How Gay is Gay Enough?
June 14, 2021 5:05 PM   Subscribe

"What kind of representation actually counts as gay representation? What counts as pandering? What counts as baiting? And what's the difference?" How Gay is Gay Enough? (about the anime Yuri on Ice* but also about queer representation in media in general)

* fan trailer, has subtitles
posted by simmering octagon (29 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
Watched the whole video. Thanks for posting!
posted by rebent at 7:23 PM on June 14


I'm happy to see some of these discussion topics escaping from tumblr because they are discussed in insane ways on tumblr. This video was good!
posted by subdee at 7:46 PM on June 14 [1 favorite]


Also really happy to see a discussion about anime that talks about how the scenes would read to a Japanese audience... and really expands this discussion beyond anime to film and stage traditions even! Really deep and good discussion.
posted by subdee at 7:50 PM on June 14


Ok and the climax... I mean this should be a basic, right? It's not 'good' or 'bad' representation it's just 'more' representation.

In college I took one film class, we had a unit at the end on Holocaust films from Central Europe. Most of the films we studied only had a few Jewish characters, generally they were victims or even villains. But there was one film set in a concentration camp, all the characters were Jewish. So there's no good or bad representation there, because there's a variety of roles, Jewish people can be heroes or villains.

Anyway I'm looking forward to more long-form videos that present these ideas from film class, queer studies class, etc in an accessible way to audiences who like, know they should be supporting "good queer rep" and want to demand "better" from studios but it turns into exactly what this youtuber says, a demand to remove subtlety and tell only the same few approved stories over and over.
posted by subdee at 8:23 PM on June 14 [2 favorites]


I feel the saying "women and girls" projecting straightness into Yuri on Ice accusation is a whole conversation I haven't been party to, but it feels to have a touch of the belief that the AFAB intersection with M/m media isn't coming from a significant quantity of queerness on their own part.


HOWEVER I would not be shocked if there wasn't a whole other subset of folks insisting the material totally wasn't gay. So... eh?
posted by Phalene at 8:38 PM on June 14


I am a little more dubious about the connections between anime and film and stage traditions. I think there are important ways in which Yuri on Ice read differently to [a certain segment of] American audiences than Japanese audiences, but I don't think that necessarily comes down to Japanese audiences being better trained to pay attention to subtle visual storytelling.

I think, with Supernatural, with Sherlock, with other examples you could name that have been accused of "queerbaiting," I get the impression that the showrunners needed the people who were invested in the idea of the teased male couple - but they were also contemptuous of those people. So any gestures of intimacy between men had to be rescued by the heterosexual love interest, or playing it off as a joke, or undercut in some way. So I think there's the expectation that any relationship that is not explicitly stated as queer doesn't "count," because it's just going to get undercut immediately.

I mean, it IS possible that American audiences pay less attention to subtle visual storytelling, but the engagement ring scene is not exactly subtle visual storytelling.

I do think that Somerton hits on something about why Yuri on Ice was so deeply affecting to me, though... this doesn't come out very explicitly, but I think Yuri's anxieties and insecurities at the beginning of the series are in part about how he was never going to be on the expected life path of getting married and having kids, and... in that situation, it's easy to get to a place where your art means way too much to you and you take failure way too seriously, because you don't have that expected life path to fall back on as a source of meaning.

MAYBE I am reading too much into this. Maybe.
posted by Jeanne at 8:52 PM on June 14 [6 favorites]


I mean... going Japan = kabuki and US films = Western tradition = Greek Plays is probably a simplification... but I'm just so happy when people talk about "representation" in anime and remember to talk about how the scenes read differently in Japan that I'll take it. Sometimes the bar is so low...

Plus the bit about Greek plays being explicit, Shakespearean plays having no scenery and everything has to be conveyed via dialog, and USian films needing to be clear bc people just used the movie theaters to escape the heat and didn't pay attention was all pretty interesting, even though that's probably also a simplification I feel like I learned something from film class today.
posted by subdee at 9:16 PM on June 14


I think, with Supernatural, with Sherlock, with other examples you could name that have been accused of "queerbaiting," I get the impression that the showrunners needed the people who were invested in the idea of the teased male couple - but they were also contemptuous of those people

I'm not going to even try to get into Supernatural's whole...deal, and God knows enough shows have contempt for their viewers, but one of Sherlock's showrunners is an out gay man, and the team were explicit pretty early on that they were entirely happy with people telling their own John/Sherlock stories, that just wasn't their version. Bluntly, if you think any show under most circumstances these days "needs" the slash-and-only-slash audience, you're badly out of touch with the market. I'm not going to say that "queerbaiting" has never happened or is impossible today, but the idea that a significant group in mainstream TV thinks of it as some kind of important marketing tactic that you'd warp a show around is risible.

