Tag Archives: queer

Canonically non-canonical same-sex pairings in “Star Wars,” ranked

The Last Jedi is testing the patience of some Stormpilot uberfans, who are debating if this new chapter in the new Star Wars saga advances or hinders the fandom-supported Stormpilot romance. I’ve got my opinions on it, which I’ll divulge later on once we’re out of spoiler fever.

But discussing Stormpilot brings up the very insurmountable fact that Star Wars has yet to truly bring LGBT representation to the forefront in a meaningful way. Rian Johnson, who co-wrote and directed The Last Jedi, has been intensely aware of Stormpilot, so much so that he’s actually retweeted fanart and fandom conversation about Finn and Poe’s speculated relationship. He’s also made sure to say he’s in support of LGBT characters in Star Wars. In fact, both Johnson and J.J. Abrams, the producer behind the new Star Wars films as well as the directors of both The Force Awakens and the upcoming Episode 9, have championed introducing LGBT characters into the films. But will that happen in the current Star Wars storyline or will it be more apparent in the next trilogy Johnson’s supposed to helm?

Until we know the absolute answer, one thing’s for sure–same-sex pairings and fandom-made representation have been a huge part of Star Wars since the beginning. With fans getting more and more restless, it’s only a matter of time before pairings move out of the realm of fandom and into the realm of canon. In fact, the pairings featured below are so well known by many that they might as well have their own movies devoted to them.

Here’s how I’m ranking them in terms of how canonical they are in the Star Wars franchise (with their rank affected by cast and crew interviews, actors’ intentions behind the characters, and fandom acceptance). Some issues to discuss first–it would have been fun to be able to include some female same-sex pairings in this list, but Star Wars is still a male-dominated story, unfortunately. There still isn’t enough focus on women, even though that’s growing thanks to this new crop of movies. Second, this list is only focusing on pairings that are in the movies. I’ve heard about Vice-Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) possibility being a queer character in the Star Wars books. But we don’t see that in The Last Jedi. I’m only going by what I’ve seen in the films.

4. Han Solo and Lando Calrissian

I haven’t seen much chatter about this slash pairing ever, but I know it exists. How can it not? Han and Lando are frenemies who go way back, have had tons of adventures together, and definitely have a past we don’t know about at all. Also, as this Dreamwidth user wrote in 2003, Lando trusts Han enough to give him his Millennium Falcon.

Personally, I don’t see it, but that doesn’t mean others can’t. And it also doesn’t mean I can’t be swayed–with Solo: A Star Wars Story coming out next year, I’m sure there’s going to be enough slashable content for those who love this pairing. In any event, the film will allow Lando’s characterization to get fleshed out beyond “that cool black guy who sold Han and Leia out to Darth Vader.” He can still be cool, but I hope he gets more of a solid backstory this go-round.

3. Finn and Poe Dameron

It might seem ludicrous that I’m ranking Stormpilot at number three, when big chunks of both this website and my Twitter account have been devoted to Finn and Poe’s relationship. Here’s my reasoning; it’s not that I don’t think Stormpilot can’t happen. It’s also not even that I think the cast doesn’t support it; with the way Oscar Isaac is always talking up Stormpilot in interviews, I think he’d be down. Even John Boyega, who hasn’t really drunken the Stormpilot Kool-Aid, seems to have at least partially come around to the idea of anything being possible, conceding to Radio Times in 2016 “you never know what they [the writers] are going to pull.” The reason I’m ranking Stormpilot so low is that it’s tough to see which way the wind is blowing on Stormpilot in relation to what the Lucasfilm brass think.

Regardless of what writers and directors might want to do with Stormpilot’s potential, the buck stops with Lucasfilm’s Kathleen Kennedy. As of last year, Kennedy gave a longwinded answer to Ecartelera that simply amounts to “I’m undecided.”

We’ve talked about it, but I think you’re not going to see it in The Last Jedi,” she said. “In the next six or eight months we will have some meetings about the stories that we will develop next… After 40 years of adventures, people have a lot of information and a lot of theories about the path these stories can take, and sometimes those theories that come up are new ideas for us to listen to, read and pay attention to.

What can be gleaned is that right now, folks at Lucasfilm and Disney are hashing out whether they want to invest in the Stormpilot idea. With fan pressure mounting, plus directors already giving their blessing to LGBT characters and, in a way, forcing Disney’s hand on the matter of LGBT representation, the answer as to whether to include queer characters in Star Wars has already been decided for the joint company; it’s just a matter of deciding if Finn and Poe are who they want to spearhead that initiative.

From my perspective, there’s one moment in The Last Jedi that shows that Johnson did give a small nod to Stormpilot, despite romance not featuring heavily in this installment. Will other fans pick up on that moment? I don’t know. But regardless, Stormpilot is still firmly in fanon territory right now.

2. Han Solo and Luke Skywalker

The fandom for the Han Solo and Luke Skywalker pairing is only comparable to the other OG slash pairing in the stars, Star Trek‘s Spock and Kirk.

Fanlore is a great resource for learning about the history of the Han/Luke (or “Skysolo”) pairing, but just to quickly sum it up, Skysolo has been around since the 1970s and 1980s, even though the majority of the fan projects were published in the 1990s (due to Lucasfilm classifying slash pairing fanworks as “adult” and prohibited the adult content in their official fanzines). Whether passed around privately or published publicly, the allure of Skysolo has been a part of the Star Wars culture, and, like the Kirk/Spock slash pairing, it’s also been a part of fan skirmishes.

One fan in the 1980s complained about Skysolo slash fiction being “a sub-genre without a home.”

