The Discourse Around Queer Characters Doesn’t Need To Be This Exhausting
Loki recently came out as bisexual, which follows on from the confirmation he is genderfluid in the MCU – this all means Tom Hiddlestone’s version of the character now lines up with the deeply entrenched queerness he has in the comics. That makes him the first canonically queer MCU character, so long as you don’t count that gay guy at Captain America’s support group. Oh, and Valkyrie, whose queerness was written into Thor: Ragnarok but never filmed. Oh, and also Okoye and Ayo, who had a queer scene cut from Black Panther. Also Star-Lord is bisexual in the comics, and Deadpool (technically an MCU character now) is pansexual, which will maybe addressed if Deadpool 3 ever gets made. Maybe.
This is a common story in queer representation. I’ve lost count of how many ‘first queer Disney characters’ there have been. Frozen, Outward, Finding Dory, Beauty & The Beast, Cruella, Zootopia, and Toy Story 4 could all claim to have that distinction. In fact, many of them have. Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker included a lesbian kiss that could be easily clipped out for regions where the evils of homosexuality wouldn’t fly, while Kelly Marie Tran has mentioned her character’s sexuality as motivation for her performance in Raya and the Last Dragon; yet this sexuality is never referenced on screen.
Related: Owen Wilson Might Actually Be Playing Himself In Loki
This problem isn’t exclusive to Disney, although the company’s reach is so pervasive in media that it’s impossible to have a conversation about the media landscape without the House of Mouse dominating. I’m fairly sure Disney has a majority share of me at this point.
All of this wink wink nudge nudge queerness makes it exhausting to discuss queer representation because it never gets beyond ‘is X gay?’ – even after having Loki’s sexuality confirmed, the showrunner has come out (ironically) and admitted that Loki’s queerness won’t be addressed or acknowledged beyond that one conversation. Nothing is ever able to go deeper into what it means for said character to be queer, what trauma and euphoria has shaped them, how it influences their view of the world, or how it influences the world’s view of them. They’re not characters once they come out, they’re products. Slap a Pride flag on them and put them on the shelf like a bottle of Coca-Cola.
I’m glad that some people had such an emotional reaction to Loki’s coming out, but for me, it was far too throwaway a moment to land. Loki, the dude who once turned himself into a horse, had sex with a horse, and gave birth to an eight-legged horse, likes “a bit of both” when it comes to princes and princesses. Great. On one hand, I want to hold this moment up as a big deal, because unlike the animated Disney characters, it’s a legitimate acknowledgment of queerness, even if labels are deliberately avoided. On the other, it so obviously is not a big deal to me. A character defined by their open sexuality and complete disregard for gender roles in the comics has been diluted down to “a bit of both,” and that’s all we’re ever getting.
The problem is that because Loki’s representation isn’t going to go any further, we’re left with absolutely nothing to deal with. The MCU has redefined franchise cinema and shifted the popular zeitgeist in ways that nobody could have predicted back in 2008. For MCU fans, queer acceptance on the screen is queer acceptance of themselves in their lives.
Being an MCU fan is now a cultural identity, and like any popular media conglomerate, once people construct a personality around its popularity, the other side emerges – those that define themselves as not MCU fans. I’m reticent to call them contrarians, especially when not supporting a series of billion dollar popcorn flicks that have frequently supported the military-industrial complex is an entirely reasonable position to take, but it often seems like these anti-fans have sprung up as a direct reaction to the fandom, rather than as an organic feeling of “this VFX punching nonsense isn’t for me.”
Because of these clearly established two sides, queer discourse around Loki is even more intolerable. One side holds up “a bit of both,” as a cataclysmic event that will forever shift media as we know it, and the other tears down any suggestion that it might be worthy of even the tiniest bit of merit, mocking the very idea that anything uttered in these feature-length toy commercials is worthy of artistic interrogation. It really doesn’t need to be this way.
We saw something similar, with WandaVision’s “what is grief, if not love persevering?” quote – it was either genius or disingenuous bullshit. Pick a side and stick to it. Absolutely everything is about point scoring when you discuss the MCU, and that makes it impossible to have a worthwhile conversation about anything. When queer representation in media is already so fractured down ‘yes they are/no they aren’t’ battle lines, the problem is magnified ten times over.
Not everything needs to be like this. I hate “let people enjoy things” as a rule, not because I’m a joyless bitch but because the ideals of the sentiment are constantly twisted into “don’t criticise this thing I love.” However, when queer people are repeatedly told they shouldn’t feel positive about seeing themselves in media, either because the characters aren’t really queer or because the queerness doesn’t count, it really does seem like we should just leave them be. No, Loki probably wouldn’t have had a frank discussion about his bisexuality ten years ago, and maybe in ten years time we’ll look back and think it was silly to ever get excited over such a minor scene. But it can still matter in the here and now.
Loki coming out, and indeed most queer rep in media that comes from huge corporations, is rainbow capitalism by definition. They are queer – or are allowed to embrace their queerness – because it’s profitable. If it wasn’t, they would not be. But that doesn’t mean the creatives behind the scenes pushing for these developments aren’t sinking their heart and soul into them. Loki’s coming out was underwhelming, and the fact it won’t be followed up on makes it seem all the more hollow, but we need to get out of these two endless loops when it comes to queer discussion. Maybe in 20 years, when Disney reveals its 34th first queer character, we’ll be ready to talk about them in a bit more depth.
Next: Loki Needs To Let Go Of The MCU
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Stacey Henley is an editor for TheGamer, and can often be found journeying to the edge of the Earth, but only in video games. Find her on Twitter @FiveTacey
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