While a lot of our content covers the queer and LGBTQIA+ topics at play within our larger community, we thought we’d take a moment, here at the end of June, to do a little Pride round-up with our staff. The work of queer safety, equity, representation, and celebration is ongoing, both a part of our history and our future. We’re committed to those values here at GeekGirlCon, and wanted to share a little bit about how we personally view the intersection of these communities.
Hanna, Copywriter | @hupptwothree on Twitter and Instagram
Your identity? Bisexual, queer
What does being part of this community mean to you? Being part of the queer community means everything to me. From my relationship with my girlfriend, to my incredibly supportive group of queer friends, to the immediate connections I can make with queer coworkers, to queer media of all kinds, being part of queer communities is a constant source of support, strength, love, joy, and resistance.
Favorite pieces of queer media? Red White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston (gay First Son + gay Prince of England = the best romance novel I’ve ever read?!), The Handmaiden (the most incredible Korean historical lesbian psychological thriller, with gorgeous visuals and true romance), Schitt’s Creek (feel good small town vibes, a sweet slow-burn gay love story and “The Best” by Tina Turner—what more could you ask for?), Steven Universe (just watch it, I promise you won’t be disappointed).
Welcome to Geek Girl Talk, a (biased, subjective, opinionated) conversation about the pop culture we’re currently loving, hating, and obsessing over. This month, we’re discussing romance novels and what the genre has to offer in terms of queer representation and complex, autonomous women characters. In other words, we’re fangirling about Casey McQuiston’s Red, White & Royal Blue and Helen Hoang’s The Kiss Quotient.
Who We Are Vaguely and in Terms Only of the Media We Seek Out Most Often:
Teal (roman type!) Literally any teen TV show, YA, women’s and feminist media, everything Star Trek
Hanna (italics, baby!) Reality TV, memoirs, romance novels, anything British, any podcast ever
Spoiler disclaimer: We kept it spoiler free, so read on!
I’ll start by saying that this whole conversation could just be one long line of exclamation points as far as I’m concerned, because that’s how passionately I feel about our topic of conversation: romance novels in general, and Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston and The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang in particular. But since that won’t get us very far, I’ll actually begin with the fact that I love romance novels. My whole childhood basically consisted of flipping through slightly-age-inappropriate books to get to the smutty and/or romantic parts. Of course, my relationship with the genre—and especially with certain tropes (namely heterocentric ones)—has changed over the years. For a long time, especially as I was coming to understand more about my own sexuality and navigating real-life romantic and sexual dynamics for the first time, romance novels stopped being satisfying for me. Reading them was fun, but it wasn’t full of that giddy, half-in-love-yourself feeling that used to be there. I wasn’t connecting with the same dynamics and tropes that used to feel so all-consuming to me. That is, until I read RWRB this past month. I read it three times, and basically forced you to read it too, Teal, because my love for this book (and for you—you’re welcome for introducing you to this brilliance!) knows no bounds. I’m so curious about whether you had the same reaction—did reading this book feel different to you too? And, if so, why are we feeling this way?
Welcome to Geek Girl Talk, a (biased, subjective, opinionated) conversation about the pop culture we’re currently loving, hating, and obsessing over. For our first installment, we’re unpacking queer representation in Roswell, New Mexico.
Who We Are Vaguely and in Terms Only of the Media We Seek Out Most Often:
Teal (roman type!) Literally any teen TV show, YA, women’s and feminist media, everything Star Trek
Hanna (italics, baby!) Reality TV, memoirs, romance novels, anything British, any podcast ever
[Spoiler disclaimer: If you’re not caught up, this post won’t be too spoiler-y, as we just talk about general interpersonal stuff between the characters. We might recommend watching the first episode, though!]
While I’m not (yet) familiar with its source material, I do consider the original Roswell TV series to be an important piece of teen media—not to mention one that I specifically harbor a lot of fondness for. And so, the new CW adaptation, Roswell, New Mexico, is a series I’m both excited about and slightly skeptical of. That being said, I’ve found that this version does have a lot of things going for it. The characters are older by about a decade, the show addresses current social issues directly instead of relying solely on the ambiguous implications of the alien-human metaphor, and the blatant whitewashing of the original cast is being backtracked. In other words, there’s a lot to be hopeful about. If I’m being honest, though, what’s struck me the most about this retelling is what it’s doing in terms of queer representation, and with one of the alien protagonists, Michael, in specific. I won’t argue that it’s the most radical or robust depiction one could imagine, but something about the way they’re writing his bisexuality is affecting me personally and, by extension, shedding light on the way this particular facet of queer representation has been failing us even as popular media is beginning to do a better job of normalizing non-hetero characters and relationships overall.
