LGBT Pride Month: Representation in Geek Culture | Fanboys Anonymous

LGBT Pride Month: Representation in Geek Culture

Posted by Caelan Dooley Friday, June 9, 2017
LGBTQ themes have been historically omitted in mainstream media, particularly within comics, though representation has been steadily increasing since the 1990s. However, several steadfast tropes have often left members of the marginalized community lacking proper portrayal.

gay subtext in green lantern
Green Lantern, Earth 2
As Pride History Month fills June with rainbows and glitter from parades and LGBT-centric events, comic writers are at work writing stories that both universally inspires and entertains readers with the extra goal of reaching at least one that says, "This is me."

Sexuality and gender identity has had an upwards battle throughout the years, and it wasn't until 1989 were lesbian, gay, bisexual, or trans* characters even allowed in print. The comic book industry began in the 1930s, though between the early 1950s to the end of the '80s, mainstream American comic book publishers established rules against portraying LGBT characters, enforced by the Comics Code Authority. As a private company overlooking from within, it doesn't necessarily fringe on the First Amendment and publishers weren't required to follow the rules, though you wouldn't have seen a same-sex superhero kiss yet.

During the LGBT Voices In Comics panel at Orlando's MegaCon, panelists and audience members held a creative open discussion on how to write LGBT characters into storylines. With representation of queer characters almost invisible and LGBT people of color even further marginalized, a common undertone remains. Too often, gay and lesbian characters are featured as supporting figures in stories, with transgender and non-binary people having far less inclusivity.

You may have seen several not-so-subtle tropes throughout mainstream media—from the "gay best friend" that appears to only be useful for fashion advice, to sexualizing primarily lesbian couples—but other common themes feature dominant, gay, caucasian men with a submissive minority husband and using the death of an LGBT character to progress the story plot without the significant need for it.

LGBT Voices in Comics panelist, Tana Ford (Silk), interjected that queer characters are often used as fodder to the story, quickly being killed off as means of plot progression. "Stop killing us!" she said exasperated.

Sadly, it is a story arch that is painfully not far from reality and not isolated to media. Last year, 49 LGBT partygoers were fatally shot and 53 more were injured in a mass shooting at the popular Pulse Nightclub in Orlando. Following the shooting, a group of over 300 comic writers and artists came together in a unique comic anthology co-published by DC and IDW. Love is Love contains a heartfelt message while both honoring the victims, supporting the survivors, and celebrating the LGBTQ community. Over $165,000 in sales were donated to Equality Florida, a non-profit organization dedicated to the social justice and equality of the LGBT community in Florida, according to the Washington Post.

MegaCon Orlando paid tribute throughout the weekend, hosting a gallery space featuring art from the project and a Love is Love fundraising event in honor of the victims. The cocktail reception and book signing included comic talent Tom King, Scott Snyder, Phil Jimenez, and others.

While Ford actively breaks ground by focusing on tearing down barriers and the stigma of mental health, showing Cindy Moon in several therapy sessions, it also features two of Cindy's co-workers in a romantic relationship.

"I am a person that writes and draws authentic queer lesbian characters for fun and pleasure, and I also get to do representation inside the pages of Silk, and I think that there's value there," Ford said.

lesbian undertones in BatwomanPossibly one of the most well-known queer characters, Batwoman drew widespread attention after the redheaded Kate Kane was outed in 2006 when it was revealed that she was the former lover of Gotham detective, Renee Montoya. Although the New52 erased many narratives and the wedding between Kane and her longterm girlfriend, Maggie Sawyer, was cancelled, the pair can be seen together in DC's Bombshells comic.

DC Comics continues to uphold its stance on representation with the inclusion of bisexual villains such as Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn, and Aqualad coming out as gay, though the far less representation of trans characters remain. A single issue of Batgirl changed the dynamic, featuring best friend Alysia Yeoh marrying her longtime girlfriend, Jo. Alysia came out as trans in 2013 and has remained a strong supporting character for Barbara Gordon.

Last year DC delivered another new narrative, delivering critical acclaim with Wonder Woman: Earth One. Aside from her BDSM undertones, much has been argued on the Amazon Princess' sexuality, and comic creator Greg Rucka confirmed that she is in fact bisexual. Inspired from the legalization of same-sex marriage, Australian writer, Jason Badower, presented Wonder Woman as an officiator of gay marriage in Sensation Comics #48. Her big-screen debut last week doesn't dive into her sexuality, but we can assume that DC's continuity of representation is not far from gone.

Although lacking in comparison, Marvel Comics doesn't stray from its diversity, most recently seen in the 2015 reboot of Fantastic Four. X-men has essentially been a metaphor for accepting who you are, regardless of how others view you, so with Iceman portrayed as gay and the lesser-known mutant, Karma, a lesbian, representation is everything.

As more queer characters are being written, Ford exclaims, "I am so excited about gay Iceman. For me, he's always going to be gay Iceman, and not just like, Bobby Drake just so happens to be gay. It is important to me that one of the foundational members of the X-Men comes out as gay."

Where representation in comics still has much room to grow, it seems as though DC is at the forefront of the LGBT movement off the page. In 2015, the MCU portrayed a queer character on Jessica Jones, a few years behind DCTV establishing Sara Lance as bisexual. Known as the Black Canary (Arrow) and later the White Canary (Legends of Tomorrow), she initially formed a romantic relationship with Nyssa al Ghul during the second season episode "Heir to the Demon" on Arrow. Legends of Tomorrow showrunners further explored her sexuality in "Night of the Hawk" and "River of Time."

As the longest-running LGBT character in DCTV, Sara is not alone. The Flash and Supergirl both feature gay and lesbian characters respectively, with Supergirl introducing detective Maggie Sawyer in Season 2.

LGBT narratives in comics, film, and television are extremely important, especially for queer youth who are at the most vulnerable stages and require a sense of validation. Stemming from comics, television, and film, cosplay has often been a way to immerse oneself in fandoms, allowing many to cross-play in a free and accepting community.

One transgender cosplayer at MegaCon that goes by Cinder Venus, has found solace within the cosplay community, though coming out was a tough experience.

"A year and a half ago I went to the Center, I was in boy-mode, and I was kind of researching and finding resources for me to come out, and I was basically insulted by saying I was 'not gay enough, I wasn't 'trans enough," she said.

According to Cinder, she was not recommended a counselor and was forced to go through nine different therapists, paying a high cost for lack of insurance and unknowingly going under conversion therapy for two months.

"I've always loved superheroes," she said. "I love the difference of heroes, especially when I saw female heroes such as Batgirl or Super Woman, I just admired them so much."

Starting as a photographer at conventions, she slowly began to gender-bend cosplay favorite anime characters such as the tomboyish character from Revolutionary Girl Utena. Becoming more comfortable with herself, she began to cosplay primarily female characters, crediting cosplay for being a huge support in her transition.

What is your favorite LGBT character? 
Has cosplaying helped you become comfortable with who you truly are?
Let us know in the comments below!
THIS POST WRITTEN BY: CAELAN DOOLEY

Caelan Dooley is a queer artist, activist, and writer, covering comics, tech, and video games. She regularly performs with the Rich Weirdoes, Orlando's Rocky Horror shadow cast. You can follow her on Twitter. Extended staff profile here.

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