How Geek Culture is Becoming More Inclusive Toward Queer People
Post by guest contributor Frankie Wallace.
Geek culture has had an inclusivity problem for decades. Despite being one of the most popular countercultures in our society, and one that attracts fans from all backgrounds, many queer individuals have dealt with media that often paints them in a two-dimensional or negative light, sometimes not recognizing them at all. Those in the LGBTQ+ community have dealt with vanilla protagonists—often straight, white men—as the focal point of their comics, books, video games, television shows, and movies for years.
Fortunately, the tides are turning. Despite having a long ways to go, inclusivity in geek culture has reached an all-time high. Let’s explore how this shift is happening in each medium:
Some of the misunderstandings that people in the LGBTQ+ community face in their daily lives can be rectified with proper inclusion and representation in literature. Inclusive literature can reach and educate millions of minds. Comic books and graphic novels have hit record sales in recent years, which means it is more important than ever that the comic book community embraces the LGBTQ+ community, and vise versa.
Sean Z. Maker, the creator of Bent-Con (a queer alternative to Comic-Con), is trying to marry geeky comic book culture and queer culture by showcasing the amazing work that LGBTQ+ creators who are often overshadowed by the heteronormativity of mainstream comics. Maker not only sees a problem in the gatekeepers of the comic book community, but also in the overall acceptance of geek culture in the queer community—referring to the reluctance to admit that one is both queer and nerdy as a “double closet”.
Thankfully, depictions of openly queer characters have become more common in both comic books and romance novels. Batwoman, Mystique, Catwoman, John Constantine, Iceman, Northstar, and Deadpool are all high-profile superheroes who are openly and unabashedly queer. Their queerness isn’t used for laughs or meant to make them villainous, but it’s a normalized and integral part of their character. At this point, there are more LGBTQ+ superheroes represented in comic books than there are Canadians (though, both Northstar and Deadpool enjoy the distinction of falling into both camps).
TV and Film
Queer people haven’t always had the best depictions in either film or television over the years, especially during the HIV/AIDS crisis in the 1980s. Many movies and television shows chose to portray those who had contracted HIV as heterosexual. Media failed to address the fact that HIV and AIDS disproportionately affect queer POC—a fact that remains true to this day. Accurate representation is vital, not only in promoting inclusion, but to better educate and protect our community overall.
Today, however, we have seen a wealth of positive queer figures in film and television, both in leading and supporting roles. Queer Eye, Adventure Time, Steven Universe, and even Arthur are all television shows that depict queer individuals as role models. It is especially important that this level of representation is happening in our modern political climate. The fact that three out of the four previously mentioned shows have primarily younger audiences is an essential step toward fostering a more inclusive future.
Queer representation in film falls far behind what is happening in the world of television, though. According to GLAAD’s 2019 Studio Responsibility index, of the 110 movies released by major studios less than 20% depicted an LGBTQ+ character—and no transgender characters. The sad state of the levels of inclusivity can be summed up by Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first openly gay character: a random guy in a support group. However, this is still progress and shouldn’t be cast aside; it is just important that we continue to recognize the need for improvements to inclusion in films going forward.
Although queer representation in gaming has seen an uptick in recent years, there is a serious inclusivity problem that still needs to be dealt with. Of the thousands of commercially released games over the last few decades, only 179 feature queer characters. Of that 179, a mere 83 contain a queer playable character. However, more and more modern AAA titles are beginning to feature queer characters that don’t exist to be comedic relief or serve as the villain.
All things considered, we are living in a “golden age” of queer representation in video games (still recognizing the need to encourage further growth). Huge titles like the Borderlands, Mass Effect, and Dragon Age franchises all make concerted efforts to be inclusive, even if they don’t always hit the mark. The Assassin’s Creed and Fire Emblem franchises, two games that have faced prior criticism over their lack of inclusion, have also made attempts to do better in their latest installments. Smaller studios are also trying to improve inclusivity in games. Stardew Valley and My Time at Portia offer a queer experience to players. These games let characters exist without defining their entire existence around their sexuality.
A fan favorite, The Last of Us introduces the world to Ellie, the punchy and earnest teenager who gives us one of the most touching romances in gaming to date. Even better, the upcoming sequel completely focuses on Ellie, giving players the chance to play a game with a strong, queer protagonist.
It is important that studios continue down on this path of inclusion, eschewing the white-washed and heteronormative media of yesteryear. Normalizing queer culture is important—by doing do, we are telling young, queer individuals that it is okay to be themselves, that they don’t have to distrust the system or worry about being labeled or objectified.
Geeks of all genders, sexualities, shapes, creeds, and color need to help each other feel welcome in a community that has always prided itself on acceptance of those outside the mainstream.
Frankie Wallace is a freelance journalist interested in all things pop culture. Wallace resides in Boise, Idaho and contributes to a variety of blogs across the web.