I don’t know about you, but when I write a review – gosh, even before I write a review – I like to read other people’s reviews of the same book/movie/show. I love finding someone else who fangirls over my favorite character, or who has the same exact opinion about some ridiculously specific aspect of the story. And I especially love reading reviews that bring up some observations I hadn’t even thought of!
Soooo… naturally, when I blogged about Kieron Gillen’s Young Avengers comics last week, I checked other people’s reviews (on Goodreads, Amazon, blogs, and more) before writing my own post. And all the different perspectives were so interesting! I found myself nodding enthusiastically as I read the four- and five-star reviews.
…and even as I read some of the unfavorable reviews! Some people had really good points – the plot jumps around rather wildly, many of the characters look overly similar, and so on and so forth.
I think it’s important to read negative reviews of stories you enjoyed! You certainly don’t have to agree with everything in them, but I think reading them helps you to become a better critic. A more discerning reader. A better writer. Et cetera. That’s why I read those unfavorable reviews in the first place!
But as I said, you can pick and choose what you agree with, and don’t have to like the ENTIRE review. And there was something in many of the negative reviews that I just couldn’t agree with!
The exact phrasing differed from review to review but the gist of it was, “All of the main characters are gay and THIS IS SO UNREALISTIC! Why wasn’t there a single straight person in this little group of friends?!”
[Deep sigh] Congratulations, fellow reviewer. You’ve just proven that you lack even a basic understanding of LGBTQ+ stuff… specifically, how being queer affects one’s day-to-day life!
1. The probability of being LGBTQ+ is higher than you may think
Estimates suggest that one in ten people belong to the LGBTQ+ community! And some estimates range as high as one in three people, which… is possible? I mean, you don’t learn about this identity stuff in school, and very few people have parents who are willing to discuss it. So it wouldn’t surprise me to hear that a large chunk of the population is queer but doesn’t know it due to a lack of accurate information.
…anyway, whether it’s one in ten or one in three, my point is that QUEERNESS IS MUCH MORE LIKELY THAN YOU MIGHT THINK. If you subscribe to the idea that being LGBTQ+ is a Super Rare Thing, then an entirely queer cast of characters seems weird, but… your idea isn’t grounded in reality? Like, at all?
2. If you’re still going to complain about how stories with a large number of LGBTQ+ characters are “unrealistic,” then you’d better complain about how stories with mostly/only heterosexual characters are “unrealistic”
Spoiler alert: It’s totally not unrealistic to include a lot of LGBTQ+ characters in your stories, for reasons discussed both above and below point #2. But if you ‘re going to ignore that, and still don’t believe me? Then I’d better hear you critiquing the overabundance of straight characters, because that is a legitimate problem in fiction.
I can’t tell you the number of stories I’ve read/watched that featured ONLY straight characters. (And if queerness was mentioned at all, it was as part of a joke! Wow, thanks.) I can’t tell you the number of stories I’ve found that have a disproportionate amount of straight people compared to queer people – sorry, but having .005% of your characters be LGBTQ+ just doesn’t cut it.
Basically, if you’re going to nitpick over LGBTQ+ statistics, then I expect you to do the same with straight characters.
3. Meeting and befriending fellow LGBTQ+ people is not only desirable but necessary for many queer people
And this brings me to the heart of my post, the part I’m most passionate about. I mean… I care a lot about all the other things I just talked about (which is why I got snarky, because sarcasm is a Thing that happens frequently when I have strong opinions about a subject), but QUEER FRIENDSHIPS. Oh my. QUEER FRIENDSHIPS ARE MY PRECIOUSES.
Many queer people befriend each other long before they ever self-identify as LGBTQ+, come out, et cetera. Sure, I’ve grown close to people after both they and I realized we were queer – I’ve bonded with a lot of people over shared interests in, say, hella gay shows such as Torchwood – but I also have a bunch of friendships that formed when neither person involved knew we were queer.
And I’ve lost count of how many friends have told me that they thought they were the lone queer person in their circle of friends, only to realize several years later that everyone in that circle was actually queer and there is, at best, a token straight person in their little group. It’s like we subconsciously know that there’s something “different” about certain people in our lives, so we band together!
