Gay Per Saying: Penguin, Iceman, and Queer Discovery

A few months back, I went on a little bit of a Twitter rant about the monoculture that’s grown up around what a gay narrative is. At the time, I was railing against Robin Lord Taylor’s assertion that his Penguin wasn’t “gay per se” because the character didn’t recognize a gay sexual attraction until his late twenties.

Twitter was enough spleen venting for me at the time, but recent responses to the new Iceman comic over at Marvel have brought the whole thing bubbling back up for me. In a turn which should surprise no one, the usual suspects are railing against the notion that an adult Bobby Drake is “suddenly” gay. Because it’s the usual suspects, I want to bat them aside and ignore them, but I keep coming back to Robin Lord Taylor, a gay man, supporting a very similar narrative about queerness:

Honestly, I feel that part of the reason why I don’t like to say that Oswald is gay per se in the sense that I’m a gay man, I’ve known I was gay my entire life, and for someone at the age of 28, 29, or however old he is to just suddenly question his sexualization wasn’t something I totally understood.

The “gay per se” is fine, because despite hard lines drawn in conservative social settings, there’s plenty of sexuality that falls between homosexual and heterosexual. If The Penguin acted to reverse erasure for bisexuality, pansexuality, demi-sexuality, sapiosexuality, all of that would be wonderful. That, however, isn’t where Taylor’s coming from.

No, Penguin isn’t “gay per se” because, ostensibly, the character hasn’t experienced this kind of attraction in his youth, like Robin Lord Taylor and many other gay people do.

That? Is a problem.

The Closet Isn’t the Only Room In My House

The fact of the matter is, I wasn’t much of a sexual being at all until my late 20s. When I started feeling sexual attraction, it was toward men. What the majority of people hear when I tell them that is that I was in the closet until my late 20s, but that’s not accurate. It’s the easiest story for them to tell, however, because that’s the one they always hear. A large swath of queer people will tell you that they always knew. I can’t count the number of gay men who tell some variation on, “When I was six I saw the neighbor with his shirt off and it was all over for me.”

It’s a prevalent story. It’s a valid story. It’s an important story, the closet, because we need to acknowledge the pain and despair of people who know who they are but choose to hide that because of societal pressures and fears, who may never come out, or who make tragic choices to escape lives of repression. I don’t want to minimize that narrative in any way. I just want to make the point that it’s not the only one.

When I say I wasn’t attracted to men until my late 20s, that’s not a euphemism. I don’t mean that I wasn’t comfortable approaching men until my late 20s, or that that I was afraid to acknowledge my attraction to men until my late 20s. I mean exactly what I’m saying: my queerness wasn’t a tangible part of me until then. The only thing shut behind my closet door was my winter coat.

Some Doors Are Riskier to Open

I get it, I really do. A large part of the queer rights movement is predicated on the notion Gaga anthemed: we do not choose queerness, but are born this way. The logic follows, then, that if queerness is inborn, it should also always be there, right? Drooling over a TV idol shortly after being able to form complete sentences is primal reinforcement of that. Beards and girlfriends from Canada allow for late-stage gay reveals without robbing people of the core reality of their sexuality.

Saying that people may not discover a queer identity until later in life risks opening a door. If queerness can appear late in life, then the same logic as above can insist that queerness may be quashed at a later point, as well. Enter torturous “conversion therapy” and other such nonsense.

Tract Housing Isn’t the Only Kind

If people were robots, I might agree with the logic of the above constructions. If who we are happened to be nothing more than a string of indelible code with predictable responses, then sure, everyone’s queerness would express the same way, at the same time, and follow the same patterns.

I don’t subscribe to that. I’m a gay man. I’m queer. My queerness is a part of me. The fact that I didn’t discover it, that it didn’t let itself be known to me until later in life, doesn’t make it less integral to who I am or less innate a part of me.

It doesn’t fit the more commonly expressed narrative, and by doing so it makes the wider arguments about that narrative trickier to navigate, but that doesn’t make my narrative any less real or deserving to be told.

I’m Out of Housing Metaphors: Fuck Structural Restriction, Anyway

It comes down to this: sometimes it just takes a neighbor washing his car or a ring of keys to make a person’s identity clear. Sometimes it takes encountering the time-displaced, alternate younger version of your mutant super-hero self. The thing that makes stories different and unique is that people are different and unique. So down with the universal closet and monoculture, and up and outward with queer narratives that celebrate their own variety over homogeneity. That’s half the point of diversity, of decolonization, of intersectionality: if you think you know how “these stories” go, you just haven’t read enough of them yet.

