Representation matters, and everyone wants to be a hero. Unfortunately, what we LGBTQ+ folks get more often are queer villains, queer-coded villains, or anti-heroes. At least, they’re the most famous ones: pretty much every Disney villain ever, Loki, Constantine. The predominance of these types of characters and the lack of LGBTQ+ “good guy” superheroes creates the image of queerness as being tied to wickedness, threat to society, and general “otherness”. This influences both the way the general society sees LGBTQ+ people and how LGBTQ+ folks see ourselves, especially young people struggling with their identities. It creates a certain narrative for us, implying that we can only fit a certain type of mold and that it always sets us apart and makes us a threat. And that sucks.
I love a rugged jerk with a heart of gold as much as anyone, but Constantine’s morals and ethics leave something to be desired.
However, I’m not saying all queer characters need to be “good guys”. It’s just that a balance is needed to avoid forcing the idea that queer equals bad. Therefore it’s important to have more LGBTQ+ heroes and “good guys” who are people others follow and look up to (I’m not saying bisexual Steve Rogers, but I’m totally thinking bisexual Steve Rogers). We need to see that we can be great heroes and that we can have all kinds of different stories be about us.
Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: “why does this character have to be gay? It’s so distracting!” Or what about this: “we thought about making this character queer, but we thought it would be a distraction”. It seems like I’ve been seeing this sort of thing a lot lately—I see authors insisting that they’re open-minded and love their “gay fans”, but making characters queer would divert attention away from the story; on the other hand, I see fans complaining that the existing queer characters are distracting. But all I, a queer person, can hear from this is “for me to accept and portray you as a person, I need to ignore a piece of your person; can we pretend it doesn’t exist?” and “no one wants to see you as you are”.
Awesome character, but not an epitome of LGBTQ+ representation
It seems that a lot of creators think that it’s enough representation if they have ‘hidden’ LGBTQ+ characters—only revealing it with a throwaway punchline at the end of a movie (see: Mitch in ParaNorman), or even worse, only mentioning it outside the work itself (see: J.K. Rowling’s “I always thought of Dumbledore as gay”). Many fans cheer when this happens, because, see, you can write gay characters who don’t distract from the story. On one hand, this helps to normalize queer characters; it makes them seem just like heterosexual characters, so straight viewers don’t think of them as ‘other’, but as people just like them. And this is important. But on the other hand, really, what sort of representation is it if the audience has no idea the character is queer for mostof the work? Invisible representation is not representation. It also sends the message to queer audience members that they’re only equal to straight people when they’re indistinguishable from them, when they’re exactly the same; that to be accepted you have to follow the heteronormative rules. If you’re in any way different, you draw attention and it’s annoying and disgusting and the need for you to be this way is constantly questioned.
In The Flesh is very important to me (you can read an introductory review of Season 1 by Ace here), and Kieren Walker, in particular, is very important to me. He’s an artist. He doesn’t want to stand out but at the same time he stands up for the mistreated. He spends a lot of time wanting to run away from everything but when it counts he decides to stay. He has a history of depression. He is also a LGBTQ+ character, which is one of his defining characteristics but not the defining character feature. The way Kieren’s sexuality is portrayed on the show and talked about by the creators isn’t perfect, but it is also extraordinarily positive in quite a few ways.
Trigger warnings for brief mentions of suicide and depression below. Also mild spoilers concerning Kieren’s character development and relationships.
Zombie stories have all but saturated pop culture. They’re everywhere—28 Days Later, The Last of Us, Warm Bodies, just to name a few—and thankfully for those of us who love zombies, they’re not going away any time soon. However, since there’s so many of these stories, they face a huge challenge: being both unique and interesting to audiences that have already consumed dozens upon dozens of zombie narratives. Some of them, such as The Walking Dead and The Last of Us, succeed. Others, like the Resident Evil movies, do not.
Of course, there don’t seem to be too many places to take these narratives, and that adds to the challenge. Often, they will follow a group of people attempting to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. Warm Bodies switched this up a bit by creating a cure for the zombies. In The Flesh goes a similar route; it follows Kieren Walker, a zombie who’s been cured of his feeding urges, as he struggles to fit back in with society—but whereas Warm Bodies was a comedic love story, In The Flesh has a much darker narrative to follow. It’s also a giant allegory for LGBTQ+ discrimination.
Right now I’ve only watched the first season of In The Flesh, which is only three episodes long. I also have no idea how I’d never heard of this show until last week, because its first season is quite possibly one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen.