A short time ago, two of my favorite bloggers posted about LGBTQ+ representation in books. Orphu’s “Heterosexuality and Bigoted Ghosts” discussed the misconception that sexuality isn’t a thing in children’s books (and how it’s only perceived as being inappropriate if the sexuality in question isn’t straight). Meanwhile, Miriam Joy wrote about realizing that only five out of the three hundred books she owns have queer characters in “Let Me Be A Heroine.”
Excellent posts, those, and if you don’t read them I may have to do some smiting. Anyway, I wondered if many of the things I liked were similarly lacking in LGBTQ+ representation. Surely not! I mean, I’m in a lot of fandoms. Maybe not as many as some people, but ten seemed like more than enough. (I chose fandoms based on which ones are big enough to be, well, actual fandoms. For example, Suzanne Collins’ Underland Chronicles are lovely but have a tiny following.)
So there I was, adding up the number of queer characters in this, that, and the other thing when I realized that I’d only succeeded in disappointing myself. (This introduction was written last, if you couldn’t already tell.) My list is below but before you get to that, I’d like to define a few terms and why they’re not OK. The links take you to pages that list dozens of examples, if you’re interested.
Word of God – Declaring something to be true in a story even though the fact doesn’t appear in said story. It’s technically canon (accepted, official, whatever) but it’s a really lousy way of doing representation. Or writing in general. If it were so important to your story, you need to include it in the first place. Have control of your story and you won’t need to make all these little clarifications later on.
Word of Gay – Word of God specifically related to revealing characters’ sexualities after the fact (after a series has concluded, for example). I know it says Gay, but this goes for all LGBTQ+ characters. Anyway, it’s a very halfhearted attempt at representation; better than nothing, I suppose – but why do we have to settle for little more than nothing?
Heteronormativity – The assumption that people are heterosexual until proven otherwise; the idea that straight is the default. (Nothing should be assumed! Nothing should be the default!) Most readers, especially straight ones, will assume any and all characters to be heterosexual unless there is extremely obvious evidence to the contrary. This is why any queer characters need to be “in your face,” because subtext doesn’t suffice most of the time and people keep assuming.
Experimentation – You can probably guess what this means: dating or, [Tries to be delicate here] um, snogging genders you may or may not be attracted to. It usually happens because you’re trying to figure out your orientation or you’re curious, and that’s totally OK – I think we do need more characters who are genuinely confused because it’s fine to be questioning. However, experimentation usually isn’t represented as such. It’s usually written for laughs or to be sensational. It’s just there to be thrown away. It doesn’t matter to the character.
OK, we’re ready to go. If you want, predict how many LGBTQ+ characters there will be. Seventeen? Thirty-five? A hundred? For perspective, the Harry Potter series has over two hundred characters total – that should give you an idea of how many thousands of characters you’ve probably “met.”
Lord of the Rings
Chronicles of Narnia
- Hey, guess what? None!
- Dumbledore is gay but A) only according to an interview, not the actual books or movies and B) no one knew until after the series concluded, so it’s Word of Gay and doesn’t count. Unless you love tracking down interviews that are nearly a decade old, you won’t have any idea of his sexuality. Despite the fact that all the straight people are obvious – seriously, why is it inappropriate to tell us about Dumbledore but OK to include tertiary-character Penelope Clearwater dating Percy?!
- None. Percy’s universe has a queer character, Nico di Angelo, but that isn’t revealed until the spin-off series so it doesn’t count. (And Heroes of Olympus isn’t listed because I haven’t been too impressed with it.)
A Song of Ice and Fire
- Renly Baratheon (AKA the man who should have won the game of thrones and I will never be over what happened to him) is implied to have a thing with Loras. I wouldn’t have noticed if someone hadn’t told me, though. Apparently it’s obvious in the show, but as I’ve only seen maybe half an hour total, it doesn’t count as part of one of my fandoms. Also, he’s a fairly minor character.
- Most of the girls and women in Westeros adore Loras Tyrell because he’s dreamy, but he’s actually interested in Renly. He’s also a minor character.
- Margaery Tyrell is
absolutely gorgeousconstantly compared to her brother and Cersei wonders if they’re alike “in other ways” but Cersei is also paranoid and as you can see below, perhaps not the best judge of things. (In the show Margaery does say, “Some women like tall men… gentle men, rough men, ugly men, pretty men, pretty girls.” But that’s the show and I don’t want representation here and there. I want it everywhere.)
- Remember what I said about experimentation generally not being portrayed favorably? Yeah, that’s the case with Cersei Lannister. She’s bored, drunk, power-hungry, and more than a little bit insane.
- Daenerys Targaryen is similarly bored. And she doesn’t trust the guys she’s surrounded by.
- Lady Taena is queer. I think. But she’s an extremely minor character and when a story is about people willing to do anything to win a kingdom, some characters could have been bluffing…
- There are loads of characters who could be queer: Irri, Doreah, Brynden Tully, Xaro Xhoan Daxos, Hother Umber, Lyn Corbray, Jon Connington, Oberyn Martell, Arianne Martell, Daemon Sand, Ellaria Sand. It really depends on how much you’re willing to read between the lines – I mean, I wasn’t aware of half of these until I did a quick Internet search. Heteronormativity is definitely a factor here.
- Only the first two characters listed for this fandom are definitely LGBTQ+.
I’m much more familiar with New Who, so I apologize for the lack of Classic Who – I just don’t know enough to talk about it. Here, have a list that includes the sentence: “[Eighth Doctor Adventures] can be divided up into ‘Fitz and the Doctor are rather gay for each other’ books and ‘Fitz and the Doctor are really gay for each other’ books.”