Pulling Back the Curtain

This past Saturday, I was finally able to marry the man I’ve been with through eight years and (some not insignificant legal) change. It’s been a long time coming, and it was a lot of wonderful things. My husband (!) designed a crazy-spectacular steampunk wedding with what shouldn’t have been nearly a large enough budget, and melted my heart in all the right ways. He knows that, and if he doesn’t, then I’ve got work to do, but that’s marriage, right?

Wonderful, too, were all the people who worked their effing butts off driving U-hauls or carting set pieces or tying strings for lanterns or, honestly, showing up and being there. Every little bit helped and mattered and there aren’t enough letters on the keyboard to express my thanks.

I’m not going to spend more time gushing about the awesome, though, because let’s be honest: that just winds up sounding like bragging, anyway. I’m not here to make everyone who wasn’t there jealous that they couldn’t be. Quite the opposite.

For several personal reasons that I’m not going into (this post may be a lot more open about my personal life than others, but I’m still a private person), when the legal window opened in Florida, we wound up with a short timetable for planning and pulling off a wedding. If we had any hope of getting anyone at all there, we had to invite quite quickly. But because of the same restrictions that meant we were rushing out invites, our guest list had to be painfully short.

There are a lot of people in the world we love, and whom we know love us. Extended family members and friends whom we knew would be ecstatic for us, the sight of whom would make us ecstatic. And we couldn’t have them all.

Back when I taught, we used to talk about how a heavily-edited paper was “bleeding” from the red pen. Our invitation list felt a lot less metaphorical in its bleeding. You can’t see it, but every name we crossed off to make it possible to have our wedding at all was like slicing off our fingertips. Some people understood and some people didn’t. I think more of the former than the latter, but I’m not a telepath, so I suppose I’m just guessing.

Whether it’s people you couldn’t invite or people who couldn’t attend for schedule or financial reasons or — because we’re human — people who couldn’t be there because they’ve passed, no matter how long you can make your guest list, there will always be someone missing.

We had oh so many of all those folks. That they weren’t lined up in chairs back further than the horizon ached just below our chests and stung the corner of our eyes.

But we saw and felt at least a bit of them in loaned props and set pieces, in original creations crafted with amazing talent and skill, in vendors we only found from recommended phone numbers and names they let us drop. They were there from the remnants of their strong hugs when we ran into each other out in the world. They lingered in every verbal or virtual “congratulations.”

That wedding wasn’t just three months in the offing. Or even eight years.

You helped make it happen if we ever met you. From every small or large interaction, good or bad, that eventually steered the two of us together, kept the two of us together. If you think this is about you, it is. You’re why and how this happened.

And we can’t thank you enough.

Selling Women Online

It’s probably incredibly understated to say that I’m really not an American Football guy. I’m not much of a traditional sports fan in general. So I definitely don’t follow much of the media surrounding sports, either. It was only via Rebecca Eisenberg on Upworthy that I ran across Katie Nolan’s recent discussion of the place of women in sports and sports media:

It’s worth a watch, and a lot of thinking and talking and thumbs ups. Then I Googled Nolan to see what responses might be out there to her piece, and I found myself fairly disheartened by the headlines:

 photo GoogleSearch_zpseec26c23.png

I mean, you have to get to the third article in the list before the headline is about the primary content of the video, and not “Don’t boycott the NFL!” which, you know, seems to spectacularly miss the point.

I was wholly prepared to start taking people to task for headlines which so clearly buried the lead in something that looked like nothing so much as corporate shilling. Except that clicking through, I saw that both of those articles pretty evenly move from the “no boycott” into the larger commentary on women in sports / sports media.

And then I realized my Google search is ordered by “relevance,” which in Google terms largely relates to how many people link to / click links to the articles in question. A realization which was, honestly, even more depressing.

Because that means those first two articles got more attention than any of the others with headlines that directly address the feminist concerns of the video. While I’m not especially keen on manipulative headlines that feed web hits, it’s an even more sobering realization that, apparently, the very mention of feminism and/or sexism in relation to sports media is a whole lot less interesting than “This lady says it’s okay to keep watching our sports!”