“Is the influence of the infamous Lucasfilm brouhaha still so widespread? It certainly suppressed “straight” sexually-explicit SW fanfic; only now are we beginning to see that come out of the closet (“‘groan! ‘” bad pun!). I’m not saying I want to see SW fandom go through the kind of schism and upheaval that K/S [Kirk/Spock fanfiction] wrought on ST fandom; but I’m curious why SW slash, even though it’s being written–and written by some extremely good writers–isn’t finding a publisher. Are we still looking over our shoulder for The Men From Lucasfilm? Or do we think no one out there will buy and read it…heh – heh- heh- you know they they’ll buy and read it!”

Nowadays, it’s found its place in the open world of slash fandom, and speculation over Luke’s sexuality prompted Hamill himself to speak out in favor of Luke being gay or bisexual.

“…[F]ans are writing and ask all these questions, ‘I’m bullied in school… I’m afraid to come out’. They say to me, ‘Could Luke be gay?'” said Hamill to The Sun in 2016, according to Vanity Fair. I’d say it is meant to be interpreted by the viewer… If you think Luke is gay, of course he is. You should not be ashamed of it. Judge Luke by his character, not by who he loves.”

So, in one way, Luke’s queerness could be considered canon. But frustratingly, it still keeps characters in a gray area; they are whatever the fans want them to be. This strategy has been employed with Poe as well, with Oscar Isaac saying how he’s happy Poe can act as representation to so many different people and different sexual spectrums. Even so, Hamill allowing Luke to be representative of LGBT fans gives more credence to the theory that Luke developed a crush on Han during their time together. Han might be a scoundrel, but who wouldn’t develop a crush on him?

1. Chirrut Îmwe and Baze Malbus

Chirrut and Baze get the top spot because their relationship is, to me, the one that was the most apparently “married” in the canon of Rogue One. Yes, if you’re so inclined, you can choose to see their relationship as that of brothers, but from where I’m sitting, their level of comfort with each other was that of two people who are friends and also happen to be more than friends. I mean, a good romantic relationship does start from friendship, does it not?

Their comfort with each other has been supported by fans, who deem them the old married couple of Star Wars. And once again, the people behind the characters chimed in to say that the fans’ theories aren’t necessarily wrong.

As Rogue One director Gareth Edwards told Buzzfeed, while the Chirrut and Baze being a couple wasn’t the original intention, if fans want to see that as canon, they’re more than welcome to. Much of Edwards’ opinion comes from Donnie Yen’s own perception of Chirrut and Baze’s relationship.

Yen, who portrayed Chirrut in Rogue One, reportedly felt like there was more to his and Baze’s relationship than the script initially let on. As Edwards said:

“After a while, it was something that became interesting. Donnie asked, ‘What do you think these guys are? What do you think their relationship really is?’ And he asked if that was the case. I felt like, ‘You know what? If these were real people and I was filming them, I wouldn’t know. It’s not something we would see; they would keep it to themselves.’ For all I know, a little bit of that might be going on under the surface…Genuinely, if the audience wants to take that away from it, I’m very happy. I’d be very proud to have brought something like that to Star Wars.”

For me, this makes Chirrut and Baze the most canonical same-sex pairing Star Wars has right now. Their relationship is one that wasn’t solely defended after the film’s release; it was also one that was developed as the actors were fleshing out their characters. That means that much of their interactions were–or at least Yen’s–were calculated to read as “married.” That’s what makes Chirrut and Baze one of the most compelling parts of Rogue One. 

Honorable mention: C3PO and R2D2

R2D2 and C3PO are here as honorable mention because…they’re robots. But if you even have a passing knowledge of Star Wars, then you’ll know the running joke is that C3PO and R2D2 are the “first gay characters” in Star Wars. Or, at least, C3PO is the “first gay character” in Star Wars. But with the advent of actual queer humans in Star Wars, this running joke can be put to rest, since 1) I don’t know if R2D2 really likes C3PO like that anyways (seems like he merely tolerates him and is merely comfortable with C3PO’s nagging) and 2) robots in Star Wars don’t exhibit the capability of having romantic love anyways. If we cross the streams and invoke Philip K. Dick’s Voight-Kampff test, the robots of Star Wars recognize that they are in service of their human masters and are comfortable with that reality. Even though exhibit have wit, sarcasm, fear, pride, happiness, and even anger, Star Wars robots never go beyond their programming to advocate for robot rights and free will.

What do you think about this ranking? What pairings would you add to this list? Give your opinions below!

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Sherlock S4 recap: A cavalcade of WTF?

Robert Viglasky, Hartswood Films/BBC

Sherlock Season 4 | “The Final Problem” | Aired Jan. 15, 2017

So…what was that?!

Look, let me say upfront for the diehard fans that there were parts of “The Final Problem” that actually started tugging at my heartstrings and had me visibly scared and tense. The treatment of Eurus’ tests was over-the-top (more on that), but the emotional effects, as shown through Sherlock, John and Mycroft’s conversations, were what sold the scenes. I do have to give it up to Benedict Cumberbatch for handling his share of volatile emotions in this episode. This was the episode where we finally saw Sherlock break down all of his walls to once again become that emotional little boy he was at his ancestral home many years ago.

But let’s get real, here—this episode was a head-to-toe mess. I read a Daily Mail review by Christopher Stevens, and he’s not wrong. This episode featured Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss at their most indulgent, most self-congratulatory, and possibly most offensive. Let’s go through each thing I’ve got to say with bullet points.

The treatment of women: We already know Moffat has a record of strange treatment of his female characters. But I have to say that the treatment of women throughout this season in particular was largely rudimentary at absolute best, and paternally coddling at worst. I’m not sure if that last description gets truly at the heart of what I’m trying to put into words, but the jist of it is that the women characters in this season were mostly written to provide (as Eurus kept saying) emotional context to the men (and the default Stars-with-a-capital-S) of this series.

