Fyodor Pavlov’s Tarot – A Deck for the Queer Oracle

For those who have been following trans illustrator and tattoo artist Fyodor Pavlov, you know that his original full tarot deck has been years in the making. But you also may already be familiar with his art from this deck’s Lovers card, which features two trans bodies unapologetically displayed, and unfortunately massively overshared and copied on sites like Pinterest without credit.

The entire deck has been carefully crafted, with mindfulness to each card’s origin while also exploring oft underrepresented bodies and cultures in each design. Now Pavlov’s vision will finally be available in its entirety, along with a book explaining each card’s symbolism and the choices behind the imagery.

There are only a few days left in the Kickstarter for this tarot deck, so if you need a new queer tarot on your altar, check it out here.

Themes of Revolution in The Dragon Prince

The Dragon Prince recently dropped a 3rd season on Netflix, and continues to break ground in its diversity of representation, which is as vibrant, unique, and exciting as its fantastical setting. But it also teaches some had lessons which other children’s media shies away from.

Sapphic Queens in the Dragon Prince’s World History

The first season gave us a mixed-race royal family in which a black man is the king. In pseudo-medieval fantasy settings, this is almost unheard of, unless the nation is exclusively made up of dark-skinned people. It also gave us a particularly loveable female knight who is hearing impaired – though I’ve found that every character in this series is loveable, even the antagonists. What brought particular joy to me was watching this character speak so expressively through sign, sometimes without another character vocalising for them, and never with any subtitles. The incredible effect of this is that the viewer begins to learn her sign, and when it is not translated, is excited to learn it. I can only imagine how exciting these extra bits of dialogue are to viewers, especially children, who communicate through ASL themselves and almost never see themselves represented.

Season two introduced a character with lesbian parents, who’s heroic demise is shown in flashback. Though this certainly falls into the Kill Your Gays trope, it doesn’t make them any different from most of the parental figures on the show, who are either heroically dead, toxic, or estranged.

This third season gave us something which is extremely rarely seen in children’s media – a male couple who are not just wholesome chaste companions, but shown sharing a passionate kiss. The Dragon Prince has a few ley lines which connect its various characters, arcs, and history. These are:

Questioning Deeply Held Beliefs. It is established from the start that humans are appropriators, who steal and corrupt magic because they cannot wield any on their own. There is nothing in the continuing establishment of the lore to refute this. Yet, one of our main characters discovers he is capable of innate magic through study and concentration. At this time, there is no explanation as to why this has happened. There is no Chosen One motif, no mystery of his birth – simply a passion to learn, and to question the status quo.

A symbol of shame for those who refuse to fight in a war they do not believe in, then turned into a symbol for a cause.

Being the First Generation to Break a Cycle of Violence. The main premise of The Dragon Prince’s politics involves a small group of young people trying to stop a war which has been perpetuated by the generations that came before. But it appears in other places too – for instance, the child queen who lost her lesbian mothers is told that her parents would have wanted her to arm her nation for war, and answer the call of her allies. She agrees. Yes, that is what her mothers would have wanted. But they also raised her to be her own person, and her own judgement was to say no to war. It is not a betrayal of her family’s values, but her own way of expressing her independent ones. Before there is ever any hope for peace, The Dragon Prince shows us an assassin refusing to kill in cold blood, a child caring for a baby dragon who is the offspring of the dragon who killed his mother. A regiment of soldiers who lay down their arms and are branded cowards for refusing to fight a war they do not believe in. The show shines with small acts of gentleness that require great bravery.

Recognising Toxic Behaviour in a Loved One. Season three takes on a topic which is almost never handled by children’s media with any subtlety or realism: Being gaslit by a toxic parent. In Disney’s Tangled, our heroine needs to be a naive, isolated shut-in to be duped by her mother and not considered a complete idiot. The mother is earmarked for villainy to the audience from the very beginning, and therefore they learn nothing about how to spot a truly manipulative adult. In The Dragon Prince, Lord Viren is not depicted this way. He is styled as a villain by his profession and color palette, but so are Claudia and Soren with their respective dark magic and bullying. The three of them are depicted as more complicated than just the colors they wear. Viren’s two children are accomplished young adults with their own careers and passions, and yes, it is the cleverer one who remains trusting of him even when he has slowly turned into a monster. This is another valuable lesson – when you are the favorite child, it can be more difficult to see the warning signs, and easier to dismiss the alarm of your less-loved sibling. That is perhaps the most difficult lesson The Dragon Prince manages to get across – someone can truly love you, and be a villain too.

The pattern the antagonists in The Dragon Prince go through is almost a mirror opposite of Steven Universe, which presents binary evildoers and slowly reveals there is more to them, and inevitably, gives them all a chance to redeem themselves. The Dragon Prince Begins with a vast array of characters from different sides of a political conflict, some with duties to their nation, their race, their profession, or their family. As the plot develops, decisions need to be made, and lines in the sand need to be drawn. Some give up duty to better serve their moral compass. Some manipulate their position to achieve their goals. Characters who were once troublesome to the protagonists come to fight for them, and some who were beloved turn into radicalised monsters.