If you’re not watching The 100, I do forgive you. It is a CW show, after all. (I don’t know why, but I can’t take the CW seriously! It doesn’t seem to matter how many of their shows I watch and love!) However, if you are unfamiliar with the show, this post is a PSA for you specifically.
Before I get too into it, I’d like to say that though I am aware of the book that inspired the show (thanks, Kass Morgan!), for my purposes, know that everything here refers exclusively to the TV series. And, with that series, there is a lot to get into. But, first and foremost, the main character, Clarke Griffin.
Hello friends, blog readers, geeks far and wide! Today we are gathered here to celebrate a very important show. A show that is so insistently tense that it might as well be mainlining adrenaline directly into my veins. A show that represents relationships between women in all their strange and amazing multiplicity and complexity. A show that is smart and funny and idiosyncratic and bold. A show that, above all, provides a showcase for the brilliance of Sandra Oh, an actor so gifted that every tilt of her head conveys ten different emotions.
(Image Description: A gif of Eve and Villanelle lying in bed together, fully clothed. Villanelle cradles a gun and has a bloody lip. The caption says “Are you gonna kill me,” and represents lines spoken by Eve. Source: Giphy)
The show is Killing Eve, and as you can see, I’m only slightly excited about it. Based on the Codename Villanelle novella series by Luke Jennings, and adapted by the inimitable Phoebe Waller-Bridge (the mastermind behind the brilliant Fleabag and Crashing), Killing Eve follows the intersecting lives of two women who are each enmeshed in a plot to pursue each other. Sandra Oh’s Eve is an American transplant living in London, a bored MI-5 officer who has outgrown her role and whose innate curiosity and intellect ensure that she will always crave something more than the cozy, tidy life she has constructed for herself. Portrayed by Jodie Comer (equally amazing in a diametrically opposite way in the groundbreaking series My Mad Fat Diary), Villanelle, on the other hand, is an immensely talented assassin and diagnosed psychopath with a mysterious backstory. When Eve catches onto Villanelle’s trail of seemingly disconnected kills, she finds herself propelled down a quest to apprehend one mercurial, enigmatic, highly dangerous, and absolutely irresistible target – Villanelle – who, in turn, becomes equally obsessed with her dogged pursuer.
(Image Description: A gif of standing in her apartment with a bloody lip. The caption says “I think about you too.” Source: Giphy)
There is nothing easy in the relationship that develops between Eve and Villanelle. Fraught from its inception, stretched to the brink my their actions, it still manages to spark with a kind of palpable energy. Scenes with the two of them are kinetic and electrified, as impossible to pin down as they are to resist. Just as Eve and Villanelle cannot resist their mutual obsession, so too is the viewer implicated in their mesmerizing dynamic, unwilling to look away even when we know we should.
(Image Description: A gif of Eve and Villanelle. Eve looks terrified and holds a toilet brush out towards Villanelle in self defense. Source: Giphy)
It is important to note that, from its very first episodes, the show has been wholeheartedly embraced by the queer community. Deftly sidestepping the pitfalls of queerbaiting, homonormativity, and (perhaps counterintuitively) queer demonization that so often befall mainstream television, Killing Eve presents a central relationship that is unmistakably queer even as it defies easy categorization. Stripped of the trappings of a traditional onscreen relationship, the show still manages to depict a red-hot core of infatuation that not only gives what could have been a stale cat-and-mouse game a palpably fresh urgency, but also expands the possibilities of what queer representation in television (and beyond) can look like: intimate, thrilling, complex, and provocative.
(Image Description: A gif of Villanelle chewing and holding up a sandwich. The caption say “That is massively poignant.” Source: Giphy)
If you, like me, geek out about queer representation, about espionage, about people with British accents typing very quickly on keyboards and referencing CC-TV, or about Sandra Oh being the lead in one of the best TV series of our time, please allow Killing Eve to change your life. You won’t regret it.
(Image Description: A gif of Eve pleading with another character whose face isn’t shown. The caption says “I have to find her.” Source: Giphy)
It’s E3 week! The Electronic Entertainment Expo–or E3 for short–is one of the biggest events on the gaming calendar, with developers and publishers showing their latest and greatest upcoming releases. As a huge gaming nerd, I’ve been following it pretty closely, so I’m going to share my thoughts with you.
Obviously there’s a lot of gaming content, and I’m not going have time to go into all of the games that were announced. That said, there have been a couple of common threads:
As games move more to a “games as a service” (rather than single release games), a lot of game titles are trying to reflect that they’ll be around for all posterity, leading to such title names as Halo Unlimited, Doom Eternal, Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited, and Super Meat Boy Forever. Because if anything survives the impending apocalypse, it’ll be video games.
So many games are coming to Nintendo Switch! Super Smash Bros., Fortnite Battle Royale, Super Mario Party, Overcooked 2, and Fallout Shelter were announced on that platform, for example, and some of those are playable right now. If there’s one thing to take away from E3 so far, it’s to go buy a Switch. I’m surprised at how many non-Nintendo games got announced as being ported over, but the future of gaming is there for when you want to play on the go.
While a lot of the big titles involved shooting things (aliens, zombies, other combatants) in the face, I thought that the offerings from smaller, indie studios offered a bigger range of types of gameplay, such as Ori and the Will of the Wisps, We Happy Few, and Unravel Two. I have to say that I am super excited about Unravel Two; it’s so wholesome that it basically brought me to tears when I watched it at the EA conference.
More generally, there has been recent moves to improve diversity and representation in games and the games industry, and I was also looking out for ways that that was demonstrated at E3. While I felt like there was increased representation in the games that were shown, the overwhelming majority of presenters at the conferences were still white men.
So, I rewatched all the press conferences and tracked some data. Here’s a breakdown of the major press conferences, by demographic:
Note: for the purposes of gathering this data, I included Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Elijah Wood in the Ubisoft presentation, and did not include the two translators for the Nintendo treehouse presentation (both were men).
Of the 77 presenters, there were a total of zero women of color. Everyone also presented as able-bodied.
What this tells me is that–where the presenters are ostensibly representative of a particular game’s leadership–the leaders of the largest game publishers, gaming consoles, and game titles are still overwhelming white and male. Of course, for each title there are only a very limited number of presenters that have to represent the studio, but those are commonly the studio or project leaders. I also don’t believe that any presenter or company was doing this intentionally or maliciously. But (to quote a recent speaker at a disability and gaming bootcamp), if you do not intentionally, deliberately, proactively include, you will unintentionally exclude. I think that’s what happened here. Despite its recent moves for diversity and inclusion, the people who determine the future and direction in which the industry moves are still homogenous.
Having said that, the games themselves seemed to show a openness to including players from underrepresented groups, with much clearer steps towards diversity and inclusion. I’m still trying to stick to my resolution to play games that do not have a grizzled white male protagonist (which makes me relieved that I can pick the gender of my character for the upcoming Assassin’s Creed game), and the offerings announced gave me some pretty decent options for the rest of 2018 and beyond.
For female representation, I felt that there were several games that stepped up to the (very low) bar of having a female protagonist. For example, Gears of War 5’s main character is female, and the Tomb Raider franchise continues having a female playable character. Battlefield V recently stirred up a small controversy for merely putting a woman on the cover of a game about World War II. (Spoiler alert: therewerenumerouswomenwhoparticipatedinthewar.) Wolfenstein Youngblood offered us not one, but two, female protagonists.
I was excited enough when it was announced that in Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey that you could finally pick the gender of your assassin and romance anyone in the game, but then The Last of Us 2 one-upped that for even greater LGBT representation:
Ubisoft: you can be a lesbian if you want, top that 😉
Sony: you ARE a lesbian, no questions asked, look at the girls kiss
That said, all of the female characters mentioned here (except for Kassandra in Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey) are white women. Apart from games with character creation (such as Fallout 76, Beyond Good and Evil 2, and Anthem), representation for women of color was maddeningly scarce. I mean, there were more attempts at putting a female skin on previously male characters, such as Super Smash Bros offering a female version of pikachu and Cuphead having a playable female drinking vessel(?), than there were actual playable characters that were actually women of color.
So, I can appreciate that the games industry is trying to be more inclusive and there are going to be baby steps–a LOT of them. But even though this handful of games I’ve mentioned here are trying to broaden representation, the real test of what counts as progress for me will be how these games evolve their communities to make them more accommodating and inclusive. Making people of color and women feel represented will likely get new players into fanbases, but the gaming communities and how they are included will be what makes them stay. We’ll have to see how that plays out, but I want to hopeful that we’re moving in the right direction. I want us to live in a world where people can play what they love without judgement. We deserve as much.
Panelist Nicole Kimberling asked this, the central question of the “Gaylaxy Quest: Exploring Queer Fantasy and Science Fiction” panel at GeekGirlCon ‘14, and our intrepid panel of sci-fi and fantasy authors devoted the next hour to answering it.
