Sexualized Saturdays: Single Queer Characters Are Still Queer!

A few months ago, I wrote a piece about what I termed “Magical Obligatory Queer Dating”: to make a long story short, some characters have greatness thrust upon them, and some have seemingly obligatory relationships with the only other LGBTQ+ character on their show thrust upon them. However, we sometimes see an alternate, almost opposite, scenario—queer characters on TV shows who rarely or never seem to have any romantic relationships. In essence, I believe both situations ultimately end up stemming for the same problem: time constraints. When there are LGBTQ+ characters on TV shows, they are more likely than not to be side characters, rather than main characters. As such, they have limited time to explore their love lives, so writers either end up pushing them into an ultra-convenient same-sex relationship, or just not bothering to have the character date at all. However, I don’t think the latter option has to be as problematic as the former, and can actually be a source of good queer representation.

Teen Wolf Danny Keahu

Single sometimes, in a relationship sometimes, gay all the time.

Curiously, the same character can fall into both categories on different points on the show. When discussing Magical Obligatory Queer Dating, I spent a good bit of time talking about Danny from Teen Wolf. However, that was due to the entrance of love interest Ethan in Season 3A; prior to this new arrival, love life was not so exciting for our friend Danny. Okay, he had a male date for a school dance whom we saw for all of five seconds in the first season, but by Season 2, this guy is referred to as his ex (during an extremely brief cameo), and overall Danny is, for all intents and purposes, a single gay character for the first two seasons.

Before Dethan, there was just....Danny.

Before Dethan, there was just… Danny. Glorious Danny.

Now, there are some considerations that must be made when showcasing a queer character who is single. Because heterosexuality is still often perceived as the norm, characters are pretty much just presumed straight until proven otherwise. Since there isn’t a queer relationship to establish a single character’s sexual orientation, the character must actively say or do something to come out to the audience, regardless if the other characters are aware of this person’s sexuality or not. These days, it is less likely to be an actual coming out scene, and more often than not, it ends up being a punchline to a joke.

Mason Teen Wolf

“Hey, have you heard this joke? There’s a dude who likes another dude. Funny, right?”

Danny, and his homosexuality, were mentioned by everyone’s favorite lacrosse coach in the second episode of the first season (Danny is out and open about being gay, so it’s not like Coach outed him), but he wasn’t formally introduced until the third episode. Danny’s first spoken line on the show went like this: when asked why he is allowed to sit across from Lydia when another guy was told to move, he answered, “Because I don’t stare at his [Jackson’s] girlfriend’s coin slot”. Zing! Homosexuality makes for great one-liners and punchlines. His replacement token PoC gay best friend, Mason, (who in fact proved to be much more than a token replacement) was already outed in casting updates before the season started, and none of his lines in his first episode had any mention of his sexuality. Next episode, he made his first (and so far only) on-screen declaration of homosexual intent, which involved him telling Liam that he found Brett, a lacrosse player from another school, attractive. Not only do we once again have a seemingly unnecessary line to show or “prove” a character’s sexual orientation, once again the moment was played off for comedic effect, instead of letting a queer character just state their feelings.

How many times do I have to remind you people that I'm gay?!

“How many times do I have to remind you people that I’m gay?!”

Another prime example of a single gay character is Agent Steve Jinks from Syfy’s Warehouse 13 (did anyone watch this show besides my family?). His coming out moment felt more organic than some out-of-place one-liner: during his first stakeout with fellow agent Claudia, she mistakes his banter for trying to flirt with her, causing him to explain, “I’m gay.” It didn’t feel particularly forced in my opinion, but seemed like a plausible situation that might happen when two people who don’t really know each other are stuck together for a long period of time. The fact that Steve was single for all three seasons he was on the show also wasn’t something that really singled him out (pun intended), because for the most part, the romantic lives of the agents were not at all a primary concern for the show. Most of the characters spent significant amount of time single, and even when dating, it was never explored for them in the depth it is on most shows.

Steve and Liam might be one of my OTPs

Steve and Liam might be one of my OTPs

Obviously, it only makes sense if a single queer character brings up their sexuality from time to time, but it shouldn’t be exclusively for a cheap laugh. There are plenty of options to write lines and stories that can reference a character’s queerness in ways that aren’t jokes. There is an episode of Warehouse 13 where the group meets Steve’s ex-boyfriend, and viewers got to explore some of his relationship history, including why the couple broke up. This is a good example of engaging with a single character’s sexual orientation in a serious way. In Season 2 of Teen Wolf, there is a minor subplot (more of an incidental factoid, really) that Danny has a crush on new character Matt. It’s unrequited because Matt is straight, but that actually works out best for Danny because Matt is secretly controlling an evil monster that’s slaughtering people. Even just talking about a crush can be a good way for a single queer character to mention their sexuality without having to crack a joke.

I think the inclusion of single LGBTQ+ characters is an important part of queer representation in media. First of all, it does reflect the reality of many viewers. I can’t be the only queer viewer who finds themselves single for extended periods of time. Just as importantly, if not more so, single queer characters open the door to a dialogue about something pretty insidious—the implicit demands on queer people to “prove” their queerness. It can begin starting from a person’s first coming out, when people might say things like, “Are you sure? Have you tried it? etc.” Obviously no one is ever asked the reverse, as heteronormativity is so deeply engrained in most of society. The only definitive proof of sexual orientation that many seem to accept is actual sexual activity.

