Diversity Needs No Justification | Thoughts On Including LGBTQ+ Characters In “Star Wars”

finn & poe & the straight white protagonist who's flying the planeWriting is fun because you never know where your ideas will take you. I originally thought this post was about Star Wars, but it ended up being about so much more. I say this partially because A) as I wrote earlier, my own writing surprises me and B) you should feel free to read this post even if you’ve never seen Star Wars. There are no spoilers: It’s just me talking about BEING GAY and WRITING. Or, more accurately, WRITING ABOUT GAY STUFF.

A couple of weeks ago, J.J. Abrams said that he hopes there will be a gay character in the next few Star Wars movies. There are already canon queer characters in the spin-off books, but this would be the first such character in the film franchise.

Now, I’m not sure if we’ll actually get an LGBTQ+ character, because he said the same thing about his rebooted Star Trek movies a few years ago and nothing ever happened of that idea. (And it’s not as though he needed to pave the way… Star Trek had LGBTQ+ characters in the nineties, so it’s not exactly new.) Abrams will be involved in Episodes VIII and IV, although not as heavily as he was in Episode VII.

Soooo we don’t know anything definite yet, but that didn’t stop people from SCREAMING about it. In both the good way and the bad way. A lot of people love the idea of including LGBTQ+ characters in Star Wars, but there are also a whole bunch of people who are less than pleased.

They say they’re not against the idea but the truth is that they only support it under one condition, and that is that the character’s sexual orientation must be “relevant” to the story. If that sounds reasonable on paper (or onscreen, as the case may be), you should keep in mind that this generally translates to putting LGBTQ+ characters – and diverse characters in general, but I’ll get to that part in just a sec – through more hoops than non-diverse characters. It’s a lot harder to include LGBTQ+ characters without getting some type of pushback.

I saw this type of response in the comment section of many of the science fiction/fandom websites I follow, and it reminded me of something – of quite a lot of other somethings, actually.

And that’s why this post is not solely about Star Wars, because I’ve seen this before. It happens in so many fandoms. The one that springs immediately to mind is Rick Riordan’s Heroes of Olympus series, whose treatment of diversity is something I’ve written about extensively on this blog.

Including LGBTQ+ characters in your books and movies and TV shows requires a lot of resolve, because you will face challenges.Homophobia is most definitely not dead and gone – there are homophobes in every fandom, unfortunately. I do find that it tends to take a different form now, though. It typically manifests as heteronormativity, and not as outright homophobia.

What is heteronormativity? Well, it’s basically the assumption that heterosexuality is the default, and that any other sexual orientations are deviant. If you’ve ever thought of straight people and LGBTQ+ people as “normal people and gay people” – and most of us have fallen into that trap even if we’re LGBTQ+ ourselves, because internalized homophobia is a hell of a drug – that would be an example of heteronormative assumptions.

Heternormativity is much more insidious than homophobia. We explain it away, tell ourselves that although it’s OK to be gay, it’s somehow straying from the “default” setting of humanity. We see this attitude as reasonable.

What does this mean for storytelling?

To put it simply, it means that readers and viewers demand explanations as to why the writers included diversity. They want justifications: Why is this character’s gayness relevant to the story?

“Relevance” is probably the most-frequently-mentioned word in these arguments against diversity. I saw a lot of variations of, “Of course I want more LGBTQ+ characters, but only if their sexual orientation is relevant to the plot!” in those comment sections.

No one stipulates that straight characters should only be included if their heterosexuality is relevant to the plot. If you try to, you’re immediately shot down and told that you’re being silly and unreasonable. Cis straight characters’ very existence is NEVER justified, because the assumption is that it never has to be.

And that assumption is correct: It shouldn’t have to be justified. Because it’s just another part of who those characters are.

But that’s true of LGBTQ+ characters as well.

We need to get rid of this idea that diversity is something “extra,” something that doesn’t have to be included. We need to get rid of the idea that diversity is political because excuse me, my existence as a woman who loves other women is not a political act. We need to DESTROY the idea that including diverse characters is somehow pandering to a particular audience.

(Why is it considered “pandering” only if characters from marginalized groups are included, anyway? Like, please explain how having 99.9% of characters be cis straight individuals is somehow NOT biased.)

Gay characters are relevant to Star Wars because gay people EXIST. It’s very easy to start thinking that the existence of these characters needs to be justified: My first draft of this post included a couple paragraphs about how the claims that Padmé and Anakin’s (presumed) heterosexuality is more relevant to the plot since they had children are ridiculous, since LGBTQ+ are perfectly capable of having biological children as well.

But that’s an unsafe line of thought, because it’s just another attempt to justify the existence of LGBTQ+ characters in fiction. Diverse groups exists – that’s the only reason you should need for the inclusion of diverse characters.

Start questioning your biases about this sort of thing. Why do you expect authors to have to write afterwords to their books concerning the brand-new diverse character introduced on page 340? Why is it considered necessary for the producers of a popular TV show to explain this decision at length in an interview or op-ed piece or whatever? This is a useful thing to do regardless of who you are. Yes, cis straight people should question this, but so should LGBTQ+ people, because cultural attitudes are easily absorbed without us even noticing.

Including more diverse characters is a great first step. Learning to unconditionally accept them is the next step, and it’s equally important. If someone asks what made you decide to include diverse characters in your stories, it is perfectly acceptable to look at them askance and answer, “Because people like that… exist? You know, like in the real world?”

