Sexualized Saturdays: Letting Boys Cry

One of the first things Yuri Katsuki does onscreen is cry. His establishing character moment is him weeping uncontrollably in a bathroom, the picture of vulnerability and hopelessness, after doing badly at the Grand Prix. And he doesn’t stop crying, either—his tears, and his anxiety, return time and again over the series, and while he eventually learns to handle this anxiety as his confidence is nurtured, the narrative never really presents this emotion and his expression of it as a bad thing or a weakness. Yuri is a highly expressive, emotional young man, and the show he’s in lets him be that. And that’s quite a rare thing to see in fiction, let alone from the protagonist of a sports anime—surely one of the most manly genres out there, given that they’re all about feats of physical prowess!

It seems paradoxical to have the protagonist of something in the action genre—be it sports or superheroes—cry, because crying is, well, such a non-masculine and non-heroic trait. Journalist Ben Blatt recently released the findings of a study on word use in books, which found that, among other things, women were commonly described as “sobbing” but men almost never were, especially when the novel in question was written by a man. The study suggests that “Male authors seem, consciously or not, to hold that if ‘real men don’t cry,’ then ‘fictional men don’t sob’.”

And yet there’s Yuri, sobbing—and not the only man to do so in that show either. Granted, a lot of Yuri!!! on Ice plays with and strays from what we would consider “manly” (dancing, themes of love, throwing away strict conventions of gender presentation with Viktor’s long hair and flower crowns, etc.), but this departure from gendered expectations is still worth noting. Usually, the perception is that boys don’t cry. Crying is a sissy thing to do, an unmanly thing to do, a girly thing to do, and society says the accepted and desirable alternative is to bottle up your feelings or project them outwards onto other people. This is one of the neatest examples of toxic masculinity you can find: being emotional is somehow feminine, and, of course, that that makes it bad.

Content warning for discussion of suicide after the jump. Continue reading

Sexualized Saturdays: Batgirl, a Look Back at a Lifelong Hero and a Hopeful Look Forward

With the recent news  that Joss Whedon is in the works to do a (potentially amazing, if arguably problematic) Batgirl movie, I’ve been thinking about Barbara Gordon a lot. I mean, more than usual. BG’s always been a personal favorite and perhaps the first example I remember from my childhood of not only a real “strong female character” but a superhero I actually connected with. Babs has been a hero to many and while she has been used in incredibly problematic ways over the years, she remains one of the most prominent female superheroes to the average geek.

Batgirl - YC Promo 1

This shade of purple was forever associated with Batgirl in my brain. (image via Batman Wiki)

As different artists have taken a crack at Batgirl over the years, she has gone through a few phases, as have most of the other major players in the Batman canon. Many of those different versions of BG have been used in exploitative ways. Despite this, many have made her a feminist icon and often a source of inspiration to fans of all genders. In looking back at some of these incarnations, I also hope to highlight a few things that will be crucial to the Batgirl film not ending up horrible.

TW: Discussion of themes related to sexual violence and ableism.

Continue reading

Sexualized Saturdays: Alex Danvers and a Coming Out Arc Done Right

I’ll be honest, I’m kind of tired of gay coming out arcs on TV by now. The angst, the panic, and the not knowing how their family and friends will react to the gay character aren’t really appealing to me anymore (I’ve had enough of that in my own life). I want to see LGBTQ+ characters living their lives, working, dating, asserting their identities, and standing up to bigotry. However, coming out remains an experience most of us, LGBTQ+ folks, share. And even though representation on mainstream media is disappointing more often than not, it seems that once in a while it’s still possible to be pleasantly surprised and moved to tears by a character figuring out their sexuality on a superhero show, of all places. I am talking, as you can tell by the title, about Alex Danvers—one of the main characters on Supergirl—and her character arc in the first half of the second season.

Spoilers for the Supergirl TV show below.

Continue reading

Sexualized Saturdays: Tides of Change for the Tormented LGBTQ+ Gamer

While there has been some notable improvement lately, video games have not historically done a fantastic job of representing queer identities (or really anything other than “straight white dude”). The days of overt homophobia and extreme stereotypes are mostly behind us, but to put it bluntly, LGBTQ+ gamers usually take what we can get in the representation realm. Sometimes, that means playing as a gay character with very little actual identity beyond a statistic on a character sheet. In many cases, it means there is a female character who can be romanced by any gender of player character but basically is just gay or straight depending on your play-through, rather than a realistic portrayal of a bisexual woman. In an increasing number of cases, an NPC (usually one you can’t romance) is presented as canonically gay, but this either comes off as tokenization or even as baiting. It acknowledges that queer people exist within the world of the game, but doesn’t really allow queer gamers to roleplay authentically, unless you count “one dimensional flirting with that person I have no chance of hooking up with” as an authentic roleplaying experience. 

