there was originally going to be a female love interest character for Simon Pegg’s character, but the character was scrapped and her lines given to Nick Frost’s character instead. The joke mostly seems to be about embracing that homoeroticism, perhaps asking why it makes people uncomfortable, or where the line is drawn. The actors and director involved voiced their official support
for slash fic about the characters, even calling Hot Fuzz
slash fic all on its own.
But here’s the thing. Pegg and Frost’s characters, for all this lauding and official approval, aren’t actually gay. They might star in an R-rated movie with impalement, decapitation, and geysers of blood, but they aren’t gay. The screencap above is the gayest things will get. The whole thing is just jokes--winks at their audience and fanbase, along the lines of “you’d like that, wouldn’t you?”
Unlike Coville or Stevenson, these guys don’t show increasing engagement as their work progresses; this is all anyone gets. In Shaun of the Dead
from 2004, there were jokes about Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’s characters being gay for each other. In Hot Fuzz
from 2007, there were jokes about Pegg and Frost’s characters being gay for each other. And in Paul
, from 2011? You guessed it, jokes about Pegg and Frost’s characters being gay for each other, where the title character asks by simulating a blowjob and then insisting that there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s exactly the same level of jokes and engagement, no change--and again, it’s hard to say “there’s nothing wrong with it” when you never actually allow any character to say they’re “it” on screen. Never once do any of the characters involved say, “Why, yes, I am” when asked if gay. In Shaun of the Dead
, they say no. In Hot Fuzz
, the question is never asked to begin with. When the creators are asked, they joke around it, but never really say, knowing that the ambiguity is all part of the game.
After all, “slashy” and “gay” are not the same thing. Slash, by its very definition, requires that it not be canon.
I’m not saying that these works are bad; like I said, I enjoyed them a lot at the time. And I’m not saying they can’t be helpful or meaningful to queer folks; part of why I loved Hot Fuzz
and I Can’t Believe It’s Not The Justice League!
so much in college was because I myself felt that my being gay was terrible and bad, so I found the ambiguity and deflection relatable and engaging. It allowed me to think about things like the fact that I was gay for my best friend or wanted to cuddle with him while still pretending to myself that I could be a conventionally masculine, “normal” guy, avoiding the stigma of being gay.
But that was me projecting myself into the narrative, not what the narrative was actually telling me. That was me having such a dearth of actual gay characters to relate to that I found straight characters who said they were straight more relatable!
As time went on, that changed. I found more queer media with actual queer characters, and realized that the stereotypes in my head did not actually reflect queer reality. I discovered that queer stories were so much more than the soap opera tragedy and coming out stories I’d read so many times before--that I could read about queer superheroes
, queer space captains, queer lovers who could actually kiss and fuck on-screen and say “I love you” on-screen, without an immediate, “you know, in a platonic way.” I could read about people who were actually
like me, not people I pretended
were like me.
Had I read ICBINTJL
or watched Hot Fuzz
now for the first time, I probably wouldn’t like them very much. I didn’t get to Paul
until a year or two ago, and I didn’t enjoy the bromance; as I watched Seth Rogen’s alien mime blowjobs for laughs, only to say, “not that there’s anything wrong with it,” I only felt uncomfortable, knowing that I was the joke, that someone like me would never be allowed to actually be
queer on that screen. Even when Paul said that everyone on his planet was bisexual, it rang false to me. If that were true, why would he ask? Why would he do so coyly by miming blowjobs instead of asking straight-out?
Because the performance was not actually intended to be for my benefit, or my bi husband's benefit. It was for the straight audience's benefit, the ones who were in on the joke.
And that was when I felt baited.