Naive teenagers get into these little interpretative communities and they lose all touch with reality. This can be a lot of fun, but it can also get way out of hand. Watching mental illness rampage across that segment of fandom in the last year of Sherlock was not fun (before anyone gets angry at me for calling it mental illness, I really encourage you to dig into what happened--it was jawdropping). This approach should not be encouraged or reinforced. I personally love a good slashy relationship, but what people are entitled to is a wide spectrum of queer representation, not the vindication of every personally pleasurable reading of a text. (And, frankly, while it's one thing to have delusions of grandeur of your importance as a viewer of a Western show, the audacity required to assert that you're a skilled reader of the sociosexual nuances of a show from a culture you have only a modest familiarity with...!)
posted by praemunire at 9:19 PM on June 14 [6 favorites]


Sherlock was queer baiting in all sorts of angles. It's pretty weird to assign people commenting on that to naive mentally ill teens.
posted by Ferreous at 9:27 PM on June 14 [10 favorites]


Queerbaiting, vs queer subtext, seems primarily to not just need those subtextual scenes but also a heavy helping of "no homo" and gay jokes.
posted by geek anachronism at 9:42 PM on June 14 [1 favorite]


Bluntly, if you think any show under most circumstances these days "needs" the slash-and-only-slash audience, you're badly out of touch with the market.

Oh, of course not, but it would be nice iif occasionally shows would act with something other than contempt towards this audience.
posted by HypotheticalWoman at 9:50 PM on June 14


The youtuber who made this video has a three-part series on the history of queerbaiting, so he'd definitely agree that it's a thing that actually exists.

But whether Sherlock is queerbaiting might be a separate issue from whether a subset of the fans were taking that argument, and turning it into something else way out of touch with reality.
posted by subdee at 9:53 PM on June 14 [1 favorite]


Personally I don't really like the term queerbaiting, I think it's overused. I like "fanservice" more, especially for Japanese media like anime, that's the term Japanese fans use and it's more value-neutral.
posted by subdee at 9:55 PM on June 14 [1 favorite]


Good article on queerbaiting in Sherlock.

I like the way the author defines queerbaiting, which sets it apart from fan service:
Queerbaiting is when writers and producers of media (usually film and TV) hint at a relationship between two same sex characters, to lure in an LGBTQA+ audience, with no intention of delivering.
It’s that “no intention of delivering” aspect that seems key to this phenomenon that makes it distinct from just fan service.

So, to take Friends as a notable example, Joey and Chandler constantly teasing a homoerotic subtext (queerbaiting) which was a constant theme of the show, versus having them actually hook up (fan service) which of course never happened.
posted by darkstar at 10:25 PM on June 14 [5 favorites]


It's pretty weird to assign people commenting on that to naive mentally ill teens.

No, what's weird is having a bunch of people yell homophobic abuse at a gay creator because they were absolutely convinced that his show had engaged in an elaborate secret code for several years, up to and including filming a fake final episode that would be revealed by a secret extra episode that was being aired under the name of another show the next week, to indicate the show were going to get the fans' preferred couple together, and then had cheated them by not actually doing so. When said creator and his co-creator had said in interviews quite early on that the show was not going to get the pairing together.

For the fans who weren't actually ill, it was some of the worst behavior I have ever seen out of fandom, ever. I personally wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes. And it came straight out of an inability to distinguish one's preferred, but unorthodox, interpretation of a text from being "baited" by the text's creators. When someone says up front: "I’m a gay man. This is not an issue. But we’ve explicitly said this is not going to happen—there is no game plan—no matter how much we lie about other things, that this show is going to culminate in [John and Sherlock] going off into the sunset together," they are not trying to string you along.

it would be nice iif occasionally shows would act with something other than contempt towards this audience

I don't think it's ever good for a show to have contempt for its viewers, honestly. I have seen shows throw an occasional elbow at that particular set of viewers, and it's not nice and it's never been good art, either. But I think that's a separate issue from the belief that a modern show is sort of, kind of hinting at romance between two male characters in a way that no one intends to fulfill as a, uh, marketing technique.
posted by praemunire at 10:30 PM on June 14 [8 favorites]


Queerbaiting is when writers and producers of media (usually film and TV) hint at a relationship between two same sex characters, to lure in an LGBTQA+ audience, with no intention of delivering.

