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Living Queer, Speaking Geek

Part One of a Two-Part Conversation on Queer Geek Culture, Icons, Community and Activism

June 14, 2013

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Christopher Stansfield: I tend to be more turned off, not by overtly negative portrayals of queer issues, but more well-meaning condescension, and also obvious self-promotion in certain cases -- where it's like, "Look, we have a gay person!" And then it's not touched. But you make sure that you get those press releases out about Northstar, you know, 15 years ago. And then nothing happens with the character. Or you have Judd Winick, the writer of Green Lantern. Very queer positive in his own life, and again, very well meaning, but the way he handled the gay bashing story in his Green Lantern comics, I felt, was not going to change anybody's minds, and was actually going to irritate people. Because there was still that kind of condescension: We have a gay character, so what are we going to do? We're going to make sure that he goes through gay bashing.

Fyodor Pavlov: The victim story. Always the bad stories.

Christopher Stansfield: So that tends to just annoy me more. Unfortunately, I think that's the case with any minority that begins to kind of get integrated with society at large. You do go through these stages; and well-intentioned liberalism is still well intentioned, and I'm thankful for that. But you have to get past that point of being first the victim.

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Fyodor Pavlov: I think you touched on a really important point. Again, I can't think of any one example, because there are so many where a queer story always has to be a story of negativity and suffering, and pain, and tears, and overcoming, and lost love, or not ever finding love, or being in love with your straight best friend.

Christopher Stansfield: Boys in the Band mentality.

"We've reached a point where queer people, whether they're gay, trans, whatever -- they're actually happy people. Not all trans people hate their bodies. Not all gay people go through gay bashing. We don't have to just tell tragedies." -- Fyodor Pavlov

Fyodor Pavlov: Yeah. They're so insidious and so prevalent that I think we have now reached this point where a lot of this is true of queer experience, but the way it's handled is not good. And also, we've reached a point where queer people, whether they're gay, trans, whatever -- they're actually happy people. Not all trans people hate their bodies. Not all gay people go through gay bashing.

We don't have to just tell tragedies, at this point.

Christopher Stansfield: It's about being a character, as opposed to being a story line. Characters can have story lines, but characters being used as story lines is a very condescending and off-putting thing.

Lewd Alfred Douglas: There are a lot of instances, especially of trans women, being portrayed as murder victims. That's the only time you see them. Even Neil Gaiman had a serial killer that only went after trans women. That was all you knew about them, was that he killed them.

And then there are all these CSI-type shows where they'll find a victim who is a prostitute and then they'll be like, "She has a penis. That must be why he killed her. Case closed." You know?

And it's not that that doesn't happen. Obviously, it does. Trans people get murdered all the time. But if that's the only representation you have in media, that's not doing good for trans people.

Fyodor Pavlov: It's exploiting it for shock value.

Lewd Alfred Douglas: Yeah. It's exploitative, and it's not giving a really needed positive outlook. It doesn't have to be all sunshine and rainbows, but it would be nice to see them as people, rather than as bodies. You know?

Josh Siegel: I've started to realize that, of all the things that I love about comics, romantic plots are usually not things that I enjoy. Or just that, of all the things that can be written terribly in a comic book, usually it's the romance part. And now that there are gay characters having relationships in comics, they get to have really badly written romances, too.

I want them to be good so bad, but I think that they are no worse or better than any other romance written in your average comic book. So, I have all these high hopes, and then I read the Northstar marriage story, or whatever, and it's just like, ugh. I just want to stab my eyes out. I try not to feel insulted by it, even though I'm a little disappointed. But I think it's just that the genre doesn't really lend itself to smart romance, somehow.

Christopher Stansfield: I think comics, as a medium, are still struggling to find depth, in general, in characterization. And so you can look at some of these characters and be terribly offended about how shallowly they're used, or about how they are devices, but then you do remind yourself: Well, yeah, pretty much 90 percent of the characters -- gay, straight, whatever -- are used shallowly. Nobody is going to look for relationship tips in looking at Superman and Lois Lane, you know? Or anything else.

So you should certainly hold any creator to a standard that they should try to advance the medium. But you can also be a little bit more compassionate and forgiving of the actual issues with the medium itself, and the fact that it's not always the easiest place in the world to tell a deep kind of story about people.

Mathew Rodriguez: I think the interesting thing is that when a writer sits down and wants to write a romance scene, that's when they kind of get caught. Because some of the best romances are just homosocial relationships between two men who are not explicitly lovers. Like, if you want to see a jilted lover story for the ages, it's Magneto and Professor X from X-Men. They are so deeply in love that they just cannot get past the fact that they just have different political agendas.

Christopher Stansfield: "I just can't quit you." Yeah.

"X-Men: First Class was literally, like, these two dudes got married and then adopted a bunch of kids, and then went through a terrible divorce." -- Fyodor Pavlov

Fyodor Pavlov: X-Men: First Class was literally, like, these two dudes got married and then adopted a bunch of kids, and then went through a terrible divorce.

Lewd Alfred Douglas: I think that the comics that have really good, deep romance stories are ones written by one or two people, not ones written by companies. And I think it's the same thing if you have a TV show and it's catered toward the lowest common denominator; it's catered to be really, really popular, and people talk about it at the water cooler. The plot twists are going to be more interesting than the character relationships.

Christopher Stansfield: It's also about whether you're using something in order to create a perpetual IP marketing, or whether it's something that has a beginning, a middle and an end. I mean, good stories, in general, tend to have a beginning, a middle and an end. With comic books, especially mainstream comics that are designed to continue selling for infinity, you're not ever going to have that sense of resolution. And so it does make it much more difficult.

Even if it's only written by a handful of people -- or even if it's your Chris Claremont, or somebody like that, who does one comic for 25 years -- still, the realities of the marketplace where you're trying to extend something well beyond any normal narrative point, it's going to become more and more repetitive and reductive, and catered to: How do we get people to keep buying these things when we have a crisis every year?

Again, it's the nature of the medium. If you have a 12-issue limited series or something, where it's been plotted -- even if it's a 100-issue series, but it's been plotted -- where there's an actual resolution in sight, I think it's much easier for a writer to keep track of actual character development and characterization.

Josh Siegel: And to see their ideas through. The way that a mainstream comics writer can stay and go -- then plotlines are left hanging. The next writer won't really care about what they'd started; and relationships are cast off.

This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Read Part Two of this conversation, in which participants talk about building community -- and organizations -- around queer geek identity.

Mathew Rodriguez is the editorial project manager for TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com.

Follow Mathew on Twitter: @mathewrodriguez.


Copyright © 2013 Remedy Health Media, LLC. All rights reserved.
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