- The Doctor isn’t particularly straight, but… heteronormativity. To me it seems like he’s more interested in personality than gender, and this differs with each version. Nine definitely liked Jack. (“The Doctor Dances”? “Boom Town”? “The Parting of the Ways”? Yeah.) Ten was more heterosexual, except for that time he flirted with Shakespeare and the Master. Eleven seems really queer, although I can’t tell how much of that might come from being much more socially awkward than his previous incarnations. (I mean, a congratulatory snog with the husband of another companion?) Nothing definitive has been said about the Doctor’s sexuality, so I’m not counting him.
Russell T. Davies
Despite appearing in Moffat’s first episode, Jack Harkness is actually Davies’ character. As this sort of promiscuous stereotype, he’s not the best representation at first but gradually becomes more complex. (I thought the subplot about both Martha and Jack being in love with Ten was written well.) And it’s nice to have representation that isn’t just gay, lesbian, or bi. He’s pansexual.
- Davies didn’t have many major queer characters, honestly, which is sort of weird because he’s gay. Oh, well. He does make up for this by having positive, continual acknowledgement of LGBTQ+ characters. (This is more than one can say about George R.R. Martin, who tends to be incredibly vague.) In episodes as varied as “The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances,” “Gridlock,” “The Unicorn and the Wasp,” “Midnight,” and “The Waters of Mars,” the sexualities of Davies-era queer characters are represented respectfully, often, and without a lot of fuss. The Doctor reacts to a guy having a boyfriend the same way he’d react to a guy having a girlfriend.
- The Fat One and the Thin One are treated as punchlines. Do I even need to point out how offensive this is? Apparently I do, because some head writers can’t figure it out.
- Oswin Oswald said she fancied a girl only to say moments later that it was just a phase. (I’ve already been told that numerous times, thanks, I really don’t need your ignorance rubbed in.)
- River Song is bisexual only according to Word of Gay. Moffat said it was in the show, but here’s a hint: when most of the fandom is utterly surprised, your hints are too vague.
- Canton Everett Delaware III was a lovely minor character and would have been perfect representation, except we didn’t find out he was queer until his very last scene and then it was – go on, say it with me – used as a punchline.
- Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint are SO FREAKING ADORABLE TOGETHER that I think I’ll include them in the same bullet point. Anyway. Appearing more often than Canton, they’d be the best the Moffat era has to offer, except they’re usually used for laughs and/or shock value. (And then when they aren’t, it’s perfect and half the reason I loved “The Name of the Doctor.”)
- Essentially, Moffat’s representation is the opposite of Davies’. He includes quite a few queer characters, sometimes even recurring ones, but doesn’t portray them well. His LGBTQ+ representation is rather self-defeating because the man doesn’t seem to understand that representation is not as simple as throwing minority characters at a story and hoping for the best. No matter how many such characters you have, you do have to portray them fairly for that representation to be worth anything.
- Four characters from Doctor Who – Jack, Canton, Jenny, and Vastra – are either fairly important characters or represented well enough to count.
- Jack Harkness gets even more character development in his spin-off show, but I can’t count the same guy twice.
- Ianto Jones is Jack’s adorable boyfriend and their subplot is actually really well-done, especially in Children of Earth.
- Owen Harper is bisexual – well, supposedly the entire Torchwood team is – and even introduced as so within the first few minutes of the pilot episode.
- Gwen Cooper is
hotbisexual, technically. I think this is only referenced in one episode, however. (I have neither watched the entire show nor seen the episodes in order, so I’m not sure.) And I think it’s experimentation-for-laughs.
- Toshiko Sato is an AWESOME NERDY SCIENTIST LADY and bisexual (and a very minor character in Doctor Who, yay). Again, I think this is a one-episode thing. I only know because I googled.
- And there’s John Hart, Jack’s other boyfriend. (Jack has a lot of boyfriends and girlfriends. This tends to happen when one is immortal and outlives them all.)
- Basically Torchwood is very queer.
- I’m sorry for how this entire set of lists has dissolved into silliness and/or fangirling over pretty ladies.
- Ianto, Owen, Tosh, and John make four LGBTQ+ characters. I already counted Jack for Doctor Who and Gwen’s bisexuality just seems like too much of a throwaway.
Let’s add up the characters! Two from A Song of Ice and Fire, four from Doctor Who, and four from Torchwood and – oh, wait. Ten. Ten?!
Allow me a moment to bang my head against the computer desk.
All right, I’m back now. Ten?! This is ridiculous. Ten fandoms with a total of ten queer characters – ten fandoms with dozens upon dozens of characters each. In fact, I would estimate that Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings / The Hobbit, A Song of Ice and Fire, and Doctor Who / Torchwood have a combined total of five thousand characters. (I was Very Scientific and googled for this.) And yet, just ten characters are like me.
Originally, I thought I could narrow it down further – how many queer ladies were there? – until that just made me disappointed. Because there’s three. Vastra, Jenny, and Toshiko. (You know Engie is sad when her sentences become. Fragments.)
So if you wondered why I adore authors like Malinda Lo, Lev AC Rosen, and Emily M. Danforth, look no further. They actually do a decent job of including queer characters, unlike some people whose names start with a “J.” and end with a “K. Rowling.”
If you read Orphu’s and Miriam Joy’s posts linked to above, I shouldn’t even have to explain why LGBTQ+ representation is important. But for the record, I’ll say: I want to see myself. I want to read about characters like myself having adventures, falling in love, fighting dragons, whatever. It doesn’t really matter. I just want queer characters, lots of them. Represented well. And I just don’t see that right now. Not when all my popular fandoms combined have three queer ladies. Nope.
P.S. Wow, I feel exceptionally gay and writerly right now – I didn’t expect this post to be as long as it is, and I had fun flailing excitedly over the cute queer couples.