The Double Standards for Queer Characters Need to End

Korra and Asami
Terra Necessary

"They just forced the romance in! It came from nowhere, just so they can get the PC points for the SJWs!!!" 

"Korra and Asami (from The Legend of Korra) weren’t developed enough!"

"How DARE they just tell us, out of nowhere, that this Overwatch character is just…GAY?"

"It’s so confusing?! How can someone just BE GAY?!?!?"

Anyone who has enjoyed a queer romance in fandom (especially—God forbid—one that wasn’t advertised from the start) has run into these (and other similar) arguments. I wish I was joking, but I've seen these exact tweets recently, and you can see dozens like it any time you dip into a conversation about any queer (or queer-baiting) characters. No matter how carefully built a couple may be, no matter how obvious the subtle build of a complex subject like someone’s sexuality is, for many people, if those plot lines are queer-themed, nothing is enough.

When gaming giant Blizzard Entertainment announced that the character Tracer in the video game Overwatch was gay in a touching holiday comic, most of the fandom was excited. Blizzard has been very open and upfront that their popular game would contain multiple queer characters (and also because Tracer wasn’t exactly a reach for a character to be gay), but that doesn’t mean there weren’t plenty of people baffled, angry, and confused.

This storyline is old and worn. Tracer’s not the first, and she won’t be the last. It happens just about any time a character, after the face, is revealed to be gay and it becomes a catch-22 for fans and creators. Unless a story presents a character as gay from the moment they are introduced, or layers them with gay tells and stereotypes, there will be backlash. (Heck, half the time when they DO, there’s still backlash.) What we end up with is too many characters whose stories are crippled by the expectations of what a queer character should be, instead of being the nuanced, complex characters they could be. And it's an unfortunate example of art imitating life.

This dynamic is, of course, a negative one. It reinforces the many tropes (not often good ones) that show up again and again in fiction. Characters end up either defined by their sexuality, or challenged on it. Creators now need to factor in fandom and, depending on how big their audience is, even pop culture’s reactions. Some choose to ignore it and push through anyway, but we have too many stories of characters being straight-washed to count.

And this doesn’t even touch on characters who, by all rights, would have a canon romantic relationship, but don’t because of the fan backlash. We all know the couples. And we all know we’d never see them fulfill the potential of the relationships the creator have laid out. Stories where, if the couple was heterosexual, there would be no question on any level what kind of relationship that would be. Couples that intentionally muddy the lines between strong same-sex relationships and romance so that they can pull the gay viewers in, but not risk alienating their conservative, Middle-American audiences.

Luckily, we’re getting better representation every day. When I was a teen, I was scraping the bottom of some barrels real deep to find a character like me. Now, there are as many awesome role models as there are flawed ones (and really, most of the flawed ones are still pretty okay). Hopefully, as queer characters become more and more mainstream, we can lay the path for more varied expressions of humanity. Each new media is another step forward (like Adventure Time laying the path for Steven Universe), so hopefully we’ll have a place where Dumbledore being gay isn’t something so scandalous that the studio won’t show it.  

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