AMBER LOVE 26-MAY-2014 It shocks me to say this, but I may be missing Baltimore Comic Con this year but that’s because of a really cool opportunity. In mid-August, I’ll be traveling to the BOSTON COMIC CON for the first time in order to be on the LGBT panel discussion with Jennie Wood and other guests.
Jennie Wood is the writer of the 215ink comic series FLUTTER as well as a new novel A BOY LIKE ME. Her projects question gender identity and sexual orientation. She’s been a guest on VODKA O’CLOCK so you can give that episode a listen to learn more about her personal history and her work.
I was overcome with joy when Jennie asked me to be on the LGBT panel especially in Boston where the convention organizers are welcoming and inclusive to the gay community (see image below). I’ve been on panels about costuming and about the dreaded discussion of “women in comics” but never about LGBT issues specifically. In a way, I feel like a big imposter. My body of work as a comics writer is small. I am always writing but not always publishing. My scripts are “out there” with some artists who were interested in specific projects because of the themes about bullying and body image. I’m looking for an artist who is willing to tackle a 60-page story set in 1870s Pennsylvania during a time when greedy industrialism lead to deaths of many coal miners. I’m scared to death to take the next step on that project which would be funding through a Kickstarter campaign in order to get a team paid for their work if I can find people interested in illustrating that sort of narrative.
It’s not my characters that are bringing me to the panel. It’s me. I’m bisexual and polyamorous. I listen to PolyWeekly and go to steampunk conventions because those moments are quite honestly the only times when I don’t feel like a freak that “came out wrong.” The thing is, neither of these identities cause me external trouble on a daily basis because no one would know by looking at me if I was just standing somewhere alone. However, when I wanted to go see the last Harry Potter film with some friends in New Jersey and I was told that if I kissed my girlfriend again I’d be thrown out of the Paramus Mall, I can’t really describe the mix of anger, embarrassment and shame I felt in those minutes.
Our friends were comfortable with us so we weren’t thinking about it. The crowd was unlike anything I had ever experienced for a movie. It was like trying to get into the Felicia Day panel at New York Comic Con. People were sitting all over the mall floors. My friends and I were standing against a railing that overlooked the lower levels. All I did was have my arm around my girlfriend, leaned over and got a very quick kiss on the lips. A security guard barreled up to me, got in my face, and said parents were complaining so if we didn’t stop “making out” we had to leave. I knew what my friends had to say to the guy wouldn’t matter, but complete strangers walked over to him and told him he was dead wrong and that we weren’t being inappropriate in anyway. After a while, the guard came back over and was forced to apologize which he repeated when the movie was over when we were leaving. It was a, “DAMN STRAIGHT YOU’RE SORRY” moment for me.
Oh the poor children! What would they think seeing two consenting adults who had been in a long term relationship actually show a modicum of affection for each other? The horror!
I also have biological family that has written me out of their lives for who and what I am. I figure I’m better off. In reality, I’ve never had to face how truly awful humans can be. I’ve never been beaten up for being gay or had my house vandalized. I’ve never had a close friend go through that either but I know it still happens because it makes the news.
The one time I tried to write gay characters was a short story I pitched to an anthology publisher. SAVE ME is a crime noir in a nightclub setting which involved a love triangle between three men. The primary couple is a 30-year-old gorgeous African-American man and the other is a 47-year-old Jewish man who would be described as nothing special to look at. The pitch was rejected. I revised it. It was rejected again. I tossed it aside and moved on to a humorous fantasy story filled with anthropomorphized mythological creatures (which is also unpublished and looking for an artist).
Despite my body of work being small, I have a lot to vocalize about the LGBT issues that the community faces. Why does this matter to me? Because the top comic book publishers who have profound reach and influence in the industry willingly support bigotry by doing business with a hatemonger in the direct market (Google search: “transphobic comic retailer” and it’s probably the first hit). There are certainly other non-safe retailers out there, but they don’t get the massive promotions that this one shop does.
It matters to me because I support the titles that these publishers make. I will spend my money on the books. If I get press copies, I will encourage other fans to spend their money on the books. I will spend my time and resources on making a website and podcast episodes to promote the books and creators I like.
It matters to me as a bisexual woman and rape survivor that all comic shops and conventions/events should be safe places for people regardless of their non-conformities.
It matters to me because these publishers make many of the comics and merchandise I love.