Every woman exists because of how they serve the emotional arc of a man. Mary was underwritten so as not to completely get in the way of John and Sherlock’s friendship/romance/bromance, but then she was also hilariously written as a spy. We never get to know her well enough to know why she ever fell in that line of work, which makes the whole “She’s a spy!” exercise pointless. Yes, there should be well-rounded, tough women on screen, but they can’t just be doing stuff for the sake of doing it; they have to be actual characters with 3D emotions. The case with Mary was that she was never made to be a well-rounded character. We never get to know her, her motivations, her likes or dislikes–all we know is that she loves John, impossibly and immediately loves Sherlock (even Sherlock came back from the dead during their date) and is besotted with the idea of matchmaking her husband to his best friend (like, what even was that last DVD message?). Does any of that make sense for a married woman’s emotional motivation or characterization? Not to me, it doesn’t. Then, to top it off, Mary’s death occurs to give John an emotional character moment and to bring John and Sherlock back together as a team (or more, seeing how Mary kept trying to get them together).

Mrs. Hudson is also loosely defined as a “tough” woman character, even though we never get to know her really. Like Mary, she’s largely an archetype, something that will play well on Tumblr and other social networks where the hardcore fans will eat up her mannerisms and almost non-sequiturs as witty British humor. IT’S NOT WITTY BRITISH HUMOR! It’s ill-defined characterization! As much as Mrs. Hudson might say she’s not their bloody houskeeper, she’s still their bloody housekeeper. More accurately, she’s their bloody mom. Her whole character is designed to take care of Sherlock without question. That’s such a limiting position to be in for her character.

Molly is much in the same vein, but to a more tragic degree. Molly is the person Sherlock has an emotionally abusive relationship with. For much of the earlier seasons, it seemed like he only took delight in making her upset. Now, we’re supposed to believe that Sherlock and Molly are all right? Especially after this particular episode, when Sherlock had to get Molly to say something she didn’t want to say because she didn’t want to get hurt? There’s no fallout from that?

Molly was in literal tears during this episode, and are we supposed to believe that even though she showed backbone during that scene and finally had enough of Sherlock’s games (at the wrong time, of course—Eurus was threatening to kill her) that Molly is still an eternal well of support and love for Sherlock at the very end of the episode? SIGH. All of the emotional depth she showed in that scene, which did define Molly as an individual character with feeling, got erased when we see her at the end, smiling, seemingly having forgotten all of the trauma Sherlock put her through (in order to save her, I know, but still…) It also puts Molly in the position of acting as a Female Companion to Prove Sherlock Is Not Straight, something I’ll get into later.

Even Eurus, who was the smartest woman in this series (even more so than Irene, who is also designed just to serve as an emotional counterpoint to Sherlock) ends up serving the men in this story. For much of the episode, we see Eurus as someone who can’t understand emotion and therefore creates horrifying games and experiments to study human interaction. For much of the episode, she’s completely in control. But when we actually need to get the mystery solved, she becomes a completely different character.

Sherlock finds out that all Eurus wants is her brother to pay attention to her, and her mind seems to regress back to the state of a child. But whereas we should be focusing more on Eurus’ mental distress, we’re focused more on how this news affects Sherlock. Eurus might be the killer here, but she’s also the one who’s been in mental distress for decades, locked in her own head, whereas Sherlock at least had the mercy of grief distorting his memories. While we hear Eurus talk about her distress, we always see Sherlock live his–we see his memories as he pieces them back together. We see through his eyes all the time. We only see Eurus, whether in adult or flashback kid form, as an observer looking in.

The women could have been written stronger, and I think this lack of character strength really brings down the entirety of the season. If you’re going to have women on your show, make them actually autonomous beings with their own end goals. Don’t make them solely serve the character arcs of the men.

BBC

The treatment of mental illness: I’m saying upfront that I’m not clinician when it comes to mental illness, so forgive me if I get some things wrong, but I’m also someone who researches, so I’m linking to everything I’m using for this particular segment.

To me, it seems like there was a conflation of ideas when it came to autism and clinical psychopathy. First, let’s get into autism and autism spectrum disorder, which doesn’t have just one defined way of appearing in a person. As WebMD states:

Autism is a complex neurobehavioral condition that includes impairments in social interaction and developmental language and communication skills combined with rigid, repetitive behaviors. Because of the range of symptoms, this condition is now called autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Symptoms of autism include, according to WebMD:

  • Social interactions and relationships. Symptoms may include:

    • Significant problems developing nonverbal communication skills, such as eye-to-eye gazing, facial expressions, and body posture.
    • Failure to establish friendships with children the same age.
    • Lack of interest in sharing enjoyment, interests, or achievements with other people.
    • Lack of empathy. People with autism may have difficulty understanding another person’s feelings, such as pain or sorrow.
  • Verbal and nonverbal communication. Symptoms may include:

    • Delay in, or lack of, learning to talk. As many as 40% of people with autism never speak.1
    • Problems taking steps to start a conversation. Also, people with autism have difficulties continuing a conversation after it has begun.
    • Stereotyped and repetitive use of language. People with autism often repeat over and over a phrase they have heard previously (echolalia).
    • Difficulty understanding their listener’s perspective. For example, a person with autism may not understand that someone is using humor. They may interpret the communication word for word and fail to catch the implied meaning.
  • Limited interests in activities or play. Symptoms may include:

    • An unusual focus on pieces. Younger children with autism often focus on parts of toys, such as the wheels on a car, rather than playing with the entire toy.

    • Preoccupation with certain topics. For example, older children and adults may be fascinated by video games, trading cards, or license plates.

    • A need for sameness and routines. For example, a child with autism may always need to eat bread before salad and insist on driving the same route every day to school.

    • Stereotyped behaviors. These may include body rocking and hand flapping.

