A little late, but after getting back from SDCC and then going straight to LFCC, it’s finally time for me to play some catch-up. So, for another year, here is the LGBTQ Geek Year in Review panel which discussed the last year of LGBTQ+ representation and stories.
Hosted again by P. Kristen Enos of Prism Comics, she brought along Diane Anderson-Minshall (editorial director of The Advocate, Plus Magazine and Tiny Living Chic), Nick Adams (director of programs, GLAAD’s Transgender Media), Mike Ciriaco (LA Weekly, WeHo TV News), Amber Garza (Geeks OUT!), Chelsea Steiner (AfterEllen.com, Autostraddle.com) and Amelia Vaughn (Huffington Post, Riptide Publishing). Each member of the panel picks an element of queer representation in the last year to discuss and show how things have improved or have got worse or stayed the same.
We start off with Anderson-Minshall talking about what she considers a pivotal moment in pop culture, especially for the LGBTQ+ and women’s perspective: The Handmaid’s Tale. She talked about how the show felt very timely and relevant given the current political climate, and how the show is even leading to people waking up and becoming more active in their activism, even the stars of the show.
Adams moved on to talk about Sense8, recalling how at the previous year’s panel they had discussed the show’s focus on much better trans representation so excitedly, only to now have to talk about Sense8 being cancelled (and he also noted network series Doubt, starring Laverne Cox from Orange is the New Black, likewise got cancelled). Adams pointed out how season 2 was brilliant and had continued to really excel at representation of trans people, as the trans character, Nomi (Jamie Clayton), is not there to ‘be’ transgender – she’s there to be a kick-ass hacker who also happens to be trans.
Adams says how it just goes to show that we need support these things because they can easily be lost – after all, this was Netflix’s most expensive show, and with Netflix understandably having to keep an eye on the budget, the more support the better.
Vaughn, who discussed Disney last year, takes them to task again this year, discussing Beauty & the Beast and its supposedly ‘gay moment’. She discussed in detail how problematic Lefou was, played hugely to stereotypes and not pleasant ones, and then later featuring a scene where another man gets ‘viciously assaulted’ by a closet, and comes out wearing women’s clothing – and how despite the fact this is played for laughs (because clearly wearing clothes not assigned to your gender is hilarious), he evidently likes it.
But Vaughn goes on to say that all this, and the blink and you’ll miss it dance between Lefou and the closet-victim, is so coded and small that to declare it as Disney’s first explicit gay moment was absurd. In fact, she asked her own gay son if there were any gay characters in the movie, he responded ‘I dunno, none of them talked about it.’ Vaughn points out Disney can’t claim to have actual LGBTQ representation in a thing if kids can’t even tell it’s there.
As an example of better queer representation in young people’s media, Adams recommended Danger & Eggs.
Garza moved onto, excitedly, American Gods. She was filled with joy over seeing the right casting, to start, but also over the unapologetically explicit sex scenes – with an even distribution of, amazingly, penises. After so many years of shows like Game of Thrones, which feature full frontal nudity for numerous female characters but rarely male ones, it was nice to see the equal use of nudity and revealing looks no matter the gender. In particular, she mentioned the gay sex scene between the Jinn (Mousa Kraish) and Salim (Omid Abtahi), which was just as graphic and sensually portrayed as a heterosexual sex scene normally is (and also that it was a gay Muslim sex scene which made it feel even more wonderfully diverse). She even praised how they re-shot the scene to make it look more realistic (as showrunner Bryan Fuller, a gay man, pointed out the original version of the scene was shall we say, impractical. Rather colourfully). Also, she brought up how it was nice to see them add same sex aspects to the character Bilquis (Yetide Badaki), which were not in the book, showing that sometimes sex is just sex.
Ciriaco moved onto Wonder Woman. He goes into how Greg Rucka made the character canonically queer in the comics, and how in the movie, the boat scene opened the idea of her being queer too. He discussed how the shot where Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) stamps on the glasses she’d been wearing as a disguise felt like a message that she will not be closeted, and how together that made her a queer hero as much a women’s hero.
Garza however felt troubled about how Wonder Woman’s seeming final takeaway in the movie didn’t come from any of the literal reams of ancient texts she had hundreds of years to study on Themyscira, but instead from Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), the man she left the island with and had a one night stand with. Anderson-Minshall however also wanted to point out that Wonder Woman being with a man wouldn’t make her any less bisexual – it is important to remember when a bi person is in a relationship with the opposite it doesn’t make them any less a bi person.
Steiner looked at Supergirl, and the relationship between Alex Danvers (Chyler Leigh) and Maggie Sawyer (Floriana Lima). It was interesting to see a coming out story for an older character who is already established, discussing the realistic and under-represented situations.
Whereas Ciriaco felt Riverdale dropped the ball on LGBTQ representation, like how they just seemed to make Kevin Keller (Casey Cott) a fifth wheel and a plot device to just move the plot along when needed, not to mention the straightwashing of Jughead (Cole Sprouse).
Moving on to audience questions, the panel was asked if there were any other lesser known aspects of the LGBTQ+ community representation in the media, to wit the shows Degrassi and Billions were brought up, the former featuring a gender queer character and the latter a non-binary character.
The final audience question raised concerns about the diversity on the whole: while it had clearly been a good year for white LGBTQ+ characters it seemed characters of colour weren’t really part of the discussion. Combined with a perceived all-white panel, the questioner struggled to understand how this panel could truly be about diversity. Anderson-Minshall was quick to point out that the supposition was incorrect as she is white passing, and very much a ‘bottle blonde’, and that panel’s host is also a person of colour; however, they all agreed that it is something that needs attention and is something that was considered when forming the panel for the convention. The challenge, though, is that they are limited by who will be present for the show and, of course, that it was a good year for more than just white queer characters.