Someone Tell JK Rowling to Stop

The weird ‘facts’ JK Rowling has shared has turned into a fairly hilarious meme describing all of the ‘new information’ JK Rowling has bestowed about Harry Potter characters as well as other fandoms. It’s inception has come from the Harry Potter author divulging various tidbits on Twitter and it interviews about characters and plot points that really don’t have anything to do with the story. The intention to expand the Harry Potter universe is interesting in of itself, but telling us that a character is actually part of a minority way after the fact is hollow and irritating.Unfortunately, the stuff that JK Rowling comes up somehow outshines the creativity of Twitter with it’s sheer ridiculousness.


The latest revelation that she decided to share was that Dumbledore and Grindelwald had an ‘intense sexual relationship’.


First of all, no one was asking about that, and no one wanted it. Seriously there was never any time during the books or movies where I sat there wondering about any of the characters’ sex life. It’s not important to the story and at this point doesn’t give us any value at all. This revelation is nowhere as strange as the ‘wizards used to shit themselves before muggles invented toilets’ factoid, but the weird faux-representation she is trying to bestow is hurtful, annoying, and frankly pointless.


Full disclosure, I started reading the Harry Potter books when I was 11, rereading them all multiple times. The book series has it flaws, but I still love it with all of my heart. But as the years have passed the more and more JKR has tried to shove weird ‘inclusive’ things into the series, it’s taking away any joy I used to feel about these books.


People were obviously disappointed that a gay character (which wasn’t revealed in the books at all) would be in a movie with his love interested and there would absolutely zero queer context. It feels like someone dangling representation in front of faces only chastised when we want concrete examples of queer characters in the Harry Potter universe. It seems like she’s trying to be inclusive in ways that are safe to her and the franchising bottom line. JK Rowling and Harry Potter wouldn’t suffer greatly if there was actual canonical representation in Fantastic Beasts, but it probably would have hurt if she explicitly stated Dumbledore’s sexual orientation in the books.


This does NOT mean, however, talking about how two male characters used to bone a lot. It still leaves the representation at zero and overly sexualizes characters that are in books made for children and young adults. I’m not saying there shouldn’t be any of that in kids books, but it’s not what we’re asking for and it feels extremely strange to be given that over a decade since the last book was released. Saying Dumbledore and Grindelwald have sex is supposed to make me feel better about there being no out queer characters canonically? What does this solve exactly? Am I supposed to be satiated by this?


It would have been brave of her to include an openly gay character in a popular book series that debuted in 1997. But now it all just feels like I’m reading really bad fanfiction. I’ve read better fanfiction that includes more tasteful and concrete representation. Now I’m left questioning why no one in her circle is telling her to stop tweeting these empty platitudes. I’m wondering why her or anyone else feels like this is a solution to the lack of diverse representation in the books and the movies.


I’m not going to lie, the JK Rowling memes have been more creative than and interesting than Rowling’s revelations. But I would trade them all for actually queer representation in the Harry Potter universe. Queer wizards want to be seen too.

Everything is a Mess Right Now and We Need Queer Content

Pride is about celebrating where we come from, who we are and what we could be. Storytelling is a way we can explore ourselves and our community. Queer content exists, but need more of our stories told. More comics, more television, more movies, more music. If it feels like the already minimal representation we’re getting in Hollywood is shrinking, you’re correct.

 

GLAAD found that of the 109 releases from major studios in 2017, only 14 (12.8%) of them included characters that are LGBTQ. This represents a significant decrease from the previous year’s report (18.4% or 23 out of 125), and the lowest percentage of LGBTQ-inclusive major studio releases since GLAAD began tracking in 2012. Not one of the 109 releases included a transgender character.

We need diversity. Real, intersectional diversity. Diversity that acknowledges that people of every race and ethnicity can be queer. Diversity that acknowledges that queer people can also be disabled. That nonbinary, pansexual, and asexual people exist. That elderly queer people exist. That the queer community is made up of these groups of people and should be represented as suchnot as tokens, but as people who interact with their multifaceted identities within multiple communities.