You can also visit The Babble Out for more about autism, its symptoms, and management.

Conversely, clinical psychopathy is defined, according to William Hirstein, Ph.D of Psychology Today, involves these symptoms:

Being uncaring and showing a lack of empathy, exhibiting shallow or lack of emotion, such as guilt, embarrassment, fear, and shame, insincere speech (aka lying), the inability to take blame for their actions, overconfidence and a narrowing of attention. Kara Mayer Robinson for WebMD goes further and says that psychopaths, not sociopaths, don’t have a conscience.

A psychopath doesn’t have a conscience. If he lies to you so he can steal your money, he won’t feel any moral qualms, though he may pretend to. He may observe others and then act the way they do so he’s not “found out,” [L. Michael Tompkins, EdD. of the Sacramento County Mental Health Treatment Center] says.

To me, it seems like the writing tried to make Eurus fall in between a flat reading of autism (what with Eurus saying several times that she has trouble reading emotions and body language) and psychopathy. In other words, the writing took the “greatest hits,” if you will, of both conditions and used that to create a villainous character that they tried to humanize by the end, despite the fact that her claim to villain fame was being a cold-blooded killer.

But did it have to be this way? It’s really a cliche at this point to make the psychopath or a sociopath a killer, when not everyone diagnosed as such becomes a criminal. Most of the time, they’re only out to meet their own needs or wants. To quote Robinson:

In movies and TV shows, psychopaths and sociopaths are usually the villains who kill or torture innocent people. In real life, some people with antisocial personality disorder can be violent, but most are not. Instead they use manipulation and reckless behavior to get what they want.

“At worst, they’re cold, calculating killers,” [Aaron Kipnis, PhD, author of The Midas Complex] says. Others, he says, are skilled at climbing their way up the corporate ladder, even if they have to hurt someone to get there.

The stereotype of the clinical psychopath as a killer is pervasive in our culture. Now, I’m not saying we have to excuse behavior, but it would be cool of a show decided to not make their killer have some kind of mental issue or, as you’ll see below, be linked to queerness.

BBC

The treatment of high- and low-key LGBT themes in this episode and throughout the entire four seasons: I could go into deep detail about every moment in the series that queerbaits the audience, but this season both provides Johnlock shippers with a Johnlock ending while still providing the men with women-as-beards (yet again utilizing women as props for the men’s character development). This season, we have Molly that becomes the last beard for Sherlock (of course, there’s still Irene, who’s mentioned in this episode in relation to love) and the last beard for this series.

There’s no way Sherlock actually loves Molly outside of friendship, and there’s no way Sherlock and Irene would ever make sense as a couple, just like Mary and John’s relationship made no sense. First, it doesn’t help that the women are written within cookie-cutter parameters. But what also doesn’t help is how Mark Gatiss himself has said that he indulges in teasing the audience about the will-they/won’t-they aspect of Sherlock and John’s relationship. Or better yet, he indulges in teasing about whether John realizes he is along a sexual spectrum and how okay he is with that. As I wrote recently, Irene’s conversation with John in Season 2 basically acted as a canonical way of telling John that he does, in fact, have feelings for Sherlock. The fact that this conversation is never brought up again is a character development moment that went undefined.

But outside of John and Sherlock’s relationship, we have Moriarty, who has been confirmed as being, if not gay, bisexual or pansexual. Also, Sherlock insinuates that Eurus may have raped a female guard. First, the fact that rape is casually discussed in this season is appalling by itself. But also disturbing is how LGBT characters are linked to criminality and violence, once again associating queerness with villainy. That’s a trope that has long been beaten to death, so it’s sad that it’s happening in a show of supposedly high caliber as Sherlock.

Lastly, the seeming dismissal of the fans by the creators is little irritating. You can’t bait the audience and then get mad when they don’t get what they were expecting. There is a reason Sherlock Holmes books and this show are at the center of queer media critique, and there should be a level of respect for that type of decades-long scholarship.

Robert Viglasky, Hartswood Films/BBC

 

The actual episode itself: Overall, I think the characters were largely all over the place. Perhaps the most consistent character was Mycroft, but that’s also because he’s broad. But Sherlock was uncharacteristically emotional, even considering the fact that his proverbial walls were coming down, and John was back to the old John before Mary, which seemed to show just how throwaway Mary ended up being as a character.

The editing tried to make up for the fact that there were gaping plotholes in the plot. How do they survive the jump from 221B after the explosion? How did they end up on that boat? How did Eurus get the glass removed and suspend the signs? How could Sherlock not realize there wasn’t glass when there were never reflections? How did things like that get past the writers? And why were the transitions, which were clearly made to distract you from the bad plot, so bad? Particularly bad was that transition after John gets pistolwhipped after Eurus tried to first kill Sherlock. The screen spins around as if it was an Adam West Batman sequence. I was floored. Equally floored was the freeze-frame ending featuring John and Sherlock running towards the next case. I have seen bad stuff before, but that was horrendous. Worse, it was lazy, for all of the effort put into it.

Robert Viglasky, Hartswood Films/BBC

Final thoughts (since this might be the series finale): The acting is the only thing that carried this finale through. But the treatment of the characters, particularly Sherlock, is really sad. If you think back to the first-ever episode, you can tell how well-defined the characters are. They are also characters defined by the real world; there would have never been an Eurus who can control people (how?) and seemingly electronics (again, how??). Instead, what we had was Sherlock who was tied to his mobile phone, Mycroft and his assistant, disaffected government officials who also live on their phones. Lestrade and his police crew who can’t live with Sherlock and can’t live without him. All of these characters, even Sherlock, seem like someone you could possibly run into (perhaps you might only run into someone like Sherlock or Mycroft at a MENSA meeting or something, but that’s also me devolving into stereotype). What I’m saying is they were relatable, regardless of how extraordinary they were. They were human and they were developed characters.

