While LGBT dialogue becomes more nuanced, pop culture still has a ways to go.
San Diego Comic-Con’s 2016 LGBTQ Geek Year in Review panel addressed some of the highs and lows of the year, but overall the theme was “good, but not enough.”
The panelists represented multiple voices from the gay community, nearly all of them had some connection to the media and storytelling. Below is a list of each topic touched on this year.
Smithers comes out
After 27 years of being in a not-so opaque closet, “The Simpsons” character Waylon Smithers Jr., finally professed his love to his boss Mr. Burns in April. Diane Anderson-Minshall, an editor of The Advocate, said she was disappointed in the portrayal of Smithers’ sexuality in this scene. In its long run “The Simpsons” has addressed gay issues with more nuance, she said.
The death of Lexa in the CW’s “The 100" was a shocking blow to the gay community. Dead gay women is a common trope in popular culture, and as Chelsea Steiner said, many fans felt “The 100" was doing a great job portraying a gay woman naturally.
“It felt like a big F-U to fans,” Steiner said.
Responding to another dead lesbian, fans raised more than $100,00 for The Trever Project, an organization that provides a suicide hotline for LGBT youth.
The panel felt this was egregious because now there are more creative outlets, so TV shows shouldn’t feel as hemmed in to tell the same stories over and over again.
“We’ve waited a long time to sit at this big pop culture table,” Steiner said, “And then suddenly the chair is covered in dog s* and on fire.”
“The Sims” and gender
The popular video game “The Sims” breaks out of the gender binary by adding more gender customization options. Instead of just choosing “male” or “female” for a gender - you can customize various traits such as tone of voice, how masculine or feminine the character is, and the ability to get pregnant or get another “Sim” pregnant.
Nick Adams, an advocate for transgender individuals for GLAAD, said this was an important move for people who don’t feel like they fit in the traditional gender binary.
Asexuals in “Archie”
Jughead Jones, a character in “Archie Comics” has always liked burgers more than girls (or boys), and that’s because he is asexual. This was celebrated by fans, because unlike LGB people, the lack of sexual desire is a foreign concept to most people. In this part of the discussion, even the panelists admitted they didn’t know enough about asexuality, whose community is aligned with the LGBT community because they are a minority as well. Amber Garza said that showing this in “Archie,” is notable because it’s a comic meant for all ages, and could possibly help young asexuals realize that they aren’t alone.
Disney gained some positive press for showing two short instances of LGBT characters: gay dads in “Frozen” and two antelopes in “Zootopia.” But, Amelia Vaughn said this wasn’t deserved- the short clips in those two movies are difficult to notice, even for members of the gay community. She contrasted this with the ending scene of “Paranorman” Where a very triangular jock says “you’re going to love my boyfriend,” to another character. Vaughn said her son still “is in love with him.” Vaughn, and other members of the panel wanted Disney to show more younger gay characters, to help more younger people understand themselves, given that more people are coming out as early as middle school.
In “Star Trek Beyond” Hikaru Sulu will be in a relationship with a man and will have a daughter. This is both a first for “Star Trek” - known for its progressive themes - and an homage to George Takei, who played the original Sulu. But, the choice has raised criticism from Takei himself who said that a gay Sulu wasn’t canon. Takei later clarified his statement, where he said a gay Sulu felt like further “feminization” of Asian men, which occurred in the early 20th century.
This Netflix hit might be one of the most sex-positive intersectional shows available. Its premise is about eight mentally connected individuals who are able to swap their skills. In the group of 8 (senseate), there is a transgender woman and a gay man, and in one of the episodes most of the group has a global cerebral orgy. You’ve probably seen that GIF. Additionally, the directors are both trans. But, Lilly Wachowski was outed as trans before she was ready, and reached out to GLAAD in order to tell her story.
This Cartoon Network show portrays queer individuals in a much more nuanced light than many live-action shows, the panel said. The premise of the show is a boy being raised by three moms, and he wants to be like them. Throughout the show, Steven isn’t confined by any binary - gender or apparent sexuality. While the show has aired without censor on CN, several European nations have censored it.