Queer Visibility: It’s Time to Be a Better Ally

It’s been a year.

One year since 49 largely queer, largely Latinx people were gunned down in what has been identified as the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history.

One year since I sat, watching reactions to the devastation that ripped into our community. Politician after politician offered their prayers, their condolences. So many of whom one week before and one week later would seek to diminish the civil rights of the very people they pretended to bow their heads for.

And those were the ones who were willing to pretend. The man who would become our “President” — in a stolen election, manufactured by a country that actively jails homosexuals and is now rounding us up in concentration camps — flat out gloated in his response, expressing visible glee in being “right on radical Islamic terrorism.”

Days went on, and attempts were made to cast the gunman as queer himself, effectively blaming LGBTA people for their own deaths. Because we deserved what we got. We did it to ourselves.

And one year later, I’m still as angry and sad as I was in the week that followed.

Nothing has dulled my feelings in the subsequent 365 days. How could anything? We’ve had a year of watching our democracy be abused by the most insidious men imaginable, far greater villains than one finds in the latest Superman or Spider-Man comic.

We’ve seen transgender folk continue to take the hardest hits in our community, with more and more states attempting to outlaw basic human functions, with limited support from the queer community as a whole. We see the suicide rate among LGBTA youth continue to be four times higher than among their straight counterparts. And we see health care bills rising in the US Senate and House that threaten to make it impossible to fight HIV and AIDS diagnoses with new regulations on pre-existing conditions and the number of uninsured exploding with its potential passage.

And our politicians continue today to fake empathy, as our own “Vice-President” shares his thoughts and prayers for victims he would just as soon see shunned for their sexuality, or contract HIV with no local services to help.

This sort of faked empathy is common among politicians, increasingly less common among extreme pundits and alt-right bloggers — who opt to simply speak plainly about their bigotries, egged on by a “President” who dog-whistles his support at every turn — and a bit mixed in communities like the comic book industry. There’s certainly no shortage of outspoken queerphobic creators whose work should quickly make its way to the trash bin.

Chuck Dixon has recently returned to DC Comics to pen a 12-issue mini-series for his creation Bane. His animosity toward depicting homosexuality in comics, using his children as a philosophical shield, is well documented. National Organization of Marriage (a group that’s seen resurgence since the November 2016 election) funder Orson Scott Card has largely been absent from the comic book scene since DC seemingly canned his Superman story.

Writer/artist John Byrne has compared trans individuals to pedophiles. Artist Mike S. Miller has been loud and proud not just about his religious opposition to homosexuality and same-sex marriage, but about Muslims as well.

But the reality is, queerphobia is rarely this apparent, and its distinct ability to be cloaked in the disguise of LGBTA allyship is one of the most frustrating phenomena in comics today.

A year ago, I was still incensed about years of queerphobia, cloaked in allyship and economic arguments, that frequently flew out of the editorial offices at Marvel Comics. It’s been a big year for Marvel, who has now published its third series focused on a queer lead character.

Yes, Black Panther: World of Wakanda regrettably ended with issue #6 (which in some ways, speaks larger volumes about the state of race allyship than queer). And there are no guarantees about the longevity of America or Iceman, the latter of which only saw its first issue less than one week ago.

But I can say, at least Marvel is trying. They chose creative teams for the three titles smartly, bringing in queer writers for all and creators of color for the two with non-white leads. The attempts are not perfect. Iceman #1 features one of the most egregious (and ridiculous) attempts to not use the word “gay” in its recap page that I’ve seen in years.

But publicity for all three titles liberally used the words “queer,” “lesbian,” or “gay” — an enormous step-up from editor-in-chief Axel Alonso’s deliberate closeting of Angela after a full-page kiss scene between her and her same-sex partner.

A year ago, I had an enormous problem with Marvel centering its heroes as allies.

Today (despite the Nazi-infused corner of their line they’ve promised will be over soon) I can support their flying a rainbow flag for Pride month. I can step back and hope they’re only just beginning a commitment to publishing queer stories — with queer and straight creators on board. I can cheer them on, at least, until I’m shown otherwise.

And that’s the trick, you know. Because a commitment to the LGBTA community isn’t just for a single month or an anniversary of a tragedy. To be an ally means standing up for us when it’s not easy as much as when it’s fun and delightful. To be an ally means consistently elevating the voices of queer creators or critics or readers, not just when it doesn’t impact your “creative vision.”

Writer James Robinson learned that lesson all too well two years ago now, with the publication of Airboy #2, an Image Comics book that prominently featured a flatly transphobic scene. It was meant, as Robinson relayed, to depict his own failures as a person. But as many critics expressed, including Comicosity’s own Emma Houxbois, the result was something else entirely. Airboy #2 was, in effect:

a comic where one of their writers himself is drawn mercilessly and repeatedly using a transmisogynist slur, degrading trans women by portraying us both as sex objects and a carnival sideshow to be gawked at, and then topping it off by completely ungendering us.

