Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Straight Washed Media

 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.

Well, there are certain genres of media that automatically assume that GBLT people couldn’t possibly have existed, especially if it’s set in the future (especially in dystopians. I tell you guys, us GBLT folks are super freaking tasty – the zombies and aliens go right for us!) and especially if it’s set in the past. Because we all arrived in 1960, don’tchaknow.

It annoys me, but then, erasure is extremely common in most genres, so the even-more-likely erasure that happens here only gets a little bit more of an annoyance. But some shows, films and books really stick in the craw.

Like Enigma which is not-very-subtly based on Alan Turing.

Or Shakespeare in Love with a very straight Shakespeare.

Even Troy, though based on fictional figures, crosses the line with a very straight retelling of the Illiad. Do I even need to talk about 300?

Uh-huh, and it’s not like these examples are one offs, straightening history has been a major habit of the media’s for a very long time. In fact, straightening us in general seems to be a massive requirement and reason #866 why I don’t watch these dancing reality shows is I’m sick of seeing gay celebrities shoved automatically into opposite sex pairs for dancing.

For that matter, straightening history has been a major part of society and academia for a long time. References to GBLT people throughout history have long been buried by academia and that’s on top of the forces of homophobia and transphobia that forced our predecessors to hide and closet themselves when they were alive.


Our past is often hidden from us. Those who come before have been removed from history or been forced into a closet that has lasted decades or centuries after death – perhaps even forever. Our heroes, our past, our foreparents have been lost, taken from us, and that is a terrible loss. It becomes hard to almost impossible to find those who came before us as not only has the closet forced individuals to hide their sexuality, but for much of history denied the existence of the identity itself and denied us a coherent language with which to define that identity and personhood (which is why I really really have no patience with anyone saying “but they wouldn’t have called themselves gay” excuse people love to trot out. For so much of history the only mainstream words for people like us were insults or euphemisms).

And once we’ve found those of us who were rendered invisible it becomes extra impossible to reclaim them from under the tide of heterosexism, cissexism, homophobia and transphobia. So much of the world resists any indication that GBLT people existed in the past (or exists today for that matter). Society also continues to consider being GBLT to be some kind of terrible, shameful thing meaning any attempt to try and find our forbearers is regarded as an attack or attempt to corrupt previous figures. Just look at the Greek lawyers threatening lawsuits on anyone who dared to suggest that Alexander the Great may have loved men.

Most tellingly, they will often say “this person is dead, they can’t defend themselves” because, y’know, being GBLT is an accusation you need to defend yourself against. Or it’s considered “demeaning” because whatever the figure did is suddenly rendered moot by us spilling the icky gay on them! Whatever achievements or brilliant reputation they managed to maintain can only possibly be preserved if they are straight.

It’s hard enough to try and dig up historical GBLT people in the first place with our prejudiced society, harder still to hold them out of the closet and present them as they were with the constant forces deciding to bury us or hold that we’re too obscene and need to be hidden from, well, everyone.

So this is my context. And then I turn on the television and find another representation of one of the few people where we’ve found powerful to outright irrefutable evidence that they were part of our community aaaaand – straightness again. It just throws salt in the wounds to continue the closeting.

Now here’s hoping that Da Vinci’s Demons isn’t yet another example. I notice Da Vinci’s female lover has been cast… Hmmm maybe “hoping” is too strong a word.