So I can think off the top of my head of one good example of what I would call "queerbaiting," which was pretty distasteful. There was a lesbian character in the later seasons of LA Law (CJ) who, while otherwise not having much of a visible love life, flirted a lot with the "good girl" character (Abby), including a kiss (gasp!). There was an episode where CJ and Abby went on what looked an awful lot like a date. Abby then indicated openness to taking the relationship further...and CJ shot her down, for no apparent reason. CJ was written off the show not too long after, I believe.

This was pretty obviously done to titillate the presumed straight audience without actually going so far as to "besmirch" the good girl character with same-sex loving, though I'm sure there were lesbian/bi fans back then crushing hard on either of those characters and rooting for them to hook up. (Sorry, guys; they did you wrong.)

And there have been other examples of that--the "one lesbian kiss" to turn on the straight men and get some media buzz. It was obnoxious as hell. But it was never primarily about attracting a queer audience (half the time, the initiating queer character is a guest star, or is written off shortly thereafter). And in the modern era, who needs to build up elaborate but ultimately unfulfilled innuendo about a couple to "lure in a LGBTQA+ audience?" You don't need to have queer characters (especially not secret coded ones) to get queer viewers, and, in most circumstances, if you want queer characters, at least of the conventional TV-attractive kind, you can have them now.
posted by praemunire at 10:51 PM on June 14 [2 favorites]


Thinking about Captain America and Bucky Barnes from The Winter Soldier, which was an example in this video actually. That's a relationship with 50 years of comics history, where they are hugely textually important to each other, and it's situated on the edge of this literary tradition of homoerotic war stories.

And it feels sometimes like Disney realized just how gay this all was, and had to violently nix them by having Captain America time travel backwards to be with his dead heterosexual love interest, even though it made no logical sense and was out of character... just for the purpose of definitely making it straight, you know?

What I think is different in modern fandom, though, is that there's a lot of people who will support a gay relationship... as long as it isn't messy, real, or entangled. They might even prefer the relationship that's just two guys who look good together, over the one with like actual homoerotic subtext and emotional intimacy. Because it's okay to be gay, but when things actually get gay it still makes people uncomfortable.

But in some places it's no longer okay to be uncomfortable with the gay stuff just because it's gay, right? Society has progressed beyond this point. So what you see now is a lot of other reasons and excuses for why these relationships are problematic in some way. "Bad representation" is one of the arguments that gets passed around and overused.
posted by subdee at 11:33 PM on June 14 [3 favorites]


Yeah, while its no surprise I completely agree with the general drift and the conclusion of the video, some of the path taken to reach that end seemed to me to be unnecessarily convoluted, and not entirely accurate. Western media has, at times, had ample evidence of relying on viewers, or at least some viewers, picking up on subtleties, and some not so subtle nuances. Just in movies, the art form developed from silent films, which obviously didn't entirely rely on explicitly stated concepts alone as dramatic or comedic effect. Movies have long had implicitly gay characters that were broadly understood as such throughout their history, though of course many of these characters weren't positive examples of representation.

More to the point of how audiences understand the films though, you have directors like Preston Sturges or Ernst Lubitsch who made their living off of not stating things directly, while allowing the audience to still get the point. Much of that was "straight" or "risqué" content that couldn't be made explicit given the nature of censorship and some of it was a direct flaunting of the rules via not so subtle exaggeration in a variety of forms.

This lasted until the sixties when the laws about censorship were largely abolished. From the sixties through the seventies, relying on subtlety and nuance to establish character lapsed because so many more things could just be stated outright, again though not always in a positive sense of representation. It was the 80s in the US that brought the curtain down on that and raised the blinds once more, not as much by industry code of censorship, but with money acting as a defacto censor in almost all mainstream films. At the same time TV representation, which had just started to become more bold in character and subject matter, was also slammed with reactionary values, some well intended like those dealing with children's TV, but all working to simplify and redefine the kinds of "messages" shows could deal with.

Gone were things like the the TV show Maude having an episode where they went to a gay bar to prove to the conservative character who started the Fathers Against Gays Society that he was a bigot, as well as things like the clearly coded gay character Plato in Rebel Without a Cause, as the 80s and much of the 90s were an era of immense repression in mainstream media, and not coincidently, the era that is what many people commenting on media today grew up watching. One could speculate more on how teaching of the arts changed during that time, where things like close reading were being challenged and where the celebration of mass market became more and more the focus of discussion about art, but the main point is that there was a concerted push towards conservatism that had a direct effect on how people grew up understanding art and this was enabled by the way the movie and TV industry wielded their money and power in the era of corporatization of the culture.

