Like a lot of people in the United States today, I woke up to news of tragedy. Armed with an assault rifle and a whole lot of hate, a man walked into a gay nightclub during Pride and opened fire. While I ate breakfast, the already unthinkable death toll had risen. While it’s all too easy to let this event be pulled into the continuing dialogue about gun violence in this country, it’s important to remember who was targeted with this latest shooting. It’s important to remember that the LGBTQIA+ community has been under attack by lawmakers around the country. Of course, it’s not just lawmakers fighting against social progress, it’s pundits and people with bigoted agendas. It’s an entire culture of fear and hate.
Where are we?
I had already planned to go see Warcraft in theaters this morning. I decided to go along with my plan because it was far better for my sanity than being glued to the internet and the outpouring of grief coming from all corners. Perhaps losing myself for a few hours in escapist fantasy would be an excellent idea.
To an extent, yes, it helped. For a couple of hours, I was swept away by a world unlike our own, full of fantastical creatures and larger-than-life characters. Then, I got to thinking. This movie made a number of advances as far as actually having people of color among the crowds and in the war rooms. They even had women in armor that wasn’t terrible boob plate! That was so exciting! While that was pretty cool (and don’t get me started on how the women needed to have more to do in the movie; my review will come later), I was once again reminded that not everyone is allowed representation. Whenever love is mentioned, it’s the love of parents and children, the love of friends, and the love shared between a man and a woman.
See, unless it’s explicitly stated, the default is always heterosexual love.
Even in Azeroth, a fictional world with magic and elves, there’s no place for people like my friends and I.
In a trailer for Disney’s Finding Dory, there were two women that people claimed had to be lesbians. There was a hue and cry from the conservative camp about how Disney is pushing an agenda. On the opposite end of the spectrum, people embraced these two incredibly minor characters as their own. People joked about how folks have forgotten that the film’s star, beloved Ellen DeGeneres, is a lesbian. The film’s creative team ultimately decided to leave it open for audience interpretation.
While I’m happy that they didn’t immediately come down and say that no, these women were definitely not lesbians, it’s also abundantly clear that they are in no way ready to make a stand for progress. At the end of the day, for all of the good Disney does in a variety of ways, they’re still a business. They want to make money and that means they want to be as inoffensive as possible. To do that, they can’t be seen to be overtly pushing any kind of “agenda.”
I get where they’re coming from. I still call bullshit. It’s commercial cowardice.
At the end of the day, the LGBTQIA+ community are like Schrodinger’s Cat. We both exist and don’t. When we do exist, it’s because, like Beetlejuice, someone has said our name multiple times.
Words have power.
Up until the seventh episode of the third season of “The 100,” I was a big fan of the post-apocalyptic drama. I’d gotten sucked in by gifsets on Tumblr. Everyone was singing the show’s praises in the realm of not just racial diversity, but sexual diversity as well. One of the main characters is bisexual and she entered into a relationship with this awesome, ass-kicking lesbian. I was so there for Clexa. That’s the “ship” name for Clarke and Lexa, the two women in question.
Spoiler Alert: This didn’t end well and I have since stopped watching the show. I refuse to support a show that actively courted the community and then disregarded their feelings so quickly. On the plus side, the ensuing outcry and controversy brought the trope “bury your gays” into the harsh light of day.
When a character is anything but straight, white, and male, you see the target painted on their back. You count the minutes and hours until they are “sacrificed for the good of the plot.” You find yourself surprised when the straight, white men actually die instead of anyone else on the show. (Thanks for that one, “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”)
See, we are not your heroes. We are your villains. We are your martyrs. We are brought into your fictional worlds to suffer and die. That’s all we see of ourselves and, more importantly, that’s all anyone sees of us.
“But, Tegan, it’s fiction! It’s not real. It doesn’t matter.”
It does matter. It matters for every questioning kid out there who sees that the path you walk when you love someone of your own gender is paved with heartbreak and broken dreams. It matters for everyone, regardless of gender, to see that there is hope out there for people like them. It matters to see themselves live happily in fiction, instead of in pools of blood for being “different” or “unnatural.”
On top of hurting the underrepresented communities, it’s normalizing their pain for everyone else. That is, of course, if you see anyone from the LGBTQIA+ community at all on your screens. We are a rarity.
We can do better.
They say that when people spend more time around groups they don’t understand and fear, they tend to lose that fear due to actually getting to know and understand them. Funny, that. The more you see how normal a group is, the less likely you are to hate them. They stop being seen as boogeymen and monsters. They start being seen as people.
Did you know that the two male protagonists of The Road to El Dorado were originally written as a romantic couple? They had to change that. It was a family movie, after all. Think of the children! Well, here’s the thing: I am thinking of the children. Who would it have harmed to see Miguel and Tulio together? Even by explicitly removing the gay from the film, they were still pretty darn gay and I’m sure that Chel was a-okay with that. It would have helped far more than it would have hurt.
Perhaps if the Orlando shooter had spent more time around actual gay people or seen them in the film and television he grew up with, perhaps he wouldn’t have held such a deep-seated hatred for them in his heart. It’s hard to say. Yet when the cultural pendulum is starting to swing toward darkness with these bullshit bathroom bills and discriminatory laws, the only thing I can think to is show them all that we are here. We have always been here. We are always going to be here.
At the end of the day, that’s why I will fight so hard for better representation for everyone. We all deserve to see people like ourselves in our fiction. We all deserve to see people we don’t identify with in our fiction as well. The more we learn about others, the better off we are.
Sure, love is one way to combat hate, but I think knowledge is a far better weapon.