LGBT: Where Comics And The Real World Meet
To commemorate Gay Pride month, we here at Project-Nerd had planned to honor and celebrate comics contributions to the LGBT movement and all those involved.
Then Orlando happened.
It’s hard to know what to write now, hard to know what to say when faced with such horror, such senselessness. When a lone gunmen, radicalized by unknown agendas can walk into a nightclub and murder so many, singling out an entire community so arbitrarily, comic books seem to be a luxury; unimportant and disposable.
Yet when someone takes it upon themselves to willfully and violently undermine an entire community, an entire way of life at a time when the world tries to celebrate their achievements, their struggle and their belonging, all we can do is continue. If ever there was a time for acceptance and celebration, it is now. If ever there was a time to embrace the LGBT community, to embrace them fully, it is now.
Even if that is only within our own, increasingly diverse, ‘Geek’ community.
A resurgence in the rumor that Luke Skywalker might possibly be revealed as gay in future Star Wars stories has bubbled to the top of the geek melting pot. Mark Hamill himself has encouraged the idea. :If you think Luke is gay, of course he is!” He has been quoted as saying. This is potentially enormously exciting development. Why? Firstly, because it makes sense for the character, does not feel false or affected in any way. Secondly and more importantly is because it reflects the real world and creates a greater tie between the fantastical and the real. Fantasy only works if it is believable, if it reflects something of ourselves within it. LGBT characters and creators reflect the real world.
The cartoonist of Jem And The Holograms, Sophie Campbell is a trans-gender woman and recently incorporated her own experiences into a story-line. In ‘Jem And The Holograms’! An all ages comic! I know, right!? Although it was not without its controversies, the fact that it caused people to talk in constructive and thoughtful ways is a boon to the trans-gender community. I can only imagine positive things coming from any form of discussion on the issue, especially among younger readers.
For me, as for most readers of my generation, Northstar was my first exposure to an openly LGBT character in comics. Of course, besides stating he was gay (eventually, as for a long time it was only suggested), the French-Canadian was never actually shown being openly gay at all. Peter would kiss Mary-Jane. Flash would kiss Iris. Most characters had some form of romantic engagement with those they were attracted to, but Northstar? Not so much. For a while I thought being gay in comics just meant that you were French-Canadian and wore an incredibly tight lycra bodysuit. Yet over time, the medium has evolved with its readers and Northstar again broke convention in comics by featuring in the first gay wedding to honor the comic-book page.
Comics have come a long way. Certainly, they have a long way to go and I don’t think anyone would say that our most beloved of mediums has earned the right to rest on its laurels. There have been some grotesque and ugly missteps along the way, granted, but in a community that can be overly harsh on the most minor of discrepancies; I think we deserve to be gentler on our creators, whilst maintaining eternal vigilance.
Properly representing our LGBT community in the most thoughtful, honest and respectful way possible is going to take time. In our rush to be inclusive of all people, we have to be sure that we are not just shoe horning characters in and slapping a ‘bi’ or ‘trans’ label on them just for the sake of it. That would be the greatest insult of all and achieves nothing toward actuality or fair representation.
3.8 percent of the American population identify as LGBT (according to Gallup Daily Tracking in 2015). That means that the vast majority of comic creators and publishers are, most likely, non-LGBT. We, the readers, artists, writers and publishers, need to embrace our LGBT community if we are to properly represent them. Comics are learning tools, they inform our minds, our principals and morality as well as our imaginations. They are incredibly powerful devices which can influence the actions and opinions of young and older people alike. Creators need to be aware of this power and use it wisely and responsibly. We need to take every opportunity to highlight diversity, to create characters which have real effect, not just in the crafting of great stories, but by reflecting the world around us.
In the aftermath of Orlando, it feels like a necessity.
Batwoman. Wiccan. Strangers In Paradise. Renee Montoya. Moondragon. Love And Rockets. Shvaughn Erin. Kevin Keller. Prodigy. Bobby Drake. Obsidian. Rictor. The list is endless. Characters we already know. Characters we already love.
We need to be galvanized against hateful actions and I can think of no better group to stand alongside our LGBT community than our own. Who else is more accepting and embracing of all walks of life than comic book geeks? We take you if you’re fat, thin, tall short, a Trekkie or dressed in an ill advised Power Girl costume. We love people and their passion, we are the living embodiment of humanity and its higher aspirations.
I don’t mean to make light of what has happened. There is no lightness to be found for those who have lost so much, nor for those who have to live with its effect.
But my hand is open for whatever is next. It is outstretched and willing to take hold of any who would offer their own. Healing will happen and strength will come from that. I hope this industry and those who love it as much as I do follow suit. I hope the publishers take this opportunity to realize the responsibility they have to offer diversity, to educate and perhaps change the opinions of those who might otherwise be influenced to do wrong. As a kid, it was ingrained in me that you don’t steal because Batman doesn’t. These characters taught me to aspire to greater things. In an increasingly complex world we need increasingly complex role models. Yet within that complexity, there is beauty and inspiration.
Tragedy always also presents the opportunity for change. I hope we, all of us take it.