Interview: Erica Friedman

Erica Friedman is the Founder of Yuricon, a celebration of yuri (lesbian-themed) anime and manga held in New Jersey from 2003 to 2007 that now exists as an online entity,  as well as the founder of ALC Publishing. She describes herself as an LGBTQ and Geek Marketing Consultant, and a proud holder of a Masters degree in Library Science. Last year, Geeks OUT welcomed her as a presenter at Flame Con, and we finally caught up with her to learn more about what she does and why she does it.

 

As the founder of Yuricon, how would you describe the responsibilities of your profession?

 

Yuricon as a community was founded almost 20 years ago on Usenet. We’ve had community spaces on every social platform since then—we had a mailing list that was founded in 2001 that we just closed up last year, MySpace, LiveJournal, now obviously Facebook, and I’m kind of thinking of starting up a Slack, but I’d need to get more admins than just me. I’ve run events in the USA and in Tokyo and traveled to events all over the world.

 

So a lot of what I’ve always done is promote and share and talk with folks wherever they happened to be, online or off. These days I most promote yuri by speaking at conventions (I was at Flame Con last year), school, and organizations.

 

How does yuri distinguish itself from other international queer female-centered comics, like Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home and Julie Maroh’s Blue is the Warmest Color?

 

Yuri is a genre of Japanese media, specifically manga and anime. Our Yuricon definition of yuri is “yuri can describe any anime or manga series (or other derivative media, i.e.: fan fiction, film, etc.) that shows intense emotional connection, romantic love or physical desire between women. Yuri is not a genre confined by the gender or age of the audience, but by the perception of the audience. In short, Yuri is any story with lesbian themes.”

 

What are your current favorite examples of yuri manga (or other media)?

 

Most of my top series aren’t out in English, like Collectors by Nishi Uko or Gunjo by Nakamura Ching. But I recommend Sweet Blue Flowers, by Takako Shimura from Viz Media and Kiss and White Lily for My Dearest Girl by Canno from Yen Press, which are out in English. In fact, I have a whole category of English manga on my blog Okazu and a category for Top Series of each year for folks who want some titles to take a look at.

 

In any fandom, there’s a bias toward male-centered narratives, even within queer fandom. Why do you think this is?

 

Men largely hold the social, political and financial power in all facets of society. They’ve got the purse strings, so obviously they dictate the terms. This is true globally. It’s not really anything to do with straight or gay. When women have equal access to money, they will tell their stories. As we’ve started to see in film. A lot of the editors in Japanese manga are women, but men run the companies.

 

Currently, there are several queer-themed anime events all over the country (because so much of the fandom in the US is queer folk) but relatively little canonically queer anime being produced. How do you think we can bridge this gap?

 

There’s so much more queer-interest anime than ever before. I mean, like amazing amounts. Yuri series Asagao to Kase-san (published in English as Kase-san) and Morning Glories by Seven Seas) is getting an anime OVA theatrical release in Japan, Yuri comedy Love to Lie Angle is out now and is streaming free and legally on Crunchyroll, Yagate Kimi ni Naru (Bloom into You in English from Seven Seas) has just been green-lighted as an anime. That’s three major releases in one year. That’s amazing.

 

But like the previous question, the answer is: money. The presumed market for anime is men. Straight men. Just like the presumed market for movies in the USA is men. It doesn’t matter that women make up a huge portion of the existing market and there’s an untapped market, white men make movies for white men, and do not understand how to react when movies about black people do well. When something like Free! makes a ton of money in Japan, the male-run studios make another Boy’s Love-ish series and then squeeze that stone. They don’t open up a division to make a dozen BL-audience appealing anime.

 

The US audience is not making anime, so we cannot change anything in relationship to this. As fans we can buy what we want to see more of. It lets the companies know what the market wants. That is the only power of influence fandom has.

 

How would you describe the current culture of LGBTQ fandom in the US? Is it different now then it was when Yuricon first originated?

 

It’s different of course. One of the things we’ve achieved in these last two decades is the creation of a whole new genre! Twenty years ago, yuri did not exist as a separate genre. It was assumed to be the opposite side of the coin from BL, which it isn’t. BL is a genre that has an assumed homogeneous audience of straight women, where yuri came in different forms, with different tropes from all of the different demographic genres of manga. So BL tropes exist to appeal to one specific audience, and yuri tropes appeal to various audiences varying ways.

 

The fandom has itself changed in age and identity. Younger people are more likely to identify as queer, less likely to have negative feelings about gender and sexuality in media. Anime fandom has mostly been young and open, in my experience, but it’s even more so, now.

