I’m a huge fan of the X-Men. I’ve been reading the comics since I was a wee lad ,watched the cartoon religiously, and parked my ass opening day in the theater of every film–even X-Men 3, the worst in the series (I will fight you on this!). Like most great works of literature, the series on the whole has multiple layers. Most notable is it’s fight for civil rights and justice, showcasing every facet of a complicated issue that, from the outside, always seems to have an easy answer.
…so I was pissed when they took the easy way out with Iceman.
Iceman recently has been outed as gay by his psychic teammate Jean Grey. The whole incident is written in a lazy manner. Considering that this only applies to an alternate universe version of Iceman (All-New X-Men deals with an old X-Men team being taken from the past to the present, which means that the timelines diverged), but the multiverse is going to be reset in a couple weeks anyway, so none of this might ultimately matter. I have other complaints, but I’m getting sidetracked from the real thing that rustles my jimmies.
Where are all the gay people in fantasy?
Not trying to be a social justice warrior on this one. It’s just a simple question: in the vast body of fiction out there, there are hardly any gay characters who aren’t fetishized in some way. There will always be the “corrupt lesbian sorceress” straight out of a Robert Howard Conan story. I’m talking, though, about genuine characters who are given an actual sense of characterization based on their sexuality.
Now, in urban fantasy this doesn’t seem as big of a deal. Perhaps it’s the modern setting, but writers seem more comfortable writing about gay characters in the modern world.
Classic swords and sorcery, though?
I think the problem is that writers feel that, because a story takes place in the past, it’s somehow insincere to write about gay people. Since homosexuality didn’t exist back then. Just like how all women were prostitutes, too, who just always were bound up. Unless you were an evil sorceress who got to enjoy her lesbian sexuality without anyone judging you because, hey, what’re they gonna say?
This. Is. Stupid.
The problem isn’t that you don’t believe gay people existed. The problem is that writers who avoid those topics are afraid of doing something different–or perhaps have been spoonfed the same material over and over again to the point they don’t KNOW how to write something different.
George RR Martin and Robin Hobb are probably the most subversive writers currently working who really play against type in classic fantasy settings. There are definitely more, but I’d like to highlight them in particular for just how clever they are. In particular, Martin’s take on feminism. A Song of Ice and Fire doesn’t shy away from presenting vicious sexism. It doesn’t shy away from rape and oppression. However, as opposed to a trashy fantasy novel where all the women get raped by tentacles or something, Martin gives the ladies dignity and power in the narrative. He has them either adapt to the oppressive system to get their ways or just actively oppose the system. “Fuck your gender roles! I’m gonna be a mother-fucking knight!”
That also said, the sexism in A Song of Ice and Fire is also presented as being bad.
That said, sexism and homophobia are two different things.
It’s funny how science fiction doesn’t seem to have as big of a problem here. X-Men is a long lasting sci-fi series with tons of homosexual overtones and undertones. This makes the whole Iceman thing even more disheartening. Still, in a lot of ways, it makes sense. Sci-fi is about looking ahead to the future. Fantasy, more often than not, looks back.
And, as we all know, gay people didn’t exist back in the day.