The Ranting Fangirl: Survival Through Subtext

Lately I’ve been giving a great deal of thought to lesbian subtext.

Now, my friend Katie is, as we speak, rushing to the bottom of this post to insist that I’m always thinking about lesbian subtext, as well as lesbian text, lesbian picture books, lesbian cartoons, and lesbian interpretive dance. Before you go read her shameful libel, let me state categorically that this is not at all true. I spend ten percent of my time thinking about sci-fi and fantasy in general. Five percent of my time goes to thinking about my holy crap adorable niece, another five percent goes to thinking about ponies (including unicorns and pegasi), and another five goes to thinking about my cats. Three percent of my time goes to thinking about how it would be so much easier to find clothes and shoes that fit properly if my feet were three or four sizes smaller and I was six inches shorter and a few pounds lighter. And, last but far from least, two percent of my time goes to thinking about corgis and Shelties, and what I’m going to name any corgis and/or Shelties I’m able to adopt someday (Tinkerbell or Stellabella for girls; Puck, Robin or Casey for boys). So, at most, I spend 70% of my time thinking about lesbian subtext. Math.

But I’ve spent the last day or so thinking about lesbian subtext in somewhat more abstract terms, inspired by a couple articles I’ve read recently. The first, an Entertainment Weekly piece tweeted by Roger Ebert (and then retweeted by a Twitter buddy of mine), asks if Merida – the newest Disney princess, and star of the new Pixar film, Bravemight be gay. Their reasoning isn’t great; Alyssa Rosenberg of ThinkProgress takes it on here. But a lot of the people who responded to both Ebert’s tweet and the original article objected to the very idea – not only from the generally anti-gay perspectives you might expect, but from feminist perspectives as well. I can’t say I entirely disagree with the fundamental point that heterosexual women can reject traditional gender roles, too; nor do I disagree with the related point that we are not defined solely by who we’re attracted to, and saying “Well, Merida just isn’t into men at all, is she?” kind of undermines her determination to choose her own fate, no matter what that fate may be or who else it might involve. (Please note that I haven’t seen the film yet. I plan to. Soon. But I’m working from only the sketchiest details.)

And yet…

Subtext is important. At times, subtext is vital. Especially when decent text is so hard to find. It’s getting better, to be sure, but there’s still a dearth of compelling, well-rounded gay characters, particularly in children’s entertainment. Sure, Dumbledore was gay…but that was never truly relevant to the saga of Harry Potter, and it didn’t even come out until the last book was printed. And too often, even those meager scraps can be ripped away.

This brings me to the second article. Now, I should preface this by saying that I don’t watch Adventure Time. But I do follow another WordPress blog called Misprinted Pages, and today Stephanie posted a review of the Adventure Time comic book, touching on a “controversy” connected with the show in the process. Said controversy is recapped here, but in brief: about a year ago, there was an episode showcasing some “light lesbian subtext” between two female characters, Marceline and Princess Bubblegum, and the show’s creators posted an online video commenting on the episode, essentially upgrading the subtext to some kind of text, and soliciting fan art and fan responses. That video was later pulled – after an outpouring of support from the online lesbian community in particular –  for reasons that still don’t make a lot of sense. The episode is still in circulation, but heaven forbid the creators openly acknowledge  that two characters in a family cartoon might be gay for each other. (Since the same episode apparently also implies or outright states that another character has been jerking off to a lock of Princess Bubblegum’s hair, I’m not sure how gay characters would cross any lines that haven’t already been left in the dust anyway.)

I know, I know – I’m spending a lot of time talking about stuff I haven’t seen. Insert pithy comment about feeling like I’m hardly ever seen here. I’m pretty sure everyone in the GLBT community is used to this game: go through the hundred or shows on television on any given moment, cringing at the stereotypes and crass humor, bracing yourself for heartbreak whenever a decent gay, bi or trans character happens to emerge, and grasping at subtext wherever you can find it. Hoping against hope that Disney will just admit that the Mystic Force Pink Ranger is gay (short-haired tomboy whose one and only date on the show was with a girl and who openly and enthusiastically agreed with the guys that another female character was hot…come on, people), or that TNT will stop teasing us with Rizzoli & Isles, or that you weren’t just imagining that chemistry between Veronica Mars and Meg Manning. Writing fan fic about Kirk and Spock or Xena and Gabrielle (even if the latter are all but canonical).