 

How much do you believe queer representation in manga and anime is realistic or authentic in its portrayals of women?

 

It entirely depends on the individual story. Even the most ridiculous story can get it right and the most realistic story can get it wrong. Manga by and for women don’t always get it “right” for all women, either. I read a lot of josei (manga by and for adult women) and, for the purposes of the plot, people make idiotic choices all the time.

Review: Picnic at Hanging Rock

This twisty mystery could be your next obsession. Amazon’s miniseries Picnic at Hanging Rock is an adaptation of the Joan Lindsay novel (previously adapted into what has become a cult film directed by Peter Weir) about the mysterious disappearance of a group of girls at an Australian finishing school circa Valentine’s Day 1900. Based on the premiere episode screened at the Tribeca Film Festival, the series will be way more complex than even that tantalizing description suggests.

 

Fan fave Natalie Dormer (Game of Thrones) stars as Mrs. Appleyard, the enigmatic (to say the least) headmistress of the boarding school, who rules with an iron fist. From the very first scene, in which she poses as a widow scouting a potential home for the school (actually played by multiple houses, all ornate and gorgeous) and “converses” with her dead husband, we know there’s much more to her than meets the eye. The same can be said for the students, including rising star Samara Weaving (The Babysitter, Mayhem) as Irma, the girl all the boys want, and Inez Curro as pretween Sara, who’s wound up at the school following some mysterious trauma at home. By the time the girls embark on the all-important Valentine’s Day picnic, there’s enough intrigue for a season’s worth of soap opera afoot. Irma and her clique excuse themselves for a mountaintop excursion, which they’ve obviously planned ahead of time—but why? Just how close are these girls, anyway? The shit suddenly hits the fan, seemingly due to some supernatural force, and the hour ends on a cliffhanger.

 

Picnic at Hanging Rock is one of the weirdest things I’ve seen in a long time– and it’s glorious. Garry Phillips’s cinematography is exquisite; the costumes are colorful and eye-popping; the mostly female cast is superb across the board. Dormer in particular is in fine form, clearly relishing this enigmatic role. At the festival panel, she joked that she was dead set against “another corset job” but was persuaded by a chat with the director, and watching her sink her teeth into this part, it’s easy to see why! The eerie, hallucinatory effect of the program is enhanced by unnerving sound design and a great score by Cezary Skubiszewski. I am very much looking forward to bingeing this series, and based on the pilot, it could definitely catch on with a cult audience.

Review: Mary Shelley

Mary Shelley, my favorite feature from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival (and now available to stream), casts an electrifying Elle Fanning as the woman who invented science fiction with the classic novel Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus. Mary’s been portrayed on screen before, by the likes of Elsa Lanchester (who was both creator and creation in Bride of Frankenstein) and Natasha Richardson (in Ken Russell’s baroque and bizarre Gothic), but never before with any sense of realism, and certainly not in so feminist a manner as this movie.

 

Which isn’t to say that Mary Shelley—which, ahem, was directed by Saudi Arabia’s first female director, Haifaa Al-Mansour—is without style. It’s a gorgeously shot, meticulously designed work that dramatizes its real world characters with immediacy and excitement. Still reeling from the death of her mother, and stymied by the tyrannical presence of her stepmother, Mary is a misfit who buries her nose in horrific, “unsavory” books and has no one to rely on apart from her sister Claire (Bel Powley). That is, until she meets the beguiling poet Percy Shelley (Douglas Booth), her father’s literary apprentice, and the two embark on a forbidden romance. Eventually the lovers run away together, taking along Claire, but happiness proves elusive for the trio. The mercurial, philandering Percy causes Mary no small amount of pain, and Claire’s affair with the enigmatic Lord Byron (scene-stealing Tom Sturridge) causes her equal misery. Through it all, Mary manages to persevere and put pen to paper for the masterpiece that is Frankenstein—even if she has to convince sexist publishers to take a chance on such a ghastly work for a female author. The inspiration for this monstrous tale is rendered in gripping cinematic fashion, by a “Phantasmagoria” stage show the characters witness and an eerie nightmare Mary has while staying at Byron’s Swiss villa.

 

Mary Shelley makes many such flourishes, and takes liberties with the truth—but it works, and the effect is beautiful. The poetic dialogue sounds like it belongs in an exceptionally witty play; it’s delivered by a great cast led by the excellent Fanning. Booth is appropriately beautiful and narcissistic as Percy, while Powley brings levels to the tortured Claire. Sturridge, as Byron, makes quite the impression on characters and audience when he greets Percy with a kiss on the lips; sadly, his bisexuality is left largely unexplored, save for a vague allusion later on. It’s forgivable considering how much material the writers (Emma Jensen and Al-Mansour) had to whittle down. There’s also a gorgeous score by actress/composer Amelia Warner.