This is a horribly insulting, demeaning, and reductive way to think of queer people and queer sexuality. If single queer people are not engaging in sexual activity, what evidence can they show to the heteronormative world to “prove” their sexualities? In the realm of pop culture media, the answer is: well if you’re not doing it, at least be talking about doing it. This again is an unfair burden of proof laid on queer people. It is likely that people, straight or queer, will talk about their sexuality with their close friends at various points, but a character shouldn’t have to continuously have lines that bring up their sexuality if it just serves to remind the viewers that yep, So-and-so is still gay. This is further compounded for characters who are attracted to more than one gender. There’s the old stereotype that bisexuals need to be involved with a man and a woman at the same time, hopelessly doomed to never know monogamy. If they are not in this arrangement, they must be continuously proving they aren’t just gay or straight, which is offensive and utterly ridiculous.

Agent Steve Jinks from Warehouse 13. He doesn't let being single stop him from being awesome (or gay)

Agent Steve Jinks from Warehouse 13 doesn’t let being single stop him from being awesome (or gay)

Single queer characters have the potential to carry a powerful message: I am queer; take my word for it. A queer character should have the freedom to come out, and then never date anyone and never again have a single mention of their sexual orientation without it impacting how their own sexuality is perceived. Their lack of a relationship and even lack of further discussion should never make them seem somehow “less” gay/bi/etc. Trust me, I am currently single and if I go several days without mentioning I’m gay, I don’t suddenly start backsliding into heterosexuality. While we certainly don’t want singlehood to mean our queer characters are absolutely silent about sexuality, we have to understand—even a silent queer character would still be queer.


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7 thoughts on “Sexualized Saturdays: Single Queer Characters Are Still Queer!

  1. And to add onto that, if you’re asexual, “proving” it becomes a bit of a challenge. “Have you tried it and not liked it?” If not, the world wants you to at least try being straight, or gay, or something before giving up on the more “normal” sexual orientations.

    I really liked how Josh’s homosexuality was handled in The Originals, as a single queer character. Because him being gay was never a joke and actually I’ve seen many people in the fandom have actually missed the memo that he’s gay because it was so subtle, but at least it was more explicit than Mulan’s queerness on OUaT.

    In this scene in episode 1×07: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C5bC1w96lLs Josh explains (at around 1:11) into that video that he went to a lot of dance clubs when he was 16 and all he wanted to do was meet boys, but now that he’s newly been turned into a vampire against his will, he still wants to meet boys, but he now also has the overwhelming desire to feed off of people’s blood, etc..

    He also talks about being gay in this scene in episode 1×17: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fwWCzvpFZFc And his family not being accepting. I think these are serious moments rather than jokes and a nice subtle way for a character to be gay on this show. He doesn’t have to have a romantic relationship for us to know he’s gay. He also doesn’t have to be 100% about his homosexuality. He has a lot of storylines on the show that have nothing to do with being gay. He’s Davina’s only friend most of the time, and he’s also Klaus’s spy-turned-enemy and he even survived the season 1 finale and I look forward to what’s next for him. He’s been in 15 episodes of the show so far but the fact that he’s gay (yet currently single) has only come up in these 2 small scenes on the show and idk. I like that style of doing it.

    • Hi thanks for reading and commenting! Sorry it took me so long to reply.

      I absolutely agree: the “burden of proof” can be even more challenging for asexuals! I regret not mentioning that in my post. When will people actually believe sexual minorities that we are what we say? and sadly much of this can come from within as well as without — gay/lesbian people may be just as critical/skeptical as straight people, if not more so, of bisexuals. and anyone with sexual attraction (hetero, homo, bi, pan, et al) can be unfairly skeptical about asexuality.

      and YES, I love how those scenes with Josh are done!! haven’t watched The Originals yet (it’s def near the top of my ‘to-watch’ list tho) so this was the first time I saw those scenes, but they were perfect. If writers take time to develop their characters and close friendships, topics about sexuality WILL come out naturally and organically, without resorting to jokes and one-liners. nothing about those scenes felt like him saying “HEY REMEMBER I’M GAY, DIDN’T WANT YOU TO FORGET!” it was just stuff that would naturally happen in meaningful conversations with a friend. thanks so much for sharing!

      • Yeah, I’m asexual, so figuring out how this post applies to my own orientation is just a natural knee-jerk reaction… 😛

        I’m so glad you enjoyed viewing the Josh scenes on The Originals that I linked to. I completely agree.

      • I’m enjoying that they’re actually giving Josh a love interest really slowly but surely in season 2 of The Originals now. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZkrgvH6fyJ4

        It’s slow and Josh is still a pretty minor character and his love interest an even more minor character, but they even shared a first kiss in episode 2×08. Meaning Josh & Aiden get their forbidden werewolf/vampire love story just like Caroline & Tyler did in season 2 of The Vampire Diaries, and like Josh says himself on the show, it’s not Romeo & Juliet, it’s Romeo & Romeo and that’s pretty hard to come by in these supernatural CW type shows so I’m glad they’re slowly but surely doing this and giving queer folks at least a tiny bit of representation. 😉

        I know people were pissed that Sara was killed off on Arrow because she was the ONLY queer character on the entire show… and I just keep hoping the same thing doesn’t happen to Josh – The Originals is another CW show with a lot of deadly situations in pretty much every episode, so… 😛 I really don’t want them to kill off their only queer character. We’ll see what happens.

        • #KeepOurQueerCharactersAlive2015!!

          and aww that’s sweet! now i really need to start watching and catch up with The Originals. it’ll be a New Year’s resolution for me!

  2. Warehouse 13 was the best! I didn’t know Agent Steve was gay though… I should probably finish the show now. XD

    • i actually started watching at season 3 especially because i heard the new agent was gay! 🙂 but then i started again from the beginning, and loved it all, it really is such a great show!!

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