Yaoi and “Representation”

This one is another one of those mixed bags. Yaoi is the word used for Japanese boys’ love genre. However this does not necessarily mean that it’s representation. The genre is largely marketed towards high school girls and has gained a reputation for largely showing incredibly unhealthy relationship dynamics. In some cases, the serialization is little more than “porn with plot.”

But the thing is that for a lot of people, this was their first example of gay couples. It was for me. It was for most of my friends. It was a book passed around to each other under the cafeteria table. It’s hidden away in a drawer, hoping your parents don’t go rummaging around for something in your room. It’s the under your covers with a flashlight reading this story about two men falling in love with each other in a way that we see hetero couples.

The thing was that when I was younger, I thought that the reason we were stealthy about it was because the books that got passed around were basically comics with censored porn every so often. In the end, I was the one who kept the mangas because I was better at hiding the “sinful” books. Most of my friends got in trouble for having them because they depicted gay men. The porn issue was apparently not as important. My poor ace self just skipped through those parts because I wanted to see the love story and the drama of it all, so it never occurred to me that I would have ever gotten in trouble for having books about a love story.

Part of the problem with this mentality is that because it’s aimed at high school girls and young women, the aspect of knowing that you’d get in trouble for having access to porn would be something to worry about. But the mentality of Christian fundamentalists in the US add an extra layer that was prevalent only five years ago.

“Dirty gay ships.” 

Straight women and girls whose only understanding of queer romances being male gay men participating in dehydrating levels of sex (and that being one of the most important things in the relationship) combined with – more often than not – severe power imbalance led to the constant repetition of that phrase.

“Dirty gay ships.”

It’s something that as someone who was part of that culture when I was younger, I look back on and want to beat myself into a pulp. Because I know now that I’m queer. I have that hindsight to tell myself that there shouldn’t be anything intrinsically dirty about being gay. If my first jump into gay stories had been fanfiction, it would have been the same thing at the time.

Gay fanfiction is the most common type for many social reasons. And one of them that we need to think about critically is because of the fetishistic approach to gay men and women within the last two decades.

It’s not okay. It no longer has a place in the queer community. We’ve gotten to the point where we don’t need to pass books under the table when no one’s watching. We can share links to a fic on Archive of Our Own and enjoy well thought out/smutty/ridiculous scenarios that aren’t always centered around sex. We can see characters having actually well written romances and be happy, the way that we tend to not get for the most part.

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power (reboot)

The first time I had heard of Noelle Stevenson was back in 2012, shortly after she had began posting pages of her then webcomic, Nimona.  Aside from hearing about her spectacular Lumberjanes series, she faded out of my realm of knowledge for a good while. And then there was a minor miracle.

She-Ra was getting rebooted. The characters all looked soft and pastel and wonderful. The women looked strong and no body type was identical from what I could tell. In the original show, the character models were identical so that more dolls and toys could be easily produced, but the reboot seemed to be intentionally avoiding that. Each character was unique in their color scheme and style. And somehow, the images seemed familiar. Who else could have been behind it but Stevenson.

And then the content was even better. For the first time, I was able to experience a show without any hetero-normativity. Characters were fluid in how they presented themselves in gender and personality. Women were able to be softhearted and deadly at the same time. Men were able to love unconditionally and not be seen as just a goofball. And the talk of the town has been the relationship between Adora and Catra as former best friends with all of the romantic undertones a fanfic author could dream.

Image result for adora and catra dance
Adora and Catra dancing during Princess Prom.

The first season primarily focused on introducing characters and setting up relationships between them. Season two is going to be where the shit hits the fan and everything goes sideways. But one thing that I have absolutely loved about it is how very clearly this is a children’s show. From the brightness to the drama of the villains to Seahawk’s constant destroying his own ships, everything about it is childlike wonder. I look forward to seeing where the show goes and having a new version of She-Ra for the current and incoming generation of kids.

Orphan Black

Orphan Black features a lot of just plain weird shit. If you like clones, mystique, and secret organizations, this show is for you. It’s currently completed, so you can even binge the entire show in a few sleepless nights. (I do not recommend this. Personal experience talking.)

The show features Felix, a gay man and the adopted brother of the main character. He is a modern artist, sex-worker, and  the (occasional) voice of reason. There is also Cosima and Dr. Delphine, a couple of lesbians, the first is one of the clones of the main character and the other an undercover doctor turned to the light side. One of the clones, Tony, is a trans man.

All clones are played by the remarkable Tatiana Maslany.

Supergirl

I’m not a big fan of the show past season 2, however they have done something that (while not unprecedented) is refreshing. We get to watch Alex Danvers, Supergirl’s adopted sister, have her gay awakening. While it is awkward to watch and tends to be clunky in the early writing, the relationship that Alex develops with Maggie Sawyer, a local police officer, is very sweet and romantic.

One Day at a Time

This one has made me cry multiple times.

The story focuses on a Cuban family who are proud of their heritage. The show deals with issues like immigration, queer families in uber Christian households, and veterans returning to civilian life.

This show is honestly the closest I have ever seen in reflecting what my life was like growing up. When I say I cried, I mean that I sat there going through every emotion under the sun in the span of seven minutes. The season finale is intense. It shows men unafraid to not know “manly” things, to be concerned with their appearance, to be themselves in the face of adversity. It shows women stepping up to the tasks that the world says they can’t do, supporting each other even in times of anger at the other, and (one of the more intense ones to me) stepping out of their social norms to express love to each other.

The show features a gay main character and a nonbinary partner, which is a pretty big deal. The humor in their pronouns doesn’t come from making fun of the character but from the family trying to get across whether “they” in a sentence someone else said is plural or singular.

I highly recommend this show to anyone who enjoys sitcoms. It’s refreshing and sweet. Beware that in the second half of the season, you will need a pack of tissues to cry into.

Bob’s Burgers

The show is a great adult cartoon with a fun family dynamic that doesn’t rely on the “I hate my spouse and children” trope for all of its storytelling. It focuses on the Belchers working their family restaurant and going through their ridiculous lives together.

A lot of queer people tend to like it because of the subverting of those tired tropes a la Married… With Children. But there’s also some fun with it when it comes to representation.

A group that almost never gets the chance to be shown on screen is trans women sex-workers. The first of the group introduced is Marshmallow, a woman described by Bob, the main character, as “comes and goes as she pleases, she answers to no-one and she is truly free.” The others in the group of recurring trans sex-workers are GlitterMarbles, and Cha-Cha.