In the wake of this reaction, Robinson sought counsel from GLAAD (an anti-defamation alliance committed to LGBT issues) and apologized. The hardcover release of Airboy featured amended dialogue that, while not completely mitigating the issue, at least softened the offending language and tried to turn the spotlight back on the author’s own failures in a more obvious way.

Cover art by Greg Hinkle

This is allyship too. It’s fucking up and getting that you fucked up. It’s asking for help and apologizing when you’ve hurt the community you seek to support. It’s doing better next time around.

Sadly, Image Comics themselves don’t seem to have come to the same conclusion.

Last week, amid Image Comics’ month-long featuring of Pride variants for its main line of titles, Howard Chaykin’s Divided States of America #1 hit the stands.

To focus exclusively on its clear fetish for transphobic panic and violence is, admittedly, to undermine its super-racist and Islamophobic nature as well. But in this month of queer Pride, among Image’s slate of sex- and queer-positive books, I feel comfortable calling Divided States of America nothing short of transgender violence porn.

Cover art by Howard Chaykin

And to make matters worse, transgender violence porn featuring a Pride Variant cover.

I’m not going to post the pages in question. I don’t want that trash on my website. For the purposes of discussion, they can be found here, however.

To say it’s problematic that a white, cis, straight male creator is representing ANY transgender character in this set of circumstances is putting it lightly. It is, in fact, a violation, plain and simple. And Chaykin knows it.

Why else would he pen a preemptive diatribe blaming “Trigger warnings,” “Cultural appropriation,” “Safe spaces,” and “Social Justice Warriors” for the country we have inherited and — presumably — our own offense at his attempt to one-up it?

In reality, anyone who has read Black Kiss or American Flagg! or (god forbid) Black Kiss II knows what kind of comic Howard Chaykin makes.

So why didn’t Image?


Why would Image Comics publish a comic book — AGAIN — that features deeply offensive, transphobic content, in the very month they purport to be allies to the queer community at large? How can a publisher justify not commenting from the editorial bench about their choice to publish not just once — but twice — about the same, exact problem, maintaining silence rather than offering any defense or admitting any culpability?

What sort of cognitive dissonance is at play when a book can be promoted with this type of anti-trans violence and stereotyping — by a non-trans creator — directly adjacent to a twitter avatar featuring the rainbow colors of Pride?

Two years ago, Emma Houxbois came to the same conclusion, writing:

The real quarrel here is with Image Comics swaddling themselves in the flag that trans women like me bled and died for while publishing a complete mess that reads like a laundry list of all the attitudes that expose us to violence and murder. It’s legal in every state, except California, to murder a trans woman for being surprised by her genitals by citing “trans panic” as a defence in court.

This is not being an ally.

Allies cannot pick and choose their support. Allies don’t get to prop up the LGB but not the T, as if our community were a club sandwich made to order (a fact queer people themselves need to recognize all too often as well). Allies don’t get to publish transphobic material and then wave it away under the auspices of limited editorial involvement or freedom of speech or whatever the excuse du jour happens to be for simply being shitty to those you purport to ally yourselves with.

Yes, you have the right to publish whatever you want. Creators have the right to express whatever they like, even if offensive or hurtful. But you don’t get to call yourself an ally when you do. Period.

We need allies. Queer people need allies. Black people need allies. People of all marginalized locales need allies. We can do a lot on our own — and often have to — but a partnership with those who want to support us because it is the right thing to do is not something to sneeze at.

I want to see queer creators — especially transgender creators — flourish and speak their own truths on the comic page, and not always be subject to the whims of other creators who may or may not have their best interests at heart. To say Howard Chaykin does not have the transgender community’s best interests at heart is likely a stunningly obvious statement to make. I sincerely doubt he’s kicking back at GLAAD headquarters right now crafting an honest (or even not) apology.

And that is not to say straight or cis creators should never write queer characters. We’ve been blessed with a cornucopia of wonderful LGBTA characters over the years, from powerful allies like Gail Simone, Greg Rucka, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Jeremy Whitley, Kelly Thompson, Brenden Fletcher, and yes, James Robinson.

We’ve been lucky enough to see a rise of new queer creators at the same time, including Magdalene Visaggio, Steve Orlando, Marguerite Bennett, Gabby Rivera, Sophie Campbell, Kevin Wada, James Tynion IV, Kate Leth, Kieron Gillen, Sina Grace, and many many more.

Cover art by Kevin Wada

We need more of both. More creators willing to do the work. But that means more than just writing a script. It means research. It means reaching out to the people you want to represent and finding out more about them. It means having those people review what you’ve done. And it means being open to being told you fucked up. It means being willing to fix your mistakes.

Image Comics needs to fix their mistakes. They either need to stand up and admit they fucked up, or remove that rainbow from their twitter avatar. Because anything less is exploitative. Anything less is dishonest. Anything less is being less than a true ally.

And the stories of our lives are too important to trust in the hands of less than a true ally.

Want to really let Image Comics know you’re not happy about their mixed message on LGBTA support?

Submit a report to GLAAD. It takes two minutes and your voice will make a huge difference.



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