On Queer Deadpool and Bisexual Erasure in Comics
In my recent essay about the importance of a queer Hercules, I mentioned pushback against a queer Deadpool. My bisexual spider-sense was bisexually tingling.
Last Friday night, Deadpool’s co-creator FabNic carefully explained that he never intended Deadpool to be queer-queer–his interest in men and non-binary people is a result of overactive cell growth in his brain. (Recall that overactive cell growth is why Deadpool is so gross looking and why, in addition to trauma, he’s vaguely “crazy.”) Sometimes Deadpool is straight, sometimes he’s gay, sometimes he’s everything all at once, FabNic said. You mean… pan?
Now, I’m not singling out FabNic. His comments are exactly what I expected after writing about queer Hercules, and what I expect to see more of as Deadpool’s release date draws closer. They’re typical.
What we talk about when we talk about a queer Deadpool, queer Storm, or queer Hercules, is the pattern of bisexual erasure in comics; the foreclosure on the possibility of inclusion. For all the on page proof-of-queer that readers and even other creators assemble, there is always a counter-narrative working against it. Sometimes it takes the form of a straight-wash side-step in the form of a sudden and definitive heterosexual romance, designed to crowd queer romance off the stage. Sometimes it takes the form of a speech from on high, a reminder from creators or editors that they decide who lives and dies.
Let us examine the evidence when it comes to Deadpool:
So there is proof. There is also creator approval. Both Gary Duggan and Gail Simone have said that their Deadpool is a queer Deadpool. Even Ryan Reynolds, who’s set to play Deadpool in the upcoming film, has acknowledged, at the very least, a certain heteroflexibility. But yet, the SDCC trailer for the film shows the character calling someone a “cock gobbler,” and creators are coming out to make sure we know just how queer Deadpool is. (Like, maybe 15%. 20% tops.)
Intent. That’s a favourite defence of straightness. Intent and the right way to read.
Intent isn’t everything; intent is very little. What matters, in terms of proof and in terms of reader experience, is what’s on the page, then, now and in the years since. On the page, Deadpool is queer. On the page, Deadpool isn’t sometimes straight, sometimes not straight; he’s a character with a past history of varied sexual and romantic attractions and relationships. That is, he’s pan. Roll with it. Tell all the weird and wacky Deadpool stories you want, but tell them with a Deadpool who’s queer.
But it’s not only what’s on the page that matters–meaning is a negotiation between reader and text and cultural context. When Deadpool is a straight man calling other straight men “cock gobblers” he is a homophobic construct proping up fragile hetero-masculinity. When Deadpool is a straight man turned crazy-queer by comic book science, his existence contributes to the marginalization and othering of queer people everywhere. When Deadpool is a straight man who flirts with other straight men to make them uncomfortable, he caters to fears of queer contagion.
What happens when Deadpool is queer? A door opens. The character stays much the same, but absent the harm he otherwise does. Homophobes lose and everyone else wins.
Just look to Steve Orlando’s Midnighter for an example of normalized queerness in superhero comics.
What do creators and editors get from these hastily drawn lines? These reminders to queer fans that though they opened the door to you, it doesn’t mean you can have a seat? These “don’t be too hasty” explanations that remind readers of who’s in charge? Control and comfort. A sense that diverse representation happens on their terms and at their leisure.
Marvel Comics and associated work-for-hire creators have a vested interest in tidying up their intellectual property in socially conservative packaging–that’s how popcorn movies get made. Think of how the two Avengers films boil down complexity to a lowest common denominator soup of one woman, several archetypal men, much punching. This manifests not just in the texts but in the narrative around them. Clarifying statement: Black Widow very upset she can’t have a baby. CBR column: Hercules definitely not queer. Reminder: Sam Wilson not upset about white privilege; just happy to be here.
Whatever the intent of Marvel’s many waves of diversification efforts, the company’s overall output is guided by regression to the mean. Clock it: there is a consistent pattern of introducing new! diverse! characters! who are killed off, sidelined and variously marginalized soon after; there is a consistent pattern of queer characters and characters of colour being assimilated, any anger or discomfit doused by celebratory drinks. They’re one of us now! Just like us now! With some minor, superficial, not important differences, they are us now! Melting pot activate–all acknowledgment of systemic oppression sinks down and dissolves. And look, so much representation: those black characters off to the side and in the background; that one Muslim character who gets her own book; that sweet queer couple who hasn’t been in a story since the 00s.
Take a knee, Marvel Comics. Imagine with me now, what it’s like to be a queer Marvel fan. All your favs are written by straight people. Often they exist to make other characters feel uncomfortable, to be the butt of a joke, or to make a political point. Sometimes they disappear for months and years on end. Often their creators remind you that they weren’t originally queer, but I mean, I guess it’s ok if they’re queer now. (Harrumph.) Just as often creators remind you that they did you a favour by creating them, so any problematic elements in their stories, well, you’ll just have to live with them. And then, there are the creators who remind you that REAL Shatterstar is asexual, not gay, that REAL Deadpool is “crazy” not queer, that REAL Catwoman is straight, bored, and waiting for Bruce. Imagine what it’s like to be deeply invested in characters that may, some month, just vanish, or worse, be straight-washed back into respectability.
With the Deadpool movie ever closer to release, expect to see more assertions of Deadpool’s straightness. It’s just how these things go.