 

Also, can we not end everything in tragedy? Stories about heartbreak and/or death seem to dominate mainstream queer content. Angst is a part of the mainstream while happiness and fluff seemed to be cast aside as somehow inauthentic. When depressing stories dominate the narrative, it’s hard to see a life outside of wallowing in our sad queer lives. It further drives home that anything that has a happy ending is unrealistic for queer characters. Why should they not have the chance to ride off in the sunset or live happily ever after?

 

Not every queer story needs to be politicized. Because by default we are political beings. Yes, the world is oppressive and sucks a lot, but that doesn’t mean that every story needs to focus on that. I’m not going around my day lamenting to my friends about the oppressive systems in place or how I’m afraid to hold my wife’s hand in public walking down the street. Those stories are extremely important, but they don’t tell the whole story. Sometimes a group of queer people can exist and do things without wringing their hands about how much the world sucks. We can usually walk the dog or grocery shop without bringing up our political identities.

 

We need stories outside of the ones where we come out to our families and loved ones. Coming out stories are critical to the queer narrative, but many stories leave out that we are constantly coming out to randos. This past week alone, I came out to a couple of new co-workers. Initially, it might be this grand gesture, but coming out can become mundane and not that interesting. Where is the story where someone has to come out to their dentist?

 

I want a story where queer seniors start a bowling league. Or group of trans dragon tamers. I want daring science fiction with a protagonist who is badass and queer. Epic tales that don’t solely focus on a character’s sexuality or gender identity. Queer characters that exist in worlds and universes unabashedly themselves, and no one questions it. Despite what is shown to us in the mainstream media, suffering is not the only authenticator of the queer identity and experience.

 

During Pride month especially, it’s important to look back and celebrate the various media that has shaped and defined our identities. They might use words that we no longer accept, or even cringe at, but it’s crucial to acknowledge them for what they are in our history and then do better. Let’s celebrate them by moving forward and expanding the narrative to include all queer folx.

 

The Last of Us Part II Trailer Is a Big F*cking Deal

Everyone was excited to see what new information we’d get about the Last of Us Part II at E3, and I was certainly not disappointed. Yes, we didn’t get a release date, but what we got will hopefully sustain us until the game actually comes out.

 

 

In the game play shown at the conference we got to see that indeed we’ll get to play as Ellie, who’s looking as queer as ever. And that’s not all! We don’t have to worry about the game shirking away from her sexuality, because we got a kissing scene in the first few minutes of the trailer! The way they transitioned from the kiss to game play and then back was absolutely fabulous and stunning, but there was a queer kiss! In a trailer for one of the most anticipated games! In front of a large in-person and online audience. During Pride Month! It doesn’t get much better than that, folks.

 

Sony E3 2018 GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

 

Seriously, I could stare at that GIF forever and it would never be enough. The kiss was so tender and adorable and sexy and it’s beautiful. The motion capture work that Naughty Dog uses for this game is truly astonishing and most definitely pays off in super queer ways.

 

The Last of Us Part II changes the game. If you want to play one of the probably hottest games (of hopefully 2019please, Naughty Dog?) you have to play as a queer woman. Dude bros who are mad at the very idea of female inclusion in the video game are made to play as a Ellie. And more importantly, queer female gamers get to play as a character who reflects a part of their identity. Getting to smash zombies or weird cultists or Fireflies as a queer woman is going to be so much more satisfying.

 

It’s going to be very interesting to see where Ellie and her story leads. Will we get to see more of her and her dance partner throughout the game? And where does Joel fit into all of this? We definitely have time to speculate, but for now I think it’s important to reveal in the fact that a major video game developer showcased their game with a big gay kiss at one of the biggest conferences in the industry.

 

In a world where we’re often silenced, it’s nice to have a little reprieve in which we’re the main character in an epic story. We’re here, we’re queer, we’re in your video games. Get used to it.

Make it Queer, You Cowards

 Queer-baiting has become the lazy writer’s way of incorporating queer characters without doing the work of actually representing the queer community. It’s enough to drag queer viewers and readers along, hoping that someday these characters might actually announce their queerness to the audience, and allow us to see ourselves in these narratives. It’s an exploitative strategy that usually mocks queer culture (intentionally or not) and undermines progress in genuine representation. Because it’s “not really queer,” it avoids potential l backlash from the mainstream who might deem queer content somehow inappropriate.

