I always loved Gambit. The smooth talking Cajun, desperately in love with Rogue despite not being able to touch her, was certainly one of my favorite characters growing up. He was a little bit of an arrogant asshole, but he had a good heart. Gambit was also a big fanservice character. He was one of the few male characters drawn more for female comic readers, and furthermore, there was always the hint that Gambit’s sexuality might be more fluid than the comics led us to believe. However, despite everything that could be inferred from the comic, Gambit was never explicitly stated to be a queer character. That seems to be a big trend in comics right now. Despite the fact that Marvel in particular has been doing a lot better with having more diversity in their comics, there is still a significant lack of queer characters.
According to Bleeding Cool, comic writer James Asmus, who wrote Gambit’s solo series in 2012, was planning on making the character bisexual. However, he was shut down after pitching the idea. He explains,
It’s true that I was interested in revealing Gambit to be bisexual in our series – with us first seeing him seduce a man on one of his missions, and soon thereafter meeting a member of the thieves guild Gambit previously had a more significant relationship with in his pre-X-Men debut. I never got past pitching the first part, though, as word came down we wouldn’t be redefining the character as such.
A few important disclaimers, though… first, I have no idea how high or low on the totem pole that decision was made, or for what reasons – but my editor on the book was the fabulous Daniel Ketcham who is an out man and prominent voice for LBGT diversity in comics. Though the memory is hazy (I pitched a LOT of different ideas for that book) I don’t think he was keen on the idea just from a practical / story stand point. And as I mentioned, I had lots of different concepts I was happy to explore – so in fairness, the No wasn’t something I fought against. And in hindsight, maybe that pitch was too half-baked? Either way, we never did anything to go against the idea he’s bisexual. So maybe someone else will craft that story?
It’s not so shocking to find out something like this happened. When it comes to existing characters, making them queer seems to be something that comics companies are not really willing to do. Marvel, for example, seems to be less than interested in changing Captain America into a queer character. What’s the fear with changing existing previously assumed to be straight characters into queer characters?
I suppose the initial fear is that it doesn’t seem realistic or that it diminishes the hetero relationships that the characters were in before. But Gambit and the other characters I mentioned are all regarded as being potentially bisexual, so it wouldn’t change anything about their previous relationships. Most characters that fans would like to see as queer are thought to be bisexual or pansexual, or are thought of in ways that wouldn’t negate their past relationships. It’s never a true retcon of the character, but rather it’s an expanded understanding of the characters.
The real fear is obviously what the fans will think about making a prominent character like Gambit or Captain America queer. However, Marvel especially has made significant changes in the name of diversity that has caused some fans to become upset with the changes. We now have a young Muslim character as Ms. Marvel, the title of Thor is now carried by a woman, Captain America is now a Black man, and the title Iron Man is about to go to a Black woman. But even though these changes have pissed some fans off, for the most part these changes to make Marvel more diverse have found them both favor and a much wider audience. And despite the fact that it is usually fans who are pushing for these characters to be queer, this seems to be a line that Marvel doesn’t want to cross for whatever reason.
So what is going on here? Why is Marvel taking good steps toward diversity in some respects but not with queer characters? Asmus mentioned that his editor, Daniel Ketcham, a gay man, wasn’t interested in the idea of Gambit as a queer character from a story standpoint. But why is that? How could a character being bisexual make things less practical from a story perspective? Maybe Asmus’s bisexual Gambit was more unintentionally stereotypical. Maybe Marvel’s higher ups were worried about a bisexual Gambit being stereotypical, because in a general sense Gambit has always been a pretty hypersexual character. But this wouldn’t explain their reluctance with making characters like Steve Rogers bisexual, as his character would hardly come off as a stereotype. Maybe it’s just the general lack of queer comic book artists and writers. We can’t be sure of the real reason, but Marvel has been bringing more diversity to their comics in other areas, so they need to not hesitate when it comes to this area of diversity.
Queer characters in comics are so important and necessary especially to fight stereotypes. While I don’t think being a cishet white male is an excuse to not write diversity, I think if Marvel doesn’t want to drop the ball when it comes to queer characters then they need to hire more queer writers. The reason Kamala Khan is so popular and written so well is, at least in part, because she was given well rounded and accurate representation by the Muslim authors writing her. A queer team writing a queer Gambit could do much the same. Furthermore, the acceptance of other diverse characters by fans means it is unlikely that fans will reject a character who was previously not mentioned to be queer. And by taking established characters and revealing them to be queer characters, those stories will likely reach a wider audience than original queer characters would. With how well Marvel has been doing, it seems silly to not apply the same effort with queer characters.