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.

A Drop of Gay Goes Further, Apparently

I went on a bit of a Twitter rant the other day about Mass Effect: Adromeda and gay male romance. Not about the restricted choices, since I realize that isn’t new. I’d already read a bunch of the romance guides and seen that, if I wanted to have me some boys macking on each other, I’d have a narrow range of options.

But since I’d read those guides, which all said basically the same thing, I felt okay with the restrictions. Both of the male options for a male Ryder were, I kept reading, casual romance hookups that you could choose to commit to or not. So, hey, I could sample the wares for maximum boy kisses.

(I see you judging me. Look, if you can run around crunching numbers to optimize your combat prowess, the least you can do is let me optimize my sexytime prowess, too.)

I tried to stick to the bare bones info on the romances: where to find them, how to make sure you didn’t accidentally shut them down. I steered clear of full video walkthroughs because it’s no fun if you know how the first date’s already gonna go, right?

For exactly that reason, I should also probably pause here and say: romance spoilers for several characters in ME:A, especially Gil and Reyes.

Okay. You’ve been warned.

So I jumped on in. Spent entirely too long making sure my male Ryder looked like he could charm a few pants off (side note: some day a character creator won’t woefully disappoint me with its facial hair options). Flirted all over the place. As expected, most of the male characters politely brushed me off, but, you know, don’t put a heart icon conversation option on the dialogue wheel if you don’t want me to at least give it the old college try.

The first guy who returned my interest was, as the guides had told me, engineer Gil. And he’s a fun flirt. Nothing much was happening beyond that, but I was assured by every list out there that Gil had a “casual romance” option on offer.

Then I started flirting with the other MM available option, Reyes, who was also receptive, but unlike Gil, we went out, got drunk, made out, and then got a nice slow pan away from us that I could easily fill in with the story of how we had ourselves a thoroughly good time in other ways, as well.

But, dude, Gil was still just flirting. And I’d been flirting with him for so long. When did his face sucking option show up? I broke down and went looking for a video walkthrough. Then I went looking for another, because that couldn’t be right. And another. Then I did some creative swearing.

Here’s why: after flirting with Gil at every opportunity, there comes a point where Gil asks Ryder to meet his best friend. Right before Ryder meets her, Gil asks if they’re just friends, or if Ryder is “his guy.” At this point, friends, Ryder hasn’t even kissed Gil. I know that because at this “so are we dating or not?” juncture, male Ryder gets the option to say exactly that: woah, dude, we haven’t even kissed, what are you talking about?

If you take that option, Ryder can get a kiss. Then, you decide if you’re together forever or not. And that, dear hearts, is what constitutes Gil’s “casual romance.”

headdesk

To be clear, this isn’t especially about Bioware’s choices in this case. What leaves me so red faced is how every damn site is totally on board with classifying this (*flails at monitor and scowls*) as a casual romance.

You could try to argue with me that flirting constitutes casual, but here’s the thing: remember, above, how everyone offered me at least one flirt option? If flirting = casual romance, then all those other NPCs are also casual romances for a male Ryder: the straight men and gay women are only casual, the rest are casual you can commit to.

Except that isn’t the case. Every guide or walkthrough has no problem taking the straight male and gay female NPCs out of the list of options for a male Ryder, and vice versa. And so long as one of the people in the pair is a woman, no one writing these things is confused about the fact that, if I can’t do more than flirt and maybe steal a kiss before being faced with deciding the fate of a relationship, then your romantic partner isn’t any kind of casual.

Yet when the participants are two men, stray innuendo is somehow of a piece with zero G sex with an alien woman.

Is it the romantic equivalent of people perceiving gender parity when a group is only 30% female? Certainly it wouldn’t be the first time I’d been told there were gay characters all over the place in my entertainment media when they’re still in most cases a single instance (or pair) in a much larger cast.

