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Sulu vs. Sulu

In Star Trek Beyond, Hikaru Sulu (portrayed by John Cho [formerly portrayed by George Takei]), will be revealed to be in a same sex relationship. Well past damn time there is a LGBTQ character in Star Trek! So I’m doing a happy dance (even though I am not fond of the reboot/ new timeline). And it is being reported that there will be LGBTQ representation in the new Star Trek television series. So excited for that! (even if I’ll have to get CBS All Access to watch it).

But there is controversy over Sulu’s gayness. Or bisexuality. Should a new character have been created instead? How does George Takei and his opinions factor into this?

(I’m not going to argue for what seems like the hundredth time defending diversity and inclusion. If you don’t get why it is so important by now, I’m not going to waste my valuable time on it.)

Sulu being depicted in a same sex relationship serves a number of functions. It rights a wrong in Star Trek that has been allowed to persist for far too long. It honors George Takei. It is narratively efficient. And the character already has a characterization (which promotes the narrative efficiency).

George Takei, however, has voiced his disappointment with the decision. Rather than recasting or queering a preexisting character, he has voiced support for creating a new character to be the vanguard of LGBTQ representation. His reasoning, if I have it right, is because he played Sulu as straight and Roddenberry wrote him as straight (even if they wanted to add some queerness at the time of the original series). I can see Takei’s point. Seeing your work discarded (even if it is an alternate version in some form) has to be frustrating. Especially when the discarding comes with the intent to honor.

Both sides, I think, have good points.

Queering Sulu is more efficient. Precious narrative time is not going to be wasted on introducing a new character. A new character who, let us all face it, will not have the impact or staying power of Sulu (as Iceman proved when he became the most prominent gay superhero after his coming out). There is also, as Simon Pegg points out, the perception of the new LGBTQ character as “The LGBTQ Character.”

A very compelling case for queering Sulu, I think. (Assuming he is even straight in the primary timeline. There has been some debate over whether or not there are explicit references to his sexuality in Star Trek and the subsequent movies he appears in.I really cannot comment on this with any authority, myself. I am a fan of Star Trek, but I am not as fond of the original series as I am the later series.)

Personally, I am reticent to promote the recast or queering of characters as an absolute good thing. Recasting/ queering must improve upon the original. It must, I believe, provide new avenues of narrative and characterization. Sometimes, editing existing characters is a sign of lazy writers, no matter how well the intent. A new character, well written and with a compelling narrative, can create a whole new fandom. (Pity no one takes the time).

Ultimately, I think Sulu in a same sex romance is the better option. Star Trek Beyond is only two hours. Not much time to introduce an original character with a compelling character and narrative that lifts him or her above the usual cast of forgettable original characters in Star Trek films.

 

31 Days of Post (2) Day 5: Struggling with Contemporary Fantasy

I’m in a bind. The creative monster tempts me to revise my plans again. For some time now, I had two clear contemporary fantasy projects. One of those ideas, a former serial, appears to be desirous of a change back. And I’m not certain how I feel about that. 

Even though I’m a modern history guy, I’m not entirely convinced that contemporary fantasy is entirely workable. Yes, yes, Harry PotterTwilight, Mortal Instruments, Percy Jackson, The Magicians, Newford, etc. all prove me wrong. But for me, I’m extremely leery. 

In part, I think, there is the problem of fantasy literature in text. There was a very interesting essay in The Atlantic Monthly that explores this issue with an eye to the comparative failure of YA fantasy after Potter and Twilight in film. The problem, the writer asserts, is the repetitiveness of the protagonist’s reaction to being introduced to the supernatural element. 

It is the same problem in The Walking Dead, to be honest. What I mean is that a lot of these works assume that fantasy literature doesn’t exist in those worlds (baring, I think, only The Magicians). And that bugs the hell out of me (and, arguably, other readers). 

So, if I’m going to write a fantasy set on our Earth using the traditional fantasy tropes and relating back to previous fantasies, why the hell wouldn’t at least some characters have a knowing smirk? Or, more likely, a Young Avengers fanboy explosion.

Or reverse things and explore how a character raised in a possible supernatural subculture relates to mainstream mundane culture? While an interesting idea, I’m not sure there is enough to make a series out of.

Because there are other elements in our modern world that put me off using it for anything more than standalone novels. 

For one thing, freedom of movement in our contemporary world is a lot more regulated. I can’t have my heroes globetrotting about with ease. The monitoring technology is too good. 

And there, I think, is the issue. Modern technology is an effective counter to magic. Depending on what type of magic (and from where), I think modern technology is largely more effective. And, to be honest, I’m interested in this conflict between magic and science (even if magic often takes the role of science in fantasy).

But there is a strong incentive to explore the possibilities of using this period in history for fantasy stories. (So things aren’t totally in the negative).

I want to have a gay protagonist. And, while not impossible, our period in history presents, I think, the easiest incorporation. Especially if I want to explore contemporary LGBT issues. In some of my idea work for my Mythologies Project, I know damn well that I’m imposing our modern understanding of homosexuality onto (at least) Ancient Greek Mythology. And I’m not comfortable with that. Yes, I could have an easier time using the early twentieth century as an inspiration. But, again, the understanding of homosexuality in the 1920s or 1930s are (still) radically different than our understanding of homosexuality today. And again, I’m not comfortable imposing a modern perspective on the past. 