What we’ve gotten now is a show that is so satisfied with itself that it’s gotten lazy. For me the coup the grace was the level of nepotism involved in the later seasons’ cast. Cumberbatch’s parents as Sherlock’s parents, Amanda Abbington—Martin Freeman’s partner—as Mary, and Gatiss, one of the co-writers as one of the main secondary characters? That’s a lot. The writing also seems to take itself too seriously, thinking it’s so funny, so insightful, so witty. The gag is that the script isn’t saying anything new, even though it thinks it is. It’s just an exercise in ego. As Stevens said in his review, the show has become twee, to an antagonizing degree.

Overall, this last episode was largely crap, with only golden moments clumped together towards the middle. It’s a sad way to end the series.

Update: Information on autism now from WebMD to reflect concerns over the ethics of AutismSpeaks

Looking for Love in Invisible Spaces: Meta & the Gap in LGBT Representation

(L-R) Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the Jan. 1, 2016 MASTERPIECE special Sherlock: The Abominable Bride. Courtesy of (C) BBC/Hartswood Films for MASTERPIECE

As featured in COLORBLOCK Magazine, February 2016

The patchiness of LGBT representation occurred due to several factors, such as cultural reticence, religious arguments, and entertainment companies worried about their bottom line domestically and internationally. The voids in representation have led to fans coming to their own rescue and creating alternate (and sometimes more accurate) readings of characters and their love lives.

The process of finding alternate interpretations of the characters not only provides fans who feel neglected by the entertainment world–such as LGBT fans and fans who are LGBT allies– the ability to participate in their favorite film or TV fandom, but also eases the anxiety created when an LGBT metatextual reading of a character, especially characters who already have a foothold in discussions surrounding LGBT media, doesn’t get the fair play it should in canonical tellings or retellings of a story. Basically, meta readings, and the subsequent fan creations that result from them, give fans the chance to tell the story from their point of view. They get to create a world that includes them in all of their complexity by allowing the canonical characters to have complexity not originally given to them by their original creators.

Sherlock Holmes and John Watson from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes series of mysteries are two great examples of when the canonical and meta worlds collide.

Want to read more about diverse entertainment? Read the February issue of COLOR BLOCK Magazine!
 

 

Canonically, Sherlock and John are friends, the most classic example of platonic love and partnership. However, the two characters have also been one of the many touchstones of LGBT media theory, especially where it concerns audience interpretation.

“Fans use these parallel worlds to explore what could have been or might be, especially as regards sexualities that have not found mainstream representation,” wrote Ashley O’Mara in her article, “Queering LGBT History: The Case of Sherlock Holmes Fanfic” for the site, Metathesis (metaistheblog.com). “There is no conclusive literary evidence that [Doyle] conceived of his Sherlock and John as ‘homosexual;’ their relationship presents as a romantic friendship although those were going out of fashion when he was writing. Likewise, despite queerbaiting, [BBC’s Sherlock co-writer Steven Moffat] insists that his Sherlock is not gay, let alone [asexual]. In [fanfiction] however, literally any interpretation goes.”

Those interpretations, which explore asexuality, aromanticism, bisexuality, and/or being gay, stem from said queerbaiting, which include suggestive moments in the BBC show, one of the biggest moments being during Irene Adler’s introduction in Series 2, Episode 1, in which Irene basically makes a case as to why John was actually falling in love with Sherlock without realizing it by comparing John to herself. Both John and Irene have considered themselves people who weren’t interested in men, yet, as Irene points out, both of them are very interested in Sherlock. There could also be a level of retroactive queerbating, as it were, happening within the original text itself; as O’Mara noted, Doyle was writing of romantic friendship when it was going out of style, with romantic same-sex friendship being replaced with a higher level of homophobia (at least among men; with women, romantic friendship and full blown same-sex romance was often overlooked by male society). The level of reticence around romantic friendships comes around the same time the term “homosexuality” was coined, which begs the question as to why Doyle would still consider writing Sherlock and John as a romantic friendships comes around the same time the term “homosexuality” was coined, which begs the question as to why Doyle would still consider writing Sherlock and John as a romantic friendship during such a societal change.

Meta readings have also occurred with many of today’s popular characters, such as characters in Marvel’s cinematic and TV universe. There are tons of  fan creations centering around the close relationship between Captain America and Bucky (aka the Winter Soldier), Captain America’s other close relationship with the Falcon, Iron Man and The Hulk’s friendship (as shown in the Avengers movies), and the friendship between Peggy Carter and waitress/aspiring actress Angie Martinelli in Agent Carter, just to name a few.

MARVEL'S AGENT CARTER - "A View in the Dark" - Peggy discovers her murder investigation has huge ramifications that can destroy her career, as well as everyone near and dear to her, on "Marvel's Agent Carter," TUESDAY, JANUARY 19 (10:00-11:00 p.m. EST) on the ABC Television Network. (ABC/Kelsey McNeal) HAYLEY ATWELL
MARVEL’S AGENT CARTER – “A View in the Dark” – Peggy discovers her murder investigation has huge ramifications that can destroy her career, as well as everyone near and dear to her, on “Marvel’s Agent Carter,” TUESDAY, JANUARY 19 (10:00-11:00 p.m. EST) on the ABC Television Network. (ABC/Kelsey McNeal)
HAYLEY ATWELL

Despite canon interpretations falling short of fandom expectation, it’s beginning to be par for the course for actors who are affiliated with the fandom to speak out on behalf of their fans’ want for more inclusive entertainment. For instance, to address the Peggy/Angie fans, Peggy herself, Hayley Atwell, told fans at last year’s Fan Expo Canada what Peggy and Angie’s relationship meant to her. “The thing that stands out for me about Peggy and Angie is it’s seldom that you see on television friendship between two women that isn’t founded on the interest of a man,” she said. “There’s a genuine affection that they have for each other; whether or not you want to project the idea that it’s romantic or sexual is entirely up to you and how you want to view it. I think there’s a mutual respect that’s quite rare that I want to see more of in film and stories.”