Then, too, for reasons I can never wrap my head around, the barest suggestion of MM romantic interaction seems to equate to sex in the minds of some people. It’s the reason kids’ books where two men kiss wind up the subject of protests. We can see men and women, or maybe even two women, kissing without “going there,” but if this recent experience is any any indication, apparently the barest suggestion that two men might be into each other somehow releases a flood of every homosexual act ever in the memory centers of the human mind.

Which: do better, people.

On My Being, Political

It is once again the time of year when people in my social media feeds start posting about Not Removing Friends Over Politics. I’ll paraphrase here, but given the content is pretty much of a piece, I’m all right boiling it down to variations on one or more of these:

Friends are more important than simple politics.

We have to be able to have intellectual discussions about political issues.

If you ‘unfriend’ people, you’re choosing to cut off thought in favor of emotion.

The problem with all of these is that they insist on characterizing “politics” as an emotionless, intellectual debate. If it’s political, it’s just an idea, after all. Except that in this case the ‘idea’ up for debate is the actual humanity of another person.

I’m not sure if this “politics is ideas” thing is intentional gaslighting or a profound lack of understanding, but it’s infuriating in either case. If it’s the latter, I have serious concerns for the posters’ ability to navigate the world, since apparently they think people are severing ties over things like interstate highway routes and the taxes on a fresh strawberry. Which means they’re completely missing the part where people’s RIGHT TO EXIST is up for debate. In which case: yes. We need to be talking to those precious little flowers, because there is a whole lot of reality that’s not getting in.

In the former case, however, someone is well aware that one side of the debate is “I exist and deserve the same level of humanity as everyone else,” and the other is “It makes me uncomfortable if you exist, so could you maybe stop doing that?” I mean, yes, one side is existential, but the others side is an actual person. Saying that someone who is already fighting madly to gain or retain their humanity must also put up with having that humanity turned into something to be puzzled over like it’s choosing which Jenga piece to pull is just gross.

Trust me, I wish that the very fact of my gay existence weren’t political, but right now it is. People are debating whether I deserve service, whether I deserve employment, whether I deserve to marry, raise children, inherit. For a lot of people of marginalized identities, politics isn’t something they get to choose to enter or exit. Everyday interactions, from going to work to just holding hands, bring their very self up for scrutiny such that daring to draw breath becomes a political act.

Look, I absolutely agree that, in the case when the marginalized have the emotional energy to engage, that engagement is invaluable. However, it is also profoundly unfair to insist that people who are already assaulted by the world must engage, and must engage in all venues and on all platforms, and must engage with the same emotional distance that someone whose humanity is a given has the luxury of maintaining. That kind of insistence, whether willfully or ignorantly blind to the reality of the imbalance at work, winds up being just another abuse. It’s one more damn thing someone who’s struggling to survive has to worry about before they try to scrounge up the resources to actually enter the fray.

And anyone who’s standing around making pronouncements about understanding ought to make sure they understand that first and foremost.

Sense8: Bedroom Backflip

I’m only about halfway through Sense8, the new Wachowski / Straczynski Netflix series, so I’m not going to say too terribly much about it yet. Since all the episodes are available, it seems a better idea for me to finish the binge and see how all the crazy-making does or does not hold together in the final analysis.

I am, however, thus far pleased that the show has done the thing that got me to buy in on How to Get Away with Murder. Namely, starting things off by making its LGBT characters the ones shouldering the bulk of the sexy time.

More than that, though, up until the middle of the series, the two LGBT couples are also doing the heavy romantic lifting. At series start, there’s only one heterosexual long-term pairing in the 8 leads, and that one isn’t what I’d call stable and supportive in the way the two gay pairings are.

This is changing as the show’s progressing, as well it should. I’m not interested in suddenly chastity-belting the straight characters as some kind of weird sexual payback for series past. It is, however, refreshing that the people we’re waiting to find love interests for are the straight people, when generally LGBT characters languish off to the side until after Tumblr has had a season or two to lament a lack of significant others through the time-tested use of animated GIFs.