Will someone please think of the children?

I don’t have to tell you that queer characters are few and far between in the mainstream media. According to GLAAD, in the 2017–2018 TV season, there were 901 main characters on broadcast scripted primetime programming, and 58 (6.4 percent) were identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and/or queer. So it makes sense that we cling to a character or a show that hints at the idea of a queer character and story arc. And writers take full advantage of it. There are several ways that authors, writers, and showrunners bait us for our queer cash.

Sometimes show creators use their queer base to promote the show, and then act confused when there’s backlash against killing a queer character. The 100 featured Lexa, an openly queer character, and queer audiences rejoiced (and promoted the show on social media). These efforts helped make the show popular enough to be renewed. The show’s social media, including the writer Jason Rothenburg’s Twitter, touted how progressive the show was, which fueled queer viewership. Until they killed Lexa almost immediately after she got together with the also-female Clarke Griffin. Audiences felt used, and for good reason. It’s always terrible when a queer character is killed, but it felt especially frustrating on a show that used queer people to essentially do their marketing for free.

It’s hard to talk about queer baiting without mentioning the BBC’s Sherlock. Steven Moffat’s creation is full of “will they, won’t they” moments. In an interview published in 2011, Moffat explicitly says the series is “…most certainly a love story.” Watson asks about Sherlock’s sexuality in the first episode, and it goes downhill from there. Every episode is filled with intense staring and palpable tension. Nonetheless, actors and showrunners alike have denied that there is anything about the series or that would indicate that Sherlock or Watson are gay. When asked about the Johnlock ship, Martin poetically states that “Me and Ben, we have literally never, never played a moment like lovers. We ain’t fing lovers.”

This isn’t just about appeasing Tumblr fangirls. Thousands of queer fans have seen the queerness of this series. It’s beyond frustrating that hinting at queer characters is cute and funny until queer viewers start to take the baiting seriously. Moffat had no problem dragging queer fans along, but now wrings his hands at the passionate response of the fandom. It gets to the point that even if they didn’t intend on queer baiting (they did), their interaction with queer fans makes it crystal clear that they have no problem with making the show as gay as possible, and then scoff at any questioning of its queerness.

Another way creators like to queer-bait is to make characters gay after the fact, without treating any hint within the canonical seriously. This way, queer fans can write endless amounts of fanfiction, but the creators themselves are safe from any scrutiny. J.K. Rowling is probably the most notorious offender here. Nothing in the Harry Potter book series gives any indication of any kind of queerness. But after the last book was published, Rowling revealed that Dumbledore is in fact gay. That’s all well and good, but it in no way makes the series inclusive. Fast forward to the Fantastic Beast series, and fans are still getting baited. In these movies, we see young Dumbledore, so it would make sense to have some indication of his sexuality and crush on Grindlewald. But we’ve been told by director David Yates that [there won’t be any overt reference to Dumbledore’s sexuality in the second installment. Nothing says “denial of queer inclusion” like having a character’s canonical queerness completely erased from the narrative, especially when it was barely there in the first place.

And while we’re on the subject of Harry Potter, let’s talk about The Cursed Child. It’s hard not to see the parallels between this and the lack of gay context for Dumbledore. When reading the play, it’s not a large stretch to read Albus and Scorpius’s friendship with a queer inflection. They even compare their relationship to Lily Potter and Severus Snape. LGBTQ campaigner James Ortiz told the Guardian:

“It’s queer-baiting because they knew exactly who they were reeling in and why, but still decided to leave out the main attraction for all the fans they hooked, choosing instead, like so many others, to set up the gay romance, hint at it constantly, make it believable and deep and perfect, and then force it out of the story.”

It’s one thing to not have a character’s sexuality explicitly defined. It’s another thing to know that queer fans are desperate for any glimmer of representation, and use that desperation to manipulate them into increasing your sales. If authors and showrunners have no intention on making their characters queer, they should turn the car around and go write cis het characters only. These queer-bait characters are not real representation, and can be more harmful that not including any queer representation at all.