 

Mary Shelley is a fast-moving, fanciful, yet resonant treatment of the life and talent of the famous author. It reveals a uniquely female perspective on love, loss, and sisterhood, and sheds a very modern light on the pitfalls of navigating a sexist world. Go see it.

Review: The Cardboard Kingdom

You’re not going to want to miss The Cardboard Kingdomthe new anthology-style graphic novel by Chad Sell. The listed age recommendation for Middle Grade is 812, but I read the book with my six-year-old, and he was just as enthralled as I waswhich is no easy feat! We talk about acceptance a lot in our household, enough that my son has already got the “Yes, mom. I know.”/ eye roll combo down pat, but the lighthearted way The Cardboard Kingdom covers some heavy topics never provoked that reaction. The colors are bright, the endings are happy, and while not every kid achieves #UltimateGlory in the story, it does offer lots of authentic insight. I felt comfortable reading it with my child, both of us eagerly turning each page, anticipating each new adventure.

 

The book itself is made up of several vignettes, each highlighting a new or returning character and their journey into the “kingdom” (literally fabricated with cardboard) of neighborhood friendships and play. The book is diverse without resorting to tokenism, and each of us found more than one character to see bits of ourselves in. My son found a kindred spirit instantly in Jack, a young boy who chooses to dress up as a sorceress during imaginative play, and I felt more than a few heartstrings get tugged while reading about Big Banshee and The Gargoyle.

 

While the tenderly crafted stories are what made this book memorable for me, the art is an absolute joy to behold, effortlessly blending the running theme with the tone of the book, without ever weighting the story down, or taking it out of acceptability for child readership. Each character is lovingly illustrated, and the comic switches from real life to fantasy are just fun. I giggled. Out loud.

 

So if you’re looking to bring a little sweetness into your reading diet, or if you have a child in your life who’s maybe been feeling a little too shy, a little too loud, a little too weird, or just a little too different from everybody else, this is a diverse though never heavy handed look into what childhood could be like if we all taught our kids acceptance and that differences are what make us special. I’d say it’s suitable for ages 660, and if you have an old bigoted 65 year old aunt? Buy her a copy!

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.

Mutant & Magical Boy—Episode 08: The Category Is Pride

It’s tea time, ladies! In what might be our gayest episode yet (don’t @ us), we’re gagging on FX’s new queer spectacular, Pose. Is it 10s, 10s across the board? Well, you’ll have to listen, hunty! Do the queens serve you life, death, and glitter on a platter? Bih, you already know. Happy Pride!

 

[INSERT EXPLODING GLITTER RAINBOW HERE]


XO,
The gayest blerds you’ll ever meet ,
Mutant & Magical Boy

Review: Pose

The largest ever cast of trans actors on a scripted series assembles for something both entertaining and resonant.

 

The Pose screening held at New York City’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center hosted a wonderfully eclectic crowd. Refreshingly diverse (my partner estimated that only about 15% of the audience was white), the audience included numerous trans folks and people of color as well as celebrity drag kid Desmond Is Amazing, who dazzled the audience with a brief vogue routine just before the episode started. I mention all of this for a few reasons. The program’s cinematic look translated effortlessly to the big screen, no surprise considering co-creator Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, credited here alongside African American Bronx native Steve Canals, brought a polished visual aesthetic to their Glee, American Horror Story, and American Crime Story franchises. The audience’s response was rapturous at times—the ball scenes may as well have been happening in the room for how enthusiastically everyone applauded, and audible gasps were heard when villainous rival Mother Elektra (Dominique Jackson) called protagonist Blanca (MJ Rodriguez) “beast.” This would seem to indicate that the community being portrayed was satisfied with the depiction, a genuine concern when this show was announced. (Because I love me some Ryan Murphy, but he can be problematic as hell, especially where racial and gender identity politics are concerned.) The community center venue and carefully cultivated crowd indicated canny marketing, to be sure, but also an honest desire to reach out to and include the people this program is meant to celebrate in addition to the usual suspects: i.e. white, mostly male critics. (Guilty as charged.)

 

Based on the premiere alone, Pose has huge potential. The series explores the Manhattan ball culture of the 1980s, a world made famous by the documentary Paris Is Burning. The first episode largely works as a self-contained experience, while also setting up characters and conflict for subsequent installments. In the stunning opening sequence, we meet Elektra, Blanca, and the other members of the House of Abundance and immediately sense a conflict between the first two women; the scene quickly shifts to a museum where the group raids an exhibition of authentic royal finery and manages to win a nearby ball competition before being led away in handcuffs. “And that is how you do a Ball!” Billy Porter’s Pray Tell breathlessly declares. Cue Pose logo and enthusiastic cheers from the crowd.