The thing that the video touches on that is of major importance, but is difficult to resolve is the issue of voice of the work and/or its creators and reception of an audience that may not share the same understandings and values. When making a movie or show for a mass audience, the question of who is going to be watching the work and how they'll interpret it becomes complex as the dominant audience is seen as straight and white, so things are generally either coded to fit their interests or deemed outside the mainstream.

This is part of the reason why shows and films like to play it both ways when they can, especially when there is a vocal part of the fanbase that wants the work to fit their interests. Shows that had no clear intention towards a queer reading start hinting that way to keep their fanbase happy, but the work may not be set to really engage with that concept as it was set up to go a different direction. In this way fan misreadings or fan desire can pressure shows towards queerbaiting in hopes of pleasing the various contingents of their audience and still doing what they set out to do. It can get ugly, like Sherlock did, or weird like Hannibal or both like Supernatural, but its all a different kind of thing than talking about a work as a thing unto itself as was once the case, now the give and take between work and audience is much more complicated.
posted by gusottertrout at 4:04 AM on June 15 [4 favorites]


And it feels sometimes like Disney realized just how gay this all was, and had to violently nix them by having Captain America time travel backwards to be with his dead heterosexual love interest, even though it made no logical sense and was out of character... just for the purpose of definitely making it straight, you know?

I will never not be mad about this.
posted by Mavri at 6:58 AM on June 15 [6 favorites]


When someone says up front: "I’m a gay man. This is not an issue. But we’ve explicitly said this is not going to happen—there is no game plan—no matter how much we lie about other things, that this show is going to culminate in [John and Sherlock] going off into the sunset together," they are not trying to string you along. [emphasis mine]

Sorry, but Moffat encouraged the Johnlock Conspiracy, as reprehensible as some fans' behavior may have gotten at the extreme end.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:00 AM on June 15 [1 favorite]


And it feels sometimes like Disney realized just how gay this all was, and had to violently nix them by having Captain America time travel backwards to be with his dead heterosexual love interest

This is the kind of fannish argument I really wonder about, because it assumes the creators are steeped in the reactions of one small segment of their audience, and that then the creators have made those feelings the center of all their writing motivations and have written multi-million dollar scripts just to spank that one small segment.

For every Cap and Bucky shipper out there, there's probably what? 500? 1,000? 20,000 other people who watch those movies and don't view the narrative through that lens?

I don't want to be insulting, but I have seen over the years that some fan groups, shippers in particular, think that the things about a media that are central to them are also central to everyone else, including the creators. And they often overestimate their prevalence in the overall audience. I think there's just a bad dynamic that came up in a bunch of these fandoms because there was so little representation and even less good representation, that fans who at first enjoyed shipping characters they could recognize were not going to get together, really soured into needing the creators to buy into the fan narrative and deploy it on screen, and perhaps in some cases lot of hostility on both sides around expectations.

As noted, Supernatural is a whole damn mess but I cold turkey quit the fandom one day around season 6 or 7 because fans who insisted Dean and Cas were getting together for sure in the beginning of the next season, as a fact 100%, were getting so much traction and lauded as best fans and the fandom never ever talked about anything else about the show, and it was all so delusional and toxic, I noped out.

I'm in no way arguing for creators treating their audience with contempt, or for queer-baiting being okay. I'm arguing for more straight-forward representation, throw the coding aside and support and push for media that that contains great queer characters, no subtlety or pandering needed. I really look forward to more entertainment like Wynonna Earp, with queer relationships and creators who are vocally dedicated to honoring and respecting their queer characters and their queer fans.
posted by See you tomorrow, saguaro at 7:47 AM on June 15 [4 favorites]


If I may, I would like to propose three categories:

Canon contains UNAMBIGUOUS STRAIGHTNESS: Like, okay, there's lots of times times when a character's straightness in canon isn't necessarily forced. It's just there, it's natural, it's well supported, there's no hint of queer subtext really. Fanfic writers sometimes want to make "actually pretty straight" characters queer in fanfic in order to write in some queer representation or just for the hell of it. Fanfic queerness is often totally invented for its own sake, no justification required.

Canon contains UNREALIZED QUEER SUBTEXT: Then there's times when there's hella queer subtext in the canon, but either because of the era it was written in or because the writer is bigoted/oblivious/muzzled, there's no conscious awareness within the universe of the work of all that subtextual queerness. Fanfic will often appear to deliver on the implicit promise.