It is very rare that a piece of media for children should pull no punches when it comes to the hard lessons one learns when growing up. Your nation is not always good. Your family is not always right. And sometimes being kind is the hardest thing you can do.

All images from thedragonprince.com

New Web Comic – I’ll See You Again

Hello comrades! As some of you may already know, unearthing and paying homage to suppressed and censored LGBT history is a great passion of mine. Lately I’ve been thinking of how to create a work that would explore places and physical artefacts that could be said to be Queer Pilgrimage sites. Perhaps some day, I’ll get a huge grant to travel the world and make a travel guidebook on that subject. The Stonewall Inn is a wonderful place, but it ain’t the only place!

So let me present to you my explorations in a new web comic, I’ll See You Again. With this comic, I aim to present a fictional pair who can show us various sacred spaces through their own explorations, while also telling their own story. The cover and first page are below, and I’ll be adding a new page every 1 or 2 weeks. I hope you enjoy!

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I'll See You Again - Cover.
I'll See You Again - Page 1.

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Opening in 2020 – Alexander’s Monument to Hephaestion is a New Queer History Pilgrimage

Hephaistion by L Gullo

Hephaestion was the life partner and general of Alexander the Great, one of the most legendary conquerors in human history. I don’t use “life partner” as a veiled term for lover – he was never described in the texts we have as Alexander’s eromenos or erastes like his Persian courtesan, Bagoas. Hephaistion and Alexander are generally thought to have been lovers by most historians, but more importantly, they truly were partners in life. Hephaestion was a crucial part in Alexander’s success over a series of decades, not only in the role he played through military campaigns, but also as Alexander’s dearest confidant. 

Sarcophagus detail of Hephaestion hunting a stag from ancient.eu

We do not have any evidence to suggest Hephaestion had any romantic or sexual partners at all, and only married a wife who had been assigned to him by Alexander as a political act to help integrate Persian culture into their court. As queer people who may have known a person larger than life as Alexander, we can extrapolate that if their relationship was romantic but not sexual, Hephaistion may have been asexual, and Alexander may have taken Bagoas as a sexual partner to fill those particular needs. 

Several people who knew Alexander personally wrote of their experiences with him, but unfortunately these direct sources have been lost to us, and we only have third party accounts from narrators of varying degrees of reliability. Therefore any extrapolation we can make are just like any knowledge we have of him at all – extrapolations. 

But it cannot be denied that Hephaestion was Alexander’s dearest and closest partner through life. 

In 2012, a regal tomb in the Macedonian style was discovered in Northern Greece, as part of a larger complex being explored since the 1970s. The Kasta Tomb. They’re still researching and exploring just who’s remains are interned there, but in 2015 Hephaestion’s monogram was found.  The lead archeologist Katerina Peristeri says this is evidence that the whole tomb is a funerary monument for Hephaestion, built between 325–300 BC.

When Hephaestion died, Alexander began the downward emotional spiral that would eventually lead to his own death, 8 months later. Those 8 months were occupied with petitioning the oracle of Siwa to grant divine status to Hephaestion, which was granted. Hephaestion would be worshipped for centuries to come as a divine hero. Cults dedicated to honoring real people who had achieved divine status were eventually wiped out by the Christian empire in an unforgivable homogenization of spirituality from which we have yet to recover. The cult of Antinous, another king’s beloved who was worshipped by large swaths of people from various countries, was another victim of this eradication. Now, with a monument honoring Hephaestion discovered, we can take up that mantle again if we choose. 

Regardless of your feelings about Alexander’s campaign (He was after all a conqueror, though arguably a conqueror of a different sort than those previously mentioned.) his glorification of Hephaestion in death was a lasting and spiritual tribute to same sex devotion. 

The Kasta tomb is due to open to the public in 2020, and I will be watching for updates when the time comes. It is time we began to have our pilgrimage sites to visit, tragic and celebratory, modern and ancient, active and dormant. These are world-changing monuments to the power of our love, and they are part of our heritage as LGBT people. We are a people who have been violently and systematically isolated from spirituality, religion, and our own histories. It is time to reclaim them. If you visit this beautiful monument in 2020 or beyond, do not think of it as crumbling traces of a past civilization.  Think of it as a living monument built for you, by a man who wanted his beloved friend to be celebrated. 

Resources for further research:

Hephaestion’s Monogram Found at Amphipolis Tomb

Katerina Peristeri, the archaeologist in charge of the excavation of the Amphipolis tomb, presented a new finding that may reveal the identity of the individual initially buried in the tomb. During a conference in Thessaloniki, Greece, Peristeri said that her team discovered the monogram of Hephaestion, a general, and closest friend of Alexander the Great.

Kasta Tomb – Wikipedia

The Kasta Tomb ( Greek: Τύμβος Καστά), also known as the Amphipolis Tomb ( Greek: Τάφος της Αμφίπολης), is an ancient Macedonian tomb that was discovered inside the Kasta mound (or tumulus) near Amphipolis, Central Macedonia, in northern Greece in 2012 and first entered in August 2014.