I’m sure I’ll have more to say once I’ve seen it all, but that element, at least, was stand out enough that I thought it worth mentioning on its own.

Slut-Shamer Pride

So, in an op-ed for The Advocate, Levi Chambers — the editor in chief of Gay.com — has a few things to say about what he sees as inappropriate attire for Disney Gay Days. Me? I have a few things to say about what seems a fairly slipshod argument he’s making:

Halloween is the perfect time to be sexy. Adults can dress like sexy superheroes and go to their favorite bar or club. No problem. That said, dressing like a hustler for the Gay Days Anaheim events at Disneyland is wrong.

The majority of the LGBT people celebrating kept their behavior PG, but a few thirsty fellas must have thought they were at a Pride after-dark event. In line for the Matterhorn Bobsleds, I noticed beaus wearing T-shirts with identifiers like “Top” or “Bottom” scrolled across their backs in the Disney font. I even spotted a few stickers on chests that blatantly read “slut” or “DTF.”

The time when it’s traditionally appropriate to tramp it up, if our example is to be believed, is Halloween. You know, that time of year when the streets are traditionally filled with children of all ages running around asking for treats and being adorable. Which is totally different than visiting Disneyland.

So, yeah. The counter-example actually makes it explicitly clear that one group of people may feel that a given event (whether that’s Halloween or Gay Days) is for something different than another group, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. Not the best way to shore up the argument. You want one thing; other people want another. Totally okay for some holidays, but not for others because reasons.

Never mind that, though, since this isn’t just a holiday: it’s Disney. And Disney is no place for the barest of innuendo. Because Disney would never, ever turn up sexy in their children’s properties. Disney treasures childhood and wants it to last as long as possible, which must be why their animation arm made its contemporary comeback by marrying off a 16 year old girl.

The six year olds may just think Tinkerbell is super cute and spritish, but I’m fairly certain there’s a contingent of parents who are getting something entirely different from the view at Pixie Hollow, folks. Which, honestly, brings me directly to the next point.

I’m having an incredibly difficult time drawing the correlation between a tarty word on a t-shirt or sticker and “dressing like a hustler.” Honestly, it smacks incredibly of the same kind of logic that suggests the mere presence of homosexual individuals sexualizes an event, a movie, or a book. It’s the kind of base over-reaction that claims King and King exposes little Timmy to the raunch of anal sex.

If the argument’s going to have legs, I think it needs far better examples than what we’re getting here. If little Timmy assumes sexual positions when he sees the words top and bottom, if he’s decoding acronyms like DTF, the cat’s out of the bag. If knowing about Dirty Gay Sex ruins childhood, Timmy’s was clearly destroyed a long time ago.

I’m not close to convinced that the kids at Gay Days are any more likely to catch the innuendo of most of the phrases Chambers mentions than they are to realize Dad might like face character Jasmine’s top for more than the fact that it’s shiny and brightly colored.

You might get me to agree “slut” is questionable, but even if I grant that all of the above are a step too far, are you honestly telling me that, on a full day at Disney, the only people you saw who were wearing shirts with messages you thought might be in poor taste, or who were wearing something a bit too revealing, or behaving in a way you felt might be more sexual than appropriate, were red-shirted LGBT attendees?

Even at Gay Days, I find that amazingly difficult to believe. That many people don’t get together without someone’s taste level going in a direction someone doesn’t like. If there wasn’t some straight guy running around with a tattoo or a t-shirt involving a pinup girl, you could knock me over with a feather.

But, you see, apparently signing on to attend an event which is meant to create a safe space for LGBT folks, which Chambers himself says “is meant to be a celebration of all things gay,” actually just obligates one to represent All LGBT Forever in a way that makes everyone else feel safe and un-threatened.

Remember: you’re LGBT first, and a person second. We need to hold you to an entirely different standard than everyone else. In the name of equality. Or something.

