Saika and I have been watching our way through Orphan Black after Stinekey’s excellent recommendation of it (we aren’t finished yet! no spoilers, please!) and we both love Felix, Sarah’s gay foster brother. Felix is… well, it’s not technically incorrect to say he’s a gay stereotype. He’s an artist, he’s ~fabulous~, and when he ends up roped into babysitting duty, he asks the kids he’s looking after if they want to be crossdressers for an evening. He gets all the snark, all the sass, and all the cool clothes. He is actually gayer than a daffodil.
However, being a stereotype doesn’t necessarily mean that Felix is a poor representation of the queer community.
If you’re lucky, a TV show or novel these days will have a queer character. Usually only one, though. And because there’s only one, the writers and producers tend to fall into the trap of thinking that this one queer character must represent all queer characters. They go out of their way to break stereotypes so that their audience doesn’t think ” well, all queer people must be like this”. To this end, there are now a lot of shows where the queer character is a person who behaves according to the “normal” rules of society. But Jordan Gavaris, Felix’s actor, brings up an excellent point: if the only visibly queer characters on a show are all well-adjusted, normal people, the producers are actually perpetuating a different, but no less true, stereotype. When asked about the LGBTQ+ community’s response to Felix, Gavaris said:
From the LGBT community, the reaction to Felix was brilliant—I did receive a couple of little things from the straight community where they felt he’s a bit of an ugly stereotype […] and my response to that has always been: You cannot, collectively, as a society, decide that you are only going to represent one part of a minority. It’s like saying you’ve represented black people on television because you air an episode of The Cosbys. That is not true. Just like you cannot put an episode of Modern Family on and say that you’ve represented the LGBT community. That’s unfair. It’s exclusionary. And it’s irresponsible.
After wild applause, Gavaris went on to say:
And I also feel that it’s a little bit unsavory that anyone from the straight community comments on — this person’s comments were, “If I was a gay man, I would be offended…” And I just think that that’s not fair. Because you’re not a gay man. You don’t understand that. That’s so irresponsible as a journalist, as anyone who’s writing on a public forum […] I love Felix to death. Clichés and not clichés and everything. And, you know, maybe that’s a choice he makes consciously. Maybe it’s a defense mechanism. Maybe there’s—a million reasons why. He’s just—there’re so many more interesting things to Felix than who he’s sleeping with.
If that’s not the best answer any actor has ever given in response to a fan question, I don’t know what is. Gavaris is saying that a stereotypically queer character is just as viable a representation of the LGBTQ+ community as a non-stereotypical one. Felix is just as credible as Ianto Jones and Captain Jack Harkness from Torchwood, Charlie from Supernatural, and Cecil and Carlos from Welcome to Night Vale. This attitude goes against the ethos of a lot of bloggers, who are always worried about a character seeming too out there or just “too gay”.
I think equally as important, though, is respect. Sure, Felix sometimes plays the part of the comic relief, but he’s also one of the few characters in Orphan Black who has his shit together.
Being respected by the narrative—being empowered by the narrative—can go a long way towards alleviating the negative connotations of a stereotype. It teaches the audience that yes, this stereotypically queer character can also contribute to the plotline, no matter what they act like. Jack, a stereotypically ready-to-sleep-with-everyone pansexual, is the leader of Torchwood; Cecil, who spends an awful lot of time fawning over Carlos on-air, is arguably the most important person in Night Vale; and Charlie, a rather non-stereotypical kickass lesbian, saves the Winchesters’ butts more than a couple times. So what if they’re queer? Who cares who they sleep with? They aren’t the punchline to a 1960s-era joke.
Conversely, a stereotypically queer character doesn’t work when they’re not empowered by the narrative. Irene Adler from Sherlock, for example, is drawn like a straight guy’s fantasy lesbian: hot, all about sex, into the kinky stuff. Oh, she’s a Moffat creation, so that explains that. But Irene’s being a lesbian stereotype isn’t enough to dismiss her—the narrative does that for you. She’s supposed to be Sherlock’s intellectual equal, but he has to walk her through the first crime of the episode before she solves it; Moriarty teaches her how to play her long con; she up and ruins said con by having pesky female feelings of rooooomance (for Sherlock, who’s not even a girl). Of course, she’s the only lesbian character on the show, so she’s a stereotype and a horrible representative. Supernatural, similarly, had the Ghostfacers’ gay intern, and I’m still convinced to this day that the only reason he was in the show was so the Ghostfacers could say the line “You gotta go be gay for that poor dead intern!” The character was erased from the series for the sake of a joke. Hell, I don’t even remember his name.
I’m not saying that all queer characters have to be superheroes (although that’d be nice). I’m saying that in this day and age, if a queer character exists to be the butt of a joke or only exists as a token representative who doesn’t add to the narrative, that’s the real problem. Queer people are already ridiculed, marginalized, and sidelined in real life—I don’t want to see it in my media as well. So let’s not hate on a character for being “stereotypical” if the narrative is telling you they rock.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go see a girl about a clone…