Which pretty much makes Nolan’s point for her, I think. When you have to sideline the very topic of sidelining women, the double-secret probation becomes rather painfully clear.

And yes, that’s exactly why I titled this blog post the way that I did.

Non-Binary Digital Debates

I have to give a lot of thumbs up to the points John Scalzi raises in his recent essay on the Amazon-Hachette public negotiation troubles. My favorite quote:

This is where many people decide to opine that the cost of eBooks should reflect the cost of production in some way that allows them to say that whatever price point they prefer is the naturally correct one. This is where I say: You know what, if you’ve ever paid more than twenty cents for a soda at a fast food restaurant, or have ever bought bottled water at a store, then I feel perfectly justified in considering your cost of production position vis a vis publishing as entirely hypocritical. Please stop making the cost of production argument for books and apparently nothing else in your daily consumer life. I think less of you when you do.

It’s one of the things at the heart of digital pricing: the specter of production costs, and the impact these sorts of arguments have on the perceived value of content itself. I won’t for one second pretend there’s not a discussion to be had about the value of content. It’s just that sometimes “lower production costs” winds up as a stand in for “this didn’t cost you anything to make,” which is both not true and tends to overshadow any other discussions.

Favorite sound bite notwithstanding, the biggest reason I’m linking Scalzi’s post when I’ve not really pointed at anything else I’ve seen on these sorts of negotiations is because the essay as a whole actually sounds like an opening for discussion. Just about everything else I see seems to declare that either the publisher or Amazon is Evil and Trying to Screw Us, and by comparison the other party is Totally On Our Side.

Scalzi rather directly makes the point that BOTH Amazon and any given publisher (1) are not evil, but (2) are on their own sides. If you want to have a debate about which position is best for authors and/or readers, I think that’s vitally important. The binary ideology here is a trap, and winds up shutting down real discussion in favor of one spin or another. That in turn retards real progress that helps the people at either end of the production chain, instead of just the corporations in the middle.

Said Inigo Montoya to Vezzini

I live in an area which is fairly unique in the way its community theatres run. Shows are on 5 to 6 days a week, sometimes putting on shows twice in the same day. Production staff who work at the local Equity houses likewise direct and design for the community set. There’s a much closer amount of crossover than I’ve ever experienced, at least. Which may be why there’s so much tension around the word “professional” hereabouts.

There has semi-recently been the start of a discussion about what “community theatre” means, so to steer clear of that particular murk, I’m going to be talking about volunteer actors and paid actors. It’s a cleaner line to draw, especially as regards where this is all going.

Back on the professional front, however: yes, absolutely professionalism is not limited to paid professionals. Volunteer performers still need to have respect for one another, still have to take pride in what they’re doing. There are noses and grindstones which need introduction. Anyone who wants to have a six week picnic would, in all cases, do best to find something other than theatre–community or otherwise–upon which to spend time. So, yes, “professional isn’t just paid.”

It is, however, willfully wrong-headed to believe and expect that volunteer actors make their show decisions the same way as someone who pays his or her bills through acting gigs. Professional (as the -ism) is not the same thing as professional (as the job).

It is professional (as the -ism) to avoid responding to directors’ casting rejections as insults. Rejection in this context isn’t personal: they don’t hate us, they just feel the show they want to make would benefit from a different choice. That’s the job. It’s not the director’s job to make everyone happy.

Mind you, it is only fair for directors to accept that the reverse is true: the responsibility of a volunteer performer is to choose shows and roles he or she finds fulfilling. It is not the onus of any given volunteer to ensure a director gets the cast he or she prefers. That’s not personal, either, and a volunteer’s choices are not stupid or wrongheaded just because they hamper a director’s desires. Nor, more importantly to my point, are those decisions necessarily going to align with the expectations of a professional (as the job).

It is professional (as the job) to accept good, paying gigs when they’re available, because this is one’s career. There are career path considerations to be made, of course: the prominence of the venue, of the role, of the production personnel, and a host of others I can’t begin to guess. But–again–you’re making them as part of the job.1

Volunteer actors don’t have to make those considerations. Or, at least, I don’t believe anyone should treat us as if we do. We are professional (as the -ism), not professional (as the job). The ONLY payment a volunteer actor receives are those ephemeral whatsits which drives us to be in a show. For some people, that’s solely the camaraderie of having a communal experience. For others, it’s the last bow. Or it’s the cathartic release of harsh emotions in a drama, the air of lightness and laughter from a wonderful comedic turn, the giddy moment when you hit that money note and everyone is listening. And any one of those things might simultaneously be something another volunteer actor wants to actively avoid.