How to Get Away with Murder (and Gay Sex)

Now that Comcast has gotten their recent nonsense resolved and on demand shows are updating in my area again, I had a chance to try out How to Get Away with Murder, the new Viola Davis vehicle.

I could probably say a lot about different aspects of the show, but four episodes in, the thing that’s really struck a chord with me is the way the show has handled homosexuality, on a couple of different levels. Apparently, I’m far from the only person to take notice, though not all of those others have responded positively.

Here’s the thing: I feel like I’ve seen a fair amount of similarly-racy stuff in shows featuring heterosexual couplings, so if all that seemed to be happening was that How to Get Away with Murder added just as much of a gay variant, I’m not sure it would be nearly as worth commenting on.

That’s not what’s happened, however. Four episodes in, three of the four explicit (for network TV) sex scenes have featured series regular Connor Walsh’s (Jack Falahee) homosexual encounters (I’ll get to the fourth later). This is not to say that The Gay Guy is the only one having naughty time. It’s both obvious and explicit that the majority of the regular characters for this show have active libidos that they aren’t shy about satisfying. We just haven’t seen much of that onscreen.

You can see the contrast just from the pilot. Connor hooks up with a guy from a bar, and the show jumps straight to a mostly-naked, pumping-music-underscored, fully-lit sequence where there is no way not to see what’s going on. Annalise Keating (Viola Davis) is similarly in the middle of sexy time later in the episode, but this time we enter the scene in the dark, with barely lit silhouettes and low voices. It takes a second to realize that, yup, that sure is cunnilingus. And just when that’s totally clear, it’s also over.

I don’t think the Annalise scene is any less titillating insofar as these things go, mind you. It is, however, slightly less explicit. Watching the Connor scene goes something like Woah! Okay, that is sex. The Annalise scene is on the order of Wait, is she? Are they? Woah! Okay, that is sex. It gets to the same place; the latter just asks you to connect a few more dots.

Like I said, this level of in-your-face with gay sex isn’t entirely new, but it is one of the first times I can think of where the majority of steamy sex stuff originates in a gay cast member who isn’t (1) the central focus of the show or (2) part of a large ensemble primarily populated by other gay characters.

The show is a solid ensemble piece. But, like I said before, it’s built as a Viola Davis vehicle. The lead character by just about any measure is Davis’s Annalise Keating. Even among the law students she’s chosen to help her at her firm, Wes Gibbins (Alfred Enoch) has been positioned far more solidly as both the audience proxy and the person around whom the multi-episode murder subplot seems to pivot.

The sexually aggressive member of an ensemble drama isn’t really new. It’s a fairly stock element in this kind of story, really. That the writers chose to make that character someone with a sexuality different from the rest of the cast’s, though, is incredibly intriguing to me. Most of the time, when there’s a sole homosexual player in your main lineup, that’s the character whose sexuality happens to the side. Boyfriends and dates get mentioned, and maybe you catch a shaded view of something here or there, but when it comes time for the steamy show to go steamy, one of your straight characters takes up that challenge.

By and large, How to Get Away with Murder has gone the opposite direction. Annalise’s scene is one example. Laurel Castillo’s (Karla Souza) indiscretions have been alluded to but not yet shown. And thus far, the relationship building for Wes Gibbins is relatively chaste (if still slightly troubling).

Of the primary characters, in fact, the only other who has something approaching the kind of out-of-the-shadows sex Connor shows off for the camera is Michaela Pratt (Aja Naomi King). It takes until the third episode for that scene to happen. And even then, I suspect this has less to do with making Michaela competition for the Sexy Character as it does with yet another intriguing angle the show takes on sexuality.

While I’m talking around things with a lot of the stuff above, this next bit pretty definitely constitutes spoilers, so look away if you’ve not seen episode three. It was two weeks ago, but I hate to be That Guy.