“Queers are wonderful world-builders, by necessity and joy,” said Amber Dawn. Queer people have invented their own communities, culture, pronouns, and sex acts. They deal in subversive narratives, so the common spec-fic (speculative fiction) themes of outsider vs. culture naturally resonate.
In Dawn’s own writing, horror was where she started to fight the good fight. The dichotomy between the typical horror tropes of the “slut” (who has sex with a boy and dies early in the story) and the pure “final girl” seemed irrelevant to her as a queer writer, and she has pursued this in her literary career–such as the anthology she edited, Fist of the Spider-Woman: Tales of Fear and Queer Desire, in which, as she put it, “Queer sluts live!”
“Spec-fic is about breaking out of boundaries,” added J. Tullos Hennig. Growing up, she said, even being female felt like a chore, a boundary to break out of. Queer spec-fic is “just another boundary.”
One of the advantages of addressing queer themes via sci-fi and fantasy, said Kimberling, is that writers can approach much more delicate subjects by abstracting them.
The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula LeGuin Image source: Flavorwire
People will accept ‘weird’ if it’s another world, put in panelist Ginn Hale, and she gave the example of an alien species that changes genders (as in the 1969 Ursula LeGuin classic The Left Hand of Darkness). By approaching the subject obliquely, spec-fic writers use aliens and other non-human characters to address human themes.
Another of the panelists, Langley Hyde, tried writing contemporary and lit fic, but it “didn’t seem very realistic”. It didn’t reflect the world she lives in, surrounded by queer community. She and her friends challenged themselves to find some books featuring lesbians, and they weren’t readily found, even as recently as ten years ago.
Hyde pinpoints fandom as one source of the current shift toward addressing queer topics in fiction, especially spec-fic. Fanfic, where many writers flex their literary muscles before branching out into original fiction (or fanfic-with-the-serial-numbers-filed-off), outright encourages queer takes on fiction.
The panelists highlighted the outsider feeling that many spec-fic writers get when brushing up against mainstream literary circles–a great parallel for many queer people’s experiences, and a hint at why so many queer writers use fantastical themes and settings to explore their experiences. Amber Dawn teaches at a “scrappy community college” where students get to write the spec-fic they want, and also at a prestigious college where her colleagues think it’s not possible to teach this genre.
Ginn Hale asked the audience whether anyone was doing creative writing in a college, and got a smattering of raised hands. Then, “Anyone writing for themselves?” Half the audience raised their hands.
“Yeah, that’s what I thought,” said Hale.
In a crowd of sci-fi and fantasy fans, most of whom were queer, it surprised no-one, least of all the panelists who were all professional writers, that most of them declined to fight that particular uphill battle, and had long since bade the decision to write on their own time and for their own benefit. Both aspects of their work–the queerness, and the spec-fic-ness–are regarded with distaste, suspicion, or derision by many in mainstream society.
Langley Hyde had the experience of having to present her work to her writing group as magical realism rather than fantasy so that people would take it seriously enough even to read it.
Amber Dawn has been able to explore a more holistic identity in writing spec-fic, she says, contrasting that with the editor who told her to “tone down the queerness” in her own memoir!
J. Tullos Hennig pointed at the “mainstream” writers who dabble in sci-fi or fantasy, but who refuse that label, even going so far as to get upset when it’s pointed out. (The panelists didn’t list any examples, but one off the top of my head is Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, which reviewers go out of their way not to describe as science fiction, even though it addresses the popular sci-fi themes of survival in a post-apocalyptic world.)
So what are some changes to the world of spec-fic? asked Nicole Kimberling.
“This panel exists, for one thing,” said Ginn Hale to a laugh from the audience.
Far more people are open (about their queerness, as well as their spec-fic writing). The wider cultural discourse is about whether to recognise same-sex marriage, while at spec-fic conferences we have discussions about whether someone can be multiple genders.
The panel then opened up the floor to audience questions.
Q: Lots of current gay stories have sexuality as an afterthought. Is that a goal?
A: Maybe for some writers and readers. However, lots of readers want some sex just to be sure it’s queer!
Q: How do you reconcile the writing of an author whose work you admire, but who is problematic in their real life? Examples: Orson Scott Card (a noted homophobe) and Marion Zimmer Bradley (an author who identifies as feminist and writes feminist fiction, but who sexually abused her daughter).
A: It’s a very daunting question. Everyone has to do what they feel comfortable doing. Marion Zimmer Bradley’s letters helped Hennig in her writing–thirty years ago.