 

Cut to Allentown, Pennsylvania, where Damon (Ryan Jamaal Swain) dreams of becoming a dancer before being beaten and literally thrown out of the house by his homophobic father and Christian mother. The expected caring mom versus cruel dad dynamic is shattered the instant she slaps Damon across the face. He winds up on the streets of New York City around the same time Blanca gets diagnosed with HIV and decides to leave the House of Abundance to form a house of her own. Needless to say, their paths soon cross, with Blanca impressed with Damon’s dancing. Swain is a terrific dancer, and tremendously appealing, if a bit green as an actor—something that could be said of numerous Glee cast members who subsequently improved over the years. Rodriguez, meanwhile, is excellent and imbues her role with real pathos and conviction. She sells at times on-the-nose dialogue by bringing out its truth.

 

Some of the character’s experiences—for example, explaining that the knowledge she’ll die of AIDS is at least one certainty in her otherwise uncertain existence—are so specific that they surely came from a creator’s actual life. Blanca and Damon’s burgeoning family dynamic soon grows to include Angel (Indya Moore), who’s fed up with the House of Abundance and the painful rejection she experiences applying for a job, and in her burgeoning romance with Stan (Murphy stalwart Evan Peters), a Trump executive with a wife (Kate Mara) and kids. Stan picks Angel up while she’s working the street, and their encounter in a hotel room is touching, funny, and incredibly specific. It also gives us our first taste of Moore’s considerable acting chops. Having co-starred in the trans themed musical Saturday Church, the actress here takes center stage. She’s beautiful and by turns confident, insecure, sassy and hilarious. (“Can we talk?” Stan asks while “I’m Not in Love” purrs over the radio. “Of course. It’s my second best skill,” Angel declares.) It’s a three dimensional character, and if there’s any justice in the world it will be a star-making role for Moore. Speaking of stars, Porter inches closer to an EGOT with his host/fashion designer character, a sort of fairy godfather to Blanca and her group. He steals every scene he’s in, no small feat considering he’s usually acting alongside elaborately dressed voguers.

 

Of course, it wouldn’t be a ball show without balls, and Pose has them in abundance (pardon the pun). The choreography and extravagant costumes are exhilarating, including a show stopping solo Damon performs to Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody.” It’s an eleventh-hour dance school audition secured by Blanca, who replies to the dean’s “who are you again?” with “I’m his mother.”

 

As the premiere ended to the sounds of Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill”—the soundtrack to Pose is amazing—there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. There are a lot of gay shows and movies, but not many of them feel queer, and they too often foreground white characters and experiences. Not so this series, which rewards audiences hungry for representation and looks to be an illuminating and engrossing experience. It’s about time.

Interview: Mariko Tamaki

Mariko Tamaki is an artist and writer of mixed Japanese Canadian and Jewish Canadian descent, known for her graphic novels Skim and This One Summer (co-created with her cousin Jillian Tamaki). Recurring themes in her work include becoming, identity, and queerness. Since 2016, she’s been writing for both DC and Marvel  on comics like She-Hulk and Supergirl: Being Super, and her English language translation of the queer coming-of-age story Luisa: Now and Then (by French writer and illustrator Carole Maurel) was released today by Humanoids. This August, she’ll be joining Geeks OUT as a special guest at Flame Con, so we wanted to get to know her a bit better before then!

 

For several years, you’ve collaborated with your cousin, artist Jillian Tamaki, on books like Skim and This One Summer. What is the creative process like for you working with family? Are there any challenges that are unique to working with a familial relation?

 

I imagine pretty much all collaborations have unique elements. There is a part of our connection that is familial, in that we have very similar senses of humor, I think, and some very Tamaki sensibilities.  Mostly I, certainly, have always trusted Jillian to do her thing (which she does exceptionally well) and mostly our publisher has let us do things the way we need to do them, so that’s awesome.

 

Throughout much of your career, queerness has been a prominent (or at least recurring) theme of your work. As a queer woman yourself, how much of your own experiences do you incorporate into your fiction writing?

 

I’m not sure sometimes if I default to a queer experience because I am queer or if it is because I specifically want to see more queer content out there.  I think it’s always a little bit of both.  I try not to overthink it.  I try to write the story I want to write and see how that pans out.  Definitely if I am writing something that feels completely straight, I’ll sew some queerness in there, because queerness is always there. It’s like when you’re writing a cityscape, you need to write in the characters that would be there.  To me, not doing that is more of a choice.