All right, so the third episode of the show opens with Michaela having sexy time with her fiancée, Aiden Walker (Elliot Knight). While at first this seems like the show finally having some equal time, I suspect this scene, and others where it’s made clear Aiden and Michaela have an active sexual relationship, are there to help resolve the questions and tensions that arise when Connor reveals that he and Aiden fooled around back in boarding school.

I’m intrigued with what I hope the storyline with Michaela’s fiancée implies, since, like the inversion of sexual depiction I talked about before, I don’t remember seeing much of this: male sexual experimentation. The dominant narrative is that, while women may have lesbian dalliances as part of a sexually adventurous phase, they can still be essentially straight. Men, on the other hand, are told through just about every narrative channel that same-sex of any sort effectively makes them a closet case if they wind up deciding it’s just not for them afterwards.

While there’s a lot of yelling and crying, by the end of the episode, Aiden assures Michaela that he is not, in fact, gay. And unlike most stories of this stripe, I think the show is actually pushing viewers pretty heavily to believe him. In addition to the above-mentioned sex / groping scenes (which seem built to make it clear that Aiden is very much into Michaela), Connor himself tells Michaela that he “basically hooked up with all the hot guys at school.” He doesn’t say “all the hot gay guys,” or “all the hot guys were gay.” The implication is that Connor doesn’t even think Aiden’s gay, but that Connor himself is just especially skilled at convincing people to Give Gay a Try.

That Annalise seems to think an essential lawyer skill is the ability to convince people of what you want them to believe (even if it’s patently false) in order to forward your own agenda, this whole subplot seems like more of an extension of that particular theme than any kind of implication that Aiden is gay, or even a condemnation of Connor as predatory gay.

There’s a lot of stuff at play in the series four episodes in. Some of it certainly works better than others. I definitely have to say, though, that for a show with a straight lead character and a large heterosexual ensemble, I’ve been thus far really enthralled with how it’s positioned Connor1 and his sexual proclivities.

1. 1200 words on explicit sexual depictions. Surely you can forgive me one double entendre?

Once Upon a Bait-and-Switch

I want to point to this recent Peter David post only to acknowledge it as sparking inspiration. Before that goes anywhere, though: this isn’t a response to David’s point, but I didn’t want to pretend this particular post sprang out of thin air. David is largely discussing slashfic writers who seem to be insisting on the wholesale rewriting of Once Upon a Time characters–in directions that don’t really make much sense for them–under the auspices of diversity. I agree, I find insisting that two heterosexual female characters suddenly fall in love with each other is stretching, to put it mildly.

That said, the mention of diversity in general with regards to Once Upon a Time does bring up an old itch I’ve had with the show. Setting aside fan pairings, this little series about fairy tales come to life does have what strikes me as a fairly problematic relationship with diversity. Insofar as I can spoil events which are several seasons from having happened, consider this a warning.

There’s really not much to tell when it comes to LGBTQ characters in OUaT. There’s exactly one: Mulan (Jamie Chung). In terms of characters, she’s not a bad one to have. The show positions her as a warrior. Much more of one than the prince and then princess with whom she travels. Mulan isn’t anyone’s sidekick; she’s hanging around to Get Things Done.

So, thumbs up for agency. Mulan originally develops a pretty clear crush on Prince Phillip (Julian Morris), with whom she’s been questing following the events of a curse. Mind you, a good 80% of the plots on this show involve characters of both sexes pining after other characters who may or may not reciprocate those feelings, so I’m not making a “defined by the man she loves” complaint here. That Mulan is quickly thrown into the position of having to protect Princess Aurora (Sarah Bolger, whom Phillip really loves) after unpleasantness temporarily befalls Phillip twists things well enough to keep them interesting.

Then Phillip wakes back up, and there is still pining and moping, but, we eventually discover, it’s not for Phillip anymore. It’s for Aurora. I might be persuaded to believe that she really loves both members of that fairy tale duo, but given how cagey the writers were in revealing Mulan’s bisexuality,1 I’m not inclined to think they were also positioning her as polyamorous.

