What Counts as Queer Content?

What counts as authentic queer content? It seems natural that anything includes a queer character should be included. But as representation in media is (slowly) on the rise, it’s be time for more specificity. Because the queer community deserves decisive and authentic representation in the media we consume. The more we see ourselves, the more we can accept ourselves. And hopefully, with more honest and authentic queer representation in fiction, the more queer people can exist in the real world without erasure.

It’s important to define authentic queer content, but not create a rigid definition. There are so many queer experiences that it would be unfair and dangerous to contain it in a box that queer media needs to fit into.

Queer characters have really only been allowed to exist offscreen. If we’re lucky, there might be a Tweet or an announcement confirming that in fact, that very obviously queer side character is queer. While it’s nice to go back and look at a character through that lens, it’s frustrating to not have a character canonically queer onscreen. It might seem extremely obvious to the queer community that certain characters are hella gay, but a cis-heteronormative lens prevents a majority of the population from picking up cues that seem natural to us. It can also feel like an afterthought to woo viewership.

Sometimes creators are limited it what they are allowed to air. In The Legend of Korra, Asami and Korra end the series by walking into the Spirit World holding hands (the creators wanted them to kiss at the end, but Nickelodeon was not having any of it). And yet, there was a large enough segment of the fandom claiming they were just friends that one of the co-creators released an image of the pair going on a date.

The creators also backed up the canon by making their relationship the focal point of the Turf Wars comic series. It seemed like we were only destined for post hoc queer cartoon canon, but then Adventure Time made a couple of strides forward. There have been many times that it seemed obvious that Princess Bubblegum and Marceline were dating. But none have been as obvious as when they were holding hands. And then Marceline sang:

Slow dance with you
I just want to slow dance with you.
I know all the other boys are tough and smooth
And I got the blues
I want to slow dance with you

I want to slow dance with you (x2)
Why don’t you take the chance?
I’ve got the moves I’d like to prove
I want to slow dance with you

Very, very queer. But there were still had people who claimed the song was deeply rooted in heterosexuality, even when the song’s writer tweeted that she wrote the song about a woman she was pining for.

If it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, but won’t be labeled a duck… Is it still a duck? Subtext is all well and good for Tumblr posts and fanfiction. But when media relies heavily on subtext and queerbaiting, a lot gets lost in translation. Meanwhile, queer consumers of such content are often berated for seeing it through a queer lens. “Not everything is gay,” they declare as two female characters intensely flirt with each other. “Not everyone in the Star Wars universe is bi” as Poe bites his lip at Finn and Holdo and Leia gaze into each other’s eyes one last time.

Creators have gotten better with labeling their characters as queer in the midst of the game or series. Showrunners and writers have recently purposely and deliberately declared their characters as queer. When Ellie in The Last of Us, Left Behind kissed her best friend, there were people who still didn’t see the character as queer. [Naughty Dog had to make an announcement](http://www.playstationlifestyle.net/2014/02/24/the-last-of-us-left-behind-plot-point-explained-by-druckmann-ellies-job-explained/) that Ellie is in fact a queer character. Doctor Who has had several queer characters, including the Doctor’s most recent companion Bill. It was genuinely refreshing to see a queer character have her queerness be a part of her story arc so naturally and intentionally.

Steven Universe is probably one of the best examples of true mainstream queer content created with the specific intent of it being queer. Cartoon Network might just let the queerness fly because characters are alien rocks and are not LGBT humans. But, it reinforces that the characters are queer over and over again so the viewer cannot possibly (reasonably) think otherwise. But should it count?

Without obvious intention, it’s hard to label a character or movie or video game as queer. Of course there are cues that the queer community tap into. But is that enough?

It’s awesome that Valkyrie is bisexual in the comics, and it’s great that Tessa Thompson has been pushing for representation in Marvel films. But the average movie goer would not pick up on the character’s queerness in Thor: Ragnarok. Even intentional characterizations by a writer or actor can still be erased as representation by mainstream cis het audiences.