 

My first introduction to your work was Skim, the graphic novel about a young girl named Kimberly Keiko Cameron, set against themes of first love, mental illness, and suicide. What was the creative inspiration behind this work?

 

I just pictured this character one day who had a broken arm because she had tripped over a candleholder that was part of her Wiccan altar.  I was sitting on the bus and I just had that image so clearly I was like, “I bet that’s a book.” Once I started writing it everything sort of just fell into place. I’d always wanted to use my experience in a private all girls school for something, so this seemed like that place to do it.

 

There’s a recurring theme in your stories of characters coming-of-age stories. Why do you gravitated toward this particular narrative?

 

I don’t necessarily mean to write “coming-of-age” stories. I am interested in the mechanics, the experiences, that go into the things we take for granted, like identity, like being a girl or boy or neither, like being smart or funny.  All that stuff.  We are all always becoming the things we are.  That doesn’t stop when you turn 20, but it’s incredibly potent when you’re a teenager.  And potency makes for good stories.  So there you are.

 

What is the most significant way your more personal work differs from your work on comics like She-Hulk?

 

Generally, until I wrote She-Hulk, very few of my characters were green or grey. Also, writing for superhero comics, you’re writing into a world, you’’re writing against the backdrop of a genre, which is sort of always there no matter what you’re writing.  So it affects what you write in a myriad of little ways.  It’s a challenge, but it’s a good challenge.  I want my mainstream comics work to feel like it’s coming from me, but I also want it to be a part of the larger whole of mainstream comics.

 

Do you have any favorite queer authors or books you can recommend?

 

Right now I’m recommending Emil Ferris’s My Favorite Thing is Monsters.  I know Maurice Vellekoop is working on a graphic memoir to that will be published by Pantheon Books.  I have seen bits of it and it is amazing.  I loved Molly Ostertag’s Witch Boy and I’m thoroughly enjoying Moonstuck series by Grace Ellis and Shae Beagle.  I could go on.

 

Do you have any new ideas or projects for us to look forward to?

 

I have a book coming out in 2019 with Rosemary Valero-O’Connell called Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me.  I’m working with Juan Cabal on X-23 for Marvel.  I have a Harley Quinn graphic novel with DC Ink with Steve Pugh called Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass.  My third book with Abrams for our Lumberjanes series with Brooklyn Allen is called The Good Egg and I am so excited for people to read it.  And I’m currently writing a YA murder mystery, but I’m not sure what the title will be yet, so look out for that.

Review: The Black Tides of Heaven

 

The Black Tides of Heaven by nonbinary queer Singaporean writer JY Yang is an impressive feat of both subtly and depth. While fantasy isn’t usually known for its brevity, Yang manages to deliver a richly textured world packed with fascinating characters in a single 236-page novella. Thankfully, this is the first of three  in the Tensorate series.

 

The story focuses on the twins Akeha and Mokoya, and spans 35 years from beginning to end. Akeha and Mokoya are the children of the Protector, a ruthless matriarch who rules her Protectorate through intimidation and bloodshed. The plot begins to take shape when Mokoya has a series of prophetic visions, which prompts their mother to try to use her child’s gift to her own advantage. While both twins are featured heavily in the early chapters, the narrative is driven primarily by Akeha’s journey. With all the attention on Mokoya, Akeha eventually flees their mother’s protectorate to forge his own path.

 

One of the most fascinating details of this world that Yang has created is that children are not assigned genders at birth. We see this play out in a number of unique ways throughout the story. Some children choose very young, others wait until much later, and others still choose to remain somewhere in between. Both Akeha and Mokoya, for instance, each use gender neutral pronouns for the first two parts of the book.  The cultural norm is to recognize gender as something that comes from within, and that in and of itself is a beautiful thing.

 

Beyond its fluid beliefs on gender, the society within the Protectorate suffers from massive wealth inequality. The greatest source of power in this world is the Slack, which draws its energy from different parts of nature. The way people wield this power is reminiscent of the Force in Star Wars, but as the story goes on, Yang gives a sense that it’s much more complex than an energy that binds the universe together. While most secrets of the Slack are kept secret by the Tensors, they are facing an uprising from the resistant Mechanists. The seeds of this war are sewn in the early chapters and gradually take route throughout the story.

 

Although the book is short, the story itself is large and expansive. The details are intricate yet never overwhelming.  Yang has managed to bring to life a vivid world by only showing us exactly what we need to see. Lucky for us, there are two more novellas after this one: The Red Threads of Fortune and The Descent of Monsters, coming in July from Tor.

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.