As you’ll read in the next article (about the meta pairing of Star Wars: The Force Awakens characters Finn and Poe Dameron), Captain America co-director Joe Russo also states that he welcomes all interpretations of Bucky and Cap’s relationship. Also worth noting about the Star Wars pairing is that John Boyega recently confirmed to ShortList writer Chris Mandle that while the Poe/Finn pairing isn’t canonical, it was definitely something that existed in the mind of Oscar Isaac, who played Poe in the film.

With more and more actors co-signing fandom imagination, the day when there will be a mainstream LGBT couple in genre films and television could be coming soon. Maybe not soon enough, to be honest, but still sooner than originally thought possible.

Related articles/sources:

The Breakout Fandom Couple of 2015: Stormpilot (“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”) (JUST ADD COLOR)

History of Homosexuality-19th Century (Wikipedia)

Meta Masterlist (http://loudest-subtext-in-television.tumblr.com/)

Meta: The Case of John Watson’s Sexuality (sherlockforum.com)

Hayley Atwell Discusses Agent Carter Season Two: Workplace Obstacles, Relationships, and “Cartinelli” (The Mary Sue)

Fan Expo 15: Atwell Declassifies “Agent Carter” Season 2 And Chris Evans’ Abs (Comic Book Resources)

The Breakout Fandom Couple of 2015: Stormpilot (“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”)

Star Wars: The Force Awakens has indeed awakened the slumbering mass that is the Star Wars fandom, which has been waiting for the franchise’s return to greatness. The film, starring and John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, and Oscar Isaac (as well as the members of the original cast), has already reached $1.23B at the time of this article, and surely, the film will reach even greater heights the longer it stays in the theaters. (This is also not taking into account the millions or billions of dollars spent on The Force Awakens merchandise.)

While the film is being touted as a tour-de-force of nostalgia and a refreshed look at a “galaxy far, far away,” the film has also been an achievement in diversity due to having well-rounded and powerful female characters (with the exception of Gwendoline Christie’s Captain Phasma, who—while cool—will hopefully be fleshed out in upcoming films) and two leads of color, Boyega and Isaac, who open the film. (The fact that their faces are the first faces we see in the movie immediately cemented the film as a break away from Hollywood’s normal modus operandi.) Boyega and Isaac’s characters, disillusioned ex-Stormtrooper Finn and Resistance fighter pilot Poe Dameron, have also acted as ambassadors to another type of diversity not usually found in films; characters who might not only be on the LGBT spectrum, but might also be in a same-sex relationship.

The fandom who propose Finn and Poe’s relationship (named “Stormpilot” or “FinnPoe”) to the masses provide several clues as to why they thing Stormpilot is possible. First, Poe gave Finn his name; instead of continuing to call Finn “FN-2187” during their escape from Stormkiller Base, Poe immediately decides to call him Finn, thus giving Finn a new identity and a new lease on life. Second, Finn keeps Poe’s jacket when, after the crash-land on Jakku, Finn assumes Poe’s died in the crash. Third, Finn completes Poe’s mission to get BB-8’s message to the resistance base. Fourth, Finn and Poe passionately embrace after realizing the other is alive and kicking after all.

All bets are off when Poe lets Finn keep his jacket, saying “It suits you.” Poe, biting his own lip before speaking, then says with bedroom eyes, “You’re a good man, Finn.” The playful punch to Finn’s shoulder simply looks like a feeble attempt to cover up what could be construed as obvious flirting. Finn’s focused stare back (as well as another focused stare he gives Poe after Poe slaps his shoulder again in a pseudo-camaraderie fashion before taking to the skies in his X-Wing) seems to suggest that Finn can feel something brewing between them as well.

The clues start coming together after Isaac revealed, albeit with a little dry humor thrown in, that he was, in fact, playing up a romantic angle with his character. John Boyega seems to concur.

Normally, fandom character pairings, or “ships” (short for “relationships”) don’t make headline news. But Stormpilot not only lit up fan spaces like Tumblr and Twitter, but also mainstream sites like E! Online, Buzzfeed, Hypable, Vanity Fair, USA Today, Metro, Pink News, Comic Book Resources, The Mary Sue, Bleeding Cool, MoviePilot and certainly many more.

Star Wars fan Stephanie wrote one of the many pieces on Stormpilot for The Geekiary. The post, called “Everyone is Talking About Our ‘Star Wars’ Slash Ship'” (with “slash” fandom slang for same-sex pairings) focuses on Stephanie’s cautious optimism when it comes to how those outside of the fandom ship world will accept Stormpilot’s existence. “The best thing about mainstream coverage…is that it normalizes queer romances,” she wrote in her article. “…When all these outlets are reporting on our fan activities as something worth noting, it sends a powerful message to studios that there’s an audience out there that wants these narratives.” However, Stephanie notes in her article, the usage of some outlets using the term “bromance” when describing a ship that much more than just friendship can be problematic and awkward. “The main issue with mainstream media’s coverage of slash shipping is that, since we’re so obscure and don’t often leave our isolated communities, they don’t quite know how to talk about it,” she wrote. “Even worse, this can be an indicator that mainstream press just doesn’t know how to talk about queer romance in general, even in regard to non-fandom inspired pairings.”

