On Queer Deadpool and Bisexual Erasure in Comics

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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.

screencap fabnic tweet

 

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.

Hawkeye, Fraction and Aja

Save him, Hawkeye! Save Queer Deadpool!

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:

Cable and Deadpool #7

 

Deadpan thinks Thor is hot

deadpool thinks spidey is hot

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. 

deadpool isn't hemophobic

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Editor-In-Chief. Megan was born in Toronto. She's still there. Philosopher, space vampire, heart of a killer.

2 Comments

  1. It’s frustrating, but I think the issue at large is not as black and white as what I gleaned from the article.

    I agree that in regard to being clear and unflinching in, “I’m bisexual, deal with it.” is vital give a real dimension to character in real life and in the comic panels.

    Marvel/DC aren’t there yet, but while homophobia might be part of this, I feel it’s also fear of “doing it wrong” subconsciously.

    But even then, if you do it with empathy, respect and love, you’ll be forgiven for being a little off the mark. At least I would offer that forgiveness.

    But the fact we’re having the conversation in the open is hopeful when even 5 years ago at best this would’ve been inside banter off the record. There was a time being subtle and giving half-measures was the ONlY way to do it without getting fired or senselessly attacked physically and in the media (like the #JeSuisCharlie incident in France) shows it still happens) granted the context is different, but can lead to similar hate-fueled results.

    That said, I know talk’s not action in seeing unflinching conviction for Bisexual characters in and out of the comics/graphic novel space. I get that.

    But I think bisexuality is in some ways more difficult to convey without either being too explicit or too “Safe.” It might also be an unconscious subversiveness at work.

    If you’re Gay (like me) you attracted to guys.

    IF you’re a woman attracted to other women you’re a lesbian.

    But being Bi means you’re attracted to men AND women, and perhaps some straight men and women feel an extra sense of threat of having someone who might like them both at the same time, and this is before we even think about the anti-LGTBQ doctrine that’s feeding an already explosively hormonal, physical and mental process that is adolescence.

    Hearing some of the bisexual stories in the audiobook version of “It Gets Better” showed me how they related echoes to my experience, even though I’m solely attracted to men.

    Or they might feel uncomfortable with the idea (in their minds, however off base) that if you’re attracted to men AND women, depending on your biological gender, you’re either a rival of the highest order, or a threat.

    Yeah, you could argue that’s a variant of homophobia, but sometimes I think it’s a subconscious defense that’s not much different from straight girls and women getting unwanted advances from a guy who isn’t trying to be a jerk, but tries too hard to “Get the girl” the right way.

    (Think of the penguin from Happy Feet Two who spends over half the movie trying to woo a girl who was so not into him, at least at first…)

    I once was attracted to two different guys, both of whom I knew were straight, and their reactions showed me the nuance in this issue.

    First, I want to make clear that while I may be attracted to straight men on occasion, but even in adolescence I didn’t pursue guys I knew I don’t have a chance with, and usually it’s just a mild “He’s cute” versus “I want him.”

    Think of of the many who idolize Batman, at least for being tough and assertive in the face of many of life’s ills, but I doubt they’d want to be cold-hearted ALL THE TIME, even though he’s got reason to be as such, given not only due to the catalyst that was his parent’s double murder, but the horrors he’d uncover being Batman since then, the deeds of Clayface and Joker especially looming the highest.

    Anyway, back to my own story,

    The first guy (who I’ll call Casey) I met in high school, and he was not a homophobe, in fact when I got targeted in school, he ended up in the hospital shielding me from the violence directed at me and a few other bravely out and open students at my school.

    It wasn’t the first time those bullies had hassled me and other kids, either for being Gay or not fitting their idea of “tough.” But i was the first time they physically ganged up on me and the other kids who came out as either Gay or Lesbian.

    They didn’t have Casey’s toughness, that’s for sure, they could dish out the pain plenty good, but the idea of being a living shield is courage Casey had in spades that they’d be incapable of.

    His injuries thankfully weren’t life threatening, but it was scary to be so close to a visceral and heinous attack that until that point I’d only read about or seen on the news.

    When I visited him in the hospital, I told him that while I knew he’s straight, I found him attractive, not only physically, but for what he did for me and other out students.

    Most might’ve kept that kind of revelation to themselves, but one thing being Gay at the time I came out taught you (albeit in a mega-harsh and traumatic manner) is if any day, for any reason could be your last, I didn’t want to be saying “I should’ve.”

    Though nothing romantic obviously came of it (which I’m fine with, especially now I’m engaged, but that’s a different guy, a different era, and a whole other story), to this day, Casey will tell anyone that it’s one of the most flattering things a non-relative has ever said to him.

    He’s now married to a sweet lady and have eight kids, and the oldest two of those eight formed a Gay-Straight Alliance at their school, inspired by what their father did for me.

    Ironically, he became a family therapist and now offers free counselling to our old school which launched a Gay-Straight Alliance after we graduated.

    Casey and I good friends to this day.

    The second guy (I’ll call him Charles) I met in college, and at first he took my telling him I was Gay as meaning I was trying to seduce him, which I wasn’t.

    If I actively seduced every guy I was attracted to, well, let’s just say I’d be reinforcing the negative stereotypes that get unjustly get the LGBTQ community a bad rep.

    I have a fierce sexual appetite, and I’m not ashamed of that, but I have my own moral code, despite the ignorant evangelical homophobes who state otherwise.

    Again, he wasn’t so much homophobic as he was fearing an unwanted advance. Contrary to popular belief, straight guys who get highly assertive or aggressive advances from women can find it just as threatening as herterosexual women when other way ’round, but again, that’s a whole other topic…

    Eventually, Charles chilled out and things were no longer awkward between us.

    Of course, there were unsavory incidents, but I’m lucky in my case (post high school) they were few and far between, and I was old enough by that point to defend myself if necessary. It’s not easy keeping your pretty face when you’re demonized for who and how you love (♥Wink♥)

    All that said, not to get overly corny here, but I think this will get better once more straight people realize that just them, gay men, lesbians and bisexual men and women have specific preferences and qualities (personality-wise and/or physically), they’ll be less inhibition by writers and artists (whatever their life orientation) to portray LGBTQ characters with conviction.

    That’s my two cents, anyway.

    -Thorne
    #QuoteTheBookishFox