Here for its second year at SDCC, Joshua Yehl of IGN brings back It Gets Geekier to discuss the importance of representation and inclusion in the media for the LGBTQ audience. Hosted by Bryan Pittard of Flame On! Podcast with a panel including Sina Grace, Kris Anka, Mariko Tamaki, Megan Townsend of GLAAD and Marc Andreyko.
Yehl introduced Pittard to host the panel, and after introductions starts the conversation with Yehl about coming out in the media. Yehl discussed living in a conservative family and working in a very conservative company prior to his work on IGN. Initially doing Pittard’s podcast he went under a pseudonym of Q, and wound up eventually having a coming out episode. He realized how important it was to see those openly queer personalities in the media.
Moving it on to other members of the panel, Mariko started by joking how she loved how they use the word journey for coming out experience. Asking Andreyko about being out in the industry, Andreyko stated that he was kind of always out but even then didn’t come out until later. It was the death of Matthew Shepherd that led to him coming out as he realized that he had a more privileged experience than some, and thankfully had a loving acceptance to his coming out, which is why now he tries to be as out and proud as he can because he feels he needs to pay that forward.
Grace says he never really had a closet experience, but he certainly spent a long time doing what he thought people wanted from him rather than what he actually wanted to do. After some personal events, he decided to do the things he wants to do, and that led to Self-Obsessed. Andreyko then laid praise for Self-Obsessed and highly recommended it.
Grace says its a power thing, because if you take control of it, then no one can use it against you.
Townsend also explains how she never had a coming out experience as such, and didn’t even realize there was a thing like bisexuality, and it took getting older and seeing shows like Grey’s Anatomy that featured representation that led to her finding the words for it.
Moving onto what kind of shows were influential and important for them in terms of representation, Townsend states Glee. She mentions her fun coming out fact happened when she met Chris Colfer who was the second person she ever actually said she was bisexual too. Tamaki explains KD Lang’s the Ingenue and The L Word, which she stated isn’t great but when you’re queer you kind of have to accept and be forgiving of some not so great representations.
Anka points out his tattoo which says ‘Know no shame’, a phrase from Black Sails, which came out a few years after he was starting to figure himself out. But the show featuring a non-stereotypical bisexual character felt like a huge moment for him. He explains how he’s had a more ‘don’t give a fuck’ attitude to being open about his sexuality, as he won’t stand for the stigmas that older queer men may feel they’ve had to put up with.
On the evolution of quantity and quality of representation, Townsend talks about GLAAD’s media report where they look at how the media is doing. Townsend states they’ve seen how by and large things are getting better, but there are still some major areas that need major work. She uses as an example the trope of bi characters who are duplicitous or use it as a transactional value; and also discussed that yes, a great deal of focus needs to be placed on trans representation. We’ve gotten passed the stage of just put us on the screen, but also now include elements we haven’t seen and tell other stories.
Andreyko discusses the importance of just having the characters be, and not be a ‘special episode’. He discusses shows Happy Endings, which featured a non-stereotypical queer man, and The Real Oneals, which covered a queer character and a mother struggling with it in a sitcom scenario.
Townsend points out you need to show your support with your dollars, because if one film does well, Hollywood will jump on it and make a dozen more.
Grace goes on to discuss Iceman, and just says how he’s an X-Men fan, so he just decided to take the DNA of those books and take things from his life and the life of those around him and mix them together. Grace paraphrases Alan Moore’s quote about loving every character you write, and then you’ll write the character well, and that’s just what he wants to do with Iceman.
Tamaki talked about how you just have to make a person (character) who makes sense, so while she used to try and avoid stereotypes, she realized its more about just making them feel real, no matter what.
Andreyko parallels it to when he made Obsidian gay in Manhunter. He went back and looked at the history of Obsidian, and there were seeds there, they may not have been planted on purpose, but they were there so it felt organic.
Andreyko talks about not writing characters where the adjective comes first, no matter what that adjective is, and writing them as characters who happens to be etc. Otherwise you wind up creating didactic stories. Tamaki also discusses how characters don’t have to be any certain way – it shouldn’t matter. Grace discusses about why does Miles Morales work, and it not having to do with him being black, but rather how being a person of color fits with the idea of Spider-Man.
Tamaki explains how she gets excited by seeing things she isn’t familiar with. Its interesting and fun and exciting.
Pittard asks how do fans help creators make changes in representation they want to see, besides just buying books, for example in Star Wars. Things took an emotional turn as Yehl talked about his best friend Drew who died in the Pulse shooting last year, and he ran a Change.org campaign to try and have his friends name added into Star Wars or introduce a gay Star Wars character. He felt like this would be a great way to honor his friend, who was a huge Star Wars fan. The petition got over 11000 signatures and it came to a head when he got to go to the premier of Rogue One and met Kathleen Kennedy, who had heard about the petition and was open to including queer characters in Star Wars.
Yehl talked about how that is a step, in meeting these people and discussing the importance of representation and maybe that would lead to change. Townsend talks about how GLAAD does a lot of consulting with TV shows, and that kind of public support for things can help, and being vocal can help too. They do pay attention to what is going on on social media.
Grace discussed if you create within the fandom the thing you want, then the company may listen – using the example of Spider-Gwen. Same with Anka and Kevin Wada, and how they found a following for their art and people responded to it, and they were able to then include that in their work for Marvel. Anka talked about that was how he even got hired, he had been doing Marvel fan art for years, so they saw that and got him on board.
Audience questions rounded out the panel. First up about treating characters respectfully about including representative characters. Tamaki talked about a post she’d seen that if you have to pull an element out of a character as just that character, then that character will suck, because you’re not creating a person. She thinks it’s important to have that discussion of what is working and what isn’t working and that it is online is helpful.
Did you ever have a moment of a lot of push back? Andreyko discussed how DC have been a progressive company since before it was cool, and if anything DC have told him to ‘Gay it up a little’. They’ve looked more to push the boundaries. Anka got a weird pushback from the audience when Runaways was announced, and how there was pushback stating how it was a white person writing it – and yet, no one looked at how it was a book with queer characters with art by a queer person of color. He goes onto how this was odd as he has a lot of power and say in Runaways, and yet he was made to feel like he didn’t count. Tamaki talks about This One Summer, and she sees conflict because change is happening, so seeing that conflict can be a good thing.
How do you change the opinions of those against the idea of progressiveness and diversity? Andreyko: “Do good work”. If you’re honest and add characters with an element of normalcy, then it will create change in those confronted by it. Grace says that if you act with love and are compassionate and you put out there what you want to receive, then it can lead to change too.
They ended on how Love Is Love will be kept in print perpetually and that they have donated over $200,000 to the Orlando Fund to date. They are close to having 100,000 copies in print. Andreyko says if it’s the only thing he’s known for in his obituary, then he’s happy with it.