Stephanie stated in an email interview about her feelings behind her article. “I wrote my article because I was feeling so heavily conflicted about the fact that this ship was getting such a large amount of mainstream coverage so quickly. On the one hand, I’m elated that a slash ship is getting generally positive coverage. It helps legitimize LGBTQ+ relationships in general, and makes it possible for more visibility going forward. On the other hand, we don’t exactly have the best track record with mainstream press understanding fandom culture. It often feels like we are being gawked at, made fun of, or just outright misrepresented,” she wrote. “I’m really grateful that, so far, we haven’t had any coverage that’s treated us poorly. With any luck, we won’t and all of my worrying will be for naught. We definitely need to lose the term ‘bromance,’ though. Please. Romance is romance and we don’t need to ‘bro’ it up to soften it. But that’s been my only issue so far and it’s relatively small compared to what’s been done to us in the past.”

Stephanie didn’t immediately latch onto Stormpilot after her first viewing of The Force Awakens, but now sees the developing relationship as playing on classic romantic beats. “Unlike a lot of my friends, I didn’t walk out of the theater shipping them right away. I did, however, come out of the film immediately drawn to Poe Dameron. When I got home and discussed it with friends I was introduced to the idea of shipping him with Finn within 24 hours of my first viewing and it didn’t take me very long to get on board with that idea completely,” she wrote. “There are a lot of romantic tropes that code them as being in the early stages of a romance such as clothing sharing, nicknames (or in Finn’s case, a name that isn’t a Stormtrooper number), and even that long dramatic run into each others arms when they realize the other isn’t dead. I’ve seen the film two additional times since my first viewing with my slash goggles on and everything just falls perfectly into place.”

Stephanie attributes Star Wars large fanbase for the reason Stormpilot became the phenomenon it is.  “I think a lot of what has drawn people to Stormpilot is what draws people to slash pairings in general, but on a much larger scale since the Star Wars fandom is so huge. Many LGBTQ+ people like myself enjoy queer pairings because we just don’t get them that often in mainstream media. It feels good to see characters that reflect our own sexuality off on adventures,” she wrote. “Many heterosexual women are drawn to slash ships either because they like the idea of two men together in general, or because these specific characters in this specific story happens to speak to them regardless of gender. The interesting thing is that I’ve seen many straight men also shipping Stormpilot, which seems to be rare in a lot of my other slash pairings (though not unheard of). There might be more visibility here because of how huge the fandom is. Or maybe straight men are just getting comfortable enough to admit that these guys are kind of perfect for each other. I’m not sure why there’s a higher visibility of heterosexual men shipping Finn and Poe, but it’s definitely unique.”

Geek Girl Diva, another Star Wars fan onboard with Stormpilot, wrote a similar response in an email interview to the fandom’s love for the pairing. “I think people connect with both the characters and how they are with each other. Poe and Finn already have a friendship that’s romantic in a sense,” she wrote. “They fell into immediate like with one another. You get the sense that both Boyega & Isaac would be totally down with playing gay characters and Isaac has a very open faced admiration. I think people connect to the deep liking these two have for one another, and it’s not a stretch to take it to the next level.”

Geek Girl Diva was immediately a part of the Stormpilot fanbase thanks to the ever-present chronicler of fandom things, Tumblr. “It was all Tumblr, bless its shipping heart,” she wrote. “Once I saw the meme, I fell in love with the ‘ship.”

The fact that so many people, men and women alike, have latched onto Stormpilot could have implications for how Disney and the Star Wars movie team goes forward, right? Or could stuff stay at the status quo? With so many billions at stake, and with such a wide intersection of people in the Star Wars fandom (some of whom aren’t as open towards LGBT representation), it’s difficult to say if Disney and Lucasfilm will take the promise of diversity to the next level.

“I think [the mainstream press is] great, wrote Geek Girl Diva, adding, “As much as I love the ship (and I love it like a house on fire), I don’t think Stormpilot is in the cards on the big screen. But I do think Poe could very well be gay and he’d be a perfect way to bring an LGBT character into the Star Wars Universe.”

LONDON, UK - DECEMBER 16: Actors John Boyega and Oscar Isaac attend the European Premiere of the highly anticipated Star Wars: The Force Awakens in London on December 16, 2015.
LONDON, UK – DECEMBER 16: Actors John Boyega and Oscar Isaac attend the European Premiere of the highly anticipated Star Wars: The Force Awakens in London on December 16, 2015.

There has been a Change.org petition asking Lucasfilm’s president Kathleen Kennedy to include LGBT characters in the new Star Wars films. When it comes to whether the petition could cause a rush of LGBT characters to enter the Star Wars film franchise is difficult to say. But both Stephanie and Geek Girl Diva point out that LGBT characters are already a part of the franchise, if just in books and games.

“Lucasfilm has already made the jump into showing LGBT characters, first in [Star Wars: The Old Republic] and then in a couple of the new canon books (Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath & Claudia Gray’s Lost Stars),” wrote Geek Girl Diva. “I don’t know 100% that Poe isn’t already the lead into an LGBT presence in the films. I think he might be, but it’s a guess and nothing more. That said, I do think that the Stormpilot love could make it easier for [Lucasfilm] to flip that switch. But I’m not in a position to make a decision on that.”

“Thanks to Chuck Wendig, there are LGBTQ+ characters in the novels, but we are still lacking big screen representation. I have a feeling that if they were planning for Poe and Finn to be in an onscreen romance, that’s already been decided and a petition wouldn’t sway that,” wrote Stephanie. “However, something like Poe’s sexuality may still be negotiable and we could have an affect on that. Poe’s sexuality hasn’t been touched on and Oscar Isaac has been incredibly supportive in interviews. He’s treated the idea of two men in a romantic relationship with respect and even said he’d go for a rainbow colored lightsaber. This could all be joking, of course, but I get a strong vibe from him that he’s supportive of our community. It’s hard to explain why, exactly, but these tidbits from his interviews don’t feel like they [Lucasfilm] are ‘making fun’ of us at all.”

