Friday, January 31, 2014

The Gay Wave

So I've noticed something as of late:  There are a lot of gay characters in comics I read.  Of course, I do reach out to lesser known strips much of the time as the ones with the larger audiences, like Sluggy Freelance and Schlock Mercenary, don't have any gay characters I can think of off the top of my head (meaning they might have them, but I don't remember them).  But I do read a great many who do have them and it makes me wonder why.

Not that I have a problem with it, I feel I must reiterate this because people tend to read the wrong things into statements like that.  No my issue is purely from a character and story telling angle.  Why is that character gay?  It's the same thing that triggered my rantish post on Exiern not too long ago and the fact that it was outright stated when it was unnecessary.

Still, I understand he had his reasons for it and while I think it could hurt the character and comic in the long run, it's not guaranteed.  But for other comics, I'm less sure, and more worried.  In fact, I see this happening with other "minorities" (yeah, not so minor any more, but you get my point) at various points in the past.  As such, I think there are only a few valid reasons to make a character gay, black, a woman, white, male, transsexual, Asian, etc, etc, etc.

The first reason is they just are.  I know that sounds like the weakest reason, and in a way it can be, but it's still valid.  There's no reason for the character to be gay, no hidden agenda, no message, no plan, no anything, the character just is gay.  There's couple advantages to this method, the first being that some OTHER trait can take priority over the character's long term development.  Also, it leaves the option open to explore the gay trait in the future if necessary.

The next best reason is that is important for character development.  Sera from Serenity Rose is gay, but it isn't confronted directly until near the end of the comic.  Before that, it was just another layer of division from the rest of the world, already amplified by the fact that she is one of 57 witches in the entire world.  Being gay further segregated her from the world, and charged her crippling social anxiety.  While being gay is important to her character, it doesn't really affect the comic as a whole.  Had she not been gay, some of the events would have changed, but I suspect the story would have generally remained the same.

The final good reason is that the author/artist has something to say on the subject.  What the comic is trying to say varies quite a bit.  Material Girl covers the crossdressing thing pretty well, the basic message being it doesn't matter what you wear, it's who you are underneath that's important.  Dumbing of Age does it not as well, but I think the point is still there about how being gay affects the people around the person and how they might change how they act as a result.  There is an issue, but I'll get to that with the worst reason to make a character gay:

Everyone else is doing it.  This is what I fear a lot of comics are doing (not necessarily the ones I'm reading).  It reminds me of the "token character" trend from the 80's and 90's that peppered television and other forms of media.  Random, non-white characters were added and given the most stereotypical aspects possible to act as if they were being diverse.  The same problem comes up for gay characters.  In attempting to "stay current" they just gather whatever they think they know about gay characters and throw them in, creating stereotypical characters that are worse than even the worst slurs.  Having something to say on the topic has the same issue, but unless the author has access to someone who IS gay (or are gay themselves) the trap of stereotypes is laid and could easily be fallen into.

Like I said, I don't think any of the comics I read fall into the last one, but I do wonder how many comics have been falling into it.  I hope it's not many.  Until next time kiddies.

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