Another argument in favor of using the modern world is that I can explore and research other kinds of magic, other occults. At heart, I’m an internationalist. I don’t want to limit myself to a Hogwarts. I want my protagonists to travel, to have a strong sense of wanderlust. If there is an epic waiting to happen, I want my protagonists to get involved because they want to, either because they want to do good or for personal gain. What I don’t want is the hero to be dragged into it (though that can be fun, too).

Now comes the problem with my international approach, though. As much as I don’t want to impose my modern sensibilities (even if that is, ultimately, unavoidable) on the past, I also don’t want to fucking appropriate other cultures and butcher them for the sake of my fiction. I want to use other cultures, but I want to get them right. Or at least more right .

No matter what, though, I want to be respectful. If I’m going to have shapeshifting wizards based on Native American and Mexican inspirations, I want to do a better job than tagging them with the appellation “werewolf.”

Perhaps the best option is to create a secondary world based around our contemporary world? I don’t think such a world has ever been used before, though. Which does argue for it, in my opinion.

In the end, though, I haven’t really come to a satisfactory conclusion. I need to think about this more. I need to experiment with and challenge these ideas. Only then will I be able to make the best decision.

 

PS. I forgot The Spy Who Loved. Which sucks so much I actually forgot it. Needless to say, It’s tied with Die Another Day for (in my opinion) the worst Bond film.

 

What I Want, the First Post in Honor of Gay Pride Month

Fair warning, this post will involve profanity, wishful thinking, and a fair level of ranting. And maybe some self revelations. 

This post is geared towards LGBT representations in literature. This encompasses all literature. From novels to television, movies, comics, and games. From literary mainstream to science fiction, fantasy, soaps, and so on. I’m going to touch them all, and discuss what I would like to see going forward.

Now, I’m not going to pretend that I’m as well versed in the representation of LGBT characters and issues in fiction as I would like to be. For some time, I did toy with the idea of studying LGBT literature as a focus. But I never got too deep with that flirtation. Largely because I’m a very picky reader (read I’m a fucking harsh critic). 

So, I’m not claiming that what I’m going to say is the truth. Maybe there are LGBT characters that I want to see, but I just haven’t discovered them yet. And hey, if you readers can point me to great literature (of all kinds), you have my thanks in advance.

The question, I guess, is what do I really want? What do I want to see and read? Without talking out my ass or playing too much of a what if game, let the ranting begin!

I’ve gone on record that, for me, Glee is an unwatchable, poorly written mess (now let me qualify by saying, the show just is not for me). But, is Glee not the “gayest show on television” (unfortunately, in my opinion)? And is not Kurt Hummel one of the (current) paragons of LGBT representation? Argh!

You see, I don’t think Glee is nearly as progressive as it likes to think it is. The show does argue for tolerance from bullying and criticizes the most egregious forms of homophobia. But are Kurt and Blaine treated with a marked difference than the straight characters? And are Santana and Brittany treated more as titillation than anything else? 

I don’t fundamentally dislike Kurt’s character. In fact, I rather like it. My problem is that most of his storylines, to my limited knowledge, piss me off. The infatuation with Finn is, to me, nothing less than homophobic (and given that the other major characters exhibit similar infatuations should be called out). I could go on complaining, but I won’t. Instead, I’ll give some ideas of narratives I’d like to see (either for Kurt or some other character).

I’d love to see Kurt confront institutionalized homophobia in a way that he never expected. What if his rejection by NYADA had more to do with his sexuality rather than the lame excuse he was given? Remember, while Broadway isn’t as homophobic as Hollywood (on an industry level), there is likely to be a notable institutional level, regardless. I mean, seriously, Kurt will struggle to achieve his dreams because of his sexuality. I’d like to see that struggle. Also, I’d like to have seen a much better pre college story line (one of my pet peeves is the one university trope). Does Kurt have other options? What are they? Finally, I’d like to have seen Kurt lose some of his sexual reticence. Could he not have several love interests (rather than what is almost certain to happen)?

It took me some time to figure out what my problem with Shameless was this season. I just don’t like Ian’s relationship with Mickey. I just don’t like them together. I’d rather see Ian with someone else. But there isn’t much that I’d necessarily change. 

Let’s move on to science fiction and fantasy (in many forms). In recent years, the representation of LGBT has improved immensely (not to say that this is a new phenomenon). 

The presence of LGBT characters in comics has exploded in the past ten years to an amazing level. Though more can (and should be done). The Big Two have made tremendous strides introducing new LGBT heroes and supporting characters. And creator owned comics? Very impressive strides. 

The issue, though, is how those characters are handled. Some are handled very well (like Alan Scott and Batwoman) while others are handled very poorly (Bunker). I think that is the struggle that lies ahead.

When it comes to books, the culture is changing in a much more progressive way. Hopefully, this trend continues. I haven’t read as much as I would like. But I’m making a commitment to seek out and read more SF with LGBT characters. 

Now when it comes to film and television, the level of representation is a mixed bag. Several prominent shows have LGBT characters (Game of ThronesSpartacus, Teen Wolf, etc.) But, again, I’d like to see more. And I’d like to see these characters raised to a level of prominence rarely seen before. 

What pisses me off, of course, is, despite the progress made, the increased level of representation is so fragile. Last year was perhaps one of the best when it came to LGBT characters. But next year bodes ill with so many shows with LGBT characters canceled. How is that to be combated?

The more I think about it, the more I am sure I’m going to put my money where my mouth is. The best way to get the types of representation one wants is to do it oneself. Either through creative endeavors or activism. One should never settle for the status quo.