I’m missing about as many reasons as there are people, as well as their various combinations, but the point is: our individual, ephemeral reasons are the sum total of our compensation. They are, without qualification, our reasons for being here. And because that is what we’ve decided we’re after (for whatever value of “that” we personally choose), because we have eschewed traditional payment or career pursuit but are nonetheless still here, the choices of professional (as the -ism) volunteers cannot and should not be judged using the same measures and gauges as one uses for professional (as the job) performers.

It’s all well and good to play this game of qualitative comparison between community and professional (as the job) theatre, but I think the real fracture between folks from one world and another is a far more fundamental paradigm shift. Comparing the choices of a volunteer performer to those of a working actor is comparing apples to Martian plutonium, folks.

“That’s the lead,” “That’s a big role,” “That’s a huge opportunity,” are the kinds of things you say to someone trying to make a living as an actor. They’re the kinds of things which should always hold influence in that context. But for volunteers, if that lead happens to be comedy relief when our personal pay scale requires drama, if it’s something we’ve done a hundred times before when our bottom line needs variety, outside our comfort zone when we act for comfort, if it’s older or younger than we want to feel, if it’s too many costume changes, not enough costume changes, difficult or easy music … for whatever reason it doesn’t trip our triggers, it doesn’t matter how “big” a role is, how “brilliant” the show is. It won’t be enough. It is impossible to pay us enough to do it because we aren’t getting paid money.2

Put in another context, I don’t often hear anyone clamoring that folks are uppity for not auditioning for a given show in the first place (my own heckling notwithstanding). Those just aren’t our shows, and that’s okay.

How is that qualitatively different from thinking that bloke in the corner who has one brilliant-but-short moment is more interesting than the whiny lead role whose actor gets the last bow?

So, yeah. It would be ever so lovely if we could start parsing our professional definitions for context. For some of us, it’s not a job. And there’s nothing wrong with that if only because, if it was a job for all of us, the community theatre personnel would be out of theirs.

1. None of this is meant to minimize a paid actor’s love of theatre, or the existence of dream roles and beloved shows. My point is, however, that a true, working actor can rarely ever make decisions without also taking far more concrete concerns into account.[back]
2. There’s a clear exception to be made for those folks — and there are more than a few in the area — who mix volunteer and paid gigs. I drew that very thick line between paycheck and no paycheck for a reason, though. Even those people will only volunteer for shows and roles which meet their volunteer pay scale. That they have a second job as an intermittent paid performer doesn’t negate the point here; rather, it makes it. You have to put them in another category of performer to get them into something that doesn’t meet their volunteer needs.[back]

On Making and Taking Bows

Last week was a bit of a bummer insofar as news about quirky comics I like. First, Jason Aaron announced the end of Wolverine and the X-Men:

The original plan was for me to write both WatXM and AMAZING X-MEN as sister titles. One dealing with the school, the other with the X-Men from that school going on adventures out in the world. But unfortunately my schedule just didn’t allow that. So I’ve been writing the post-Battle of the Atom arc of WatXM as my goodbye to that series and to the Jean Grey School.


I’ve never been a big X follower. Peter David’s X-Factor is probably the only other book in the line I’ve had any real long-term reader investment in. Wolverine and…, though, really just seemed to revel in exactly how much weird was running about in the X mythology. And, by extension, just how craze-tastic a school would be that had to survive in that kind of world. I mean, sentient grounds, an infestation of both the chibi-Nightcrawler Bamfs and microscopic Brood, an Imperial Shi’ar warrior teaching art class, a lovestruck janitor who used to be a super-villain, gambling in space. Oh, and Frankenstein turning the X-Men into circus acts.

Seriously, the eager way in which the book just seemed to embrace and celebrate the crazy was a lot of fun. I won’t miss the giant speed bumps which inevitably occurred during crossover season, but otherwise it was a very fun ride.