It matters to me because comic creators need to feel free to create non-heteronormative characters and have friendly retailers carry their books and recommend them to readers.
If you’re interested in a history of gay characters in comics, I happen to know where you should start. My friend Alan Kistler is a remarkable scholar that researches comics for their social commentary and fashion history better than anyone. He wrote a two-part column of great length for The Mary Sue:
I’ve been saying it for years, I believe Wonder Woman should be bisexual and not only as “implied” but be out there for everyone to have a role model who is a recognizable icon. Not only would it be a character that gets noticed because she’s popular and legendary but it makes perfect sense. It wouldn’t be “edgy” for DC to take that ball and run with it either. They’ve established that she can be a sexual being but they only allow it in the most vanilla scenarios. There have been a couple quips here and there about the sapphic nature of Themyscira but then Azzarello came along and, from what it sounds like, made the Amazons a bunch of rapists who assault men in order to get pregnant once a year – or something. I gave up the book right before that happened.
I suppose it’s debatable, but Joss Whedon’s character Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, is bisexual as far as I’m concerned. She was first in love with werewolf Oz before Tara or Kennedy. It could be argued Willow was only exploring life and discovering herself although she and Oz had a committed loving relationship with sexual activity.
A favorite character of mine was DC’s new-52 invention Starling/Evelyn Crawford. I dropped the book after the creative team switched as seemed too common in DC’s camp to switch teams at the drop of a hat. You never knew who would be on what title and if the preceding plot would be allowed to continue. Starling, from what I gather, was essentially dropped to mere background appearances after taking a great deal of the spotlight during Duane Swierczynski’s run when he created her. Personally, I adored her and I know I’m not alone (Gail Simone recently polled Twitter with the hashtag #MyFavoriteBopper). In those early BIRDS OF PREY issues Starling was going through a breakup with her girlfriend.
Out of truly popular mainstream characters, all I can think of is the Joker. He’s usually considered to be only dating Harley Quinn but I don’t think I’ve actually seen them behave like sexually active people in a relationship would. She would try to seduce him but that’s as far as it went. Yet in a Kevin Smith Batman story, Joker rapes a man against a tree. Rape isn’t about the sex so the Joker’s orientation is really unknown.
“I’d say the Joker is ineligible for any sort of consideration when it comes to conventionally-understood sexuality. He’s bugfuck insane to an incalculable degree and is just as likely to fuck a loaf of bread as he would a human being of either gender, as long as he found it amusing, part of the warped ‘joke’ he considers life to be.” Steve Bunche, former editor at Marvel and Vertigo
For that matter, Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy sometimes come off as lovers but sometimes seem to be best friends forever.
Quite some time ago, Matt Wagner and Amy Reeder’s version of Madame Xanadu (a nearly immortal witch) was bisexual. She was shown in solid relationships that went through life cycles that were natural despite them living in a supernatural world. In one volume, her love interest was a man and in the next volume it was a woman.
BISEXUALITY CONFUSES PEOPLE
The subject of bisexuality in comics comes out most often due to circumstance, like the Amazons’ Paradise Island and women warriors separated from males of a community. Is Red Sonja truly bisexual or opting for an alternative because she doesn’t think men weaker than her deserve her? It’s the prison trope mentality – all one gender is stuck in a situation, so why not get it on? And why do we only see relationships that appear to be genuine between bi characters when they are broken up and the woman is back in the graces of men? The other easy out for publishers is that they allow alien or cosmic characters the leeway of non-traditional sexuality and gender fluidity that way the explanation is wonderfully hidden degradation that bisexuals can’t possibly be human.
The subject of the “B” in LGBT seems to confuse the general public. Not all bisexuals are sexually promiscuous. Not all are polyamorous. Yet, when a Hollywood star comes out as bisexual there’s a lot of eyerolling and snarky comments. “But you’re with ____! You’re obviously not gay.” There’s also the idea that being bi means you are having threesomes every weekend. (Kudos if you are.) It’s frustrating to me that people don’t understand what it means to be attracted to more than gender and still having the ability to be monogamous. I’m sure lots of people do it with success. And let’s not forget that those hetero types aren’t exactly shining examples of monogamy and morals.
That being said, I don’t currently don’t have a mainstream American comics character that is getting any kind of decent attention that I can relate to on a sexual identity level. Starling is essentially gone just like my support of purchasing current DC Comics titles.