As the trend toward inclusiveness increases, we often see developers either avoid defining a character’s sexuality if it doesn’t directly come up in gameplay or taking a “let’s just make everyone pansexual so players can make their own canon” approach (like many Bethesda and Bioware games). While there is actually something to be said for that second approach, particularly in an open RPG where making your own story is the point of the game, there is also something to be said for explicitly defining those identities and making players deal with the reality of not everyone on earth being bi/pan.

Torment - Promo mage

Note that the female version of the char is featured in the promo art. (image via Wikipedia)

The debate over the portrayal of sexuality in games has been going on for quite a while (anyone remember the controversy surrounding Juhani from KOTOR 1?), but gender is only just starting to get addressed along these lines, and finding solid representation of BTQ characters is often much harder than finding LG representation. Recently, Dragon Age 3 took a bold stance and allowed players to define not only their sexuality but their gender identity. The success of that game and the fact that the inclusiveness certainly didn’t hurt sales has opened some doors, and developers are starting to cautiously move toward them.

The recently released Torment: Tides of Numenera falls squarely into that category, exploring these concepts in a way that’s actually inclusive but not quite taking it to the level of DA3 in terms of how that is done. Like much about Torment, it’s a solid step in the right direction if not quite a running start.

Continue reading

Sexualized Saturdays: Critical Role and the Complexities of LGBTQ+ Representation

(Image via Geek & Sundry)

Over the past few months, I’ve gotten really into Dungeons & Dragons, a role-playing and story-telling game that relies on improvisation and dice. A game of D&D is led by a Dungeon Master who provides a fantasy world for the players to interact with, and together, they build a story. I discovered D&D through Critical Role, which is a weekly livestream showing a group of people playing the game. It’s quite unlike any other media content I consume, as it doesn’t have a team of writers and is largely improvised. Moreover, it started as a private home game, so it wasn’t even initially created with an audience in mind (although the players did make the decision to continue their game instead of starting a new one for the broadcast).

However, since it started streaming two years ago, it has become quite a phenomenon, inspiring people to play D&D and to create. I wrote about the show several weeks ago while I was still frantically trying to catch up and as such didn’t really stop to think much about anything. I was very excited, for instance, about the mere fact that the show includes LGBTQ+ representation. Since then, I’ve finished catching up and had time to reflect on and look at this representation a little more critically. While Critical Role does have characters of differing gender identities and sexualities who are portrayed with care and respect, some of the actions of the players show a lack of consideration towards the LGBTQ+ characters and the people they represent.

Some spoilers below.

Continue reading

Sexualized Saturdays: Sex, Romance, and Giant Robots in FLCL

While I consider myself an anime fan, I only count a surprisingly few anime titles among my all time favorites. One that definitely makes the cut is FLCL. It is almost impossible to explain what exactly FLCL actually is (though our own BrothaDom made a truly valiant effort); the show is legendarily rumored to be a byproduct of writer’s block, spawning from a handful of unfinished ideas that some anime all-stars had been batting around. While that may be at least somewhat apocryphal, it certainly explains much of the show’s signature production style. One interpretation for it all that I cannot help wanting to explore, however, is that the entire story is a parable about adolescent sexual and romantic coming of age.

flcl-bridge

Quiet moments like this have more raw emotion than the apocalyptic action scenes.

Much of the plot is directly and explicitly just that: a coming-of-age story. It can be argued, though, that the more grandiose and surreal main story arc is all one giant metaphor for this as well. In addition to the protagonist Naota, almost every other key character (primarily the three women in Naota’s life: Haruko, Mamimi, and Eri) also deals with these themes and the extraordinary events that happen to them are all viewable as metaphorical (and/or metaphysical) extensions of those emotional struggles.

As the YA sci-fi and fantasy genres become more and more of a driving force in pop culture, FLCL is worth revisiting (again) for what it says about some of those same themes. It tells a complex and deeply layered yet easily relatable story about the nature of romantic and sexual self-discovery in a way that validates the emotions that young people (and everyone else) look to explore in this type of fiction; not only that, but it does so in a way that treats them with a sincerity that mainstream YA fiction sometimes tends to handle with melodrama and/or trivialization.

Trigger warning for underage sexual relationships below.

Continue reading

Sexualized Saturdays: Dark Skin Shouldn’t Be a Signifier for Sexual

Black History Month is moving right along, and while everyone is out there quoting Martin Luther King Jr. or incorrectly talking about Frederick Douglass, I think it’s important that we look at issues surrounding our Black women, as well. Luckily, we’re slowly but surely getting more Black girls and women in our media! Unfortunately, from looking at depictions of Black girls and women in media, such as last year’s scandal over Riri Williams, it’s easy to see that Black (and darker-skinned) women tend to be more sexualized in nerd media than their white (and fairer-skinned) counterparts. This creates a culture where darker bodies are seen as inherently more sexual, and thus more acceptable as targets of objectification and sexual violence.

Continue reading