Yesterday, Twitter was buzzing with dirision aimed at J.J. Abrams and Disney for their coy teasers about the possibility of a forthcoming Star Wars franchise film having an “openly gay” character. The dynamic of powerful media P.R. machines queerbaiting is nothing knew, and it’s a bullshit move. It’s cheap, and also actively anti-queer. I wrote a thread about why, and I’m posting it here in slightly tidied-up form because I’ll no doubt need it again.
This shit’s exhausting. That’s where I’m at.
The wages, the human cost, of this shit is to create and sustain a general public that finds queer people either unimaginable or only acceptable if you must be told they were queer (usually in retrospect, usually by straight people) because there is literally no other way to know.
Queer people, as a group, are EXTREMELY GOOD at excavating queer content from source material that looks super cisheteronormative. Why? Because for most of the 20th century, legally and culturally, that’s all we were allowed to publicly create and enjoy. So we’re incredibly dedicated and skilled at filling absences with rainbows. I mean, for fuck’s sake, how many explicitly queer fanworks are deliberately shaped to fill the cracks between scenes, episodes, seasons? Bajillions.
I love this creativity as communuty practice. Never, NEVER stop. But power matters here. When powerful media figures like J.J. Abrams or — to take another oft-cited example — J.K. Rowling, who decided post-facto that Albus Dumbledore was gay despite his sexual orientation having come up zero times in the original Harry Potter series, think they can just reframe queer erasure by using slash goggle lenses what they are doing is pillaging the beautiful, creative results of fan practice for social justice cookies while doing no work themselves. Work to divest themselves of stereotypes regarding queer identities, work educating themselves about queer lives, historically and presently. Work integrating queerness authentically into characters’ lives.
Queer people will exist, and we will tell our stories, without the validation of giant media conglomerates or Big Name Creators. But we need to be honest about what happens when queer lives (and the lives of all people with marginalized aspects of their identity) are merely implied by those with the economic klout to get their products in front of the eyeballs of every being on this planet. In a media landscape where You Only Know They’re Queer If Straight People Tell You our everyday queer lives are framed as an impossible fiction. Our gayness must be undetectable without interpretation in order for our presence in the world (I would argue on screen or off) to be okay, to be safe, or even just spoken of at all.
This continued authority of cis and straight people to dictate the terms of our existing in media (and in the wider world) also means they have a potent smoke bomb to throw if shit gets Too! Queer! for their comfort. Welcome to the (not so) wonderful world of queerbaiting:
You thought what was gay?
Oh my, these sex-obsessed fans … how bizarre their little fantasies are.
We aren’t sure they’re safe around the children.
That’s why this exhausts me. Because it looks, to me, like a new and yet not that new at all way to police the boundaries of normative gender and sexual expression. It looks, to me, like a way to continue defining queer as an imagined Other. An Other that exists to give added titillation to a character’s persona but not, you know, require that they actually be some icky flavor of actually lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, nonbinary, demisexual, butch, femme, pansexual, poly, into BDSM … in a way that would demand we understand their gender, their relationships, and how their lived experience of being a gendered and sexually desiring (or nondesiring) being in a world full of intersectional biases has shaped that experience. Heavens no!
It looks, to me, like a way to continue wreaking havoc on the well-being of our most vulnerable.
While the already-massively-privileged creators get to feel Hip and Cool and Progressive for *waves vaguely and mumblemumblequeer* at the con event.
That’s the problem with being dumbledored.
Fuck right the hell off and come back when you’re actually ready to do the godsdamned work.