Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Spark of Wisdom: Ambiguous Hints are not Representation

This is a guest post from Sparky, of Spark in Darkness.  Many of you are  familiar with him from Livejournal, as well as from his insightful and often hilarious commentary here. Each Tuesday, Womanist Musings will be featuring a post from Sparky. 
I know this is a subject that is not just the equivalent of a beaten dead horse for me, but this horse is dead, gone to the glue factory and is now several bottles of UHU and many tins of dogfood -- and I'm still bashing away at it. But it is something that really gets on my last nerve - because media representation is so important.

Media is everywhere. Books, computer games, television, adverts, newspapers, magazines... we stare at screens more often than we stare in a mirror, sometimes I think we stare at faces on screens more often than we stare at faces in real life. 

And it matters to see yourself there - and how yourself is presented there. Whether you exist, whether you are worthy, whether you can be the leader, the main person, the protagonist, whether your story has value - it matters. So yes, I am going to be beating that dead horse again.

I've said before that I want to see gay muppets. I want to see trans people on Sesame Street. I want to see Dora The Explorer's girlfriend. I want GBLTQ characters in every branch of media - from the incomprehensible bright coloured blobs that are inflicted on babies, through to those insomnia cures with elderly people badly painting churches with watercolours.
And then I come across, in a post where people are discussing the complete lack of GBLTQ representations in Disney programmes "what about contextual clues!" subtext! It's all about the subtext! They're implied to be gay, right? Kinda, sorta? 

And this is the excuse the Disney person gave. That they leave sexuality "ambiguous" in some cases so that viewers can make their own decision (I call this "plausible deniability gayness." Just in case one of the holy 'family' groups decides to act up)

And you know what? It's not a one shot thing. It's not the first time I've seen it. It's not the dozenth time. It's plastered all over - the subtext, the context, the slash goggles somehow making a programme GBLTQ inclusive or friendly and I'm supposed to accept this and be happy with it?

And in response to this Disney exec's pathetic excuse for GBLT erasure, there were threads and threads of comments from people holding up their subtext love, their slash pairings, their "oh x & y were so gay, definitely." In short, a legion of people BUYING THIS EXCUSE.

Ok, I'm taking a deep breath so I don't just respond with a strong of profanity.

No, it's not enough. Your hot men who have what may be a lingering look or touched each other a little longer than you thought was strictly necessary or y'know are just "so gay together" do NOT count as GBLTQ representation. I don't care if you've sat there with your slash goggles and you're going to run on home and dash off a ream of  steamy steamy mansexing (but hey, if you're going to, maybe you can avoid tropes like making one of the men shorter than he is on screen so he can 'bottom properly' and other such badness? Ugh, yes really) your slash fantasy is not a GBLTQ representation.

And deciding that subtext is okay for LBGTQ couples when the same programmes, the same channels, the same series and the same genre aimed at the same demographic is quite happy to have heterosexual couples being openly and blatantly straight (because EVERY LAST genre is happy with that, every last one in all forms of media everywhere) and not have to rely on context or subtext or implication or slash goggles or whatever euphemism we want to use for "it's far too icky and obscene to state openly, so we have to make a subtle implication".

Because that's even more offensive to me. It's offensive to me that I should regard these hidden hints (and some of them are dubious hints - they need thick slash goggles) as somehow representative of me because gods forbid I be allowed to openly exist and be portrayed! Be grateful for the subtext, because we're too obscene to be blatant?

So no, I'm not going to hail a work for it's GBLQT goodness, because it may have characters that would fit so well into your hot mansexing slash. No, I'm not going to hail it for having GLBTQ themes, when it doesn't have a single BGLTQ character. I am not going to praise it as pro-GBLTQ when the author retcon's a character as GBLTQ after the fact*** In fact, I'm not going to consider any programme inclusive, if I have to search for their "inclusivity" with a magnifying glass, slash goggles and a willingness to believe any men who stand within 3 feet of each other are totally getting it on. Especially not when in the same place a straight couple can hold hands, hugs, make googly eyes, kiss, make out, and/or have full on humptastic sex.

Screw that, if you're going to have GBLTQ representation - then have it. Don't sorta hint while maintaining plausible deniability so you can keep the haters, and the bigots, (and the Helen Lovejoys "won't you please think of the children!") off your back.  Don't try to claim inclusivity cookies when you haven't EVEN condescended to include a sanitised token to be someone's sexless BFF. And I sure as hell am not going to see any show as inclusive or accepting when it has a 100% cis gendered, straight cast.

And that's before we get to tokenism! (which is another rant)

And that's even before we get to sanitisation - where a programme/channel/network/genre will show straight folk humping away merrily -- but 2 people of the same sex having a chaste kiss gives them the vapors, which is yet another rant 

***A note on a past post: I've said in the past that I don't disagree with Rowling's decision to not reveal Dumbledore's sexuality to Harry in the Potter novels. I still stand by that, in the context of the novels, it's perfectly reasonable that a headmaster wouldn't discuss his sexuality or relationships of any kind. However, that means that they are a series of books, with a vast cast in the 100s and lots of people pairing off and in relationships, without a single GBLTQ character - without a single one. So no, I don't complain about Dumbeldore's closet - I complain about yet another overwhelmingly straight cast and I complain at the idea that ret-conning Dumbledore after the fact suddenly makes it inclusive.

Don't try to sell me your slash ships as freaking GBLTQ inclusion in the media. It does not amuse me and even slightly and reminds me (if I needed a reminder - because I so don't), just how very much "writes about the mansex" does not equal "ally."