There aren’t a lot of gay characters out there. Oh sure, they are becoming more common and accepted, but pop culture has been dominated by straight people for a very long time. That’s why it’s so awesome that one of the most beloved DC comic book characters, Batwoman, is a lesbian. A lesbian in a long-term relationship, at that!
Batwoman, aka Kate Kane, is actually engaged to her partner, Gotham City detective Maggie Sawyer. Batwoman proposed to and kissed Sawyer in panel. However, it looks like a marriage won’t be taking place anytime soon. DC has forbidden a marriage to result from this engagement, which has caused J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman, Batwoman’s creative team, to quit.
That’s right, while Batwoman has proposed to Maggie twice — twice on panel — DC not only refused to let the wedding be depicted on panel, but refused to let them be married at all. “[We] were told emphatically no marriage can result,” said Williams on Twitter. He later added it was “was never put to us as being anti-gay marriage.” Although how refusing to let people marry — even fictional characters — is not anti-gay marriage is beyond me.
The gay and lesbian group GeeksOUT are certainly taking it as an affront. Just because the editorial decision wasn’t billed as anti-same sex marriage doesn’t really make it OK:
So, that makes us all feel better, right? It’s not as though DC comics has a long and embarrassing history fumbling LGBTQ issues (Teen Titans’ Bunker, Earth-2′s gay-for-no-reason Alan Scott, trying to serve Superman fans a big steaming pile of Orson Scott Card) *OR* of mishandling the impressive roster of talent that keeps loyal readers coming back despite bone-headed world-altering relaunches and repetitive characters. Or, do they?
Oof. Good point. However, I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility that DC is just a little anti-marriage across the board, gay or straight. In an excellent analysis from The Mary Sue, Susana Polo points out that few if any long-term relationships were revived in the two year old reboot of the DC universe.
However, it is all about context. Polo goes on to argue that the history of LGBT comic book characters is so sketchy and fraught with death and destruction that pretending that these same-sex relationships, although fictional, are the same as the different-sex relationships is hamfisted:
However, an action doesn’t have to be intentionally insensitive to be insensitive, and I would argue that’s what has happened here. Gay characters in most other mediums, have long, long operated under widespread stereotypical themes that denied them long lasting presences in stories, much less long lasting relationships. There’s a trope named after it, Kill Your Gays, and it’s a deadly drinking game to start listing gay characters who never dated or who couldn’t be with a willing partner because they lived in a place in which that would not have been acceptable, who died prematurely due to events that were coded “gay” (i.e., AIDS or violent hate crimes), or whose partners died in the sorts of deaths that are still very closely associated with gay characters. Now, we all know that inside of comics, almost nobody gets a stable relationship, but given the context of the kinds of stories that are told about gay characters, and that have been told about gay characters for years, it is insensitive to simply view “postponing, denying or destroying a marriage between gay characters” to have precisely the same narrative weight as “postponing, denying or destroying a marriage between straight characters.” And that’s without even considering the real life struggle of real people to have their right to marry recognized by the society around them.
Maybe, after the singularity and our robot overloards have managed to institute real social equality and after we’ve had that social equality for a while, this type of thing would be okay. We’re making progress, but right now that’s not the world we live in.
It’s entirely possible that DC just didn’t realize how this decision would resonate, but that’s not an excuse. We live in a very quick and connected world. It’s relatively easy to educate yourself on social issues that you may not be personally acquainted with. It’s not necessarily up to an oppressed group to force their voices into your ear. You need to care enough to learn. You need to at least make a good faith effort to understand different perspectives and how those perspectives might color seemingly neutral or banal decisions. At the very least, DC failed to do that, and that’s what’s so disappointing.
Image credit: Flickr
Photo Credit: Joel Kramer