Canon engages in QUEERBAITING: Characters are not only bathed in subtextual queerness but also are repeatedly put into story situations where they are obliged to proclaim, "No, I am not gay!" over and over. The creators are fully aware of the queer subtext, deliberately play up the queer subtext, and even create multiple story situations to showcase how conscious they are of the queer subtext... only to yank the possibility away like Lucy with her football. That deliberate taunting is what makes something queerbaiting as opposed to merely subtext that was never delivered on.
posted by MiraK at 10:09 AM on June 15 [5 favorites]


(Oh, shoot, Dumbledore doesn't fit into any of those categories!)
posted by MiraK at 10:12 AM on June 15 [1 favorite]


You don't need to have queer characters (especially not secret coded ones) to get queer viewers, and, in most circumstances, if you want queer characters, at least of the conventional TV-attractive kind, you can have them now.

I think this gets at a good point - queer-baiting was traditionally about dog-whistles to the queer community - things queer people would see as queer but straight people wouldn't necessarily notice. Ursula in The Little Mermaid is a great example of this - she's modeled after Divine, the drag queen, and queer people would understand that but most straight people wouldn't.

These days, I think it's a lot more common for TV shows and movies to worry about looking cool and forward-thinking to a progressive but mostly cishet audience, without unduly influencing more conservative cishet audiences. Meanwhile, there is more explicitly queer content for queer audiences to consume, but it tends to be more niche.

I thought his points about subtlety were interesting, and it made me think about how many people said they didn't get that there was a lesbian couple in In the Heights. They are shown kissing in bed in the opening scene! And then they are never shown without each other for the rest of the movie! I've been kind of scoffing at people for saying it should have been more explicit but maybe that's what American audiences need.
posted by lunasol at 3:49 PM on June 15 [2 favorites]


I will never not be mad about this.

Same here! Maybe I’ll ask to have it put in my obituary: “In all her years, until her dying day, she never got over being very angry and bitter about Endgame.
posted by trillian at 5:06 PM on June 15 [4 favorites]


I think there's just a bad dynamic that came up in a bunch of these fandoms because there was so little representation and even less good representation, that fans who at first enjoyed shipping characters they could recognize were not going to get together, really soured into needing the creators to buy into the fan narrative and deploy it on screen, and perhaps in some cases lot of hostility on both sides around expectations.

Case in point, the toxic reaction of the RWBY fandom to the death of a character that many fans were certain was being paired with one of the main cast (to be fair, even I thought he was flirting- which says something about our culture when one guy complimenting another has to be seen as sexual). Though the producers flat out said they never intended for the two have a sexual relationship, there was a storm of bitter accusations of queer baiting.

The accusations of poor representation ended up with Kdin Jensen, the actress of a canon trans person, a trans women herself, being flooded with accusations of being fake and associated death threats, because she wasn't "obviously trans enough".

But the final point Kdin makes, is that this isn't something unique to RWBY fandom. This is a fandom problem. And it's not the cishets that get hurt by this.
posted by happyroach at 8:58 PM on June 16 [3 favorites]


(Oh, shoot, Dumbledore doesn't fit into any of those categories!)

I propose referring to the Dumbledore issue as RETCON REPRESENTATION. Invisible (nonexistent?) at the time, tossed off as an afterthought later.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 12:27 PM on June 17


While we're collecting examples of toxic fan entitlement and social media harassment of creators who don't meet fan expectations (which is not an issue unique to queer fans, either), probably the most famous recent example, the crucible is you will, is Voltron fandom.

I wasn't there so can't speak to the accuracy of this, but here's a long twitter thread about it:

https://mobile.twitter.com/freetofic/status/1351904019334225924

In all other anime fandoms, we joke - "joke" - about the lawlessness of Voltron fandom, and how the toxic but incredibly effective bullying behaviors fans learned there has spread out to other fandoms. That includes the one I'm currently in, Hunter x Hunter, and the current most popular anime fandom, My Hero Academia.
posted by subdee at 4:59 AM on June 19


In all other anime fandoms, we joke - "joke" - about the lawlessness of Voltron fandom,

I think Voltron fandom learned everything they needed to know from the Wing Gundam fandom. At a convention I watched a grip of fangirls literally chase a women out of the hotel for the crime of cosplaying the female lead. And it only got more toxic from there.
posted by happyroach at 1:55 PM on June 20


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