The more we take charge of our own narratives, the more we get to set the standards. Here’s some advice: If you are a cis het creator and you’re going to include queer subtext in your work, make it queer, you cowards. And if you do manage to include us, make sure these stories are as rich and diverse as the community itself. Also, don’t kill us off for lazy shocker plot lines. Instead of lifting us up as a community, you are pushing us down, making us feel like a joke for even asking for a little representation.

The Queer Content Conundrum

Queer content is at its truest when it’s created by queer artists, writers, designers, or other creators. Stories written by people outside of the queer experience tend to be full of tropes and wild inaccuracies. And it’s difficult to get queer content to audiences through mainstream movies and books. Thanks to platforms like Kickstarter and Patreon, though, many queer creators have the chance to produce amazing content specifically for the queer community. The internet has fostered a platform where more queer creators have our voices amplified in more online spaces, where queer folks don’t have to adhere to the rules of the mainstream, nor appease a wider, cis het audience.

There’s a downside to having to create your own space (whether online or IRL) to create content geared toward the queer community: it’s a burden to create queer content outside of the mainstream. Obviously it’s really cool that we get to do all these great projects within our own boundaries and on our own terms. But working mostly outside of conventional means makes it more financially challenging. Major television networks, publishers or comic book companies have the potential to provide an economic safety net that don’t exist for independent entrepreneurs. Queer content created by queer people relies on smaller platforms, and in turn is much more susceptible to a company, channel, or app collapsing.

There’s also a pressure, however gentle, to represent. Many people feel we all need to be model representation because of limited stories and resources. And what about when we want to create something that isn’t inherently queer? Many creators fear the Queer Artist label because queers are usually pushed farther into the background and not into the mainstream.

Queer creators are also expected to create 100% queer content that is 0% problematic all of the time. To the extent that it’s almost expected of us, and if we don’t do it enough or do it right in the mind of some audiences, we might feel like we’re disappointing them. The goal should be to create content that accurately represents our culture. There are great examples of queer creators creating fabulously queer content. The Kim and Kim comics follow two bisexual ladies (one of whom is trans) fighting crime. Lumberjanes comics were created by queer women and feature five “rad, butt-kicking best pals” and a bunch of supernatural critters. The Wilds written by a nonbinary person of color depicts a uniquely post-apocalyptic America. Danger & Eggs on Amazon is the first children’s cartoon to be co-created by a transgender woman. Steven Universe, created by a bisexual non-binary person (who came out almost three years after the series debut on Cartoon Network), follows female-coded queer aliens. These comics and shows have three things in common: they’re created by queer people and are very rad. They also represent and depict segments of the queer community.

It can feel almost like a burden, especially for non cis male stories. It’s great we get those too, but since there is even less content in other categories the burden is definitely heavier to get it 100% correct. I like writing fiction that involves as many queer characters as possible. I am nonbinary. So every time I create a character that isn’t nonbinary there’s definitely an internal struggle over it. Are my queer female characters enough? Nonbinary representation is minimal, shouldn’t everything I do add to the catalog? What if I don’t get any of these characters right?

It’s hard looking through a small window of queer media and not seeing yourself in the stories being told. It’s frustrating seeing queer stories told by cis het creators, especially when they only focus on coming out or the hardships. We all don’t have the ability to create our own narratives for others to read and watch. But one of the great things about the internet is that queer creators can be seen more than ever before, and there are many ways to support these artists and writers. A lot creators have Patreons, PayPals, or Kickstarters for projects they’re trying to get off of the ground. A couple of bucks a month can make a huge difference. If you can’t give, sharing and retweeting is free. Many queer creators rely on word of mouth and fans spreading the good news about their comic or show.

There’s no one correct way to represent the culture. And no one can represent the entire queer community at once. There isn’t one set of cultural ideals that intersect the many facets of the entire community. And even if queer creators write or depict cis het characters it’s still being viewed through a queer lens. Every story told by a queer creator makes space for more queer content.

We’re here, we’re queer, and we’re unique. The more our stories can be told through our own narratives, the more we’ll get to see the common threads within the culture, and the differences than make our tapestry beautiful and strong.”

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.”