If you watched Outlaw Star on Toonami growing up, you quickly became acquainted with Fred Luo, Gene Starwind and Jim Hawking’s arms dealer.
Gene and Jim hated going to see Fred. Gene would have to put up with Fred’s flirting and manhandling. Jim, on the other hand, would have to deal with Fred talking about how handsome Jim might be once he got older.
Fred’s behavior, particularly when it comes to Jim, could be seen as stereotypical “dirty old man” behavior, a euphemism used to excuse or dull down a type of predatory behavior. This side of Fred’s characterization is a problem that has been in anime for a long time, and not just with gay male characters. Master Roshi from Dragonball Z, for instance, one of the most popular “dirty old man” characters in anime, was always oogling at Bulma, even when she was a teenager in Dragonball.
But, since Fred is a gay man, his behavior towards Jim highlights a harmful stereotype about gay men–that they are inherently predatory towards children. This, of course, isn’t true–being gay isn’t synonymous with being pedophilic or predatory in any other fashion.
As social justice activist Murray Lipp wrote for The Huffington Post in 2017, “Opponents of equality frequently make both overt and covert efforts to create false associations between male homosexuality and pedophilia. In reality, the two phenomena have nothing in common: gay men are no more likely to sexual abuse children than straight men are. This heinous attempt to mischaracterize gay men as ‘child predators’ and ‘recruiters’ for homosexuality becomes particularly problematic in domains where the care of children is of paramount importance, such as in schools and activity-based organizations (e.g. Boy Scouts).”
However, that stereotype has persisted, and it gets reinforced by characters who are based solely on a collection of stereotypes. Fred reinforces the stereotype of the predatory gay male, but also that of the comically-feminine gay male. This is despite Fred’s very serious and dangerous job as an arms dealer.
As Lipp wrote regarding the stereotype of feminine gay men:
“The idea that male homosexuality is directly linked with femininity is erroneous. While there are of course some gay men who express themselves (via speech, dress and behavior) in ways which are traditionally ‘feminine,’ there are many others who do not. Men behaving in an effeminate manner is not inherently problematic or deserving of public shaming. What is problematic is the assumption that all gay men display the same type of gender behavior.”
So with all of this said, what can we glean from Fred if he is actually a problematic character? We can learn the opposite from him. While Fred represents certain harmful stereotypes about gay men, we can learn how we shouldn’t judge all gay men by these concepts. Instead of cancelling the character, as it were, we can use Fred as a way to gain knowledge about how to tell a well-rounded LGBTQ character from one created from and/or promoting ignorance.
Outlaw Star isn’t a show that made waves for making big philosophical points, unlike Cowboy Bebop. But for what it is, Outlaw Star can still give us some food for thought, such as how to conceptualize what a proper gay character could be. If I had the opportunity to reboot Fred as a character, I’d keep him as an arms dealer, but I’d make sure he was a man defined by his choices and less by how feminine he was. I’d definitely make sure he wouldn’t say problematic statements to a child. He’d be a character who would have layers to him to make him compelling so he wouldn’t be treated as a throwaway side character meant for comic relief.
What were your views on Fred Luo growing up? Tell me about it in the comments section below.