There are a lot of bisexuals on the bad guy beat this season.
(This post has minor character development spoilers for season 2/3 Gotham.)
So this is almost entirely, not really, but almost about the kiss at the Golden Globes. The one between Deadpool and Spiderman, in case you missed it. Now, Wade/Peter is really not my ship, as I have discussed before, the power dynamic and mis-matched life experiences just squick me. That has nothing to do with Reynolds/Garfield snogging. But that kiss made me think about Ryan Reynold’s much-publicised statements about giving Wade a boyfriend in a future film. And much as I’d love more queer rep on screen, I have to say, not this way. Not yet, not for Wade.
Why? Because Deadpool is morally contemptible. I am sick of queers being contemptible.
Immoral queerness has a pretty good rep on screen right now, in quite a nice balance with immoral straightness. The development of queerness in characters such as Barbara Kean (Erin Richards) and Oswald ‘the Penguin’ Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor) in Gotham right now is really interesting. For Barbara, once all the social chains of normality were loosed, she became capable of almost anything, and it has been interesting to watch her try and rebuild a sense of a whole self. There’s a sense of struggling to find a balance between social taboos to break, and moral taboos that maybe are in place for a reason. If she repudiates bisexuality along with murder and extortion, I will be very disappointed in some excellent writers. It’s a little too close to what seemed to happen to Sara Lance (Caity Lotz) on Arrow – brought back into the normal world, she goes back to relationships with men, when her romantic feelings for women are shown to be a permanent feature, not a temporary aberration, she’s killed off. I make it sound like it was causal, in narrative terms it wasn’t, but it feels that way for many queer viewers watching minorities get killed off.
The developing bond between Penguin and Ed Nygma (Cory Michael Smith) is another interesting development. Penguin is utterly starved of affection, and emotionally close only to his mother. The potential for stereotyping, and Norman Bates references, is high. However, the development of Oswald’s feelings for another man is explored sensitively and utterly within the logic of his character. Queerness is incidental to his criminality. There is, as there always is, the potential for the writers to have drawn parallels between queerness and violence – both coming from a sense of isolation or his pathological relationship with his mother. I get the feeling that these very early-20th century psychology references were touched upon as a nod to the source materials era of origin – it feels like someone has been reading their Harry Benschoff. However, Penguin’s strong feelings for other men in fact bring out the best in him; his relationship to Ed is paralleled not with his mother, but with his rediscovery of his father. Leaving aside the potential for pathologised gender readings for now, I am not inclined at this point in my watching of Gotham (S03,E06) to judge it too harshly in its representation of sexuality (domestic violence discussion post forthcoming). However, the interesting and rich depiction of queerness in the villains is not matched by any representation of queerness in the heroes. Not even Alfred Pennyworth, with his ripe-for-reinterpretation military past, gets even the littlest bit queer so far.
And look at all the other superhero media we have on the screen, large and small. Wonder Woman has great potential, with the representation of an all female community. Nada. Zip. Totally hetero, say all the preview interviews. The whole MCU – 14 movies, no positive queerness – 4 tv shows and we get the lesbians in Jessica Jones and Joey Gutierrez (Juan Pablo Raba) in Agents of SHIELD. Who is an ‘inhuman’. Yup, a gay man of latin origin, and they think we’re not side-eyeing that terminology to hell and back? Now, Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss) is cool on JJ, but she is definitely not a good guy right now – and it’s more of that pesky ‘equality’. Yeah, we’re so acceptable we get to be something other than disappointing stereotypes, and we get complex characterisation. Great. Can we actually get to be superheroes please? So far, we only have Curtis Holt (Echo Kellum) as a minor member of Team Arrow, who is the only not-at-all compromised gay hero. That’s not good enough, even thought he’s a good guy. We have openly, interestingly queer characterisation happening on the page. But not on the screen.
Deadpool is sometimes a wretched coward, he’s a selfish dickhead, he’s a complete troll. And there are reasons for this, and I love the complexity of Wade Wilson. I love that Wade’s writers have been uncompromising in making him who he is, and not reforming him. You could argue a whole 90s queer theory point about ‘we are the weirdos mister’; we willingly corrupt your Abrahamic-religious framework that excludes us. If philosophers and atheists want to change the structures and justification frameworks by which we currently put limits on human wrong-doing, great. I am not religious, but I am not a moral relativist either. But honestly, as we see with Barbara Kean’s development, some societal moral codes are ok – not killing people, not exploiting others for your own gain, we can all get behind those values. You go too far into the destruction of the idea of a moral order, you just end up with nihilism.
So, wandering back to the thread of my argument, and away from the European’s languidly smoking and decrying the nature of existence. I want more queers I can feel good about, who I can admire. I empathise with Penguin and Barbara, I respect Jeri Hogarth. But I love Steve Rogers, I want Alfred Pennyworth to be my substitute Dad, I admire the hell out of Luke Cage. I want a queer hero I can feel like that about, on screen. And I think its important we get that now, urgently. Get Mr Terrific his own show, make a gay hero a household name not an after-thought. I want heroes, before I get an anti-hero. I want to explore bisexuality without a side-order of moral panic. Full on Steve Rogers niceness, with pansexuality. On a level playing field we can be contemptible on our own terms, not theirs. We are nowhere near a level playing field yet.