In literature class, students have to analyze authorial intent, but as a writer that’s often not relevant. What the writer put in may be completely different to what you take away from a work of fiction. You can know someone is problematic and still like their work, but everyone draws the line in different places.
Q: Fandom is all about reading slashy (queer) subtext into mainstream media, and yet writers can work really hard to create original queer fiction and never get off the ground. Why the disconnectekGirlCon
A: It’s not the Age of the Book. We could counter this by starting book clubs, and building communities around books. Look for queer-specialist publishers.
Q: What’s still missing from queer fiction?
A: Representation and diversity, particularly characters of color. Seek out QTPoC (Queer and Trans People of Color). Encourage genres like post-colonial spec-fic.
It would be nice to pick up more books outside the specialist LGBT section of the bookstore, and see queer characters.
Mass media is all about “box it, sell it, make money.” Small presses are the ones pushing the boundaries.
Q: What’s the best approach to writing queer characters (and characters with other marginalized identities) as someone with relative privilege?
A: Be respectful, do research, and give humanity to every character in your book. And after all that, respect that some queer readers will still want queer stories from queer writers.
Finally, here’s a list of recommendations, of both books and authors, that came up in the panel. Some of these are works of classic literature, which only proves, as J. Tullos Hennig put it, that “We’ve been doing this in spec-fic for centuries.”
Brown Girl in the Ring, by Nalo Hopkinson
When Fox is a Thousand, by Larissa Lai
Orlando, by Virginia Woolf
Gossamer Axe, by Gael Baudino
Carmilla, by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu
Octavia Butler’s (especially her short stories, eg. Blood Child)
One of my favorite things about panels at GeekGirlCon is the way that common threads can emerge from different conversations; it gives me something to think about for months after the convention. If that sounds like the kind of thing that interests you, don’t forget to grab your passes for GeekGirlCon ‘15.
Slash fans were in for a treat on Saturday afternoon, in what panelist Aja Romano jokingly referred to as the “mini slash track”–back-to-back panels on “21st Century Boys: Slash in the Mainstream” and “Queerbaiting in Genre Television: Representation or Exploitation?”
The panels touched on different aspects of the push-pull between fandom and creators over queer characters, relationships, and representation. What happens when fans, desperate to see queerness represented in their beloved films, shows, and comics, co-opt those media to tell their own stories in fanfic, fanart, fan vids, gifsets, and so on–and what happens when creators are aware of those trends?
From Orphan Black to Doctor Who to the Young Avengers, queer characters have been popping up more and more in genre media, and at GeekGirlCon ‘14 there’ll be many ways to celebrate, critique, and discuss your favorites and your not-so-favorites.
Doctor Who’s Madame Vastra and Jenny Image source: Frontiers LA
For decades, fans kept the queer flames burning with little ‘canon’ support by bringing the subtext to the surface and pouring their creativity into works like fanfiction and fan art. Mainstream publishers, studios, and networks are finally catching on, sometimes to positive effect, and sometimes in cynical ways. Join us in “21st Century Boys: Slash in the Mainstream!” to discuss both sides of this coin and explore the future of queer fandom.
“Queerbaiting in Genre Television: Representation or Exploitation?” will look at what happens when creators clue in that fans want to see queer representation but don’t fully commit. When queer characters were few and far between, fans were happy to clutch at any straw of subtext; in an era of increasing LGBT acceptance, is all representation good representation, or is subtext no longer enough?
Of course, LGBTQ creators don’t have to wait for other people to represent them. Queer authors have been writing fabulous speculative fiction for decades, and in “Gaylaxy Quest: Exploring Queer Fantasy and Science Fiction” co-hosts Gay City Health Project, Queer Geek, and Gay Romance Northwest bring you a whole panel of them.
Malinda Lo’s Huntress, a fantasy YA novel in a Chinese-influenced setting. Image source: MalindaLo.com
Fans of Yaoi (Boys’ Love) and Yuri (Girls’ Love) anime and manga will find plenty of interest in “Is The Seme Always Taller?” Panelists will cover the history, themes, sexual roles, and social impact of the genre.
As always, GeekGirlCon ‘14 has some more general diversity panels that touch on queer issues as part of their discussion. “Why Isn’t Bilbo a Girl? Talking to Kids About Media Representation” will help navigate what to do when kids ask, “Where are the characters like me?” while “Diversity in Young Adult Fiction” shines a spotlight on the lack of LGBTQ and people of color protagonists in YA novel–and what we can do about it.
Finally, if all those panels have only whetted your appetite for more queer fiction, you can stop by the tables of queer publishers Blind Eye Books and Northwest Press in our exhibitor hall.