“Seriously, everyone, Valkyrie is gay.”

When heteronormativity erases context and subtext, it’s hard to feel represented. There isn’t a magical litmus test for what should count as authentic queer content. And that’s a good thing. And the queer community doesn’t need a pass from Straight Media™ for it to count as positive representation. But the fact that they are there for the queer community to see is important. Despite people trying to paint over it with a cis het brush. If there are people who don’t understand that Valkyrie and Ellie and Korra super super queer, it shouldn’t—and doesn’t—discount how the queer community sees ourselves in these characters.

We deserve to be seen and heard. We deserve to have our stories told by our community and on a mainstream stage. While there are fantastic queer characters that we can see ourselves in, the best queer content comes out of the ability to express our queerness on our own terms.”

Review: Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles #1

It’s 1953. The U.S. House Committee on Un-American Activities is running full steam on their public interrogations of “subversives and deviants.” Snagglepuss is a successful Broadway playwright with a secret. This is how the stage is set in the latest Hanna Barbera Beyond title Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepus Chronicles. Writer Mark Russell is at the helm following his recent success with the Flintstones reboot, and he is joined by artist Mike Feehan. This is the first of a six-issue limited series.

Issue #1 opens with a human couple (Alice and Henry) out on a date. They talk like people do in 1950s sitcoms, with exclamations like “Hot Spaghetti!” and “Oh, Crumbs!” All we really know about them is that they’re excited for the show they’re about to see. While seemingly disconnected from the larger plot, the issue continually circles back to their story and uses it as the framework for the first issue. Spliced in between their small scenes is the meat of the story.

Snagglepuss and his wife, Lila Lion, attend the closing night of his play “My Heart is a Kennel of Thieves.” There, he talks confidently to the press, and leaves after the show receiving a thunder of applause. In the car, he congratulates Lila on her performance for the press, and once she is dropped off, he orders the driver to take him to the Village. As Snagglepuss himself says: “You can only know a man by seeing the parts he doesn’t show you.”

When he enters Stonewall, we are introduced to his partner Pablo. With the TV playing live coverage of the House Committee on Un-American Activities in the background, Pablo tells Snagglepuss of his escape from Cuba. When Snagglepuss attempts to dismiss such a police state happening in America, Pablo calls him out on his wishful thinking before delivering, what is perhaps the most pointed line in the entire issue: “Every nation is a monster in the making. And monsters will come for you whether you believe in them or not.”

In the first few scenes, the seeds of the forthcoming conflict are planted. Snagglepuss is shown as a confident writer at the peak of his fame. His sharp wit and careful planning have yet to fail him. The anxieties of the outside world have yet to catch him off guard. But will his wits be enough for when the House Committee begins to take aim at him? Will they find a way to expose his secret and end his career? If the final page is any hint, they are certainly going to try.

Exit Stage Left is a thoroughly researched story set in America’s past, but it provides a biting social commentary of both our history and our present. The Alice and Henry scenes touch on the conviction and execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Snagglepuss himself channels the late Tennessee Williams, while his novelist friend Huckleberry Hound is modeled after William Faulkner. He is also revealed to be friends with playwright Lillian Hellman, as well as writer Dorothy Parker of Algonquin Round Table and Hollywood Blacklist infamy. Even Gigi Allen, the villain introduced at the end of the issue, appears to be ironically named after the controversial American singer GG Allin–but I’m only speculating on that one.

Taking a 1950s cartoon and reinterpreting it through a modern lens, with both past and present political anxieties on full display, is bound to produce some bizarre results. Russell and Feehan manage to weave together both the familiar and the weird, and present a world that is equal parts subversive, unique, and cohesive. This first issue is perfectly paced, giving just the right amount of brewing conflict and character development to whet our appetites for the rest of the series.

The Snagglepuss Chronicles #1 is available in comic book shops today!