There are some aspects of queer/queer friendships that straight/queer friendships just can’t quite replicate, no matter how hard they try. I have straight friends, but… all my closest friends are LGBTQ+. The people with whom I spend hours upon hours talking, laughing, fangirling, planning ridiculous adventures, et cetera are all queer. Here are some of the advantages of queer friendships:
+ You can tell your friends anything. There are some things I just don’t feel I can discuss with my straight friends. I can’t vent to them, for instance, and know that they truly UNDERSTAND – whereas with a queer friend, I know they will. When I say something like, “I’ve felt so awkward and uncomfortable lately because so many people keep telling me ‘You’re such a pretty girl, why don’t you have a boyfriend yet?'” and feel confident that whatever advice/comfort they give will be helpful because, in all likelihood, they too have first-hand experience with that situation.
+ Two words: QUEER CULTURE. On a much more lighthearted (and fangirly!) note, I love being able to geek out over LGBTQ+ stories and/or real queer people that many of my straight friends are, at best, only dimly aware of. I mean, how many straight people do I know who watch Carmilla and will talk about it with me?! (The answer is one, if you were wondering… Cait @ Paper Fury. THANK YOU.)
+ LGBTQ+ friendships often feel safer / more comfortable. It took me a long time to realize this, but I shouldn’t feel obligated to remain in a friendship with someone who makes me feel icky. If I feel unsafe, uncomfortable, worried, peer-pressured, or just plain stressed because my “friend” has an issue with my sexual orientation, I need to get out of that friendship. (PAST!ENGIE IF YOU EVER FIGURE OUT TIME-TRAVELING THEN I HOPE YOU READ THIS BECAUSE IT WILL SAVE YOU A LOT OF TIME AND MISERY KTHXBAI.) And, well, I feel far more comfortable being in friendships with LGBTQ+ people.
+ Queer friends are sometimes the only friends you can trust. There was a time, a few years back, when a handful of fellow queer people knew me better than anyone else on the planet, including my parents. They were my online friends and we’d never met face-to-face, but I trusted them with my secret more than I trusted ANYONE… which tends to build some rock-solid friendships.
What does this have to do with Young Avengers? EVERYTHING. It has EVERYTHING to do with the comic books themselves, and with their characters.
Queer people band together for a variety of reasons. Sure, sometimes we form groups in order to fight for our rights – that example springs immediately to mind. But oftentimes we create friendships for far more casual reasons.
Because we understand each other so well.
Because we have shared interests.
Because we want to be able to talk about our relationships (or our gender) without the infamous Awkward Silence descending.
Because of a thousand other things.
And we need to see this in fiction as well.
It’s not weird for LGBTQ+ people to have all-queer circles of friends. Many of us have straight friends, too, but I doubt that many of us have only straight friends – and I’d like to see this reality reflected in fiction much more often than it currently is. I can’t imagine why any queer person – real or fictional – would surround themselves with only straight people.I’m so so so glad that the Young Avengers are a group of queer kids who kick butt, make sarcastic remarks, and save the world. We need MORE of that. Young Avengers is only a start, but it’s a good start. The webseries Carmilla is another excellent example of an all-queer group of friends (at a wacky supernatural college, to boot!), but I can’t think of many more.
It’s not weird for LGBTQ+ people to have all-queer circles of friends. You know what is weird? For stories to include only one LGBTQ+ character… or else, two queer characters who become each other’s love interests. That is the absolute best I can hope for, in most cases – if a story has more than one LGBTQ+ character, then there’s bound to be a love story.
…and sometimes I get sick of love stories.
Actually, what I’m REALLY sick of is this idea that queer characters can’t be in a romantic and/or sexual relationship AND have queer friends. I’ve read far too many stories in which the LGBTQ+ characters were… strangely disconnected from the queer community? At best, their only connection comes in the form of a love interest.And that’s just not realistic. Once we begin to self-identify as LGBTQ+ and come to terms with who we are, we begin to seek out other queer people. Heck, even if it’s not safe to seek out those friendships IRL – maybe we’re not out yet, or our parents disapprove – there’s always online friendships. (Online friendships make up the bulk of my queer friendships!) My point is, if you really really want to meet some fellow LGBTQ+ people, all you have to do is look hard enough and THEY ARE OUT THERE.
(…that double meaning of “out” is unintentional, sorry.)
I love the queer friendships in Young Avengers. I love the queer friendships in Carmilla. I treasure all the queer friendships I’ve ever found in novels and comics and movies and TV shows, although there haven’t been many. (Hey, list them in the comments if you know any!) Duos, trios, groups of queer friends – I’m down for all of that. PLEASE SIR I WANT SOME MORE.
Now I kind of want to write a top ten list of the fictional queer friendships I have found so far… but that’s another post for another time!