I’m not going to say it’s okay, because it’s not. I can count on one hand the number of current TV shows with meaningful gay characters that I actually enjoy. And when it comes to stuff I’d want my future kids to watch? Stuff that would show them that, no matter who they are, there are people like them out there, and they’re beautiful and amazing just the way they are? It falls to just about zero.

I get that it’s annoying at times. I get that sometimes the reasoning isn’t great – sometimes the reasoning is actually insulting. And I guess I’m not really saying that flawed reasoning shouldn’t be challenged. But, at the same time, sometimes subtext is all we have. Sometimes subtext helps us cope. Sometimes it helps us survive. And it’s not enough. Especially not for the gay and bi and trans kids growing up now, struggling to come to terms with who they are, still developing those vital survival skills. But don’t begrudge us our icons. Don’t go telling us our subtext is wrong. Because God knows we need all the heroes we can get – textual or otherwise.

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Linkspam: Flying Books, Funny Blogs & A Game That Has Something To Do With Thrones

No, this isn’t the Media Mondays post – that’ll come later. I’m planning to talk about Lost Girl, which recently started airing on (sigh) SyFy, but I’d like to watch tonight’s episode before I do that. The series has been airing in Canada since September 2010, but it’s new to American television and I’m forcing myself to watch it as it airs rather than seek out all the extant episodes. So you’ll get the thoughts of a relatively new fan, and if there are any veteran fans reading this, you may laugh or at least smile knowingly at whatever I may have to say.

No, the linkspam posts are more of a ‘whenever I feel like it’ deal. They have a unifying theme, but they’ll only come up whenever I have new and interesting links to share. I’m not going to force myself to find new content on a weekly basis. But as I’ve been watching and reading a few new things over the past couple days, I think it’s time to go ahead and share.

First, while you may have seen this already, there’s a new trailer for the second season of A Game of Thrones on HBO. I’m a big fan of the books and the series, though both can be problematic from certain perspectives (and that’s another future blog post waiting to be written, as I do have my qualms), and I am super excited for the second season. HBO has done a great job of bringing the books to life and staying faithful to the text while still making the series interesting to long-time readers and brand new fans alike, and this trailer is honestly pretty damn good.

Next, a slightly longer piece: an absolutely charming and beautiful short film called The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, which you may recognize from the list of Academy Award nominees. (Sadly, I was unable to embed the film here, so you’ll have to do with a link.) This comes to me by way of EPBOT, the personal-ish/crafty/geeky blog of Jen from Cake Wrecks, and as she noted, it’s “a must-see for librarians”. But as a writer – and someone who hopes to live on through her work, to touch and move and entertain people long after I shuffle off this mortal coil – I found the film spoke to me as well. It doesn’t hurt that I’m a serious bibliophile. But enough talk; watch the film, and be sure to put it in full-screen mode. It’s better that way.

Last but not least, I’ve come across a couple of very entertaining blogs recently. The first, TIME 2 TRAVEL, is a marvelous example of collaborative fiction in the form of a crowdsourced guide to various hotspots and safe houses all across space and time. It’s sort of a Hitchhiker’s Guide to time travel, and of course references to Douglas Adams abound. I don’t know how accurate the historical notes are, but that’s hardly the point. This isn’t meant to be Wikipedia. It’s just a fun little bit of fluff. The guides are entertainingly written by some very talented people, and the glimpses we get here and there of a broader society of time travelers are well-placed and intriguing.

Then we have The Avengers Shouldn’t Text, a Tumblr feed that reminds me quite a bit of Cassandra Clare’s Very Secret Diaries in that the posts offer glimpses into the Avengers’ private lives and depart quite a bit in places from the canon text. The Avengers here are most assuredly the movie versions, so we get to see characters like Darcy from Thor sticking around and raising hell. There’s also a Tony/Steve pairing that’s very endearingly done. And THOR ODINSON steals every scene he gets.

(Note to my friends: I know you may be tempted to start texting like Thor. Please do not start texting like Thor. That goes for Twitter, too. Friends don’t let friends text like Thor.)