Though you can think what you like, since the scene revealing Mulan’s LGBTQ status is also the last scene she’s appeared in since. The series has a bisexual character just long enough for someone to notice, then she’s gone to make room for the heteronormative couple.

Some searching online suggests that part of this may be due to problems with Jamie Chung’s other commitments, but the problem is, Once Upon a Time sort of has a history of this kind of replacement of minority characters. By my count, there’s been a grand total of four other POC on the show who have had a significant impact,2 so let’s just take a look at all of them. It won’t take long:

Cinderella’s fairy godmother: In a flashback to the Enchanted Forest, the story of Cinderella starts out just like you remember it, as a young girl meets her fairy godmother. Said godmother, in a pleasant surprise, is played by an African-American actress (Catherine Lough Haggquist). But before the two women can even have a full conversation, Rumpelstiltskin (Robert Carlyle) destroys her with a flick of his finger and takes both her wand and her place in the rest of the story.

Lancelot: African American actor Sinqua Walls shows up in the second season to portray the classic, valorous knight in a flashback. The good news: he makes it to the end of the flashback alive. The bad news: in the present, he’s been murdered off-screen by Cora (Barbara Hershey), who’s taken his place using an illusion spell.

Tamara: Sonequa Martin-Green’s character lasts longer than the two above, but given that her spy mission essentially turns her into a prostitute (she’s the fiancee of her mark at the behest of her employer) and said employer–Peter Pan (Robbie Kay)–only keeps her alive long enough to get him the little Caucasian boy he’s actually interested in, I’m not sure it’s an especially impressive run.

The only POC other than Mulan who manages to live through a run on Once Upon a Time, in fact, is Sidney Glass (Giancarlo Esposito). In the context of how disposable most other POC characters have been, however, it’s especially troubling that Glass’s fairy tale counterparts are not one, but two slave selves: first, he’s “Genie,” who is freed not by Aladdin, who then would have been the show’s first Middle Eastern character, but by yet another Caucasian male character. “Genie” is free just long enough to be manipulated into committing murder and subsequently re-enslaved by the Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla), this time as her magic mirror.

Look, I don’t think that every character who falls into some kind of minority must instantly become The Most Important Awesome Flawless Character Ever. That’s not my intent here at all. I want real, human characters as much as anyone else–even in my fairy tale-inspired fiction.

And I don’t think that the writers and producers of Once Upon a Time are secretly a gaggle of racist homophobes. I’m not trying to ascribe malicious intent to the examples above any more than I’m trying to insist on paragon status for minority characters.

What I am saying, or trying to say, is that the smaller the nod to diversity, the more impact the event surrounding that diversity are likely to be. Killing off an African-American character doesn’t in and of itself send a message. Killing off three out of four (two of them in their first appearance) for the sake of developing your Caucasian characters, then making the fourth a double slave…. I should hope it’s clear that this starts to generate a pattern for the place of POC in your narrative which is, at the very least, problematic.

It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that when the details of the first nod toward LGBTQ inclusion seem to fit that same pattern of bait-and-switch which has plagued the inclusion of POC (and when the disappearance of Mulan not-incidentally marks yet another POC stepping aside for the sake of Caucasian character arcs), folks might be inclined to make some negative assumptions.

Yes, people like to see folks like themselves in their entertainment. But I think, sometimes, being repeatedly teased with that representation can have a far more negative impact than not seeing it at all.

ETA / Related: As fate would have it, Abigail Nussbaum just posted a far more in depth look at racial issues in another ABC/Disney property: Agents of SHIELD. Take a look.

1.Mulan never quite comes out and says she loves anyone, though I think the intention’s clear

2. There’s an African-American vet in Storybrooke who serves as an expository device in one episode. And one of the dwarves is played by a Phillipino actor, but given that the writers largely use the dwarves as “Grumpy and sometimes six other guys,” I’m not inclined to call him a full-fledged character at this point.