“Finn’s sexuality may be more difficult to sway. Unfortunately we operate in a ‘straight until proven otherwise’ mindset with the majority of mainstream media, and the idea of bisexuality seems particularly difficult for a lot of writers to grasp,” Stephanie added. “With Finn expressing even a moderate interest in Rey, this could be the writers coding him as heterosexual. But hey, it’s possible that the people who are writing the next couple of scripts could have a good grasp on the idea that you can be attracted to more than one gender at a time and we may get bisexual Finn after all.”

Some news that’s made the social media rounds is that Captain Phasma will have an extended role in future films due to fan support. With the amount of fan support Stormpilot has, it’s in the realm of possibility that Disney and Lucasfilm could think twice about the extent of Poe and Finn’s relationship. But again, it’s tough to say since there’s so much money and investment on the line.

“It’s possible. Adding a few extra interactions without rewriting an entire script isn’t too huge, but if the characters are written, say, on completely different planets for most of the film it may be hard,” wrote Stephanie when asked if she thought there was a possibility for Disney and Lucasfilm to make fanon canon. “But if we don’t cause enough enthusiasm for Episode VIII, there’s always Episode IX. This is a trilogy and I’m sticking with Stormpilot for the long haul. Just have to keep my fingers crossed that neither of them die in the next film. That’s pretty much the only thing that’d put a nail in the coffin for future interaction.”

Geek Girl Diva differs slightly on the issue. “On [Phasma returning to the series], I think that was a bit different. Phasma caught fire for a few reasons and it’s a lot easier to beef up her story than it is to add in a relationship between two lead characters,” she wrote. “In the end, I think that’s entirely up to [Episode VIII director and Episode IX writer/director] Rian Johnson and the [Lucasfilm] Story Group. It all depends on what the arc is for the trio in the larger story. I don’t think Disney & [Lucasfilm] will shy away from any interaction, but I don’t think they’ll play it up just for fans. I think, in the end, the filmmakers will do what they feel is the best fit for the trilogy and the story.”

“If I have a personal hope, it’s not for Stormpilot (even though I love the ship),” Geek Girl Diva added. “In a perfect world, where we get diversity of all kinds, we get a female lead, a hetero interracial couple and a gay character (maybe in a relationship with a male alien? Let’s think big!), all of whom are great friends and join together to defeat the Darkness. I can work with that just fine.”

If Poe and Finn do become canon, what will Disney do about LGBT representation for women? Of course, the franchise will add characters to subsequent films, but if fans want someone from the main Big Three characters, there seems to be a lot of support for Rey being asexual and/or aromantic. Much of the support for Rey as being along the LGBT spectrum seems to stem from the fact that even though there’s ample time (and many open invitations from Finn) for Rey to take their friendship to the next level, Rey seems to be more enamored with the idea of what Finn leads her to think he is; she’s more fascinated by the idea of him being a part of the Resistance and belonging to something great rather than him being an available guy. Also, she’s more concerned with the mission at hand, getting BB-8 back to the base, rather than hooking up. The final scenes find Rey not cementing a romance with Finn, but with her kissing his forehead while he’s in a comatose state, a goodbye before she heads to the island Luke Skywalker is hiding on in the hopes of being trained by him. Her new mission is to focus on her handling of the Force, not being someone’s girlfriend.

The call for making Rey along the LGBT spectrum would naturally add to the film franchise’ commitment to diversity, but there’s also a smaller contingent of the fandom who want Rey to be lesbian, bi, or asexual/aromantic simply at the expense of removing her characterization and forcing her into the box of a spectator or as a voyeuristic avatar for the fan him/herself. Several fans on Tumblr seem to imply that they want Rey to be asexual and aromantic not for reasons concerning diversity, but just so she won’t interfere with Poe and Finn’s possible relationship. Asexuality and aromantic individuals deserve to be showcased on the big and small screens, which is what happened on USA’s Sirens, which featured asexual paramedic Valentina aka “Voodoo”, who dated non-asexual fellow paramedic Brian. But asexuality and aromanticism—two orientations that don’t describe a lack of a person’s desire for basic human affection, but just the levels to which a person might desire affection—shouldn’t be used as a way to box a character in at the expense of two other characters’ possible romantic relationship.

Such fear of Rey being a wedge between Poe and Finn should be left by the wayside, since directors are beginning to, at the very least, not write fans off for their non-canonical opinions. One example is Captain America co-director Joe Russo stating in an interview (via Vanity Fair) that while he has always personally viewed Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes’ relationship as brotherly, he doesn’t begrudge or limit anyone else from their own points of view. “People can interpret the relationship however they want to interpret it…People have interpreted that relationship all kinds of ways, and it’s great to see people argue about…what that relationship means to them,” he said. “We will never define it as filmmakers, explicitly, but however people want to interpret it they can interpret it.”

This movement towards fan inclusivity, as well as actors like Isaac suggesting he was playing at romance with another male character, means a lot when it comes to the struggle to get proper LGBT representation. But, as the Vanity Fair article linked above points out, the road towards true inclusivity might be even longer than fans are prepared for. However, something can be said for progress happening in leaps and bounds after years of stuttering steps. Take a look at marriage equality; it has taken over a decade to get marriage equality in a majority of the states, and then, one day, marriage equality was nationwide with the swift smack of the Supreme Court’s gavel. So who knows as to what kind of romantic future Finn and Poe (or Rey) have. While we could be going to the theaters in 2017 with Finn in a relationship with a girl, we could find Finn and Poe in same-sex relationships (if not with each other) and Rey exploring the universe of sexual identity while she hones her Jedi skills. The ball is in Disney and Lucasfilm’s court; let’s see what play they make.

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