I hope Finn and Poe are LGBTQ+. I hope Rey is LGBTQ+ too, although I haven’t seen nearly as much fan support for that. And I hope equally strongly that people stop needing to find a reason for the inclusion of diverse characters.

It will be fascinating to see what comes of J.J. Abrams’ comment in the next few months and years, because The Force Awakens already challenged a lot of people’s assumptions (or just plain pissed them off, depending on who you ask) by including its first female protagonist, as well as black and Latino costars. This new trilogy is shaping up to be much more diverse than the previous two, and I can only hope that it is just one of many stories that cause people to accept diversity as a basic tenet of good storytelling that needs no justification.

About nevillegirl

Elizabeth. University of Iowa class of 2019. Triple majoring in English & Creative Writing, Journalism, and Gender, Women's, & Sexuality Studies. Twenty-one-year-old daydreamer, introvert, voracious reader, aspiring writer, and lesbian. Passionate about feminism, mental health, comic books, and cats.
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11 Responses to Diversity Needs No Justification | Thoughts On Including LGBTQ+ Characters In “Star Wars”

  1. Sylveon says:

    I’ve seen quite a bit of LGBTQ+ Rey headcanons, actually. There’s been more Finn/Poe, of course, and Kylo Ren/that Order general dude whose name I don’t really remember. But I have seen fanart of Rey and a female pilot, and I have seen aro/ace headcanons, and both of those possibilities would be great.

    • nevillegirl says:

      Oh, they’re definitely out there – you just have to look a lot harder! It doesn’t surprise me that out of all the fanon pairings, Poe/Finn is the most popular, because M/M pairings generally are.

      (I can’t remember the name of that one dude either… but yesss Rey/Jessika.)

  2. I love this post! I was excited to hear him say that, but I don’t really have high hopes yet? And the comment sections on facebook articles about it made me want to ram my head into the wall…
    It might just be my circle of tumblr, but I’ve seen lots of people head-cannoning that Rey is gay! But Poe/Finn is definitely more widespread, which I think is partly to do with the fact they had chemistry in the movie lol. Cause let’s be real, if either Poe or Finn were a female character, that subplot with the jacket would be 200% seen as mutual romantic interest.)

    • nevillegirl says:

      Aw, thanks! 🙂 I’m glad you liked it.

      I know, right?! I think people who are hellbent on only including diversity when it’s “relevant” see sexual orientation and/or gender identity as something that can be more easily tied into the plot of a realistic fiction story, too, which is probably the biggest reason why we don’t have more LGBTQ+ characters in science fiction and fantasy.

      Yesssss yes it would. It’s disturbing to see how many people ship Rey/Kylo despite the fact that they are most likely either siblings or cousins AND he literally tortured her, but then when you talk about Poe/Finn they’re all like, “You’re reading too much into things.” Um, no, this would be immediately read as romantic if it were a guy and a girl, AND ALSO this ship is actually healthy and not creepy as hell. :/

      • I know!!! It’s so annoying! I remember when a f/f ship was introduced into another show I watch, I had a friend be like ‘I don’t get why they had to do the bi thing’. I just wanted to be like ‘… there’s nothing to get?’.
        Omg yes, I can’t believe people ship Rey and Kylo! Straight people have so many couple combinations to ship, why do they always ship the abusive ones??
        I’ve seen people ship Rey and Finn too, which I can kind of see, but I also think Poe and Finn had way more chemistry and flirting? Urgh, this whole thing has basically just reinforced to me that I need to stop reading comment sections on facebook lol.

  3. Wow such a good post! You made your point so well.
    I hope they have some LGBTQ+ characters, but I’m trying not to get my hopes up. 🙂

  4. PREEEEEEEEEEACH. (In, y’know, a very not-churchy way 😀 ) THIS IS SO IMPORTANT. It’s kind of one of those things that I don’t think many people think about…but it’s always there.
    A friend of mine, recently, was reading a book. She mentioned that the main character was diabetic (type 1) and another friend went, “Well, why?” (This made me v v v angry because I have a diabetic sister and also BASICALLY EVERYTHING YOU SAID). And it made me kinda realize all that, how people feel they have to justify or “tie in to the plot” LGBTQ+ characteres or characters of a different ethnicity or characters with a disease or mental illness and so on and so forth. It really flipping sucks. That’s one of the reasons why books like “Everything Leads to You” make me so happy- because a) f/f romance yesss and b) it’s not really questioned! Everybody (mostly) is just…fine. Nobody is bothered, and it’s really lovely.
    I’ve seen some headcanons with Rey being ace and queer? I’m not sure. I realllly really hope Finn/Poe happens, though, because the CHEMISTRY. Also there are a few tiny little moments on screen that are just like 😀 😀 😀
    ANYHOW. Lovely post, and such an important topic!

    • nevillegirl says:

      *blush* Awww, thanks. 😀

      Exactly! They always think there has to be some deeper reason, and it’s just like… OK, but when was the last time people questioned why straight characters were included in any story? Certain groups are viewed as inherently more deserving of having a spot in any and all stories, even though there’s no real reason other groups aren’t just as deserving.

      Finn and Poe. ❤ Poe is such a flirt and fINN IS A FREAKING DORK OH MY GOD. They're cute.

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