Beetlejuice’s Big Bi Broadway Energy

An interview with Tim Burton I watched at my university’s library (which had an enviable collection from different directors) hit me deep and hard, with this sentiment:

It doesn’t matter how successful you become – if you have ever been an outcast, the feeling of being an outcast never goes away. 

This feeling was communicated to me so beautifully, even through the limitations of white, cisnormative, heterosexual stories that Burton sticks to. Why do so many marginalized groups resonate so fiercely and deeply with Tim Burton’s narratives, when he puts little to no effort to actually represent marginalized groups in his casting choices? 

It was with this love and preparation in my heart that I saw Beetlejuice the Musical, and was completely delighted.

Stylistically, Beetlejuice The Musical takes Burton’s trademark blend of Edward Gorey and Walt Disney influences, and skews it more toward an absurdist John Waters direction. The style, both visual and performative, matters more than any perceived philosophy of story, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  

Others will write exhaustively, I’m sure, about the adaptation from film to stage, but I’d like to touch on what spoke to me personally.

I grew up with the Beetlejuice cartoon series, which I would run home after school to catch the last 15 minutes of. I hardly remember the referential, pun-laden humor or rushed animation – the important thing about it was the friendship between Lydia and BJ. Unlike any other children’s media at the time, the relationship was not familial or romantic, it was a beautiful and rebellious friendship between a young girl and a male ghost. It was strangely wholesome and comforting to see a kid character who could summon a monster on command.

When I was old enough to watch the film, I was disappointed that Lydia and Beetlejuice weren’t friends, and the story didn’t involve their anti-authoritarian alliance, but instead the uncomfortable peril of forced marriage. 

Not only does Broadway the Musical resurrect the mischievous bonding of Lydia and BJ (Sophia Anne Caruso and Alex Brightman), it also undercuts the marriage plot by featuring an 11th hour number about the absurd menace of creepy old guys feeling entitled to love and affection. It’s one of the many aspects that the source material could have never been self-aware enough to feature. The script is more satirical of white nonsense than anything Burton could ever do, but the white audience is very much in on the joke, and white characters always deliver it. It lacks some of the edge it might have had with any characters of color in the main cast.

Let’s talk about Beetlejuice’s Big Bi Energy.

Beetlejuice the Musical uses the language of cartoon shorthand. For example, Lydia’s presumably fashionable parents want to force her into a frilly pink dress to look less strange and unusual in front of guests. It’s a visual that’s about 60 years out of date but still works as shorthand for the ongoing problem of children being pressured to conform to an acceptable version of femininity. 

Another cartoon shorthand is something queer viewers are intimately familiar with – the queer coded villain. In this particular show, the villain title is debatable, but the title of Monster is not. Part of Beetlejuice’s villainy is his inability to respect personal boundaries. Few of Disney’s villains are without this trait. He is constantly groping, catcalling, and manipulating both Barbara and Adam (Kerry Butler and Rob McClure), who act and sing as though they came out of a normal Broadway musical about the complex and sympathetic lives of privileged white heterosexuals and have found themselves on this lurid green and purple stage by accident.

The thing that brings this queer coded male-kissing-for-laughs shorthand into a more genuine place is Beetlejuice’s sincerity in these affections. Adam eventually uses Beetlejuice’s affection for him to manipulate him (and is joined separately by ghost wife Barbara) and it works. Because Beetlejuice isn’t just queer-coded – he is a queer cartoon. He is fiendishly hungry to be alive again, to be loved, and to be admired, and that hunger applies to both men and women.

Is an uncontrollable personification of the id good queer representation? No – but I do not ascribe to the rule that queers need to be paragons of virtue in order to be valid. Such a character would be out of place in this musical. This show is not about genuine human conditions. (And when genuine themes of grief do occur in the show, it’s honestly a little jarring.) The show is about irreverent attitudes about death and the afterlife. It’s about a giant sand worm you can ride like a mechanical bull, and living cartoons reciting absurdist gags, and watching your favorite Harry Belafonte song rake through human puppets like they’re being struck by lightning. The fact that queerness has an unapologetic home in the main character is powerful. Cheap gags aren’t at our expense as outsiders, they include us. And I love that. 

Queer coded villains are out of date because we don’t need code anymore – what we need is more unapologetic queer monsters, breaking the 4th wall and howling from the beyond. 

I came away with a genuine affection for every character in this bonkers show, delivered by some really wonderful performances and enhanced by the sexiest puppets and lighting design I’ve seen in a very long time. It touched on all the things I loved about both the Beetlejuice animated series and the film, paying homage to both, but evolving into its own sort of monster. 

Speaking of queer monsters…. that sand worm though. I’d ride that thing all the way to the netherworld. 

Beetlejuice The Musical opened on Broadway today – tickets here. 

Image Credit: Beetlejuice The Musical Facebook page, featuring Alex Brightman and Rob McClure