What makes good queer media representation?
Yesterday’s blog post sparked a friendly conversation about good representation, and it got me thinking about what do I actually mean when I talk about it. The kill your queers topes came up, as well as the mainstream media’s handling of certain character arcs, so what ideally would I like to see as good queer representation?
As always, this is prefaced as my own opinion based on my own media consumption and tastes, and I am sure many of you will have your own versions of this. For me it boils down to handling queer folk like cishets, in as much that if you have a queer person on screen or in a game their lives can be a random, heroic, dystopian, or whatnot as cishet characters. Yes, this does mean that there is the potential for a lethal ending or sense of doom or lonely existence, but it also means that all the other plot threads are wide open.
Someone asked why does queer representation matter, especially in fantasy or science fiction when those genres should clearly be representative and open to queerness. This is a valid point, but we are audience members and consumers are based in the here and now, and if queerness is side stepped it excludes a vast swathe of people who are not normally represented in other genres. This is especially true of trans folk, societally defined disabled peeps, characters from non-white backgrounds, and empowered women. If those characters are tokens, secondary, or standard tropes it affirms cultural norms, and further excludes.
Positive representation is not an either/or situation, you don’t have to downplay cishet characters for the sake of queer ones. Indeed, the best tales treat queerness as a facet of a character’s whole, affirming and empowering the character through the story, rather than treating queerness as a burden or a but of jokes. Tragic queers are not the only queers — Carmina Drummer, She-Ra, and Femmeshep show that queers can kick as much arse when well written. Queerness has a tragic societal narrative only because our cultures have previously demanded it, and unless you are explicitly writing a tragic historic queer story surely there are far more affirming stories to be written than doomed lovers who are destined to fail.
It is not my place to account for taste, and there are copious outlets for queer tragic porn, plenty of people who enjoy it. I personally would rather blaze across the galaxy with my gal at my side taking names, the stars singing odes long after we departed. For me, both as a creator and consumer, queerness comes in so many varieties that to even try to list them shows just my personal tastes. Good representation treats gender and sexual queerness with empathy, compassion, openness, and a willingness to be even handed rather than bow to societal pressure.
Of course, I am horrifically biased in this, as I always love strong, rounded queer women in my games, films, and TV. I do not actively choose programs or games based on their queer content, but I certainly do cut away if the queer tropes are front and centre. I have no time for hackneyed writing or lazy tropes, which is why I am going to make a point of celebrating what I perceive as good queer representation. It is all in my own taste, and I am sure everyone else will have their own version of what good queer representation means. Such is the way of life, and it makes it all the more interesting.