So, there’s one. And then, the very next day, I ran across Kieron Gillen announcing that Young Avengers is going buh-bye:

Jamie and my plan was always to do a season telling a contained story, leaving room to continue it if we felt we had something else to say. When the time came around and Marvel asked if we wanted to do more issues, Jamie and I decided we’d actually made our statement, and should leave the stage.


Young Avengers was similarly unafraid to embrace the strange. I don’t think the two books are companion pieces in any way, but I do sort of feel on one level that YA is almost a “cool kids in college” variant on the WatX experience. The latter has a bunch of kids kind of really encountering the full scope of the craze-athon for the first time. The Young Avengers, on the other hand, have been here. Or, rather, they think they have.

Instead of that seemingly-endless expanse of weird that is high school, Young Avengers lives in that middle ground, where you’re still young, and you still enjoy everything, but you’re not quite so naive as you used to be. The embrace of the insanity of youth is no longer something you’re caught up in, but something you’re choosing. Literally in a few cases, as avoiding the primary protagonist pretty much hinges on an “I don’t wanna grow up” philosophy.

Meanwhile, fight scenes take place on “you are here” style room maps, characters get trapped in panel borders, villains literally chew the scenery while heroes just as literally kick their way through the walls of reality.

I’m doing a fairly crap job of explaining it, but it’s a lot of slightly-off-center fun and I’ll miss it.

There is some good news to both announcements, at least. In both cases, the powers that be are ending the series rather than just tossing new creative teams at them. There’s an implicit statement, here, that values the creators as essential elements of the title, rather than hot-swappable add-ons to The Property.

Far too many times, books I loved died far longer, slower deaths in hands which weren’t as capable with them as the team which woo’d me in the first place. If it has to be good-bye, then, I suppose I’d much rather the clean break than the messy, extended growing apart.

The Other Superboy

That throwaway idea of Scott Lobdell’s I mentioned yesterday is still bouncing around inside my head, as I just keep thinking about the possibilities for really twisting the Superman metaphors with a non-white, non-American super character. This is all kind of amorphous and messy, but since it’s thinking about a character that isn’t likely to exist, I’m not sure how tight and print-ready it needs to be. I’m hoping folks will bear with me.

In any case, I’m thinking mostly about the various metaphors swirling about Supes as regards his alien heritage, and obviously the pun-ish theme of alienation.

Superman’s fundamentally different on a genetic level from everyone save a handful of other survivors from his planet. However, we only know that because he lets us know it. If he takes off the brightly colored, skin-tight suit and tones down his not-normal physical expressions (flight, super-strength, etc), he can–and does–pass as a member of our species. Not just that, but as a member of the dominant gender and ethnic group.1

We can have discussions about whether Superman or Clark Kent is the disguise, but the fact of the matter is, in either case, looking like a white, male human gives Kal-El a leg up culturally, above and beyond the (meta)physical gifts of his Kryptonian heritage. His alien-ness, then, is a very internal thing. Especially as Clark, the Last Son can feel out of place without anyone else thinking he is.

Once you divorce Superboy from “Clark as a kid,” though, isn’t it treading a lot of the same territory to make your younger S character so visually similar? What if you take that alienation metaphor, that ‘outsider among us’ element, and house it in a body and a culture which is more obviously different?

It just seems like a more unique twist on the metaphors to share the S mantle with someone who doesn’t have some of the same visual benefits that Clark gets in his attempts to hide. Even though our hypothetical new Superboy is actually more human than the man from whom he takes his name, he is also, culturally, considered more Other by those who would see him outside any hero guise he might don. If we play a little Sting and move our new super, British lad to New York, or just to the Americas in general, there’s even more alien to explore with someone who is nevertheless human.

Beyond that, what might it say to look to as one’s hero–to take on the mantle of–someone who isn’t even of the same species? Is there an unintended “screw you, humanity. I prefer the alien”?

I don’t think this kind of book has to be about “Black Superboy,” any more than I think the Superman titles are explicitly about “Alien Superman.” I just think that it’s a more unique subtext and undercurrent to work with, rather than simply “looks like Superman, but slightly younger and meaner.”

1. Just in case it needs clarifying, dominant is not meant to ascribe any form of inherent superiority. It’s a comment on the culture. White privilege exists, as does male privilege, and pretending it doesn’t only makes it harder do deal with. [back]